Canada received several thousand fewer temporary resident visa applications for spouses and partners in 2020 than 2019, according to a memorandum to the minister of immigration.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data shows that from January to July 2020, Canada received 1,382 applications. This compares with a total of 5,008 applications for the whole of 2019, signifying an approximately 81% year-over-year decrease.

Despite the sharp drop in applications, the approval rate for spousal visas remained relatively the same, with 46% in 2020 and 47% in 2019. 

True North was shown the memorandum titled Issuance of Temporary Resident Visas to Foreign Nationals Who Have Applied for Permanent Resident as a Spouse or Partner Under the Family Class by immigration lawyer Richard Kurland. The report originally appeared in Lexbase, a monthly publication of Kurland’s law firm Kurland, Tobe.

The memorandum also notes that COVID-19 has affected processing times. Before the pandemic, IRCC was processing anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 persons a month, but by April 2020 only 582 applications were processed. 

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser was tasked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his latest mandate letter to speed up the family reunification process.  

“Work to strengthen family reunification by introducing electronic applications for family reunification and implementing a program to issue temporary resident status to spouses and children abroad while they wait for the processing of their permanent residency application,” Trudeau directed. 

Recent reports show that the IRCC has struggled to deal with the skyrocketing backlog of immigration applications.

As of Oct. 27, 2021, 1.8 million immigration applications had yet to be processed. Of these, 548,195 were permanent residence applications, including 112,392 refugee claims. 774,741 of the applications were for temporary residence, which includes study and work permits or temporary resident visas, while 468,000 were applications for Canadian citizenship.

“Ongoing international travel restrictions, border restrictions, limited operational capacity overseas and the inability on the part of clients to obtain documentation due to the effects of COVID-19 have created barriers within the processing continuum. This hinders IRCC’s ability to finalize applications, creating delays that are outside IRCC’s control,” a department spokesperson told CBC News.