Citizenship backlog snares Manitoba woman amid Kazakh family crisis

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OTTAWA — A Dauphin woman is stuck in Manitoba, grieving the loss of her grandparents abroad. More than a year after applying for full Canadian citizenship, she still has no clue when she’ll get a passport.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/07/2022 (202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — A Dauphin woman is stuck in Manitoba, grieving the loss of her grandparents abroad. More than a year after applying for full Canadian citizenship, she still has no clue when she’ll get a passport.

“I just feel completely helpless, and I would love to be there, just to help out,” said Jane Robak, a 29-year-old who works in an emergency room.

Robak, her parents and siblings immigrated to Canada when she was 17, leaving Kazakhstan for Winkler.

SUPPLIED Jane Robak (left) submitted an application more than a year ago for Canadian citizenship, and now can’t visit grieving relatives in her native Kazakhstan after the recent death of both her grandparents. Her husband Colton Robak says thousands must be undergoing the same problem.

As a permanent resident, she qualified to apply for citizenship a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic, but was busy working through college in Brandon.

She applied for citizenship in spring 2021, a few months before she married Colton Robak, who was born in Manitoba. The two work at Dauphin hospital.

In November, her Kazakh passport expired, but she figured she’d soon have the invite to take her citizenship test and eventually apply for a passport.

This spring, her grandmother in Kazakhstan fell ill; she died earlier this month. Robak sought urgent processing on the grounds of mourning a family member. Then, her grandfather had a stroke.

She called Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and says the representative was not helpful, saying some people have waited far longer than a year for processing.

“He was not very compassionate and was like, ‘It’s out of our control,’” she recalled.

The agent noted, as of this week, people who apply for citizenship are being told to wait 27 months. That number is based on how long it took to process 80 per cent of applications over the past six months.

That’s virtually unchanged from December 2021, when the department told Parliament it needs 26 months to process new applications and had a backlog of 449,000 applications.

Robak’s grandfather died this week. She hasn’t been able to get a new Kazakh passport, which normally can only be done in that country.

Exasperated, the couple reached out to the Free Press.

“I just feel completely helpless, and I would love to be there, just to help out,” she said. “It’s very confusing, and we will never get a proper answer.”

The couple have found it disorienting to see other friends get faster approvals. On social media, the couple asked if anyone else had applied for citizenship recently, and learned the waits range anywhere from three months to nearly five years.

“We know people who are travelling but now my wife (and I) can’t even go see her family,” said Colton Robak, an intensive-care nurse.

“When I worked during the pandemic, like I have literally held an iPad in front of people as they were saying goodbye to their families members, because they couldn’t see them… She hasn’t been able to say goodbye.”

The Immigration Department couldn’t comment on the case without a privacy waiver, and did not get into what is causing the delay in processing.

Instead, it said some cases take longer when an application isn’t properly completed, has information that is complex to verify or when applicants take a while to respond to the department’s queries.

IRCC noted noted it has allowed for virtual citizenship tests and ceremonies to speed up the process when people actually have their application processed.

“We understand that longer than expected processing times can be stressful and apologize for the inconvenience that this has caused,” wrote spokeswoman Julie Lafortune.

“We are working hard to respond to the high volumes of applications as the demand for travel grows.”

Opposition parties say the government failed to anticipate an obvious uptick in travel, causing delays for everything from passports to visa requests. Some have noted the Immigration Department’s slow return to in-person work in the office.

Whatever the cause, Jane Robak wonders how many other immigrants have backlogs barring them from properly grieving their relatives.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people that are in my boat right now, and it would be nice for them to know that they’re not alone.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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