During the COVID-19 pandemic Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) has implemented numerous policies to try to process applications as normally as possible and also provide applicants who are unable to provide certain documents or meet deadlines with flexibility. Applicants should know that while IRCC is providing more flexibility than it normally does to incomplete applications that it is still returning applications that are technically incomplete where applicants do not provide an explanation. The return of these applications sometimes takes months due to pandemic related intake delays at IRCC, and it is very important that applicants submit complete applications.
IRCC’s COVID-19 Policy with Regard to Missing Documentation
Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations provides that IRCC can return applications that are missing mandatory information or documents.
During COVID-19, IRCC’s policies are that new, complete applications will be processed as normally possible.
If a new application is missing supporting documentation or information, then an applicant must include an explanation with their application that they are affected by a service disruption as a result of COVID-19. IRCC will then essentially put the application aside, and wait for the document to be provided.
If a new application is missing supporting documentation or information, and an applicant has not provided an explanation, or if the reason why the document or information is missing is not related to a disruption of services caused by COVID-19, then IRCC will return the application for being incomplete.
IRCC’s Public Messaging vs. Reality
IRCC officials have stated in public that during COVID-19 they have not returned incomplete applications, but rather contacted applicants to remedy the situation. On November 25, 2020, for example, Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told the House of Commons Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that in the spousal sponsorship context visa officers work with Members of Parliament to troubleshoot incomplete applications with the goal being to reunited as many families as possible. On December 7, 2020, Daniel Mills, the Assistant Deputy Minister, Operations told the same committee that no application in process was closed because of missing documents.
These statements, however, do not match the reality of what is occurring.
On December 21, 2020 the Canadian Bar Association (the “CBA”), a national association of lawyers, notaries, academics and law students, wrote to Mr. Mills requesting that visa officers show greater flexibility when assessing whether applications are incomplete. The CBA noted that in the past year IRCC regularly returned applications five to eight months after they were submitted for technical deficiencies. They included several examples.
In one case a spousal sponsorship application was submitted in April, 2020. IRCC returned the application on the basis that in the Additional Family Information form a postal code for an applicant’s relative was missing, even though the country does not have postal codes. In the intervening months one of the applicant’s children turned twenty-two. The child is now too old to be included as a dependent when the couple re-submit their immigration application, and may not be able to immigrate to Canada.
In another case a spousal sponsorship application submitted in April 2020 was returned in November because a police certificate was missing. This occurred even though the applicant had included an explanation letter that apparently was not read. Because the application was returned the applicant lost their status in Canada and had to stop working, even though it was IRCC’s mistake.
In many cases IRCC stated that documents such as copies of birth certificates or marriage certificates were missing even though such documents were included in the envelopes that contained the returned packages.
Here are a few tips to reduce the risk of an application being rejected for incompleteness.
- If you are providing translated documents make sure that the translation is accurate and matches the document checklist name for a document. Even if the original document is accurate a mistake in translation can result in an application being returned for incompleteness.
- Make sure that addresses are complete. Believe it or not, IRCC will return applications where an address contains a Canadian city, a Canadian Province and a Canadian postal code, but does not explicitly state that the country is Canada.
- In spousal sponsorship applications applicants must both type their name into the Schedule A signature field and hand-sign it. This is the only form where both an electronic and handwritten signature is required, and applicants not doing both is probably the most frequent cause of rejection.
- It is important that applicants read the police certificate requirements very carefully. For example, the IRCC website states that Australian applicants need to provide an Australian National Police Certificate – Standard Disclosure – Name Check Only. Scrolling ¾ through the webpage further reveals that applicants who lived in Queensland or Victoria must also provide traffic checks.
- If an application is missing a document don’t include the explanation as a paragraph in a cover letter. Rather, include the explanation as a separate Word document, preferably with large font.
IRCC’s approach to returning incomplete applications clearly needs to change so that its actions match its rhetoric. Peoples’ lives should not depend on minute compliance with document checklists spread over multiple sections of the IRCC website.
In the meantime, until such change happens, applicants must carefully read every document checklist, read every hyperlink, and triple check their applications.