Former Afghan interpreter left in the dark on immigration status after government paperwork changes

CBC News

Raffy Boudjikanian · CBC News · Posted: Feb 07, 2023

Ten days after retired Canadian military nursing officer Lisa Compton told CBC News about her struggles to bring an Afghan military interpreter and his family to Canada, the federal immigration department has stopped providing her with updates on his case.

Compton, who served six deployments in Afghanistan starting in 2007, met and befriended the interpreter during her first tour. Since 2021, she's been trying to get him and his family to Canada under special immigration rules for Afghans who worked with the Canadian military during the Afghan war.

In 2021, the interpreter filled out a form authorizing Compton to act as his official representative with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Recently, she said, the department cut off her access to the interpreter's file.

"I proceeded to make a phone call again, as I usually do, and just call the info line … and at this time I was told I no longer had access to information, that my file wasn't current any longer," Compton said.

She said she later received an email from an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staffer — seen by CBC News — that told her the form the interpreter had filled out was no longer valid.

Immigration Canada changed the form in November 2021. Compton said she was never asked for a new form until last month.

She said she's frustrated to encounter another bureaucratic roadblock while her former colleague and his family are being hunted by the Taliban.

"Kind of absurd when you realize that you're informing … the IRCC that this gentleman is running and hiding from the Taliban and his family has to flee constantly from one place to another," she said. "And now they want you to update a form because there's a new form number on it?"

The two documents are very similar to one another. Each asks the applicant to provide contact information for their representative and state whether the representative is related to them, is expecting to be compensated or is an immigration consultant.

The newer version replaces the former name of the immigration department — Citizenship and Immigration Canada — with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the name the federal Liberal government gave the department in 2015.

Immigration lawyer Arghavan Gerami said it's "unusual" for IRCC to insist on a new form purely for form's sake.

She said the department typically wouldn't make such a request unless it needed to update the representative's personal information.

"It definitely causes delay and potential access issues," she said. "There's a lot of anxiety about these applications. And vulnerable claimants who are in risky situations have difficulty submitting their applications and their supporting documentation and then waiting for a response." 

CBC News is not identifying the former interpreter. He and his family are in hiding in Pakistan on expired visas while they wait for their immigration to Canada to be processed.

He told CBC News he is frustrated and alarmed by this latest bureaucratic obstacle. He said he had to sneak out of his temporary shelter at night to find a safe place to fill out the new document online.

"If you don't want to take us, just tell us straight and not like this," he said of Immigration Canada. "My family is waiting."

Compton has told CBC News how the interpreter once shielded her from a rocket attack on their base in Kandahar, even though she was wearing body armour at the time and he was unprotected.

'It's life or death'

She said she hopes the IRCC's sudden insistence on a new form isn't an act of retaliation against her for her speaking out about the delays in processing his application.

"We go and do what the government of Canada asks us to go and do," she said. "I've upheld that in being completely apolitical, in any type of expression whatsoever. And it's life or death for my friend."

Now that the new form has been submitted, she is waiting for a period of 10 business days to elapse before she can start receiving updates again.

IRCC told CBC News it would not comment on individual cases.

It said a form would "typically remain valid throughout the application process, even if the form changes."

The department also said that "if certain requested documents are not available, IRCC may accept an explanation as to why documentation cannot be submitted and trained officers will use their discretion to make sure the circumstances explained are taken into account."

It declined to answer when asked how many Canadian immigration hopefuls have representatives they have obtained through filling out the old form.

IRCC said the new form requires specifics on whether a representative would be compensated — although that information is also part of the old form.