A Ukrainian-Canadian family in Winnipeg, after weeks of waiting for visas for their children, is stranded in Germany, unable to travel to Ukraine or their Canadian destination, pressing Ottawa for answers.
Anastasia Aslanova and Mykhaylo Byelostotskiy Aslanova’s sister Oleksandra and their two daughters – arrange the beds and toys – but the wait is weeks longer than they expected.
The Winnipeg couple helped Olexandra apply for visitor visas before Canada launched its expedited program on March 17, known as the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Accreditation (CUAET).
During the announcement, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said it would take weeks instead of the usual year to process applications.
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At the end of March, Olexandra completed Canada’s biometric requirement at one of Germany’s two visa application centers, although his passport was fitted with an electronic chip with identification such as fingerprints.
At the request of his seven- and nine-year-old daughters on April 2, he translated the birth certificates for them.
But until Wednesday, only Olexandra’s visa was moving forward.
The girls’ applications had been pending for almost a month.
That changed when I received confirmation Wednesday of foil-less visas via email.
Oleksandra faced a deadline Saturday to submit her passport to obtain legal clearance to Canada, otherwise her application would have been canceled.
In an interview with Global News last week, Bylostotsky said, “Children can not travel without her.” “Unfortunately, what I see on so many Facebook groups seems like a pattern.”
Like other families, they could not figure out why the delay occurred even after contacting Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and VFS Global, the agency that manages Canada’s visa application system.
Bylostotsky expressed frustration with limited and unhelpful communication with visa services.
“You’re talking to a wall, which is frustrating at first, but in the situation we have, it’s even worse because she’s in Germany.
Byelostotskiy filed a crisis web form through the IRCC and spoke on the phone with an agent but solutions were not forthcoming. Bylostotsky said he could not connect with VFS Global.
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“The whole process is out of context. This is not how you handle visa applications for people fleeing war. If someone wants to plan their vacation, this is how you do your processing,” Bylostotsky said.
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“Sorry – this is not a holiday.”
In an email statement on Thursday, the IRCC said application processing times would vary depending on the case. A spokesman told Global News that the department completed 93 percent of CUAET temporary resident visa cases between March 17 and April 18 within two weeks.
“The 14-day service standard is the commitment of processing time to standard cases. It can take longer for more complex applications,” they said.
A spokesman said the IRCC was increasing capacity by sending more personnel and supplies to Europe.
“Our (Visa Application Centers) full processing has doubled in recent weeks and officers are completing 18,000 appointments on a weekly basis,” they said.
It also adds biometrics collection sites and offers biometric exemptions to Ukrainians aged 17 and over 61 who have been Canadian visa holders for the past 10 years, the spokesman said.
“Eliminating the visa requirement in a country requires a rigorous process involving the evaluation of several criteria,” they said. “These changes are made through regulation and require systemic changes, both of which cannot be done quickly.”
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But for Aslanova and her family, the painful wait is too long.
It is a full-time job, topping the list of applications, he added.
“It was really frustrating and depressing,” he said. “She’s stuck there. No friends. No family, she has no choice.
“We will take care of her and her daughters.”
Parental recognition, confusion and frustration surrounding visa streams
Another Ukrainian woman, now in Poland via Hungary, got into similar trouble.
Lesia Yaroshenko waited weeks for the visa of her 16-year-old son Hnat, despite approvals for herself and her second son in mid-March.
Before setting up the CUAET in Canada, Yaroshenko also applied for visitor visas. After completing his biometric requirement in Warsaw, Poland, as a teenager, Yaroshenko had to provide proof of parental recognition at the end of March.
An IRCC spokesman said parents who want to travel to Canada alone with their children must provide proof that other parents have agreed to the trip.
They said authorities are flexible while maintaining their duty to protect children.
Yaroshenko anticipated this need and was able to obtain it from her husband before fleeing to Kyiv, Ukraine.
“For those who do not have it, it’s really a problem, because a lot of men now serve in the military and they do not have the opportunity to go to the notary,” Yaroshenko said.
The mother of two made repeated calls to the IRCC in April to find out why Hnat’s visa was still pending. The agent encouraged her from applying to CUAET, telling her that this would further slow down the process.
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Impatient, Yaroshenko applied through CUAET in mid-April anyway and received Hnat’s visa the following week.
“I bought the cake for us and our Polish family. It was a real holiday,” she laughed.
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For Yaroshenko, however, she was glad she applied again.
“If I weren’t so smart and brave, I think we’d be waiting years.”
– With files from the Canadian Press
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