Ukrainians fleeing war face biometric bottleneck slowing visa applications to Canada

After two weeks in a Kharkiv bomb shelter, Olana Markova and her 15-year-old daughter, Daria, are stranded in Poland and facing Canadian visa delays as part of the process to help those fleeing the conflict. in Ukraine.

“I think we will have a much more peaceful and happy life there in Canada,” Daria said. “I hope I will continue my studies.”

The hurdle they face is making an appointment to complete the visa requirement for biometric collection under the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Clearance.

Ukrainians must complete it before arriving in Canada and it is an “essential part” of the security screening process, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Margarita Maslov, Olana Markova’s sister, said she tried several times to work her way through the reservation system.

“I tell you six nights in a row, every night I try to make an appointment and there is no chance of booking,” Maslov said.

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They are not alone in the fight to get a date and the challenge has an expert raising questions about Canada’s commitment to helping Ukrainians.

Jamie Liew, a law professor at the University of Ottawa whose background includes immigration law, says Canada should collect biometric information after Ukrainians travel here.

“We now see biometrics [are] creating a bottleneck and really serving as a barrier to effective and timely protection,” Liew said. “I think Canada should rethink that given what they are seeing on the pitch.

She says Canada would still have legal recourse if the biometric check revealed a security issue in Canada.

Jamie Liew, an immigration lawyer in Ottawa, says Ukrainians should go through security checks once they arrive in Canada. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Limitations of the temporary resident program

Liew said long wait times have become common in immigration processes and applications.

Although the emergency travel process for Ukrainians removed many typical visa requirements, Liew said the biometrics showed the limit of this temporary residency program’s flexibility.

“This raises a lot of questions about Canada’s commitment to enduring refugee protection,” Liew said.

Rik Ferguson, a Warsaw resident who opened his home to Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion, says he also tried to navigate the Canadian system for the Markovas to no avail.

“It seems to me that the bottleneck is in the wrong place. If you have things like transatlantic flights as a funnel, then you could do the biometrics collection upon arrival in Canada,” Ferguson said.

Ukrainian refugees wait to give their biometrics outside the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this month. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

In an attempt to limit delays, IRCC said it has deployed more staff to visa application centers in the capitals of Poland, Austria and Hungary while monitoring visa application center capacity.

The department also said Ukrainians were given priority for “same-day emergency appointments.”

Visa applicants normally have 30 days to travel to a “biometric collection point” once they receive the letter of instructions, but IRCC says an extension is automatic if more time is needed to pick up. appointment.