Permanent residence delays leave thousands without ID

May 9, 2016

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun |

When Prasanga Edirisinghe looks out the window of her downtown apartment and sees the immigration ministry building across the street, she feels a gnawing sense of frustration.

Edirisinghe and her family have been waiting for the ministry to renew their permanent resident cards for almost two years. Without this crucial piece of identification, the family runs into problems doing almost everything, from boarding a plane to applying for jobs to enrolling in university courses, she said.

“I am totally without an ID. I cannot open a bank account.”

Her lawyer, Richard Kurland, said there are thousands of people across the country in identical situations: stranded without identification as they wait months for permanent residency cards to be renewed. Kurland said he discussed the issue with other immigration lawyers at a recent national meeting and they collectively estimated the number of people affected to be “in the high thousands,” to say nothing of those who are not represented by lawyers.

Permanent resident cards are valid for five years and must then be renewed. While status in Canada is not contingent upon having a valid card — “the status attaches to the person, not the plastic,” said Kurland — proof of that status is necessary to get other forms of identification such as driver’s licenses or Care Cards.

Kurland fields requests from family members on an almost weekly basis to write letters explaining their predicament — to potential employers of Edirisinghe’s four sons, university registrars, provincial health officials.

Kurland also had to go to the U.S. border to explain the situation to Canada Border Services Agency officers when Edirisinghe tried to enter the country from the U.S. She had been overseas in Asia and an airline would not issue a ticket to Canada without a valid permanent resident card, forcing her to fly to Seattle and drive across the border.

“I’m like a non-resident. I really feel as if I’m neither here nor there,” she said.

Her case, however, is not straightforward. To maintain permanent resident status, a person must be in Canada for two years out of a five-year period. Edirisinghe may not meet that requirement because shortly after she and her family were granted permanent residency under the investor immigrant program in 2009, both her parents in Sri Lanka became seriously ill and had no one else to care for them. They both died within a year, and Edirisinghe had to be in Sri Lanka for the deaths, funerals and settling of estates. While the law makes allowances for absences for compassionate reasons and requires proof — which Edirisinghe says she provided — such complications can result in longer processing times.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Jennifer Bourque said there were several factors that led to delays in permanent resident card renewals last year. These included increased residency requirements for citizenship, which meant more people had to remain permanent residents longer, a spike in requests for urgent permanent residence card renewals, and the launch of a new card with upgraded security features last November.

Waits for permanent resident card renewals are dropping. On Jan. 7, the wait was 194 days, Bourque said. As of last week, the immigration department’s website said it was down to 82 days, a fact Edirisinghe, who applied for her card in June 2014, responded to with a sigh of disbelief.

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