Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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.