Jignesh Padia has been trying to relocate his 63-year-old mother permanently from the U.K. to Regina for the past seven years, but the wait seems endless.
The 41-year-old first submitted an application for permanent residency for his parents in January 2017 under the federal Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP). In April of that year, they received the confirmation that they haven't been short-listed.
"We further followed up in 2017, but didn't receive any other guidance or direction. We were just asked to sit tight. In 2018, nothing happened. We also applied in 2019 again, nothing happened. We are still waiting," Padia said.
Under the program, successful applicants are randomly selected by lottery. Padia said he has been unlucky to not receive an invitation yet and feels it is unfair that he could wait so long while others get lucky much sooner.
As of Jan. 8, Ottawa said the backlog of applications under PGP sits under 76,000 applications.
Jignesh Padia says his mother Sandhya Jani, 63, has an active social life in Regina and is a well-respected community member. The family tries their best to be a remote support when she's in the U.K. but say it's not sustainable. (Submitted by Jignesh Padia)
His mother has used visitor visas to come see him during the intervening years, but that means a maximum of six months of stay per year.
"We're looking for a permanent solution. As she's getting older, her health is not going to remain safe."
Padia pays for insurance for his mother, who is in the U.K. by herself, and most recently visited her in December 2023 to assist her with the medical appointments. Aside from a lung condition, Padia is concerned about his mother's loneliness — a circumstance he said added to his father's failing health.
"I lost my dad while we were waiting for the results of this permanent residency application. Now, I only have my mom and she's alone there. I'm very concerned and worried about her health. There is nobody to look after her," he said.
Thousands in the same situation
The federal immigrant department has had multiple ministers in the time Padia has been waiting. Many phone calls, detailed emails and letters elaborating the urgency of their case have only elicited boilerplate responses, Padia said.
He is a part of an online social media group with hundreds of similarly affected people across the country.
The lottery system is contentious, with critics claiming it essentially gambles with peoples' lives.
In 2019, the federal government gave at least 70 applicants spots to sponsor parents and grandparents in return for dropping lawsuits that claimed the online application process to reunite immigrant families was flawed and unfair.
"Those who sued were able to bring their parents to Canada, and those of us who just believed in the system and tried year after year, are still left waiting," Padia said.
"The accountability is completely missing.… It's very frustrating. It's like a one way street where I follow the rules and try to communicate but I don't get anything in return."
In an email statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said the government continues to prioritize family reunification. In 2024, the government said it hopes to welcome 32,000 individuals through the PGP, increasing it to 34,000 individuals in 2025.
"Applications for Parents and Grandparents Program are processed according to approved admission targets in the Immigration Levels Plan. However, the interest in this program has surpassed the allocated spaces," the statement said.
"IRCC is working to reduce application backlogs and build a stronger immigration system. This is part of IRCC's commitment to modernize Canada's immigration system and simplify the application process."
Padia said his family has been waiting endlessly and urges Ottawa to reconsider the system.
"It's not working for us. It's not working for many other people who really need their parents," he said.
System gambles with lives: immigration lawyer
Lou Dangzalan, an immigration lawyer from Toronto, said the standard processing time for applications under PGP is 24 months.
"Someone from 2017 still waiting, which is approximately seven years already, is quite egregious," he said.
He suggested attaining all notes on the application and then approaching either the IRCC call centre or a local member of parliament. Dangzalan said as a last resort applicants can file a mandamus application before the Federal Court, wherein the court can direct IRCC to make a decision, but now even that avenue has backlogs.
"Now in addition to delays at the IRCC, they're also delays at the federal court," he said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people also try to secure that remedy."
Lou Janssen Dangzalan said IRCC should use a weighted lottery system where applicants who have been in the pool and country longer have a better chance. (Submitted by John Hryniuk)
Dangzalan said the lottery PGP system should be rethought. Though it did introduce a sense of fairness by removing first come first serve online, it resulted in backlog heaping.
"The lottery system is something that basically you're gambling with people's lives," he said. "Some people could wait one year and be very lucky. Or some people could be waiting 10 years to sponsor their parents or grandparents, which is also very unfair."
Dangzalan said he and other organizations have been pushing for a weighted lottery system.
"The longer you're waiting in the pool, and the longer you've been in Canada, you should have higher chances of getting drawn," he said.
Dangzalan said this would prioritize applicants like Padia, who has been here since 2010, rather than someone who just became a permanent resident.
Lack of transparency and accountability
Padia's wife Liza Parekh said she there has been an "unsettling" lack of clarity on her mother-in-law's PGP application. She said the uncertainty is "very daunting," especially when other people who applied after them have already brought their parents over.
"I know it's a lottery system and random, but why does the randomness then not apply to other cases?" she said.
"It just feels very confusing and unfair with lack of transparency in the system."
Jignesh Padia, with his wife Liza Parekh and son Arjun, says the government should revisit the Parents and Grandparents Program as it's not working for many families. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)
Parekh said the stress of being left in limbo is taking a toll — emotional and financial —on her family.
"We try our best to be a remote support when she's there through daily calls and follow-ups, but it's not sustainable," she said. "Her quality of life would be better here."
To see the family over a video call is "the highlight of her day," Parekh said.
Padia's son Arjun said he misses his grandmother's cooking, especially her cakes with generous frosting.
"We just hope that she can come here soon and stay permanently," the 11-year-old said.