Procedural Fairness Where Credibility is an Issue

In any application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) the burden is on the applicant to put forward a complete, convincing and unambiguous application which provides sufficient evidence to establish that the requirements of Canadian immigration legislation have been met.

Visa officers are not under an obligation to ask for additional information where the submitted material is insufficient.

However, where there is a concern regarding the credibility or the genuineness of the evidence submitted, as opposed to the sufficiency of or weight to be given to that information, then the duty of fairness generally requires that the applicant be given the opportunity to address the concern.

Examples from Jurisprudence

Farooq v. Canada, 2013 FC 164 (“Farooq“) is a useful example of how to distinguish a refusal based on credibility concerns vs. one of insufficient evidence. There, IRCC’s refusal letter stated:

He claims he worked from January 2005 to August 2006 as software developer and from 2006 to present as manager (software development) for Tricastmedia PVT Ltd in Lahore Pakistan. Such rapid promotion is not credible as computer and information systems managers normally require several years of experience in systems analysis, data administration software engineering, network design or computer programming, including supervisory experience. Some of the duties in his employment letter repeat verbatim the duties of NOC 0213 which raises the question of the credibility of that employment letter. The other duties are similar to those of information systems analysts and consultants (NOC Code 2171).

Although the NOC Code 0213 corresponds to an occupation specified in the instructions, the information submitted to support this application is insufficient to substantiate that applicant meets the occupational description and/or a substantial number of the main duties of NOC 0213.

Justice Roy’s reasons in determining that the failure of the visa officer to provide the applicant with an opportunity to respond to his concerns about credibility was a breach of procedural fairness provide a comprehensive summary of the law on this issue, and I have reproduced them in full, bolding the key points:

Justice O’Keefe was confronted to the same kind of situation in the case of Patelsupra. (“Patel“) Paragraphs 24 to 27 seem to me to apply squarely to the situation at hand. They read:

Regulation 75 clearly indicates that a foreign national is only a skilled worker if he can show one year of full time employment where he performed the actions in the lead statement of the NOC and a substantial number of the main duties.

As such, if the visa officer was concerned only that the employment letter was insufficient proof that the principal applicant met the requirements of Regulation 75, then she would not have been required to conduct an interview.

However, the officer states that her concern is that the duties in the employment letter have been copied directly from the NOC description and that the duties in the experience letter are identical to the letter of employment. I agree with the principal applicant that the officer’s reasons are inadequate to explain why this was problematic. I find that the implication from these concerns is that the officer considered the experience letter to be fraudulent.

Consequently, by viewing the letter as fraudulent, the officer ought to have convoked an interview of the principal applicant based on the jurisprudence above. As such, the officer denied the principal applicant procedural fairness and the judicial review must be allowed.

The narrow issue that needs to be decided here is whether or not this is a case regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, in the sense that, in the words of Justice Richard Mosley in Hassani v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2006 FC 1283, [2007] 3 FCR 501:

there is no obligation on the part of the visa officer to apprise an applicant of her concerns that arise directly from the requirements of the former Act or Regulations …

It is also certainly true that a visa officer does not have an obligation to provide a “running score” of the weaknesses in an application. However, where the issue is credibility, “the duty of fairness may require immigration officials to inform applicants of their concerns with applications so that an applicant may have a chance to “disabuse” an officer of such concerns, even where such concerns arise from evidence tendered by the applicant” (Rukmangathan, above, at paragraph 22). Justice de Montigny, in Talpursupra, finding support inHassani, summarized clearly what I believe is the state of the law:

It is by now well established that the duty of fairness, even if it is at the low end of the spectrum in the context of visa applications … require visa officers to inform applicants of their concerns so that an applicant may have an opportunity to disabuse an officer of such concerns. This will be the case, in particular, where such concern arises not so much from the legal requirements but from the authenticity or credibility of the evidence provided by the applicant.

Here, the visa officer indicates clearly that the credibility of the applicant, or lack thereof, is the fundamental concern he has. Contrary to other cases where an opportunity is given to the applicant to address the concerns, there is nothing of the sort in this case. It would seem to me that both Patel and Rukmangathanare dispositive of the issue and that the matter should be remitted to a different visa officer for the purpose of a re-determination of the matter.

Another example of this principle can be found in Madadi v. Canada, 2013 FC 176.  There, in determining that an applicant did not perform a substantial number of the Main Duties in NOC 0711, IRCC did not consider any duties in the applicant’s confirmation of employment which either copied the NOC descriptions or closely paraphrased them.  After not considering those job duties, the officer found that the applicant did not perform a substantial number of the duties listed in NOC 0711.  The Court determined that procedural fairness was breached, because the visa officer’s concerns related to the genuineness of the confirmation of employment.

Examining Whether Credibility is an Issue

When reviewing refusal reasons it is important to examine whether credibility may have been an issue leading to refusal.

Sometimes it is obvious.  For example, in Azizian v. Canada, a visa officer wrote:

 Given the availability of the information [about the CBI], I found it difficult to believe that the applicant has never heard of these concerns during his employment at CBI and since retiring… I do not find credible that the applicant would have not been involved in policy decision making and decisions concerning allocation of funds, especially since the PA held the position of Secretary General of the bank and because he indicated in his affidavit that his duty in 2003-2009 was to develop and supervise the implementation of the by-laws and guidelines for the Iranian banking system.

This was found to clearly be a credibility concern.

Credibility assessments are often implicit, however, rather than explicit. In Khodchenko v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), IRCC’s refusal reasons in part stated that:

REVIEWED INFO SUBMITTED FOR THE FILE. PI’S EXPENCES WILL BE PAID BY MR. NAZAREVICH – FAMILY FRIEND. IT IS NOT CLEAR WHY HE WOULD PAY SUCH AMOUNT OF MONEY FOR PI. NOT SATISFIED PI IS FORTHCOMING ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF THE TRIP. TIES TO UKRAINE ARE WEAK. REFUSED. (sic) [emphasis added]

The Federal Court found that the officer made a veiled credibility assessment of the benefactor and the applicant in questioning that the employment arrangement was what the applicants said it was, and that the officer accordingly owed a duty of fairness to the applicant to put his concerns directly and explicitly and give her an opportunity to respond.

In Rani v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), meanwhile, Madam Justice Strickland found that a visa officer’s  statement that “evidence of [the applicant’s] involvement with spouse’s business comes only from her own statements and that of her supporting relative in Canada. It is therefore not clear to what extent the context of English language use…could be considered familiar” to also be an implicit credibility assessment, and ordered the matter re-decided.

Another Helpful Summary of this Principle

Bajwa v. Canada (Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship) contains another helpful summary of the distinction between credibility and insufficient evidence. There, Justice Russel wrote:

These words give rise to a familiar dispute in the jurisprudence as to whether the Visa Officer is questioning the credibility of the Applicants or simply deciding that the evidence is not sufficient to support the criteria that must be established in order to qualify for the status applied for. Justice Kane provided a summary of the Court’s approach to this issue in Ansari v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 849:

If the concern is truly about credibility, the case law has established that a duty of procedural fairness may arise [Hassani]. However, if the concern is about the sufficiency of evidence, given that the applicant is clearly directed to provide a complete application with supporting documents, no such duty arises. Distinguishing between concerns about sufficiency of evidence and credibility is not a simple task as both issues may be related.

The case law has established that each case must be assessed to determine if the concern does in fact relate to credibility. In several of the cases referred to, although the duties were copied or paraphrased from the NOC, there were additional factors confirming that the concern of the officer was about the authenticity or veracity of the document or the credibility of the author of the document. Simply using the term credibility is not determinative of whether the concern is about credibility, though the use of the term cannot be ignored.

Applicants often find it very difficult to understand this distinction. They reason that if their own representations are not accepted then they are not believed, so the officer concerned must be questioning their credibility and this requires an interview or an adequate opportunity to address credibility on grounds of procedural fairness.

I think the issue is best explained in lay terms by recognizing that applicants have a double obligation. First of all, they are under a duty of candor to tell the truth and not to conceal relevant facts. If an officer suspects that the duty of candour is not being met, then he or she must put the matter to the applicant and provide a reasonable opportunity – either in writing or in person – for the applicant to address the officer’s concerns. Where misrepresentation or breach of the duty of candor is the issue, then an application is usually refused on the basis of misrepresentation and s 40 of the Act.

But applicants also have an obligation – over and above the duty of candor – to support their applications with documentation that confirms their positions. Documentation is required by the legislation in all applications and a failure to provide adequate documentation can result in a refusal that is not based upon credibility. If this were not the case, then all applications would have to be accepted upon their own unsupported assertions. There will be situations where documentation is not available and the Act makes adequate allowances for this. Applicants are permitted to explain why they cannot provide documents that are required and/or expected in their particular situations.

In the present case, the treatment of the two letters from Mr. Singh has to be read in the context of the Decision as a whole in order to determine what the Visa Officer means by “satisfied.” Does she mean that the evidence is inadequate to support the application or does she mean that she questions the veracity of that evidence when she says that “I am not satisfied that the client is a bona fide worker under R 205 (D) or will leave after her authorized stay.”

In all work permit applications and extension applications, the officer has to decide on the evidence whether the applicant is likely to leave at the end of the period requested. And interviews and/or fairness letters are not required in most situations. As the Respondent points out, it is generally not a procedural fairness requirement that work permit applicants be granted an opportunity to respond to the concerns of officers. However, there have been situations in the context of work permit applications where officers have been required for reasons of procedural fairness to seek further clarification for credibility concerns in particular.

In Hamza v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 264, the application was rejected on the basis that the work experience letter mirrored the job duties of the NOC description, which the visa officer described as “self-serving.” Justice Bédard found that by stating the letter was self-serving, the officer was saying that he or she doubted the veracity of its content. It was thus distinguished from Kaur, above, because the applicant had provided sufficient evidence and a duty to provide the applicant an opportunity to respond was found. The decision quoted Justice Snider in Perez Enriquez v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FC 1091:

The first duty raised by the Applicant is the duty to seek clarification. When an Applicant puts his or her best foot forward by submitting complete evidence and a visa officer doubts that evidence, the officer has a duty to seek clarification (Sandhu, above at paras 32-33). Although this duty is not triggered in situations where an applicant simply presents insufficient evidence, it will arise if the officer entertains concerns regarding the veracity of evidence; for example, if the officer questions the credibility, accuracy or genuine nature of the information provided (Olorunshola, above at paras 32-35). On the facts of this case, a duty to clarify may have arisen but was discharged by the Officer’s questions to the Applicant during the interview. There was no breach of fairness.

The second duty raised by the Applicant is a duty to provide an opportunity to respond. When an applicant submits information that, if accepted, supports the application, he or she should be given an opportunity to respond to the officer’s concerns if the officer wishes to make a decision based on those concerns (Kumar, above at paras 30-31). Procedural fairness may require an interview; for example, if a visa officer believes an applicant’s documents may be fraudulent (Patel, above at paras 24-27). (…)

(some references omitted)

Justice Zinn’s decision in Madadi v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2013 FC 716 at para 6 provides a succinct summary:

The jurisprudence of this Court on procedural fairness in this area is clear: Where an applicant provides evidence sufficient to establish that they meet the requirements of the Act or regulations, as the case may be, and the officer doubts the “credibility, accuracy or genuine nature of the information provided” and wishes to deny the application based on those concerns, the duty of fairness is invoked[.]

(references omitted)


Sponsoring Relatives other than Spouses, Parents, and Children

Canadian immigration legislation provides that a Canadian citizen or permanent resident may sponsor their spouse, common-law partner, child, parents or grand-parents to immigrate to Canada.  It also provides that in certain circumstances a Canadian may sponsor another relative.

Section 117(1)(h) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR“) provides that:

A foreign national is a member of the family class if, with respect to a sponsor, the foreign national is

a relative of the sponsor, regardless of age, if the sponsor does not have a spouse, a common-law partner, a conjugal partner, a child, a mother or father, a relative who is a child of that mother or father, a relative who is a child of a child of that mother or father, a mother or father of that mother or father or a relative who is a child of the mother or father of that mother or father

(i) who is a Canadian citizen, Indian or permanent resident, or

(ii) whose application to enter and remain in Canada as a permanent resident the sponsor may otherwise sponsor.

The following are key things to know about sponsoring relatives other than spouses, common-law partners, children, parents or grand-parents.

1. The Canadian sponsor must not have a spouse, common-law partner, child, parent or grand-parent that is either a Canadian citizen or one that they can sponsor. 

Indeed, when assessing such applications, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) will often ask applicants to provide detailed family trees listing all family members and to provide evidence as to whether a person’s parents and grandparents are deceased.

2. It does not matter if the Canadian sponsor is not close to, or estranged from, his or her parents. 

In Bousaleh v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), Justice Fothergill stated that although the results may seem unfair, it does not matter if a potential Canadian sponsor is estranged from his or her parents. The fact that they can legally be sponsored means that the Canadian cannot sponsor another relative instead.

3. There is uncertainty in the law as to whether a sponsor’s parents or grand-parents have to be deceased, or simply likely inadmissible to Canada. 

Traditionally, most people have interpreted Canadian immigration law as requiring that a Canadian may sponsor a relative only if they do not have any living spouses, children, or parents who they can sponsor.  However, the Federal Court in Sendwa v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) ruled that this is too restrictive.  The Federal Court found that the stated that the purpose and intent of paragraph 117(1)(h) of the IRPR is “to favour persons who do not have relations in Canada and have no possibility to sponsor any relations under other provisions.”  The Court went on to state:

In the present case, the Immigration Appeal Division held that the Applicant’s application was rejected simply because her parents were alive. The Immigration Appeal Division did not consider whether the Applicant would (even) be eligible (or in position) to sponsor her parents. As a result, the IAD’s decision is unreasonable.

In Bousaleh, Justice Fothergill certified the following question of general importance:

Does determination of a person’s eligibility to sponsor a relative under s 117(1)(h) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, SOR/2002-227 require consideration of whether an application to sponsor a person enumerated in s 117(1)(h) has a reasonable prospect of success?

 


Retrospective Legislation

In a recent Borderlines episode, Garth Barriere, Eric Purtzki, Peter Edelmann and I discussed the constitutionality of laws that are retroactive or retrospective.  This episode can be found here:

A link to this episode’s synopsis can be found here.

The following post provides a more detailed written summary of retroactive and retrospective legislation in the immigration context.

Continue reading “Retrospective Legislation”



Returning to Canada After Previously Overstaying

It is not uncommon for people who have previously overstayed in Canada to wish to return.  Many people worry that it will not be possible to do so. However, regardless of whether one previously overstayed but left Canada before Canadian immigration authorities discovered the overstay, or even if one was ordered to leave Canada, it is certainly possible and common that a Canadian visa office abroad will approve a visa to allow that person to return to Canada, despite the previous non-compliance.

The following is a reference letter that an applicant used in the case AlOmari v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration). It is as a good example of the level of detail that should go into such a letter, and can serve as a useful reference for others.

In November 2015, I made the mistake of not renewing my study permit because I was not able to complete my flight training during the unstable weather conditions of the fall and winter seasons. This bad decision and judgment call is what led me to overstaying.

I could not leave until July 11, 2016 because I was required to remain with my wife and sisters who were actively studying. As outlined in the translated Saudi government scholarship rules, female students are required to travel and live with a male relative, such as a father, husband or brother. Leaving my wife and sisters would have led to them losing their scholarships, and ability to study.

I should have sought the assistance of a lawyer to discuss how I could extend my stay in Vancouver, even though I could not complete my flight training during the fall and winter seasons. My current lawyer informed me that I could have extended my stay in Canada as a visitor until I was ready to get back to my studies. I wish I knew that because it would have saved me and my family a lot of time, stress and grief over the past four months.

My wife and sisters were expecting to return to their studies in September 2016. However, the denial of my study permit and visa application has put their plans and dreams of completing their education in Canada at risk. They were unable to contact their schools in Vancouver, and postpone their classes until January 2017.

As you may know, I have been living and studying in Canada since April 2008, and this was the first time I failed to renew my status. This experience has taught me an unforgettable lesson, because my mistake has impacted the ability of my determined, ambitious, and hardworking wife and sisters to complete their English studies and to obtain undergraduate degrees from Canada.

I know clearly understand the rules for visitors in Canada, and the consequences of not following the rules. I understand that I must renew my status before it expires, and that overstaying could lead to the denial of future applications and it could lead to me being deported from Canada and to the denial of future applications and it could lead to me being deported from Canada and denied entry for a year. I have no intention of overstaying ever again, and I commit to returning to Saudi Arabia with my family at the end of our stay in Canada.

I also understand that I cannot study or work in Canada without the proper authorization and permits. I will not return to my flight training until I apply for and receive a study permit to do so. My plan is to take care of my children while my wife is studying, and to apply for a study permit around spring time. I am applying for a visitor visa at the moment because it takes less time to process than a study permit, and my wife and sisters are anxious to return to their studies in January 2017.

I apologize sincerely for my mistake, and I hope that you forgive me. My wife, sisters and I are praying to return to Vancouver together at the end of this month. We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible, and I am available to answer any questions you might have.


The Post-Graduation Work Permit

Canada’s Post-Graduate Work Permit (“PGWP”) program allows international students who have completed certain Canadian post-secondary programs to obtain work permits after graduating.  The work permits are open, meaning that the graduates can work for any employer(s) in any Canadian province(s).  It is a fantastic program that enhances the competitiveness of Canadian post-secondary institutions internationally, and is normally an essential transitory step for international graduates looking to eventually obtain Canadian permanent residency.

However, every year there are many international students who mistakenly think that they will be eligible to participate in the program after graduating only to discover midway through their studies that they cannot.  It is accordingly very important that all international students in Canada understand how the PGWP program works.

Basis in Law

Section 205 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations provides the government with the authority to create programs to issue work permits to foreign nationals when it is satisfied that public policy objectives relating to the competiveness of Canada’s economy or academic institutions are met.  The PGWP is one of these programs, and detailed information about it can be found on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) website here.

As the Federal Court has noted in numerous decisions (such as Osahar v. Canada), immigration officers can determine these requirements to be binding.

Eligibility and Validity

Outside of Quebec, in order for an international graduate to obtain a PGWP after graduating, an international student must:

  • have a valid study permit when applying for their PGWP;
  • have continuously studied full time in Canada, except for the final academic session, where part-time studies are permitted;
  • have completed and passed a program of study that is at least eight months in duration at either a public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as public institutions, or at a Canadian private institution if the student was enrolled in a program of study which led to a degree; and
  • apply for the work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation from their educational institution that they have met the requirements for completing their program of study.

A PGWP’s duration will be equal to the length of the educational program that the international graduate completed, up to a maximum of three years.  Any completed program that is longer than two-years will result in a three-year work permit.  In other words, a two-year diploma and a four-year degree will both result in a three-year work permit.

It is important to note that it is the length of the program of study that is important, and not the actual time that it takes an international student to complete their program. For example, if a student enrolls in a program of study that is normally eight months in duration, but completes it in six months, then the student will be able to obtain an eight-month work permit after graduating. Conversely, an international student who takes two years to complete a one-year program will only receive a one-year PGWP.

There are complicated rules and scenarios for students transferring from one program to another, or completing multiple programs, that are beyond the scope of this article.  However, a particularly common one is that students who obtain a one-year degree or diploma from an eligible institution in Canada after having obtained, with the prior two-years, another diploma or degree from an eligible institution in Canada, may be issued a work permit for up to three years.  For example, if a student obtained a one-year diploma from the University of British Columbia in 2013, and then in 2015 obtained a MBA from the University of Toronto, then he would be able to obtain a three-year PGWP.

Graduates may submit their applications online, or, in certain cases at a Canadian port of entry or at overseas visa offices.  Students who have completed their program of study and who apply for their PGWPs are permitted to work in Canada while IRCC processes their applications, provided that they were indeed full-time students enrolled in eligible programs while they were studying, and that they did not exceed their authorized off-campus work periods while they were students.

Finally, unlike with international students, the spouses or common-law partners of PGWP holders are not automatically entitled to open work permits.  They will only be eligible if the PGWP holder obtains skilled employment, and can demonstrate this to IRCC by presenting an offer of employment as well as a copy of one or more pay slips.

Ongoing Complications

Students who complete a program of study granted by a non-Canadian institution located in Canada are ineligible to obtain work permits under the PGWP program.  However, students completing a program of study that has, as part of the program, an overseas component, such as an exchange, will be eligible as long as they earn a Canadian educational credential.

There are two further restrictions, or potential restrictions, to obtaining PGWPs that are currently the subject of litigation that potential international students and graduates should understand.

The first is that students participating in distancing learning programs, either abroad or in Canada, are ineligible to obtain PGWPs.  In 2015, this restriction generated considerable media attention, as IRCC refused the PGWP applications of an entire graduating class at a private post-secondary institution after IRCC determined that the institution’s program constituted online learning.  Some of these graduates have sought intervention from the Federal Court of Canada, and one of the questions before the court is whether there is a percentage of online courses threshold that must be met before IRCC can declare a program ineligible.  Until either IRCC or the Federal Court provides clarification on this matter, international students who wish to participate in the PGWP program should understand the possible negative consequences of enrolling in any online courses.

Second, recent graduates applying for PGWPs must ensure that they complete their PGWP applications promptly and properly.  With most work permits applications, if IRCC either refuses or bounces an application for incompleteness, then an applicant can typically apply for restoration of status within 90 days.  It is not clear, however, whether restoration is possible in the case of the PGWP because of the IRCC’s requirement that a recent graduate’s study permit be valid when they apply for their PGWP, although several Federal Court decisions seem to imply that it really is up to the officer.

Indeed, the PGWP has a surprisingly high refusal rate. During the first six months of 2016, the PGWP refusal rate exceeded 20% in every month except May, and in both June and March was 40% or more. 


Work Permits for Post-Doctoral Fellows and Research Award Recepients

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA“) exemption for post-doctoral fellows awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy and research award recipients. The advantage of such an exemption is that a person can obtain a work permit without the need of the prospective employer to first test the Canadian labour market.

Post-doctoral fellows holding a Ph.D. or its equivalent

To qualify for a work permit under this LMIA exemption, the prospective foreign worker must:

  • have completed, or be expecting to complete shortly, their doctorate;
  • be working in a field related to that in which they earned, or are earning, their Ph.D.;
  • be the direct recipient of the award involving work and remuneration;
  • actively contribute to and benefit a Canadian research project;
  • demonstrate academic excellence or expertise in a field related to the particular work to be undertaken;
  • be working in a time-limited position that reflects the experience and expertise of the applicant and the role that they will play on the project;
  • have a significant role to play or value to add to the research project.
  • hold an official position or an affiliation or registration with a credible academic or educational institution or agency in their country of citizenship or residence.

The post-doctoral fellows can either be the direct recipients of theaward or be offered a time-limited position to undertake research on behalf of or as part of a team of researchers.

Awards

In order for a person to receive a work permit based on an award, the prospective foreign worker must have received an award that was:

  • given based on merit and academic excellence;
  • based on the result of a competitive assessment and review process.
  • not be primarily for recruitment or commercial purposes

The employer must be a credible Canadian academic or educational institution or agency, or a closely affiliated organisation

Approval Rates

As can be seen in the table below, the approval rate for these types of work permits is very high, and is typically over 95%.