Monday, January 3, 2011

Immigration appeal process urged for rejected visitors

Immigrant visaImage by qousqous via Flickr
Nicholas Keung Immigration Reporter
Noel Goonesekera, a longtime Canadian citizen, was upset that immigration officials have rejected applications from his brother and niece to visit him from Sri Lanka for the summer. “They didn’t give any reason for the rejection,” said Goonesekera, 60, a Sinhalese, who immigrated here in 1991 and works in property management. “I just couldn’t see any logical reason why they would turn them down. My brother visited Niagara Falls long time ago. He and his daughter have no plan to stay here.” The Toronto man is not alone, as 20 per cent of the one million visitors’ visa applications received by Canadian visa posts yearly are refused for concerns over alleged fraud and misrepresentation by applicants, whom officials fear would remain in Canada upon arrival. However, legitimate applicants invited for important family functions such as weddings, funerals and baby showers in Canada are often rejected as well — and there is no recourse once an application is rejected. In fact, a negative decision makes the chances of success for future applications next to zero. The application costs $75 per person and is non-refundable. On Monday, New Democrat MP and immigration critic Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) will table a private-member’s bill in the House of Commons to allow rejected applications to be reviewed and appealed, as is done in the United Kingdom and Australia. Chow said one-third of the immigration cases at her Toronto office involve visitors’ visa applications being rejected, sometimes in what she calls “arbitrary decision-making” by Canadian visa officers. Currently, there is no appeal for failed applicants from abroad. The proposed bill would ask the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to hear the appeals. “We hope to bring fairness and transparency to the system,” said Chow, who launched the group, Calling for Visitor Visa Fairness, on Facebook last year. It has about 450 members. In the U.K., rejected applicants can appeal — for free — first at their local missions before an ultimate review by an independent tribunal. In Australia, failed visitors pay $1,400 to appeal at a tribunal, but the money will be refunded in full if a decision is reversed. Although Chow’s bill still has to pass second reading for further reviews, Goonesekera hopes it will raise public awareness of the plight faced by Canada’s many immigrants, whose loved ones often live overseas. Goonesekera is filled with dread as he prepares for the guest list, including his brother Merrel, for his scheduled wedding next August. “Some of my guests may need a visa to come to Canada for the wedding,” he said. “I am keeping my fingers crossed.”
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