Liron Zamir is expecting a baby girl at the end of the month but she’s also expecting a big bill for her first-born’s delivery.
Zamir, 31, who was born and raised in Israel, came to Edmonton with her partner to work in 2016. She said they fell in love with Canada and wanted to stay. Zamir applied for permanent residency in January 2021, about a month after receiving a provincial nomination letter.
Zamir said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has yet to make a decision on her permanent residency application, more than two and a half years after she submitted it.
Having lost provincial health-care coverage in the meantime, she’s responsible for paying for all her medical costs.
She estimates she has spent about $7,000 on pregnancy-related appointments and tests and a nurse advised her that the hospital bill for her delivery could be $10,000.
“This is more expensive than a car, honestly, but at this point, there is nothing we can do about it,” she said.
Work permit problem
When Zamir applied for permanent residency, she was working as a sales manager for an Edmonton home security and automation company.
She submitted her application after obtaining a letter from the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program, now called the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program, confirming she had been nominated.
Alberta nominates skilled workers for permanent residence in the province, but the federal government makes final decisions on the applications.
Business slowed during the pandemic, and in the fall of 2021, Zamir was laid off by her employer, she said.
Her latest work permit, which was tied to that employer, had been issued on Feb. 11, 2021. It was due to expire on July 8, 2022.
Zamir applied for a bridging open work permit on Dec. 8, 2021, so she could keep working while waiting for a decision on her permanent residence application.
She said she had several job offers at the time and had she received another work permit, she could have kept working and kept her provincial health-care coverage.
Waiting more than 2 years
Zamir has been waiting for more than two years for decisions on the work permit application and the application for permanent residence.
She shared copies of her Alberta nomination letter, her most recent work permit, and IRCC records with CBC News.
Scott Johnston, press secretary for Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, said if someone is experiencing a delay with a permanent residency application, the provincial government recommends contacting IRCC or their member of Parliament.
He said to be eligible for public health-care coverage, an individual must have a valid Canada entry document or a letter from IRCC indicating a “positive first decision” or “approval in principle” regarding their permanent residency application.
IRCC spokesperson Mary Rose Sabater said in an email that the ministry can’t comment on specific cases due to privacy legislation.
“Generally speaking, processing times can vary based on a variety of factors, such as whether an application is complete, how well and how quickly applicants respond to requests from IRCC to provide biometrics [if applicable] and additional information, how easily IRCC can verify the information provided, and the complexity of an application,” Sabater said.
Zamir has received some updates on her case through her MP’s office, learning that her medical verification had passed and that her file had been transferred to the Edmonton IRCC office.
She filed an access-to-information request with IRCC last year to learn more about her files but has not yet received any records.
“I am basically in the dark,” she said.
Living in limbo
Raj Sharma, an immigration lawyer in Calgary, said he sympathizes with Zamir and the many other people in Canada waiting for decisions from IRCC.
“You can imagine how challenging it is to live in limbo in another country, so this individual certainly has my sympathy and unfortunately, she is not alone,” he said.
Sharma said there were processing delays before 2020 and they worsened during the pandemic.
Last year, Canada had a backlog of more than 2.4 million applications. The backlog is being reduced, but as of June 30, there were still 801,000 delayed applications.
At the end of the day, a file is a life.– Raj Sharma, immigration lawyer
Sharma said it’s possible the fault in Zamir’s case lies with IRCC. But on the other hand, given the complexity of her case and her change of employment status, it’s also possible that she doesn’t meet the requirements for her immigration class, he said.
He said either way, she’s entitled to a decision.
“Officers need to remember that at the end of the day, a file is a life,” he said.
Push for more immigrants
In 2021, Canada welcomed a record 405,000 immigrants and the federal government has a target of bringing in 500,000 people in 2025.
Shirish Chotalia, an immigration lawyer in Edmonton, said Canada desperately needs immigrants to fill labour shortages.
“We need to make it happen for them and then hopefully move them into citizenship because we’re the ones as a country that will lose out if we don’t make it happen,” she said.
Sharma and Chotalia said Zamir could go to federal court to compel IRCC to make a decision on her case but that route would be time-consuming and costly.
“It’s like using a hammer to kill a mosquito,” Sharma said.
Zamir said she and her partner will be able to pay for her health-care expenses from their savings, but she remains stressed about future costs.
She said even if IRCC had lost her files, she would apply again.
“I would do whatever it takes.”