Are you waiting for the confirmation of your extended work permits? It may be in a stranger’s inbox

Do you know of a Sehajpreet Singh Aulakh or Yelim Lee? How about Patricia Kaye Mendoza Castrence or Gurinder Singh?

If so, please let them know the immigration department has finally approved their work permit extensions. However, their confirmation letters — and personal information such as mailing addresses and as well as client and application numbers — are in someone else’s hands.

As officials are rushing to renew more than 93,000 expired and expiring work permits by the end of this year, some applicants are shocked to find in their email and immigration accounts the documents that belong to someone they don’t know.

What’s more, the department has explicitly warned in the letter and on its website to “not email us to ask questions” to avoid penalties. So some are resorting to social media to find the real owners of the documents.

“I’m confused and worried at the same time because my document could be sent to another person by mistake and I would never know,” said Dennis Dominique Maniquez of Toronto, who got an attached letter Wednesday addressed to a Gurinder Singh in Surrey, B.C.

“I know how Mr. Singh is feeling now. We all know how stressful it is. We have all been waiting for this work permit extension for a long time.”

Due to skyrocketing backlogs that have reached 2.7 million applications during the COVID-19 pandemic, officials suspended the intake of some skilled immigration programs until last month.

This has left many skilled international students — who would otherwise have been able to apply for permanent residence — with no status and expired work permits.

On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser finally rolled out interim measures to allow international students who have been caught up in this immigration limbo to stay and work legally in this country.

The special policy covers former international students with expired or expiring post-graduation work permits, and those who applied under the “temporary resident to permanent resident pathway” last year but have either run out or are running out of work authorization — while waiting for updated status from Sept. 20, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2022. Their work permits will be extended for up to 18 months.

However, within a day of the Aug. 2 launch, posts started popping up in social media groups by shocked — and frustrated — applicants looking for help to return the documents to their rightful owners.

“If you are or know anybody having the same name, PM me: Name: SEHAJPREET SINGH AULAKH,” said one post on Facebook that also included the person’s partially redacted client and application numbers.

Another read: “Hi guys if you know the person! Pls let his (sic)/her know! Applicant name: YELIM LEE.”

A third, attached with a copy of the government letter, said, “Looking for Patricia Kaye Mendoza Castrence. I got your OWP (open work permit) extension letter.”

The immigration department said it was made aware of the privacy breach on Aug. 3 and is investigating. Once all affected people have been identified, they will be sent an email with the correct information.

“A separate email will be sent to affected clients informing them of the privacy breach. We are advising clients NOT to share the incorrect email with others and to delete the email from their inbox,” a department spokesperson told the Star in an email.

Vaibhavi Gaur, a graduate from Sheridan College, was thrilled when she got an email Wednesday from Immigration with an attached confirmation of work permit extension. Only when her partner spotted the name on the document did she realize it was intended for a woman from Iran.

Gaur, originally from India, said she was very surprised because the name, application and client numbers of the person were not even close to hers.

And there’s a line at the bottom of the document that said, “If you email this address for any reason, you will be automatically removed from our list of applicants who are eligible to be mailed a new work permit. This will ensure that we can provide new work permits as fast as possible.”

(The special policy’s webpage initially also stated: “Do not email us to ask questions. If you email us for any reason, you’ll be removed from our list of applicants who are eligible to be mailed a new work permit in round 1.” The line has since been removed.)

So instead of jeopardizing her own case, Gaur, who works in advertising, took it upon herself to search for and contact a person with the same unique name on Instagram.

“Immigration explicitly mentioned that you cannot contact us or we’ll remove you from the automatic (work permit) renewal system. I’m in this dilemma. What am I supposed to do?” asked the Toronto woman, who has yet to get a response from the person she contacted.

It’s not known how many of the extended work permit confirmations have been sent to the wrong people or how it happened, but migrants advocate Vilma Pagaduan has already received four such inquiries this week from members of her Facebook group.

She said they included intended recipients in British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan through email or direct delivery into people’s secured personal accounts with the immigration department. Applicants who contacted her were scared of being taken off the automatic renewal system if they informed immigration officials about it.

“It’s a threat. And it’s very derogatory and discriminatory. It’s like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to see your face. I don’t want to hear any complaints from you.’ This didn’t come from a friend. It’s on the government website and in its letter,” said Pagaduan.

“My concern is, to clear the backlog, the immigration department keeps opening new public policies but they’re not addressing the issue. The issue is permanent residency for everybody. I have people waiting for PR since 2015 and they are still waiting for approval. To solve the problem, they open yet another program.”

Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, said what happened is a serious privacy breach and the government should know these errors have seriously consequences.

“Despite the immigration minister’s claim that the system is working, the department continues to be in complete chaos,” said Kwan. “They are putting people in perpetual distress. I can’t believe that the government has resorted to this kind of scare tactics.

“With this kind of communication, they are telling people that they are unimportant and they are not welcomed. The Liberals are completely forgetting that immigration services can impact someone for the rest of their lives. They are putting Canada’s reputation in jeopardy.”

Immigration officials said the department established a process for clients to contact IRCC at the email address provided in the correspondence, only if they were opting out of receiving a work permit. The dedicated email address help create a list of eligible candidates, so new work permits can be delivered quickly.

“The intent of the line, that has since been deleted, was to ensure that clients did not accidentally opt out of getting a new work permit. It was removed in response to client concerns,” said the immigration department spokesperson.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung


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