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.