Processing times for family reunification have reached absurd new lengths

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17 June 2021

Processing times for family reunification have reached absurd new lengths

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has long advocated for the speedy reunification of refugee families and urged that the government publish the processing times. Recently, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) admitted to a journalist that processing times for family members waiting to reunite with a refugee in Canada have now surpassed the three-year mark – 39 months1. This shocking revelation only confirms the urgent need for the government to dramatically reduce wait times.

39 months.

According to published processing times, people accepted as refugees in Canada can expect to wait 23 months for their permanent residence – only after that will their family members overseas be able to finalize processing and travel to Canada. In other words, the 39-month processing time tells us that after waiting nearly two years for the refugee in Canada to receive permanent residence, the family members must wait another year and a half to be reunited with each other.

Over 21,000 people.

That’s the number of family members of refugees waiting for permanent residence. These absurd waiting times disproportionately affect Black people, as many refugees are racialized, including a significant number in Africa. If “Black Lives Matter” to the government, it must act to reunite African children with their parents in Canada, without forcing them to wait more than three and a half years.

Jennie*, Nigerian mother of three children waiting to be reunited with their parents, says that the prolonged processing is damaging to families and the children:

“Nowhere in the whole world should parents and children be separated for such a long time. The children I carried are not with me. What I feel inside me every day, the emotional pain, prevents me from being the person I can be. My children are at risk, and I live in fear and desperation”

At the time of escaping Nigeria, she and her partner could not obtain visas for the children, so they had to leave them with a friend in a rural location.2

The pandemic has of course caused delays in processing across all immigration categories. The long processing times, however, developed long before the pandemic. There is an opportunity to address the backlog and accelerate refugee family reunification to protect and ensure the wellbeing of these individuals. Part of Canada’s obligation towards refugees is to ensure timely family reunification. The CCR calls on the government to walk the talk!

*All names are fictitious to protect identities


  1. Le Devoir, Des milliers de réfugiés reçus au Canada doivent vivre plus de trois ans sans leurs enfants, Lisa-Marie Gervais, 17 mai 2021. The 39-month processing time is for cases finalized between April 2020 and March 2021.
  2. To read more about Jennie and other refugees separated from their family, visit https://ccrweb.ca/en/separated-children-awaiting-reunification