When Russia first invaded Ukraine, Oksana Grygorieva’s parents, Iryna Kubatina and Leonid Kubatin, wanted to stay in Ukraine rather than flee their home in Kharkiv, a northeastern city near the Russian border. .
But, Grygorieva convinced them to leave with the promise that they would be safe in Canada and with their families; they could temporarily stay with her in Toronto and spend time with their granddaughter.
But, three months after Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received their application for a visitor visa under a fast-track program for Ukrainians fleeing war, Grygorieva’s parents are still waiting to be accepted by Canadian authorities and remain displaced — they are currently living with volunteers in Warsaw, Poland.
The government says it tries to process applications within 14 days, but many take longer and more than 164,000 Ukrainians are still waiting.
“I love my parents and I want to help them, and I feel like I can’t help them,” said Grygorieva, who moved from Ukraine to Toronto three years ago and is a permanent resident. .
She helped her parents apply for a visa through IRCC’s Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization (CUAET) program.
The Canadian government introduced the Temporary Resident Program to help bring Ukrainians and their family members to Canada “as quickly as possible” while providing them with the opportunity to work and study in Canada until three years, according to its website.
IRCC’s latest figures show that as of June 8, it has received 296,136 CUAET applications and 131,763 have been approved.
IRCC says it tries to process most CUAET applications within two weeks, but Toronto-based Ukrainian immigration lawyer Ksenia Tchern says it takes an average of four to six weeks. She says the case of Grygorieva’s parents for three months is unusual.
“Every extra day for them is already adding to their trauma and their fear of what’s to come,” Tchern said.
IRCC spokesperson Rémi Larivière says the CUAET program is the fastest and most efficient way for Ukrainians and their families to come to Canada.
“We recognize that many Ukrainians are eager to get their visas and come to Canada and we are working tirelessly to help Ukrainians and their families get to Canada as quickly and safely as possible,” Larivière said in a statement. an email.
Larivière said IRCC is unable to comment on specific cases without written consent due to privacy legislation.
As Grygorieva desperately tries to figure out why the application is blocked, she says her parents are giving up hope of coming to Canada and are considering returning home to Kharkiv – a city where war crimes have been committed by Russia, according to Amnesty International.
“They are destroying infrastructure, homes, schools and hospitals,” Grygorieva said. “I’m like, ‘How can you get home? Not only isn’t it safe, we’re not even sure your home is there.’ “
In early March, Grygorieva’s parents left their home and drove across Ukraine from Kharkiv to Lviv – a trip that took them five days. They took a train from Lviv to Warsaw, Poland, where Grygorieva helped them find volunteers who were temporarily hosting refugees.
After a week in Warsaw, they were able to find a family friend who lives in Istanbul, Turkey, and was able to host them.
But, there is a 90-day limit for Ukrainian refugees to stay in Turkey before they have to apply for a tourist permit, so her parents recently returned to Warsaw. The couple are currently being hosted separately by two different volunteer families.
“I have no idea what else I can do,” Grygorieva said.
IRCC says some complex CUAET cases could take longer than two weeks; for example, if an application is missing documents or if family members have different nationalities.
But, Grygorieva says IRCC didn’t ask for any additional documentation and her parents’ case is as standard as possible.
“They’re just regular people,” she said.
Grygorieva’s parents’ online application portal says their applications were received on March 18, the day after the program was launched.
At the end of April, her mother’s work permit and biometrics – an applicant’s fingerprints and photo – were approved, but her visa was not. There has been no progress with her father’s request and she cannot get answers as to the reason for the delay.
“They were just saying they were being treated and that was it,” she said.
After receiving her parents’ application, Grygorieva says she helped other family members and friends in Ukraine with their applications and those people have already been accepted.
“I feel like something went wrong there and nobody sees it.”
IRCC says more staff have been deployed to speed up processing times
When the CUAET program first launched in March, Tchern said there was an influx of applications and some were being processed within the two-week deadline.
Applications then slowed because she said some in Ukraine hoped the situation would improve, but once the war continued, applications increased again.
“When you’re dealing with a mass of people, [two weeks] maybe isn’t the most realistic,” she said. “I think the more people started applying, the more the time frame definitely increased.”
Tchern says visa application centers in some areas are delayed more than others due to offices operating at full capacity. Many have worked with limited staff and resources due to the pandemic.
IRCC says it is monitoring the operational capacity of IRCC offices and visa application centers and has deployed additional staff, supplies and equipment.
The Canadian government also said it was setting up other biometric data collection sites in Europe to speed things up. IRCC says processing at its visa application centers has doubled in recent weeks and officers are making more than 18,000 appointments a week.
Tchern says it would help if IRCC and visa application centers were more transparent about the length of wait times to ease applicants’ anxiety.
“Just to inform the candidates so that they themselves do not fear that something is wrong with their application or that Canada does not want them.”