CAQ family reunification Quebec Quebecers

The CAQ’s anti-immigration policies have made family reunification a nightmare for Quebecers

The province’s strict limits on admissions for family reunification, and subsequent delays that make the wait three times longer here than in the ROC, have led to profoundly heartbreaking human consequences.

When it comes to sponsoring a foreign spouse, common-law partner, child or parent, there are bureaucratic delays — and then there are Quebec bureaucratic delays.

Currently, if you’re a Quebecer wishing to reunite with a family member living abroad, you’re out of luck. While Canada’s reunification system has often been criticized for long processing delays — with average times hovering around 12 months — in Quebec, processing delays are currently triple that. 

The reasons are directly linked to the CAQ government’s limits imposed on admissions for family reunification, which lead to profoundly heartbreaking human consequences.

Unlike other Canadian provinces, Quebec decides how many permanent residents it accepts each year and how many are issued the Quebec Selection Certificate. When applying, a sponsor will need to submit the application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and to Quebec’s Ministry of Immigration, Francization and Integration (MIFI). The federal government can only process the total number selected and chosen by Quebec. Since IRCC routinely gets more applications than Quebec will accept, this leads to significant backlogs.

Currently, the annual quota for family reunification has been set by the CAQ government at 10,400, a total that also includes parents and grandparents. With 38,600 Quebec families currently waiting to be processed, it’s impossible to catch up to these delays without increasing annual quotas. As a result, thousands and thousands of Quebecers are separated for years from the people they love. And wait times only continue to grow. 

Québec Réunifié, a collective comprising over 1,800 families and representing a diverse array of citizens and permanent residents from all regions of Quebec, recently addressed an open letter to Quebec’s immigration minister, Christine Frechette, imploring her to resolve these unacceptable delays.

“We wish to draw your attention to the alarming reality of the delays, which have been recently a high as 42 months in Quebec, compared to 10 to 12 months in other Canadian provinces,” the letter states. 

So far, there has been little if any indication that the government is listening. 

Marie and Will: Living apart since 2019

family reunification CAQ Quebec anti-immigration
Will Blewitt and Marie-Gervaise Pilon

Québec Réunifié campaign coordinator Marie-Gervaise Pilon, a 47-year-old English CEGEP teacher, is one of many Quebecers who simply had the misfortune of falling in love with a foreigner. Since 2019, she and her partner, 41-year-old Will Blewitt, a computer programmer from Britain, have been essentially living apart. In their 40s, they’re eager to start their lives together, hoping there might still be a small chance they could have a child and haven’t missed that window of opportunity. She says these delays are tampering with her right to procreate and start a family.

While Gervaise-Pilon considers herself privileged compared with some sponsors — as a teacher she can spend summers with her husband, and him living in Britain makes travelling to and from much easier and Visa-free — separation has been extremely hard. 

“We were apart 13 months during the pandemic,” she says. “It was traumatic. It had an emotional and psychological impact for us.” 

Since she submitted her spousal sponsorship application in August of 2023, the processing times have only gotten longer and longer. For spouses living abroad, she says, the delay hovers around three years. For spouses living in the country, it’s around 24 to 28 months, but still double the standard for ROC applicants. “Delays reached an all-time high of 42 months in Quebec a few months ago,” she says. “They decreased slightly to around 37, 38 months, but they’re still triple what they are in the rest of the country.”

With roughly two thirds of sponsors being francophones and the percentage of sponsored people who speak French being quite high (even her British husband has advanced French), the frustrated Quebecer fails to understand how the government isn’t prioritizing family reunification. “Most of these applicants are highly educated,” she says. “Many work in professions and trades that are needed in Quebec. In the context of labour shortages, these delays make even less sense.” 

Gervaise-Pilon recently heard of someone who left for Ontario and a month later received permanent residency. She’s now considering a move as well. 

Sponsors responsible for those they sponsor

Even as Canada grapples with a national housing and healthcare crisis, Quebecers unfamiliar with the family reunification file might not know that sponsors are financially responsible for three years for the spouse or common-law partner they bring into the country. That increases to 10 years if they sponsor parents or grandparents. That means housing, travel, food-related costs, as well as healthcare and prescription drugs. That obligation does not cease to exist in the event of divorce or separation. 

Some opposition parties like Québec Solidaire (QS) and the Quebec Liberal Party have voiced concerns about the delays. QS Immigration Critic Guillaume Cliche-Rivard has been critical of the imposed limit by the CAQ government, which he says is significantly lower than other provinces, and the source of many of these delays. Federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller has also applied pressure on the CAQ to increase its family reunification capacity, reminding Frechette these are people waiting to be reunited with their families. 

This past December, in order to reduce waiting times, Minister Miller proposed that the federal government continue to process files for which Quebec has already issued a Certificate of Selection. Minister Frechette’s office, in return, emailed the federal minister reminding him that the threshold for family reunification was already set by the Quebec government, and without acknowledging how low reunification limits were creating these backlogs, told the federal government it must prioritize requests that have been pending the longest

On one hand, the CAQ government is trying to simultaneously limit immigration in Quebec and assert even more control over its own immigration, and on the other hand the federal government is trying to speed up the process without stepping on Quebec’s toes. Even though immigration lawyers involved in the file argue the Quebec government doesn’t have the right to set a quota for admissions in the family reunification category and the government of Canada doesn’t have to respect that threshold imposed by Quebec. In the meantime, while bureaucrats and politicians duke it out, Quebecers wishing to be reunited with their loved ones are human collateral. 

Gervaise-Pilon says the provincial government’s messaging has been confusing, with Minister Frechette insisting the federal government speed up the process, somehow implying that they’re the ones responsible for the delays. 

“It’s been extremely frustrating to hear all this contradictory messaging from the provincial government,” she says. “We’re talking about families who need to be together. Keeping them separated will cause immense suffering to fellow Québécois struggling with distress. Men and women who need their spouses or partners.” 

Evgeny and Anastasiia: worn down by the stress of separation

family reunification CAQ Quebec anti-immigration
Evgeny Golubev and Anastasiia

One of those couples who’ve felt the stress of long-term separation caused by these unacceptable delays are Quebecer Evgeny Golubev and his wife Anastasiia. 

When 38-year-old Golubev, who emigrated with his mother to Quebec in 1999 at the age of 15, first met his wife Anastasiia (a Russian national) on a Cuban getaway in November of 2021, he initially thought it would be a fun vacation fling. But life — and love — had other plans.

After deciding to stay in touch, they eventually entered a long-distance relationship, and in February of 2022, they reunited in Cuba. “We had four extraordinary days together,” says Golubev, “and then the war started.” At that point, Anastasiia, who’s a councillor helping people with PTSD and can work remotely, wasn’t sure if it was safe to return to Russia. She decided, instead, to fly to Mexico and work from there. She temporarily returned to Russia after being diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety after three visa refusals to visit Golubev in Canada, and then returned to Mexico again, to be a short flight away from Golubev. In May 2022 they married and the following month they started the family reunification process with an immigration lawyer. 

Almost two years later, they’re still waiting. 

Golubev, who works as an engineer with Hydro-Québec, and tells me he’s never had a bout of depression before, recently found himself diagnosed with severe depression and insomnia. 

“It’s the uncertainty that kills you,” he says. “It makes you depressed and anxious. You feel hopeless.”

Research has indicated that family separation is associated with increased risk of depression, anxiety, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. For the first time in his life, Golubev went on medical leave. “Thanks to antidepressants, I’m now doing better,” he says. “I can function.” 

His wife has also been severely impacted by the separation. “When I went to see her, I was horrified,” he says. “She had lost weight and had bags under her eyes as she became depressed and anxious being alone.” Anastasiia is also reticent about returning to Russia because she’s been vocal about the war and worries her political views could make her a target.

While they live parallel lives in separate countries, Golubev works overnight shifts in addition to his day shifts to accumulate overtime so he can visit Anastasiia every few months. But with processing delays continuing to grow and a provincial government unwilling to help speed up the process, Golubev is ready to throw in the towel and move to another province to start a life with his wife. It’s not something he wants, but something he says he’s being forced to do. 

“I love Quebec and my job here,” he says. “I have property here, I have tenants, I have a life. I don’t want to move, but we feel like we’ve been left hanging. I’ve already started looking at jobs and already received offers in Ontario.” His case, he says, hasn’t been touched since April of 2023 and backlogs indicate 37-month delays right now. 

“I’m so grateful to Quebec and Canada for giving me a life here where I became an engineer,” he says. “But I work hard, I contribute, I pay my taxes, I volunteer. I’m not asking for much. None of the concerns cited regarding immigration are relevant to my case. I have a house my wife would live in; I’d be responsible for sponsoring her for three years.” 

Golubev says he and other applicants feel like they’ve been thrown under the bus for political reasons. “I feel like collateral damage,” he says. “I did everything by the book. I had faith in my government, and I’ve now realized that all they care about is using this as a voting issue. Their reply is generic and aimed at appealing to the majority who may not be keen on immigration. They’re keeping the numbers low for political gain.”

He plans on leaving this April. “The uncertainty that we’ve lived in the last two years has taken a toll on both of us,” he says. “The toll is not just financial but emotional. It hasn’t just cost us money. It’s cost us time. We’re not ready to lose another two years.”

As Quebec grapples with an aging population and severe labour shortages, Golubev wonders what the long-term repercussions of family reunification delays will be. “At Hydro-Québec, many are now retiring,” he says. “We have huge turnover and severe shortages. And some of these positions require five to ten years of experience, you can’t just slot someone in there. We have no one to replace them.” 

He cites the example of another Quebecer he knows waiting to be reunited with his wife, a cardiologist with thousands of patients under his care. He, too, is considering a move to another province rather than wait three more years to be reunited.

“I think it’s really important that people realize the impact that these delays have on so many of us,” he says. “It really ruins lives. I’ve never been depressed before, but I can easily see how these delays and the anxiety and uncertainty they generate can create suicidal thoughts or make people resort to alcohol. I hope others going through this are getting the support that they need.”

Léa and Ilkay: Stuck in limbo

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Ilkay Cem Karakurt and Léa Beauregard

Not everyone waiting for their file to be processed is separated. Some left Quebec to live abroad with their partner while waiting for their file to be finalized, unwilling to put their lives on hold. And many couples in the family reunification file met while working abroad and are currently living together, waiting to move to Quebec. 

Back in 2018, Léa Beauregard moved to Turkey to teach French as a second language and met Ilkay Cem Karakurt a Turkish banker. “We started dating and immediately knew we were compatible,” says the 31-year-old Quebecer. “After a few dates, we bought plane tickets to travel to Cappadocia together.” 

Then the global pandemic hit. 

“Suddenly, we couldn’t go anywhere,” Karakurt laughs. The next two years and Turkey’s strict lockdowns were a trial by fire. The relationship not only survived but flourished. By the end of 2022, they finally managed to go to Cappadocia, this time on their honeymoon. 

As Beauregard and her 35-year-old husband started thinking of starting a family, she convinced him that moving to Quebec would provide the opportunity to raise their future kids in a multicultural city and a francophone environment, something she says was a deciding factor.

“Being able to offer my children both a French and English education is important to me,” she says. “I want to be able to transmit my French culture and language to them and it would be far more expensive and difficult to do in Turkey.” 

Despite both having very successful careers and an established and happy life in Istanbul, they decided to apply for family reunification and a future in Montreal — a process, they were initially told would take under a year when they applied seven months ago. By their calculations, they would be receiving final approval to move by February of this year. With this in mind, and with plans to move in July and hopefully start a family by 2025, Beauregard resigned from her job.

“I didn’t renew my contract at the school where I was employed for the last five years,” she explains. “It was a good position, but I resigned because we were told we would receive permanent residency in early 2024. But now, with delays extended to 37 more months, I feel robbed. I had a job I loved in a school that was treating me very well and now my position has been filled, and I lost the good career path I was on.”

The backlogs have left them both feeling frustrated and angry. “It’s been days and days of complete desperation,” she says. “We were told that this is what we had to do, and we did it. It’s all too hard to accept. I now need to find a new job in another school, and I feel like our lives are pending.”

Karakurt says the uncertainty has left them in limbo. “If we decide to start a family here, we’ll need to move to a bigger apartment and purchase furniture,” he says, “not knowing when we’d receive a notice we were approved.”

Another emotion, Beauregard says she’s grappling with, is shame. “I’m the one who convinced Ilkay to move to Quebec,” she says. “We have a great life here, I love Turkey, we’re both successful in our careers, he has his family here.” But once she persuaded him, Ilkay was all in. Her husband who was educated in French started listening to Quebec radio and music in preparation for the move. “I feel guilty because I promised him this would work and thanks to the government not doing its job, it’s turned into a logistical and financial nightmare.”

They say MIFI employees advised Karakurt to bypass the system by applying for temporary residency, moving to Quebec and then waiting for a work permit — something neither of them is willing to undertake. “Why would we put ourselves in that unpredictable position where nothing is certain, and he might be stuck at home unable to work?” says Beauregard. “We did everything by the book and they’re advising us to cheat? How will the backlog ever be resolved that way?” 

The irony is that, in many ways, this couple — as are all the people interviewed here — are good candidates for Quebec. The province has a dire need for teachers, a profession Beauregard wants to continue working in, and Karakurt has been educated in French, therefore requiring no francisation courses or additional steps for his degree to be recognized here.

“I can’t swallow this pill,” Beauregard says. “I’m a born and raised Quebecer who can’t raise my kids in French. If the delays continue, we’ll stay here. I love Montreal and my French culture, but at a certain point, I’ll let go. It shouldn’t be this hard.” ■

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis.