The Liberal government probably will not send officials back overseas to process Syrian refugees at the pace it did during the push to bring 25,000 to Canada, but says it has told the immigration department to find creative ways to expedite private-sponsorship applications submitted before March 31.
The government this week extended the period during which Syrian applications had priority, and estimates about 10,000 applications for private sponsorship are in the queue. It was forced to extend the deadline because of a public outcry over the slowed processing pace after Ottawa hit its goal of resettling 25,000 Syrians by Feb. 29.
Arif Virani, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister John McCallum, said the department is looking at ways to process private sponsorships of Syrians as quickly as possible. In a letter to sponsorship agreement holders this week, Mr. McCallum said applications received before March 31 will be finalized by the end of 2016 or early 2017.
“The minister has instructed the department to ensure that we get these done as fast as possible, and we’re looking to the department to come up with creative solutions,” Mr. Virani said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
While Mr. Virani doubts the government will reopen the temporary processing centres set up in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon during the height of the Syrian resettlement process, he said it hopes to continue some processing methods used during that time.
“We expedited things a lot … because we were able to do concurrent processing, so I mean medicals and security checks simultaneously.”
Speaking in Washington on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not say whether his government would boost staffing to deal with the increased number of privately sponsored Syrian refugee applications.
“We are in fact increasing the number of privately sponsored refugees that we will be accepting,” said Mr. Trudeau said when asked about the 10,000 applications.
“There is a clear demand from community groups and individuals across this country to make sure that they can do more to welcome in Syrian refugees as new Canadians.”
Mr. Virani also did not say whether the department intends to hire more officials to deal with the influx of applications, but indicated that the centralized processing office in Winnipeg may have staffing changes.
The government’s deadline extension on Wednesday night gave sponsors less than 24 hours to submit their paperwork. Sponsorship groups say the government has to invest in more resources if it hopes to process the 10,000 applications on time.
They are also encouraging the government to look “outside the box” to harness the current enthusiasm for sponsorships.
“I think a lot of the people that are waiting for families to come are more than willing to actually spend their time working with the families that are here,” said Peter Goodspeed, a Lifeline Syria board member.
Mr. Virani said the government has started connecting people waiting for the Syrians they sponsored to arrive with resettlement agencies so they can help refugees already in Canada with the settlement process.