Canadian Parliament committee's recommendations for Immigration backlogs
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) has released a study on application backlogs and processing times by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
The committee is made up of 12 members of Canada’s parliament (MPs), with at least one member from each of the major political parties. It was established to monitor federal immigration and multiculturalism policy, and to apply pressure on the government when urgent action is needed. For example, the committee asked the government to stop the deportation of 700 Indian students who were issued false letters of admission.
Application processing times, and the backlog, have been prominent topics of late. In 2022, there were almost 2.7 million immigration applications in IRCC’s inventory. This was largely caused by measures put in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
On February 1, 2022, the committee adopted a motion to study application backlogs and processing times for all immigration streams at IRCC. According to the CIMM motion, the study includes the status of actions being taken to reduce backlogs and processing times, measures being taken to prioritize processing vulnerable immigrants’ applications stuck in backlog, and how the government can modernize the current immigration system.
Accurate and equitable processing times
The report, In Demand Yet Unprocessed: Endemic Immigration Backlogs was released on December 14 and contained multiple recommendations on steps that IRCC can take to improve Canada's overall immigration system. Many of the recommendations relate directly to the backlog.
One of the factors is creating accurate and equitable processing times. The report recommends that IRCC set a deadline to clear the backlog and introduce accountability measures to ensure that deadlines are met for all applications, not just the newer ones.
It says that IRCC will sometimes shelve older applications to maintain processing standards and “give the illusion” that processing times have improved. It observes that this is not equitable and recommends that IRCC should set a deadline for processing older backlog applications. Further, it says that IRCC should post accurate processing times online.
In IRCC’s recently released, An Immigration System for Canada's Future (IRCC’s new strategy to improve Canada’s immigration system by making it more transparent and easier to navigate), the department says it does plan to revisit expected processing times to be more accurate.
Transition to digitization
IRCC frequently mentions ongoing efforts to modernize and digitize Canada’s immigration system. The CIMM report says that the transition to online platforms has been beneficial to users overall, but it was “not deployed with the appropriate amount of prior trouble shooting.”
It recommends that IRCC audit the online portal process for bugs and errors and immediately correct them. It also says that the department should consult with users of the online systems and portals to properly troubleshoot frequent glitches and technical problems.
It further recommends the creation of an ombudsperson to oversee program improvements and ensure that changes are maintained and enforced. As of now, the report says that "while problem areas may be identified in consultation between IRCC and stakeholders, there is no current requirement that these issues be addressed in law or in practice."
Several times throughout the report, it mentions that IRCC should take steps to ensure that applicants are kept informed on their application and how the department comes to a final decision. For example, it says applicants should have access to immigration officer notes on their final decision to help resolve any issue that may have led to a negative response.
Currently, applicants must file an Access to Information and Privacy Request to obtain officer notes. This slows the application process down for clients and adds to IRCC’s workload.
Misallocation of resources
The CIMM report recommends that in addition to hiring more staff, IRCC should examine how resources are allocated and trained.
Former immigration minister Sean Fraser is quoted as saying “one of biggest challenges … is realizing that it takes time to hire and train people and get them up to speed.” He believed that investments and time would help IRCC reach these goals
The backlog of IRCC applications that built up during and post the COVID-19 pandemic has led to several reports and studies, including a recent one from Canada’s Auditor General (OAG) which found the backlog that accumulated throughout 2022 was due to a misallocation of resources as well as large workloads in regional offices that did not have the capacity to process them.
For example, the CIMM report says that offices in Dakar and New Delhi are overwhelmed with temporary resident visa requests. In Dakar, there are issues with processing volumes. That office processes applications for 16 countries.
Service standards and backlog
An application is considered backlog if it has not been processed within service standards, or the amount of time IRCC expects an application to be processed. Service standards differ depending on the type of application. For example, an Express Entry application should be processed within six months and a family class sponsorship application should be processed within 12 months.
IRCC aims to process 80% of all applications within service standards.
Following the release of the OAG report, Immigration Minister Marc Miller said the 2022 findings do not necessarily reflect the current backlog. He says that many lines of business are now back or close to being back to service standards.
Next steps by the government
The government now has an obligation to respond to the report within 120 days. However, it can decide on the nature and form of its response. For example, federal government guidelines say they can respond with a recommendation-by-recommendation report, a general letter, or an interim response.
It is also up to the government to decide to act, or not act, on any recommendations from the CIMM report.