Allos: A case for a Parliamentary Immigration Officer

Seeing more calls for an immigration ombudsman or this call for an officer of parliament, given ongoing policy and operational problems at IRCC.

Personally, not convinced that adding another layer will result in any significant improvements. IRCC is accountable before the courts, there is an active ecosystem of lawyers, academics and activists that are effective in raising issues. Periodically, the OAG conducts program specific audits and IRCC conducts program evaluations that I have found substantive.

In terms of the concerns raised on retention rates, tax filing data is providing insights. Given that tax filing data is linked to immigration files, it should be possible to assess retention rates by category, gender, country of citizenship etc, recognizing that there are, like all data, some limits. StatsCan also conducted a recent study that indicated about four million Canadian expatriates, higher than the APF number some 10 years ago (the APF included Permanent Residents, StatsCan included correctly only Canadian citizens).

So while better data on retention rates and undocumented migrants is of course needed, IRCC could start including this information in the annual report on immigration, as CIMM could and should press for, particularly in the context of a minority government:

Immigration is a vital sector and dynamic of the Canadian Economy. Immigrants keep the growth of our economy on the proper trajectory. Their numbers in the workforce keep the Canadian Pension Fund afloat.

Immigration levels are always a source of debate: too many; not skilled enough; too old; no net benefit or a drain on our social programs. But regardless of what your position is on immigration,  Canada’s declining birth rate aging population and labour shortage crisis reveal that immigration is an integral part of Canada.

The federal government’s 2022 immigration target is 431,000. Whether this number is based on any performance criteria is another matter. However, there is no independent Parliamentary Officer to track the functioning of the department for the House of Commons and for the Canadian public.

For example, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) does not disclose retention rates, so the public doesn’t know whether the recruitment is efficient (recruits or approved “ideal numbers”) or effective (success rate measured by the numbers who strive to contribute to the country once landed). Knowledge of these retention rates is especially important for decision-makers looking to build support for one immigration stream or another.

How do we know that there is a retention problem? In 2019, the Munk Centre published a summary of all existing literature and numbers on retention. The report details how Ottawa “estimates” and “lowballs” the retention rates and numbers while agreeing that, as of 2011, there were at least 3.0 million Canadians living abroad,

The Munk Report acknowledges that nothing much has been written on the subject since a 2011 report by the Asia Pacific Foundation.

There are several immigration streams. Knowing which stream has higher retention, would give the government direction on where to focus immigration policies. Streams with low retention rates tend to muck up the system with higher backlogs.

While IRCC can provide annual intake [landed] numbers for all streams, it does not provide any “exit”  (naturalized Canadians and immigrants leaving Canada) numbers. There is no audit of the “net numbers” (those landing as immigrants vs those leaving Canada). Crudely put, there is no analysis of “people in, people out,” and no measurement of performance outcomes.

Two problems immediately come to mind. First is the number of naturalized Canadians who leave Canada annually – effectively abandoning the investment made in going through the process of immigration. Estimates based on a study by Statistics Canada in December 2018, suggest annual numbers in the 200,000 range.

If this is the case, is IRCC obligated to inflate the annual landing targets to 431,000 just to cover the economic loss of 200,000 Canadians leaving Canada? If that many are leaving, of what value are IRCC’s policies?

The second is the scope of illegal/undocumented workers in Canada. Again, the estimates vary but the numbers fall in the one million range. If there are over one million undocumented workers in Canada, again –  how effective are IRCC’s policies?

Immigration, Refugee, Citizenship Canada (IRCC) publishes annual statistics of immigrants landing in Canada whether they are immigrants under different immigration programs, refugees and work permit visas. However, IRCC does not publish numbers of naturalized Canadians (immigrant, refugee, foreign workers) who leave Canada annually; we do not know if those numbers are tracked. In addition, there are no formal numbers of foreign workers who choose to stay beyond the expiration of their work permit visas.

IRCC has never published data on Canada’s retention rates for immigrants and refugees. The data is essential to audit the government’s immigration policies and optimize them. Being able to know how each immigration stream performs and retention rates for each stream will enable the government to emphasize one stream over another. Immigration streams that has low retention rates should be scrapped and give way to streams that have higher retention rates. IRCC will have to keep increasing the immigration quota to compensate for those who are leaving the country. The higher the immigration quota, the higher the backlog will be.

As for undocumented workers, Ottawa does not deny the issue. A Parliamentary Standing Committee studied the problem. Some MPs have quietly provided the one million number. But there has been a political/bureaucratic/media/industry/union consensus to not publicly acknowledge it as a problem. 

How do government Agencies like the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Statistics Canada treat “retention numbers” or “undocumented workers?” Do CRA or Statistics Canada have reliable data on “retention numbers?”

In a word – no, they deny having reliable data. If there is no data, there is no problem. It is ironic to have several millions of citizens/Immigrants leave Canada, while one million undocumented workers remain in Canada. It is proof of how flawed IRCC’s selection process is.

It is time to create an independent body to oversee IRCC. A body that provides independent audit and analysis of the IRCC’s different immigration streams, retention numbers, backlogs, as well as any other data that can help the government improve Canada’s immigration system. A Parliamentary Immigration Officer is needed, now more than ever, to ensure that IRCC operates in an efficient and effective way to ensure program integrity.

Rabea Allos is the co-founder and member of the executive committee of the Catholic Refugee Sponsors Council. Rabea has advocated for refugees since 2005, particularly for Christians and other vulnerable minorities from the Middle East. He has appeared a few times in Canadian Parliamentary Committees, including Foreign Affairs and Citizenship & Immigration.

Source: A case for a Parliamentary Immigration Officer

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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