OTTAWA—The federal government announced that it will fast-track visa applications of those in the earthquake-hit areas of Turkey and Syria.
“IRCC is giving priority to affected individuals for temporary, PR (permanent residency) & refugee applications. We’re monitoring the situation and will adjust our approach accordingly,” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser tweeted on Friday.
Two major earthquakes of magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 hit the Kahramanmaras district of Turkey on Feb. 6. More than 47,000 people lost their lives in Turkey and neighbouring Syria.
According to the immigration department, up to 16,000 Turkish and Syrian applications were already in the system as of Feb. 8.
“Approximately 1,700 of these applications (750 permanent residency and 920 temporary residency applications) were within the zone impacted by the earthquakes,” Jeffrey MacDonald, a department spokesperson, told the Star.
Fast-tracking will only apply to applications of individuals affected by the earthquakes, by moving them to the front of the queue. It’s too soon to say how many will ultimately get accepted.
The news comes 10 days after Turkish Canadians called on Ottawa to expedite the visa applications of their family members stranded in Turkey amid the devastating earthquakes.
An online petition submitted to the House of Commons last week called for the fast-tracking of family reunification visa applications and the creation of a special immigration stream for those from quake-hit areas in Turkey. The petition authorized by Liberal MP Lena Metlege Diab was signed by more than 2,500 people, which is five times the required number of signatures for the petition to move forward.
Any member of Parliament may present the document to the House after the clerk has examined it and issued a certificate to the member who authorized it. Once the petition is presented in the House of Commons, the government will have to respond within 45 calendar days.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada hasn’t confirmed plans to launch a new stream for earthquake survivors, but indicated it’s considering all options.
“When responding to international crises, Canada tailors each response to meet the unique needs of those who require our support,” MacDonald said. “Although every situation is different, we are always guided by the same values and principles. We evaluate how Canada can best help by looking at what solutions are most appropriate, whether existing immigration and refugee programs are sufficient, or if new ones are required.”
“At this time, existing immigration programs continue to be available for those who qualify, including opportunities to reunify families through family sponsorship and through temporary pathways such as the parent and grandparent super visa.”
The family sponsorship stream allows immigrants in Canada to unite with their spouses and common-law partners, parents and grandparents, and dependent children.
That family sponsorship stream is already open to Turkish citizens whose family members are settled in Canada with any immigration status, as well as other streams such as express entry. But according to immigration consultants, there has been a backlog in processing all visa applications to Canada from Turkey for months.
IRCC’s move follows a Friday announcement by Global Affairs that it is providing $20 million in humanitarian aid to those affected by the natural disaster.
The Canadian government is also matching $10 million in donations raised by the Humanitarian Coalition and its members, according to International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan.
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