Good morning, everyone.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on February 25, the committee will resume its study on family reunification.
This morning, we have officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration with us. We have Ms. Sharon Chomyn, area director, North Europe and the Gulf, by video conference from London. Thank you, Ms. Chomyn, for getting all of us up and at it early today here in Ottawa, Washington, and Mexico City. We have Mr. Mark Giralt, area director, United States and Caribbean, by video conference as well from Washington, and Mr. Olivier Jacques, area director, Latin America, and he's with us from Mexico City.
I understand that you'll be not splitting time in seven-minute slots, but you'll be using 21 minutes combined.
We'll being with Ms. Chomyn from London.
Good morning. My name is Sharon Chomyn, and I'm the immigration program manager at the Canadian High Commission in London, England. I'm also the area director overseeing the visa offices in London, Moscow, Warsaw, Kiev, Vienna, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Accra, and Islamabad.
With me today are my colleagues in Mexico City and Washington, who will provide brief comments on their own that focus on their own areas of responsibility.
It's my pleasure to have the opportunity to address the committee and to give the perspective of the public service employees overseas who have the responsibility for processing family reunification applications, among others, in a timely and responsible fashion. I will begin by giving you some general context about our network and the processing of family class applications.
Canada has a network of 51 processing offices overseas. These offices are responsible for assessing applications from foreign nationals to come to Canada on a temporary or permanent basis. Depending upon which office we are referring to, there are particular local challenges in addition to those commonly shared.
The cases we will focus on today are a minority of the overall applications received. The department uses its global case management system to expedite processing by sending the lowest-risk applications for processing to our centralized processing centres in Mississauga and Ottawa. Currently, these processing centres manage as much as 10% of the overseas family-class caseload. This allows our missions to better manage their caseloads and to concentrate more resources on complex cases or those that require local expertise.
The department continues to work hard to ensure that applications for legitimate, bona fide family class applicants are processed as efficiently and in as timely a manner as possible in order to reunite applicants with their sponsors in Canada.
Most simple and non-contentious applications are approved rapidly. Unlike applications in the economic categories, family class applicants need only establish their relationship to an approved sponsor and demonstrate to the officer that they are not inadmissible to Canada. In most cases, globally speaking, the genuineness of the relationship is not in question. In many countries, there are very reliable means to prove family relationships. In general, we are able to process cases from such countries confidently, given the reliability of the vital statistics documents.
As we were asked to talk about challenges we experience, we will focus our opening remarks on the various challenges we confront in processing the more complex cases.
In much of the world, documentation is extremely unreliable. State-issued documents can be improperly obtained, and registration is decentralized or essentially non-existent. These limitations require officers to use other means to determine whether applicants are in fact related to, or in a genuine relationship with, their sponsors. Ongoing training in fraudulent documents and close liaison with our risk assessment officers help immensely in the official assessment of these cases.
When no other conclusive evidence can be obtained, applicants and sponsors may be asked to submit to DNA testing in order to establish a claimed relationship. The big picture is that the goal of our officers is to approve as many applications as possible as efficiently as possible based on the documents before them. That said, they are also very well trained in the latest fraud trends, with a view to remaining vigilant to potential fraud that might undermine the integrity of our immigration system or the security of Canada.
I would like to say a few words specifically related to the reunification of spouses. We are aware that this is an issue of specific concern to the committee and that it is in the public interest to reunite spouses as quickly as possible. The vast majority of cases are genuine, and we are pleased to bring people together.
With such cases, the most common integrity concern is that of the genuineness of the relationship. Marriage fraud is a very real problem, more common in some parts of the world, but by no means absent elsewhere. This is where the local knowledge of our locally engaged staff proves to be invaluable, and our programs benefit from this contextual knowledge to aid in detecting divergences from typical cultural and/or social practices.
Awareness of the cultural norms of a particular society helps our officers facilitate the processing of the genuine cases while alerting them to situations that might not be quite right. In this regard, officers may request that applicants provide further documents or attend an interview if the relationship does not appear to be genuine or if the officers harbour doubts about the circumstances. The goal of all of these additional requests is to alleviate the concerns the officers may have and allow them to approve the application. These requests are always made after careful consideration of the information already on file, given our understanding that providing additional documentation or travelling to attend an interview may cause additional inconvenience or cost to the applicant.
Our department employs various means to mitigate the risk posed by fraud. We share intelligence with like-minded countries and, in some cases, work with the host countries. We verify information provided in applications as resources permit, and ongoing quality assurance activities serve to confirm that the level of risk being accepted is reasonable. Our goal is always to process applications efficiently and respectfully of the applicants; and to ensure, to the extent possible, that low-risk cases are processed quickly and that the more complex cases are approached systematically and equitably.
In spite of the various challenges, between 47,000 and 50,000 spouses, partners, and dependent children have been issued permanent resident visas every year since 2011. In 2016, we will admit even more, 60,000, in order to help reduce processing times. The vast majority of these cases are entirely legitimate and we are pleased to facilitate this family reunification.
Finally, as I am aware that the committee has a particular interest in the family reunification movement from certain areas of the region I oversee, I will speak briefly to the particular challenges that we deal with in my region of responsibility. The London visa office processes family class applications for residents of Pakistan, as well as more complex cases from elsewhere in our territory. I will illustrate what I mean by “complex” with examples from the area that I oversee.
A complex case from the U.K. or the Nordic countries may involve criminal convictions or custody issues. Our officers take custody issues very seriously as these cases may result in the permanent separation of a child from one parent. Accordingly, these may take longer to process than the departmental standard. For applications processed in our Abu Dhabi office, complex cases may include, among other factors, elements of proxy marriage, minor-aged spouses, polygamous relationships, or where the intention to actually reside in Canada is not clear. Another concern of which we must remain aware is the possibility that a marriage is not consensual. A small, but disturbing number of vulnerable applicants, or sponsors, are forced into a marriage and the subsequent sponsorship process. These situations pose a unique challenge, as often the individual is threatened with harm and will be hesitant to divulge the true circumstances.
For applications processed at our Accra office, complex cases could involve marriages of convenience, polygamy, children born outside of primary relationships, late registration of birth, and previous adverse immigration history on the part of the applicant. London took charge of the family reunification program from Pakistan in February 2014, primarily due to the security situation in that country. Our office has extensive experience in processing Pakistani cases in both the family class and the economic categories.
We have added resources to ensure that these applications would in fact be processed more efficiently in London than in Islamabad. I'm pleased to report that our office was successful in reducing the processing times of these cases to within the departmental standard.
Complexities inherent in this caseload include concerns related to the validity of marriages, non-consensual marriages, irregularities in the issuance of civil documentation, and security concerns. Where such concerns exist, applicants may be asked to provide further documentation or to attend an in-person interview. London-based officers travel to Islamabad four to five times per year for this purpose.
Finally, we also maintain a focus on applications from parents and grandparents, as we understand that bringing the family together in Canada can provide more stability and support for the family members already in Canada. Currently London is processing applications for parents and grandparents promptly upon receipt, and all applications sent to London from the case processing centre in Mississauga in 2016 are in active process or have been finalized.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. My colleagues will each provide their own brief remarks, following which we will be pleased to answer any questions you might have.
My name is Mark Giralt, and I am the area director for the United States and the Caribbean, a territory that includes processing offices here in the United States as well as those in Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, and Kingston.
For our offices in Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, and Kingston, the majority of permanent resident applications received are in the family class. Many of the temporary resident visa services at these offices involve visits with families and include super visa applications. One of the biggest challenges is being able to communicate quickly and effectively with applicants. Although these offices cover relatively small areas, the infrastructure in many countries is poor, especially outside of the major centres.
Nowhere are these challenges more pronounced than in Haiti, which lacks a functioning postal system and where many clients do not have access to email. Cellphone use is increasing, but coverage is poor. Despite this, cellphones remain the means of communication most relied upon by Haitians, so the office in Port-au-Prince uses a commercial text messaging tool to communicate with clients.
Haiti is also still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Andrew, and rebuilding from the devastating 2010 earthquake is still very slow. The challenges posed by poor communications infrastructure will be with us for the foreseeable future, but we continue to look for innovative solutions. We also have significant concern around the reliability of the civil registry documents and records that are necessary to demonstrate existing relationships. Birth registration procedures can be open to fraud and abuse, and raise critical program integrity concerns.
In Kingston we receive many late-registered birth certificates. This limits their value as reliable evidence of a historical relationship. In these cases, identification of such concerns and the offer of DNA testing as an alternative early in the process has helped to reduce processing times and address program integrity concerns.
It can also be disheartening to see the lengths that some non-eligible applicants will go to in order to obtain a visa for Canada. Every day our officers across the world uncover fraudulent documents submitted in support of applications. Some of this fraud is very crude, but we often see fraudulent documentation that is very sophisticated. There is a vibrant industry in many countries that manufactures and distributes documents whose primary purpose is to allow an applicant to fraudulently obtain a visa for another country. Canada is not alone in this respect. At our missions overseas, we regularly meet to share information and methods with our counterparts from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. While we all encounter the same types of challenges, we are also able to work together to find solutions.
Spousal applications often have other complexities. For example, Kingston has found that up to 25% of applications are from persons who have been previously deported or have criminality concerns. Up to 10% of sponsors do not meet the legislative sponsorship requirements. Marriages of convenience are also of concern, making triaging for low-risk applications challenging.
These high-risk caseloads require significant resources, as more applicants must be interviewed. This can ultimately contribute to longer processing times for genuine applications. In recent years, we have actively moved applications between offices in the area, with officers travelling from our office in Port of Spain to Kingston and Port-au-Prince to conduct interviews. This approach has helped to reduce wait times. By managing the offices regionally, effective exchange of local knowledge has helped to keep the program risk at an acceptable level.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee. I believe my colleague from Mexico City has a few remarks to make.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee. My name is Olivier Jacques and I am the area director for Latin America, which includes our visa offices in Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico, Sao Paulo and Havana. I will provide you with a summary of the family reunification movement in Latin America, and the challenges we face in managing it.
At the outset, I would like to reiterate Ms. Chomyn's comment that our officers do their best to ensure that legitimate, bona fide family class applicants are reunited with their sponsors in Canada as quickly as possible.
The members of the committee probably know that processing in the region has been increasingly centralized in our mission in Mexico. Our office has developed a solid knowledge transfer strategy. Through area trips, reporting, briefings, timely training from subject matter experts, quality assurance exercises, round table discussions, and effective communication with missions in the region, Mexico has increased processing quality and efficiency. However, as mentioned, there are some regions where we have concerns as to the genuineness of the relationship. This results in officers interviewing greater numbers of applicants. In El Salvador, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, for example, officers interview 40% of applicants on location.
In some instances, applicants and their families are known to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the opportunity to be sponsored by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, or to be fraudulently included as a dependent on an application. There is no absolutely objective test that can be applied in such cases, so officers end up balancing the evidence available to them and using that evidence to reach a decision on the application.
While never determinative on their own, a combination of factors such as age differences, lack of familiarity with one's spouse, inconsistencies in their respective narratives, and linguistic and cultural differences may all be taken into account. Visa officers have a legal responsibility under the act to undertake a thorough review of each case they assess and to ensure that applicants have demonstrated they meet the legal requirements in the category in which they have applied.
Officers are also required to follow the guidance of the Federal Court of Canada every time they make a decision on an application. Federal Court jurisprudence requires, for example, that decision-makers apply the correct standard of proof when making a decision and that they comprehensively document any finding that an application does not meet legislative requirements. For this reason, it is usually much more time consuming to refuse a case than to accept it. It is necessary first to comprehensively assess the evidence, seek more evidence if necessary, and then use all of this evidence to render a decision which is in accordance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and which meets the decision-making standards established by the Federal Court.
In both the Dominican Republic and Cuba, we have also observed what can be described as "holiday romance" types of relationships where Canadian citizens, male or female, develop a relationship with a local resident during a one or two-week vacation. These applicants often have jobs related to tourism at the time of meeting the Canadian sponsor. In these cases, there is often a significant age gap, ranging from 10 to 50 years, typically with an older Canadian sponsor and a much younger applicant. We have seen many cases where the intent of the applicant is to take advantage of the sponsor to gain access to Canada. These cases can be difficult for us, as often the sponsor is genuinely committed to the relationship while the applicant is not.
As mentioned by Mr. GiraIt, another complexity in the processing of family reunification applications relates to admissibility concerns. Many of the applicants in this region have previously resided in Canada or the U.S. and, as part of the application process, are required to submit police certificates. These police certificates often reveal past criminal activities. The information-sharing agreement that Canada has with the U.S. also alerts us to past criminal activity by individual applicants and also reveals previous immigration violations in the US. This information is invaluable to us in ensuring the integrity of our processes, but also adds to the complexity and time required to review these applications.
I know that we have only managed to scratch the surface, but I hope that this has been a useful overview. We would be pleased to answer any questions that the committee might have.
Sure, I would appreciate it if I could get a breakdown then from each of the offices. How many applications do you have that are in process, and what year did they come in? I'm asking for all the ones that have not been approved so far that are still outstanding.
Then, of those categories, I'd like to get a breakdown as well of how many of them you would consider to be easy-to-process applications or something that is not particularly unusual or has issues.
Then there are the ones that you have issues with. I understand the issue about confidentiality, so we don't want to breach that, but rather have them in categories. Let's say 10% and 60 of them—or whatever the number might be—are issues related to criminality, another 35 are to do with issues of potential marriage fraud, and others have custody issues or whatever the case may be. If I could get that breakdown, that would be very useful and helpful.
I would also like the breakdown of the staffing resources and how that has evolved. Ms. Chomyn, you mentioned that in 2014 your staff went up to 17. I'm not sure if all of those are permanent or if those are temporary officers, as the other offices have been, and what have they been doing? Are they for temporary visa applications, parents, grandparents, or whatever?
I would like to get that breakdown just so that we get a fuller sense of how the operation is resourced to do its work because I think delays have to do with resources, and if you had more resources, you'd be able to process these applications more rapidly.
In terms of understanding your operation as well, I'll ask about interviews. How often are interviews arranged? Is it 10% of the cases or maybe 20% of the cases that are an issue? Are all of those 20% then interviewed, and how many officers do you have doing interviews? How often do they take place in terms of the interviews as well? That would be useful and helpful for us to have later if you're not able to provide that information to us at this moment.
My name is Elizabeth Snow and I am the immigration program manager in Hong Kong and the acting area director for North Asia.
I would like to introduce to you my colleagues Shannon Fraser, area director for South and East Asia, and Alexandra Hiles, area director for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The North Asia region includes the offices located in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Manila, Sydney, Tokyo, and Seoul, as well as a liaison officer located in Canberra.
In this region there continues to be great interest in both temporary and permanent residence in Canada. In particular, for China there has been significant growth year over year in temporary resident programs with, on average, 20% growth each year. We expect to finalize close to a half million Chinese temporary resident applications this year. The continued increase in temporary resident applications creates significant pressure on the management of our human and physical resources and means we constantly work to balance and reallocate resources to deliver programs.
For the purpose of the discussion today, I will speak about the work done by our region's largest full service offices, Hong Kong and Manila. I will also speak briefly to the legal framework and how the provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and regulations support the integrity of our immigration programs and allow the department to focus its resources on production while continuing to manage application complexities and fraud. Hong Kong and Manila both deliver large permanent resident programs.
The responsibility for the vast majority of permanent resident processing for persons resident in China was transferred to Hong Kong in 2014. Beijing continues to process Chinese adoption cases.
In 2016, Hong Kong will finalize nearly 17,500 permanent resident applications, including 6,300 in the family class. There is also a significant economic class movement in Hong Kong, including over 5,000 provincial nominees and 3,700 applicants destined for the province of Quebec. Manila will finalize 12,500 cases, including just under 6,000 family class applications and just over 4,000 provincial nominees.
For Hong Kong, 81% of our family class priority applications are finalized within 13 months of the date of receipt of the sponsorship. For Manila, 78% were finalized in 12 months or less.
There are volumes of applications that are able to move forward with ease. However, there continues to be a considerable number of applications that are complex. They have complicated immigration histories with Canada or with other countries, complex relationships, or complex background issues, such as serious criminality. These require an additional investment of time and effort in order to finalize, and have an impact on processing times in both offices.
Historically, marriages of conveniences have been found throughout applications from China. In some of these fraudulent relationships, both parties may be aware the relationship is for immigration purposes. In others, the sponsor may believe the relationship to be genuine, while the sponsored foreign national intends to dissolve the relationship after being granted permanent residence.
To ensure the integrity of Canada's immigration program, we use a multi-faceted risk assessment and quality assurance approach. In Hong Kong we benefit from our experienced case analysis unit, which is skilled in document verification and localized research. Their efforts help us through lower-risk files to allow them to move more quickly through our processes.
We also work closely with risk assessment colleagues in Hong Kong and China. We have good working relationships with authorities, and these strong connections help facilitate the verification and the validation of the authenticity of supporting documents, allowing us to move forward more quickly with individual files.
We also profit from beneficial relationships with like-minded countries and this helps us stay current on trends or issues, which helps to better inform our work. Site visits are conducted as appropriate, however the vast majority of complex cases are resolved through in-person interviews with our officers.
In Hong Kong, we're happy to report that we've seen the volume of cases requiring interview drop from a previous high of 50% to 60% of our family class cases to 25% of these cases. This positive change gives our officers more time to assess other cases and reduces the need and associated hardship on applicants who must travel for interviews, something of which we are keenly aware.
This drop in cases requiring interview is attributable to the strengthening of our legislation. In particular, we attribute this change to the introduction of regulation 130(3), which put into place a five-year limitation on filing sequential sponsorships. By reducing what was a growing number of “marriage of convenience” cases, we've been better able to manage our inventory. As the risks decrease, we're better able to focus our resources on reducing processing time.
As I know it's of concern to the committee and to many of the witnesses who have appeared to date, I also wanted to briefly speak about subsection 117(9)(d) of the IRPA regulations. This provision, which was put into place in 2002, prevents a sponsor from sponsoring family members who were not previously declared by their sponsor or examined by the department. In our experience in Hong Kong, rarely has the omission of a family member been one of happenstance or poor advice. Rather, the omission appears to have been purposeful and undertaken with intent. Looking at the application process, there are approximately seven different opportunities in which to disclose dependants to the department, including prior to visa issuance and prior to landing in Canada. It's challenging to objectively see such omissions as inadvertent.
I believe the committee is aware, however, that 117(9)(d) can also be overcome where merited. To give a few examples, the sponsor may have been legitimately unaware of the whereabouts or existence of a family member at the time of application, or the existence of a child was not disclosed because the child was born out of wedlock. We also see instances where, in the case of marital breakdown, the sponsor was prevented, by the child's other parent, from having the child examined.
For all applications where a foreign national has been excluded as a member of the family class, the sponsor can request humanitarian and compassionate consideration under section 25 of the act. Officers have the authority, under section 25, to consider the reasons for non-disclosure and determine whether an exemption from the provision is merited. In reaching their decisions, officers consider the complex relationships and circumstances of the sponsor and the applicant, and they take into account the best interests of any children affected by such a decision. In this way, the integrity of the program is safeguarded, and exceptions can be made where merited.
Our staff work diligently to ensure that they make a balanced assessment of the applicant's relationships and to ensure that the applicant has entered into the marriage in good faith. Our teams strive to balance the complexities of law, jurisprudence, and the intricacies that people's circumstances bring. We have worked extremely hard over the past few years to modernize our processes and to increase our processing capacity and speed. We're committed to continuing our efforts into the future.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.
I will now turn to my colleague, Shannon Fraser, who is here with me in Colombo, to deliver her remarks.
My name is Shannon Fraser, and I'm the area director for south and east Asia. I cover a very large and diverse territory that includes our offices in Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Colombo, New Delhi, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, and Singapore.
The countries in my area of responsibility include many of the top source countries for our family class applicants.
I am here to provide an overview of what we do and to answer any questions you may have.
The ability of our offices to deal with quantity is a key factor in delivering our program. New Delhi has the largest family class caseload in the network. We expect to make 12,000 decisions this year in that category, representing 17% of the total family class applications for spouses, dependent children, parents, and grandparents that are processed overseas. We also have the second-largest temporary resident program in the network, at close to 250,000 applications per year, with substantial application increases year over year, particularly with students.
We also process an increasing proportion of factually complex cases, which may involve surrogacy, adoptions, refugees, and public policy cases. While the numbers may be small, they require extensive analysis, expertise, sensitivity, and focus.
In India, arranged marriages and joint families are a cultural norm with various traditions and social practices. Modern relationships, similar to the ones in North America, are becoming increasingly common, although still a small minority of our caseload. India has an incredibly diverse changing society that we must understand and assess in order to make decisions.
Marriage fraud is a very real problem and falls into three main categories: victimization, collusion, and agents. The top three countries for marriage fraud are generally understood to be India, China, and Vietnam.
Victimization, or human trafficking, includes exploitation and forced marriages.
Immigration to countries like Canada can allow people to realize their aspirations, resulting in collusion fraud. Families may make mutually beneficial arrangements of sponsorship or may include children who are not theirs in their applications. While this type of fraud may appear to be of a lesser risk, fraud like this chips away at the integrity of our program. We know that when a fraud path works, it will be repeated.
Last, hidden and dishonest agents or smugglers thrive. Canada is a destination of choice, and facilitating entry to Canada is big business. These agents counsel applicants and engage in various forms of fraud, including false documents. While many individuals wishing to immigrate to Canada engage third parties to facilitate their entry to Canada, these shadowy practices can leave the most vulnerable open to extortion and abuse.
Visa officers recognize that most of the family class applications we process are genuine. In fact, in India our acceptance rate in the spousal category is high, around 86% historically. For Vietnam, however, where human smuggling and marriage fraud concerns are higher, the approval rate for applicants is lower, at 65%. The existence of victimization and marriage fraud in our family class caseload means that we must be vigilant and carefully review applications. How do we do this?
One way is to interview applicants. Our interview rate in New Delhi has been quite stable over the last five years at around 25%. In Singapore, which is responsible for Vietnam, the rate is higher.
While our overall acceptance rate may suggest that the caseload is not complex, we often still need to undertake interviews or document verification to resolve ambiguities in order to approve an application, while refusing an application requires an even more time-consuming and comprehensive assessment. We also know that fraud schemes move and change as they are uncovered. We remain vigilant and are aware that something that was not a concern yesterday may be one today or tomorrow.
We continually test our assumptions while pushing hard to triage cases effectively and allow for more applications to be processed in less time.
We aim to find the ideal balance between facilitation and enforcement, a very challenging task. Some concrete measures that we have undertaken include the introduction of a more thorough method of triaging applications in order to ensure that cases are referred to officers with a particular expertise. As a result, we have increased processing efficiencies resulting in a decrease in processing times for most cases. We are identifying files based on the application date and, for example, based on medical results, to minimize the number of applicants who will need to repeat their medical examinations or obtain new passports. We have conducted several quality assurance exercises in the last year to identify areas to improve processing, and have adapted our training of officers and support staff to ensure we are making constant improvements in processing efficiency while maintaining the integrity of Canada's immigration programs.
Officers have the responsibility to ensure that all applicants have demonstrated that they are eligible in the category in which they have applied. Officers are trained to make informed, timely, and fair decisions, and have a strong dedication to client service and program integrity. The local knowledge of our officers and that of our locally engaged staff prove to be invaluable, as knowing the cultural norms of a particular society helps our officers to facilitate the processing of legitimate cases quickly and efficiently. To cope with the complexity of caseload and risks, we have a strong cadre of locally engaged case analysts with extensive local knowledge to support decision-makers and to help Canadian officers in their understanding of cultural traditions throughout our region.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.
I will now turn to my colleague, Alexandra Hiles, to deliver her remarks.
Good morning. My name is Alexandra Hiles. I'm the immigration program manager in Nairobi, and I'm also the area director responsible for sub-Saharan African, so I'm responsible for offices in Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Nairobi, and Pretoria.
The territory covered by the offices in the region includes applications from the residents of almost 50 countries. It's a complex environment to operate in as a result of the size of the territory, the limited infrastructure, the security and health concerns for officers, and the diversity of the caseload in countries covered.
We face multiple challenges based on geography, infrastructure, and security, which I will briefly mention. We constantly seek to find mechanisms to overcome these obstacles, either by shifting files between offices, seeking solutions through technology, or by liaising with organizations such as the United Nations refugees agency and the International Organization for Migration to help us resolve the logistical challenges.
A significant issue in our region is the reliability of documentation required as evidence of relationship or identity. Such documentation is often of very poor quality and difficult to obtain, given the long history of conflict and unrest. Civil documents are not always reliable, and verification with issuing authorities can be lengthy or inconclusive. To ensure program integrity, officers are often required to request secondary documentation or to use other program integrity tools such as in-person interviews or DNA.
As I believe all of my colleagues have mentioned, we also see issues with the genuineness of relationships, given the incentive for many people of a better life in Canada. In spousal sponsorship applications, officers have encountered cases where the sponsors themselves gained permanent residence through sponsorship by another spouse, which may, according to the circumstances, raise questions about the bona fides of either the previous or the current relationship. We also process cases where sponsorship eligibility is not met due to non-declaration of family members during the sponsor's landing process to Canada.
For example, we do see cases where the sponsor, subsequent to landing, applies to sponsor his or her spouse with a marriage date that is prior to the date of the sponsor's landing. The omission may have enabled the sponsor to be found eligible and landed in Canada as a dependant, but the failure to declare the relationship triggers the application of R 117(9)(d), which was previously raised by Ms. Snow.
In many of these cases, officers are asked to consider allowing the applicant an exemption to R 117(9)(d), which requires a comprehensive assessment of the humanitarian and compassionate factors presented by the applicant, including the best interests of any affected children, with all factors being considered within the cultural context of the applicants and their families.
Adoption cases can also be very complex, as many of them are inter-family. In many instances, officers need to establish both the ties to the adoptive parent as well as the severance of ties between the child and the biological parents. Officers are also required to assess these relationships in the context of accompanying children in all family reunification cases, as the principal applicant often wishes to bring adopted children, often nieces or nephews, to Canada. When processing adoption applications, officers also need to ensure that they are meeting Canada's commitment to apply the standards and safeguards of the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption, which means ensuring that each inter-country adoption has been made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights. Officers are committed to preventing the abduction of, sale of, or traffic in children, and all adoption applications are processed with extreme care.
In some processing missions such as Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Pretoria, many of our family class applicants are also refugees in their country of refuge. This creates additional layers of logistical challenges in communication with and access to applicants, as well as challenges for the applicants even after we've issued their visas, such as the obtaining exit permits or logistics of eventual travel to Canada. On the issue of exit permits, we work closely with UNHCR and IOM, that are sometimes able to assist us successfully in advocating with the local government on behalf of our applicants.
Applicants often do not have timely or reliable access to phone services, Internet, or email. Additionally, when requesting additional documents or other information, communication is often via the sponsor, which adds to our processing times. Many applicants cannot communicate in either English or French but only in their local dialect or native language. As our territories are vast and local language requirements numerous, we do not always have the language skills amongst our staff to communicate with the applicant. To respond to these challenges, we are using contracted interpreters to assist in communicating with applicants for quick information gathering. We are as flexible as we can be in ensuring our applicants have adequate and meaningful time to respond to our requests for necessary documents, as we are very aware of the logistical and bureaucratic challenges facing them in their countries of origin or refuge.
In cases where an interview is required, applicants are often not able to travel to our processing office for logistical or legal reasons. Officers therefore carry out interview trips to meet with our applicants. We may need to wait for a core number of interviews within a region prior to organizing a trip so as to have a critical number of scheduled interviews to ensure efficiency and maximize our resources.
Travel in this region can be complex, time-consuming, and unreliable. These are all factors that contribute to longer processing times for family class applications. At the same time, our interview trips have a facilitative aspect to them, as we know that some of our applicants may be in a vulnerable situation. They also may not have the capacity or support necessary for them to properly complete the forms. As a result, while we are assessing the genuineness of the relationship, we are also gathering the necessary information from the applicant directly, allowing us to assess their vulnerability, in case facilitative measures need to be taken, while at the same time ensuring all necessary—