BlogBiometrics are failing international students and workers

7 July 2020

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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced many new policy changes designed to help mitigate the disruptions that have affected the normal processing of immigration applications. However, not enough is being done to help workers and students who are waiting to come to Canada or who are already in Canada and need to complete the biometrics enrolment process to obtain new study and work permits.

Biometrics enrolment involves the collection of a fingerprint scan and a digital photograph for security purposes. It is an essential part of every immigration application. Since 2018, it has been mandatory for visa applicants to undergo biometrics enrolment if they want to apply for visas to come to Canada. The process is normally completed by appointment at Visa Application Centres (VAC) closest to the applicant’s place of residence.

In December 2019 it became mandatory for all visitors, international students and workers who are already living in Canada to undergo biometrics enrolment if they need to make new applications to remain in the country. Biometrics enrolment within the country takes place by appointment at Service Canada offices located throughout Canada.

By March 31, 2020, however, Service Canada locations within Canada and VAC offices located overseas had closed due to the emergence of COVID-19. This led IRCC to announce on Twitter that extensions of time were being granted to those who needed to complete biometrics enrolment as part of their immigration applications, whether they were coming to Canada for the first time or were already in Canada and were applying to extend their stay. Although no applications would be refused because it was impossible to undergo biometrics enrolment, they would also not be approved either. As a result, a large backlog of cases is developing that is made up of applications that cannot be fully processed until biometrics collection offices reopen.

Since March 31, 2020, IRCC has largely remained silent on this issue. There has been no updated information as to when specific overseas VAC offices or Service Canada offices are likely to open again and no announcements made regarding any policy changes that will help solve the problem. To date, the only solution that has been offered is to grant an indefinite extension of time to complete the biometrics enrolment process for anyone who has applied for the first time for a visa and to all those who are already in Canada and need new permits to stay. However, this band-aid solution is not enough to solve the problems faced by these applicants.

Just this past week on July 2, 2020, IRCC posted a tweet to tell the public that it had no further information to share about when VAC offices or Service Canada offices would reopen. This was the equivalent of IRCC figuratively waving a white flag and pleading with the public not to ask any more questions about it. The tweet was tone deaf and downplayed the many real consequences that workers and students face when their applications for work or study permits are delayed.

Sadly, the people most directly affected by these delays are students and workers already in Canada, many of whom have been living in Canada for years. This is because most newcomers to Canada who arrived since 2018 have likely completed biometrics enrolment as part of their initial visa applications to come to Canada and are therefore exempt from needing to enroll again if they need to make applications to extend their stay in Canada.

Unfortunately, there are many other consequences to these individuals. IRCC does not seem to recognize that provincial medical coverage for students and workers living in Canada expires with their permits and will not be reinstated until new permits are issued, leaving many people without health coverage during an unprecedented health crisis. Nor do they appear to recognize that basic government documents that students and workers are entitled to, including SIN numbers and provincial identification documents like driver’s licenses, are also tied to the validity of work and study permits.

Finally, there are many people in Canada who will suffer if new work or study permits are not issued to them as soon as possible. In my Vancouver immigration law practice, I currently have clients who have been in Canada since they were high school students and who are now applying to start post-secondary studies in Canada. These clients will not be legally allowed to start their post-secondary studies until their new study permits are approved because they are applying to do something they were not previously allowed to do in Canada. They do not have the luxury to wait for Service Canada offices to open at some unspecified future date for biometrics enrollment given that the September 2020 school term is only months away.

Dissatisfaction with the current delays created by IRCC’s biometrics enrolment requirement is growing, which is on full display if you read the replies posted to IRCC’s Twitter account on the issue. Many of those who have left replies have pleaded with IRCC to waive the biometrics enrolment requirement and continue processing pending applications on the merits.

Whatever the solution that IRCC deems suitable, there is no need for IRCC to slavishly follow the rules requiring biometrics enrolment, especially for in-Canada applicants, when it was not even mandatory until December 2019 for them to undergo biometrics enrolment at all. IRCC officials should put themselves in the shoes of immigrants to understand the consequences they face if their immigration applications are not processed as soon as possible. IRCC is fully aware of these issues and they need to do better to provide real solutions to the problems faced by immigration applicants, especially those who have already lived in this country for many years.

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Sas and Ing Immigration Law Centre LLP

A partnership between Catherine Sas Law Corporation and Victor Ing Law Corporation

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