Ottawa family finds lengthy citizenship roadblocks for adopted son clear after news coverage

Three weeks after a National Post story documented a family’s 19-month wait to process their adoption, that process is now nearly complete

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An Ottawa family that was told this month to expect a nearly two-year delay from Canada’s federal immigration bureaucracy over their international adoption has now been told their citizenship application for their new son has been approved, shortly after a story about their ordeal appeared in National Post.

However, other Canadian families adopting children from abroad continue to struggle with prolonged delays, an adoption agent said.

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The Post reported earlier this month about Greg Hanniman and wife Marli Nicol who had flown in August to Bulgaria to adopt two-year-old Aleksandar from an orphanage there and had been prepared for a lengthy process of getting citizenship for their new son, having been told by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officers it would take at least 19 months to process their application.

Hanniman said that process is now complete.

“It was like winning the lottery,” Hanniman said upon receiving an email from IRCC last week requesting documents to support Aleksandar’s adoption application.

By the next morning, the application for citizenship was approved.

“That is legitimately an acceptable time frame, a little under a month, especially since he’s already living in Canada,” said Hanniman, a Canadian Forces combat veteran who now works in the cybersecurity industry.

“Everything’s already done, there’s no confusion that he’s going to get approved.”

Adopting a child from outside of Canada is a two-step process.

In the past, turnaround times for part one approvals — where parents provide proof of their Canadian citizenship and notify IRCC of where they’re adopting from — were well within the six-month visitor’s visa granted to newly arrived adoptees.

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But processing times have long outgrown that six-month window, say advocates, who say delays leave families to face the reality of their newly adopted child overstaying their visas.

Pavel Georgiev with Toronto-based Loving Heart International Adoption Agency said that while the Hannimans had a stroke of good luck, bureaucratic barriers still remain for other Canadians who adopt overseas. 

“We’re still in the same boat where, if the adoption is completed before the part one approval is issued, which is more often the case these days with approvals taking upwards of 18 months, adoptive families are left with no choice but to try to get their part one review expedited and moved forward,” he said.

“The difficulty there is that it’s not easy to get a hold of somebody within IRCC, and there doesn’t appear to be a process in place for them.”

Aleksandar Hanniman plays at his home in Arnprior, Ont. on Thursday, Aug. 31 2023.
Aleksandar Hanniman plays at his home in Arnprior, Ont. on Thursday, Aug. 31 2023. Photo by Bryan Passifiume /National Post/Postmedia Network

With that hurdle behind them, Hanniman said he faces more problems from Ontario’s Ministry of Health, which he said rejected Aleksandar’s application for coverage and won’t hear the family’s appeal for at least 10 weeks.

“We have all the documentation required to get health care now. It even says on the last page of the documentation that once this adoption is finalized, he is to be treated like a natural-born child of Canada,” Hanniman said.

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“But because of the mishmash of policies and no one really understands what’s going on, he keeps getting moved around and sent around to different places — and we still don’t have a health card.”

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Ontario health ministry spokesperson Anna Miller said that under current legislation only Canadian citizens or those in the country with insurance-eligible immigration statuses are entitled to apply for OHIP.

If any child arrives in Canada without Canadian citizenship or an OHIP-eligible immigration status, they will not be eligible for coverage until one has been obtained. This includes adopted children,” she said.

Adopted children are only deemed eligible for health coverage by IRCC after the federal department confirms the child meets eligibility requirements to apply for citizenship, Miller said.

Georgiev said there’s been a number of inconsistencies with how provincial health ministries deal with international adoptions.

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“This has been a long-standing issue,” he said, explaining the aforementioned “OHIP-eligible immigration status” is a major sticking point, particularly surrounding a lack of knowledgeable front-line service providers in Ontario. 

“There is a lack of consistency across different Service Ontario centres regarding what answers adoptive families are being given.”

While many adoptive families can enroll their children for Ontario health coverage, others deal with Service Ontario employees who either give them incorrect information or simply aren’t aware of the regulations.

“Sometimes they’re being told the child isn’t eligible,”Georgiev said.

“I’ve heard people come back and say they’ve had to wait three months, which does not apply to these cases and I believe is a matter of human error.”

So far, the Hannimans have been paying out-of-pocket for Aleksandar’s medical expenses.

“It makes no sense,” Hanniman said.

“He’s going to be granted (citizenship) probably in the next few weeks. Why do we need to wait this long?”

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