The rejection rate for permanent residency applications on humanitarian and compassionate grounds has risen sharply over the past couple of years, according to recently released figures.
"These decisions were done quietly behind closed doors and there is little public accountability in this opaque and discretionary process," said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan.
Canada allows some people who would not usually meet the criteria for permanent residency to apply on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, which are considered on a case-by-case basis according to factors such as how settled someone is here or the best interests of children.
According to data the Immigration Department provided in response to an order paper question from Kwan this spring, the rate of applications refused after processing ranged from 35 to 41 per cent between 2016 and 2019. Those figures do not include applications that were withdrawn.
In 2020, the rejection rate rose to 57 per cent, even though the total number of applications processed — 7,835 — increased by just 11 per cent, which was a smaller jump than the prior year.
The 2021 figures, which only include up to Feb. 28, show the rate of applications refused climbed to 70 per cent of the 4,180 processed in the first two months of this year.
"The Liberal government must provide answers to why there is such a significant jump in … refusals and take immediate action to rectify this," Kwan said in a statement.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the rising rejection rate is linked to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department has been giving people more time than usual to submit added documents, and go through a medical exam, when their applications have been "approved in principle." That slows things down when it comes to making a final decision.
"Approvals take much longer to finalize than refusals," Alexander Cohen said in a statement.
"When an application is refused, no further assessment is required, which is why the number of refusals has not been impacted in the same way," he said, adding that the ratio of refusals to approvals is expected to change as services reopen.
Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, had told a virtual news conference Tuesday he did not think any slowdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic explain the change, because the number of applications processed has gone up.
The number of applications have also increased in the last two years. In 2020, the immigration department received 11,105 under this program compared to 10,600 in 2019 and 9,135 in 2018. The department received 8,970 applications in first two months of this year.
Hussan said humanitarian and compassionate grounds is the only option available to undocumented migrants who want to apply for permanent residency in Canada.
He said that also makes it the only real way for undocumented migrants to access education and health care and urged the federal government to give status to all migrants in the country.
"We see that the only program that does exist for undocumented people is rejecting people at historic rates," he said.