Canada spent millions to upgrade its systems. Why are immigration backlogs still so bad?

More on the backlogs although it appears the peak has passed according to November stats:

When Ian Bromley invited his girlfriend to come from Costa Rica and visit him after Canada’s border had reopened, the Toronto man thought it would be a few weeks before she could get her visa.

After trying unsuccessfully to navigate the tedious online application process, Bromley paid a lawyer $3,000 to submit an application on Jeannett Anton Mendoza’s behalf in April.

Six months later, in October, the immigration department’s website still showed officials had yet to open Anton Mendoza’s file, which included her fingerprints and a stack of translated documents to prove she had a job, a mortgage and money in her bank accounts to go back to in San Jose.

Despite repeated calls and emails to the department himself and through an MP, Bromley did not once receive an update from immigration officials.

“Rather than fixing the failure, they’ve put a lot of layers on top of it to keep people away from it,” says Bromley, who teaches at University of Toronto Mississauga after years of working in economic development at provincial and municipal governments here and abroad.

Almost three years after the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on Canada’s immigration system, halting processing, visa offices have reopened, more staff have been hired, and millions of dollars have been invested in upgrading government computer systems to streamline case management and keep applicants updated.

However, officials are still struggling with an unprecedented immigration application backlog.

As of Sept. 30, the number of temporary and permanent residence applications in its inventory had soared from 1.8 million at the end of last year to 2.6 million. Fifty-seven per cent of the files have been in the queue beyond the processing timelines set by the government.

This week, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser unveiled Canada’s latest immigration targets, which will see this country look to bring in 465,000 new permanent residents next year, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025.

Yet with the nagging backlog, and significant delays for applicants to get a visa, critics are asking whether Canada can, in fact, handle more immigration applications despite the injection of an additional $50 million in this week’s fall federal economic statement that is meant to eliminate backlogs.

“There’s no one silver bullet,” Fraser confessed to reporters when asked at the plan’s release about the immigration department’s capacity to handle the workload.

“It takes every tool in the tool box to solve this challenge. It takes resources. It takes policy. It takes technology.”

‘Nothing short of a dumpster fire’

Immigration backlogs and processing times have been the focus of a study by the parliamentary immigration committee. Since May, 44 witnesses — from advocates to legal professionals and policy wonks, as well as community and industry groups — have laid out what they think is wrong with the system.

At a recent committee hearing, immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges summed up the two main causes of the backlogs and delays: the department’s “outdated and ineffective” IT systems and its “culture of secrecy.”

“It seems that every new online system is full of glitches, to the point where lawyers are now actively resisting the move to mandatory online processing, because it is nothing short of a dumpster fire. It is characterized by disappearing data and almost daily system-wide crashes,” said Desloges, who has practised immigration law for more than a quarter of a century.

The lack of transparency breeds delay, she said, and people are left in the dark despite bombarding the immigration call centre and submitting inquiries through web forms.

“Then we have to bother you, the members of Parliament, which again sometimes helps and sometimes doesn’t. So then we’re forced to bother the Access to Information Office, and that takes months. As a last resort, we’re then forced to go to the Federal Court and bother the Federal Court and the Department of Justice through litigation,” Desloges noted.

“It’s a waste of valuable resources at every level, and if we could just get a clear reply the first time, we wouldn’t have to do any of this.”

That’s the situation Bromley and his girlfriend found themselves in.

Two months after they applied for the visa and with no sign that application had been touched, they emailed the immigration department and contacted the call centre; meanwhile, the visa processing time for Costa Rica had ballooned from 26 days in April to 197 days in October.

In July, they contacted MP Carolyn Bennett’s office and say they kept bugging her sympathetic assistant for updates. But even the MP’s office was stonewalled and told officials couldn’t give processing time estimates due to “ongoing effects” of the pandemic on visa offices.

“When we set out to apply for the visa, we thought it would be a slam dunk. Jeannette ticks all the boxes. I had no idea it’s going to be anything like this,” said Bromley, whose girlfriend was only approved the visa late last month, after a Star inquiry into their case.

Back up and running?

An operational update in May from the immigration department said 98 per cent of the Canadian overseas missions and 97 per cent of its visa application centres were open for business. As of March, all immigration offices and service providers in Canada were operating, though 94 per cent of the staff continued to telework.

Fraser said most of the permanent residence processing is back on track — skilled immigrants selected under the Express Entry talent pool face six-month waits; family reunifications are taking 12 months.

“There are still applications that are in the system today that have been in longer than that, and we’re not going to bump them from the line to process new applications first,” he assured reporters.

Fraser’s comment gave no comfort to Tejas Ghutukade of Burlington, who waited almost four months just to get an acknowledgment of receipt this May after applying in January to sponsor his wife, Seema Kore, to come from India as a permanent resident.

Shortly after filing the application, he was asked to provide his proof of permanent residence. He did it immediately through a web form and by mail to the immigration office in Sydney, N.S. He even followed up with the call centre to confirm it had received the documents.

In June, he was shocked to get an email from Immigration telling him his sponsorship was rejected because he had failed to respond to a request. But when he checked his account in the department’s portal, it said the application was still in process.

Ghutukade reached out to the call centre again and the agent was also confused and said he would ask an officer in the processing centre to get back to him. When no one followed up with him, Ghutukade made an access-to-information request for officials’ notes on his file — and asked his MP for help.

“It’s all very confusing,” said the 32-year-old software engineer, whose attempt to bring his spouse here on a visitor visa was refused in January. “We don’t know who’s processing our application. There’s a lot of disconnection within the system. It’s surprising that we still have this backlog almost three years after the pandemic started.

“It’s very frustrating. I’m already having this thought of moving back to India. I’ve been married but separated from my wife. It just doesn’t make sense,” added Ghutukade, who received an update Nov. 4 from immigration to refer his wife to a medical exam.

Solutions?

Although many of the system’s issues can’t be addressed overnight, Desloges said officials in the interim should take all the borderline cases in the backlog and push them through if they have no criminal and security concerns.

“At this point, it is the cost of doing business, because the damage that’s being imposed by the backlog far outweighs any potential damage that could be caused by the odd person who gets erroneously approved,” Desloges said.

Immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo said the lack of transparency and accessibility is one of the biggest challenges facing the immigration department, which needs a cultural change, he said, from an enforcement-focused mindset to one that strives to serve prospective migrants.

“We’re trying to facilitate immigration. We’re not trying to prevent it.”

He urged Ottawa to follow Australia in establishing an immigration college to provide accredited and consistent training for staff to ensure high quality decision-making. Improved competency, he said, could speed up processing.

And then there’s the other step.

Given the demand to come to Canada always outstrips the country’s visa-processing capacity, Bellissimo said, the only way to keep backlogs in check is to cap intakes and return unprocessed applications to applicants.

“That’s what other countries — the U.K, New Zealand and Australia — have done,” he said. “It’s the only way to solve the backlog. It’s the only way to keep the system nimble and to be able to take on new batches of inventory. Otherwise, you’re just always working in the past.”

Canada’s approach is half-baked, critics say. Although it has annual quotas for most permanent-residence categories, it lets unprocessed applications accumulate — and there’s no cap at all for temporary resident applications. That explains why study and work permits and visitor visas now account for 63 per cent of the 2.6 million immigration inventory in the system.

Bellissimo said officials could complement the caps with new targeted streams to address urgent travel or humanitarian needs, such as the crisis in Ukraine, through what he calls an “applicant-centric” approach.

Fraser agrees there’s a lot more work to do but said the numbers of applications processed this year until July — 275,000 new permanent residents admitted; 349,000 new work permits issued; 360,000 study permits finalized — are trending in the right direction.

“Immigration is about people. It’s about starting a new job, reuniting a family and creating a new life in this beautiful country we call home,” the immigration minister told reporters recently.

“By adding resources where they are needed, and leveraging technology to make processing faster and applying easier for our clients, we can give newcomers and new citizens the welcoming experience they deserve.”

‘My interest and desire to go there has faded’

But time is money for businessman Dilhan De Silva, who bought two franchised home-care services agencies in Greater Toronto last summer and has been waiting for a work permit under the intracompany transfer program since August 2021.

“I didn’t expect this kind of backlog or unresponsiveness from a modern country like Canada,” said De Silva, a chartered accountant, who runs a conglomerate of companies in import and export trades in Colombo, Sri Lanka. “I saw this business opportunity in Canada but now my interest and desire to go there has faded.”

His lawyer has made numerous unreturned inquiries about the delays and is now preparing to sue the immigration department for undue processing delays.

Source: Canada spent millions to upgrade its systems. Why are immigration backlogs still so bad?

IRCC aims to grant citizenship to 300,000 people this fiscal year

Current stats indicate on track or better – 154,000 April-August 2022, or an average of 31,000:

CIC News has obtained an internal IRCC memo that outlines targets for the number of new citizens Canada will welcome for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The memo, drafted by the Operations, Planning and Performance division of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for a senior official, recommends that IRCC process a total of 285,000 decisions and 300,000 new citizens by March 31, 2023. A decision is a review of an application which is then approved, denied, or marked as incomplete. The citizenship target means that 300,000 approved applicants must take the oath of citizenship, either in person or virtually.

This is a significant increase over the 2021-2022 fiscal year and even exceeds the pre-pandemic targets of 2019-2020, when 253,000 citizenship applications were processed.

In 2021-2022, IRCC succeeded in welcoming 217,000 new citizens. So far in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, Canada has welcomed 116,000 new citizens and is well on track to hit target. By comparison, over the same period in 2021, Canada had only sworn in 35,000 people.

The memo also outlines the current challenges involved in processing applications as well as ensuring all positive decisions can take the oath of a citizenship within a reasonable timeframe.

IRCC moving away from paper applications

In March 2020, IRCC became unable to process most applications due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because the department was only able to process paper applications that were mailed to a central location. As all in-person events were also cancelled, this meant that IRCC was unable to conduct interviews with candidates and there could not be any oath swearing at citizenship ceremonies.

These constraints led a shift towards making the citizenship application process entirely digital, for some applicants, beginning in November 2020. This has expanded to all those who apply who are over the age of 18. However, while this may streamline the process for new applicants, a large backlog of paper applications remains.

The memo recommends that IRCC continue with its current system of first-in-first-out for all applications, meaning maintaining focus on older, paper applications while also making room to prioritize a small number of digital applications to prevent backlog growth.

In 2021, IRCC had a goal of 5,000 digital applications for the fiscal year out of a targeted 245,000 decisions. As a larger number of applications are now digital, the report says that for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, there will need to be an increase in the number of digital applications processed.

Processing times over 20 months

Processing times in a subsequent report published in May stood at 27 months. The memo says this is to be expected due to increased online applications in addition to the backlog of paper applications. As of last June, there were 413,000 applications in the grant inventory.

IRCC says it has taken steps towards clearing the backlog, and processing 80% of all new applications within service standards. To do this, over 1,000 new staff have been hired and there are plans to expand access to the citizenship application status tracker to representatives. Additionally, minors under the age of 18 will be eligible to apply for citizenship online by the end of the year.

Source: IRCC aims to grant citizenship to 300,000 people this fiscal year

Canada’s immigration backlog decreases slightly to 2.6 million

Regular useful updates by cicnews.com, modest but limited progress:

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is reporting a decrease in its August 31 inventory.

A spokesperson from IRCC sent CIC News inventory data suggesting the backlog has been reduced by 95,204 persons in a matter of six weeks.

The inventory across all lines of business has progressed as follows since last July:

IRCC recently came out with a new webpage tracking the inventory. According to that webpage there were 2.4 million in IRCC’s inventory on July 31. Of those, 1.1 million were within service standards and 1.3 million were in the backlog.

CIC News has reached out to IRCC to inquire about the apparent discrepancy in data from the media department compared to data reported on the government website. This article will be updated if an explanation is obtained.

Immigration category Persons as of August 31, 2022
Permanent residence 513,923
Temporary residence 1,698,284
Citizenship 371,620
Grand total 2,583,827

The citizenship inventory stands at 371,620 applicants as of September 1, compared to 444,792 on July 15.

The permanent residence inventory stands at 513,923 people as of August 31, compared to 514,116 as of July 17.

Also on August 31, the temporary residence inventory stood at 1,698,284 people, compared to 1,720,123 persons as of July 17.

Therefore, there have been reductions across all three major groups.

Express Entry and PNP inventories

A total of 40,180 Express Entry applicants are waiting in the queue, a reduction from the previous month when there were 51,616 persons in the inventory.

IRCC has continued to hold rounds of invitations for Express Entry candidates from all programs. Between September 21, 2021 and July 6, 2022, IRCC only invited Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates to apply for immigration. Under the PNP, certain programs (enhanced PNPs) are managed by the Express Entry system, while others (base PNPs) are managed by the provinces’ own systems.

Express Entry-managed PNPs have seen a reduction in inventory, but base PNPs have increased from 35,599 in July to 41,832 in August.

Family class inventory continues upward trend

Inventory for all family class immigration programs are up to 125,746, compared to July when it was 118,251.

The Spouses and Partners program has the second largest inventory compared to all immigration programs at 61,073. Privately sponsored refugees have the largest inventory at 68,123 persons.

The Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP) has 53,029 persons waiting for decisions, up from 47,025 in July.

IRCC efforts to reduce backlog

On August 29, Fraser highlighted how Canada is working to address the backlog and improve the immigration system by hiring up to 1,250 new employees by the end of the fall, modernizing IRCC operations, introducing application status trackers, and publishing monthly data on the IRCC website

Inventory in tables

The following tables show more details of IRCC’s inventory.

Permanent residence inventory

Permanent residency class Persons as of August 31
Economic class 206,688
Family class 125,746
Humanitarian and compassionate 29,224
Permit holders class 16
Protected persons class 152,249
Total 513,923

Economic class inventory

Immigration category Persons as of August 31
Agri-Food Pilot Program 866
Atlantic Immigration Pilot Programs 1,528
Atlantic Immigration Program 210
Canadian Experience Class (EE) 5,214
Canadian Experience Class (No EE) 118
Caring For Children Program 29,179
Federal Investor 4
Federal Self Employed 4,022
Federal Skilled Workers (C-50) 120
Federal Skilled Workers (EE) 11,669
Federal Skilled Workers (Pre C-50) 23
High Medical Needs Program 4
Live-in Caregiver Program 832
Provincial/Territorial Nominees (EE) 22,998
Provincial/Territorial Nominees (No EE) 41,832
Quebec Entrepreneur 259
Quebec Investor 10,727
Quebec Self Employed 82
Quebec Skilled Workers 23,559
Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot 1,103
Skilled Trades (EE) 299
Skilled Trades (No EE) 5
Start-up Business 1,314
TR to PR 50,721
Total 206,688

Express Entry inventory

Immigration program Persons as of August 31
Federal Skilled Workers (EE) 11,669
Canadian Experience Class (EE) 5,214
Skilled Trades (EE) 299
Provincial/Territorial Nominees (EE) 22,998
Total 40,180

Family class inventory

Immigration program Persons as of August 31
Children & Other Family Class 8,880
FCH-Family relations – H&C 2,764
Parents and Grandparents 53,029
Spouses & Partners 61,073
Total 125,746

Humanitarian and compassionate class inventory

Immigration program Persons as of August 31
HC & PH class-ADM Dependant Person Overseas 8,880
Humanitarian & Compassionate Straight 2,764
Humanitarian & Compassionate with Risk or Discrimination 53,029
Public Policy With RAP 61,073
Public Policy Without RAP 4,385
Total 29,224

Permit holders class inventory

Immigration program Persons as of August 31
Permit holders class 16
Total 16

Protected persons inventory

Immigration program Persons as of August 31
Blended Visa Office-Referred 148
Dependants Abroad of Protected Persons 26,919
Federal Government-assisted Refugees 32,365
Privately Sponsored Refugees 68,128
Protected Persons Landed In Canada 23,572
Quebec Government-assisted Refugees 1,117
Total 152,249

Temporary residence inventory

Application type Persons as of August 31
Study Permits 152,147
Study Permits Extensions 23,896
Temporary Resident Visas 896,772
Visitor Record 96,598
Work Permits 359,247
Work Permits Extensions 169,624
Total 1,698,284

Source: Canada’s immigration backlog decreases slightly to 2.6 million

Canadian passport offices took two years to return to pre-COVID staffing

Good example of meaningless reporting with no context and adding nothing to existing articles flagging departmental business plans and union comments on the expected upsurge:

Have passport, will travel post-COVID.

Unless you live in Canada where it took more than two years to restore pre-COVID in-person staffing levels at passport offices despite the feds being warned of an increase in travel document demand, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

Inquiry Of Ministry data, requested by Conservative MP Dan Albas (Central Okanagan-Similkameen, B.C.)., show as late as this past summer more than 11% of staff continued to work from home.

On March 1, 2020, right as the COVID shutdown began, the passport office had 831 employees at public service centres.

By Jan. 1, 2022, only 757 were on the job, which is a 9% reduction.

Passport offices did not reach pre-pandemic staffing levels until all service counters were reopened on May 9.

The Inquiry data has not explained why there was a failure to address demand for passports that led to five and six-hour lineups at Service Canada offices and three month waits for mailed applications.

“We are doing everything we can,” Social Development Minister Karina Gould said July 23.

However, a June 23 briefing note called Passport Productivity And Staffing Measures said it knew last summer it should prepare for an increase in applications.

“In anticipation of increased volumes Service Canada began implementing a staffing plan last July,” it said.

However, the Inquiry said numerous passport offices had fewer staff in January 2022 than during COVID-related shutdowns starting in March 2020.

The Inquiry said prior to the pandemic in January 2020 the passport office issued 229,392 travel documents with monthly processing falling to 2,100 in May 2020.

Last month, 240,980 passports were issued.

“I completely understand the frustration Canadians are facing right now,” Gould said earlier.

Source: Canadian passport offices took two years to return to pre-COVID staffing

‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

Of note, another country with wait time and backlog issues:

Fadi Hamdan, his wife and twin five-year-old daughters will become citizens at a ceremony next month after waiting for a year.

The Auckland IT engineer, who comes from Jordan, said it was galling to see other people go through the same citizenship by grant process in four months – and some quicker still.

“There are people who get their citizenship in 10 days, exactly 10 days. It’s not only a small amount of people, there are 600 people. So there is a special treatment going on, nobody knows about it.”

He was disappointed at the time it took and the lack of information when he asked for updates, querying why his application had failed automatic checks.

While there were not many practical differences between permanent residence and citizenship, a New Zealand passport could make travel simpler for people from countries where visas were usually needed.

For Hamdan, it became critical when his mother fell ill.

“I’m worried about going to see my dying mum. She had a stroke three times. I lost my father in October 2020 during Covid, because of Covid, and I don’t want to lose my Mum.

“We are not asking for an exception, all we are asking for is to be treated fairly and kindly. It will mean a lot, to be honest. It’s the last milestone that we were looking for since we arrived in the country.”

As of 18 August, there were 29,200 applications awaiting an outcome. Of those 9161 were from last year.

A random snapshot showed that on 17 August this year, 179 applications were approved for 2021 and 238 for 2022.

The National Party’s internal affairs spokesman Todd Muller said the backlog was similar to where it was last year when assurances were given about bringing waiting times down.

People would approach their MPs concerned about why their applications had failed to progress.

“It just gives them a huge amount of anxiety because they’ve understood that now they can move from residency to citizenship, they’re told they’ve got everything in order and then it just gets dropped into a big black hole and they don’t hear anything.”

Internal Affairs seemed to be processing recent applications first, which left those already in the queue waiting longer, he said.

Internal Affairs said it was analysing those who failed automated checks and categorising them to speed up the process.

Sixteen staff had been moved over to deal with the surge in passport applications and would move back there.

“The pipe coming into the organisation is bigger than the number of people that we have who are doing this work, particularly when you think about these are the same people who are also looking at the massive surge in passport demand that we’ve had,” said Internal Affairs deputy chief of service delivery Maria Robertson.

Not requiring migrants from English-speaking countries to prove their language ability had sped up their applications, she added.

Internal Affairs said some applications would take longer if the applicant had changed their name, spent a lot of time outside New Zealand since obtaining residency or had committed offences.

Others could be rushed through in urgent situations.

“Some applicants may not have been required to understand English in order to obtain residency – citizenship legislation requires most applicants to have sufficient knowledge of the English language, so sometimes additional checks may be required.

“It is not always easily possible to tell why an application has not passed an initial automated check. It could be related to data from INZ or another government agency or an answer in an application.

“Frontline staff who answer queries from applicants who have not yet been assigned a case officer do not have access to all the relevant information in an application.”

Source: ‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Refreshing admission by Minister Miller (he consistently one of the few ministers who is more candid with respect to government weaknesses and failures). And yes, the task force is more communications than substance as the main issues involve Service Canada and IRCC, which did not need a task force to address. (Airport issues are more complex given the different players involved):

The delays plaguing Canada’s airports, passport services and immigration processes “should never have happened in the first place,” the federal minister charged with co-leading Ottawa’s task force on slashing wait times admitted Monday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, providing an update on the government’s efforts to tackle pandemic-induced delays across a swath of operations and services, said that despite some improvements, officials were still working to prevent such issues from occurring again.

“I do want to say that nobody should be congratulating themselves for having done their jobs. We are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods yet. The focus will continue to be on Canadians and the results they expect and deserve from this or any other government,” Miller said at a joint news conference with other ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a committee involving 13 cabinet members in late June to get started on reducing wait times at major airports and clear out backlogs that led to sluggish processing times for passport and immigration applications.

As COVID-19 restrictions eased, air passengers passing through Canadian travel hubs have contended with hours-long delays in security screening lines, delayed or cancelled flights, hiccups with the ArriveCAN app and the chaos of lost baggage.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Monday that between January and August, the number of air travellers jumped by more than 250 per cent just as the travel industry faced staffing shortages.

He pointed to the hiring of more than 1,800 new screening officers and weekly meetings with airlines, airports and travel-related government departments as evidence that delays were improving. According to the federal government, between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21, 85 per cent of passengers were screened within 15 minutes. The number of aircraft held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport also dropped to 47 by the third week of August, down from 370 in May.

Monette Pasher, the interim president of the Canadian Airports Council, said there has been “marked progress” in reducing wait times and cancellations in the past few weeks.

But she told the Star in a statement that other measures, like modernizing screening procedures and reopening Nexus assessment centres amid a backlog of applications for the trusted traveller program, would improve the situation more.

The staffing increases don’t change the fact that airport screeners are “worn out,” said Catherine Cosgrove, the director of communications and public affairs for Teamsters Canada, which represents over 1,000 screeners across the country.

“We can expect to continue seeing difficulties in hiring and retaining screeners and delays throughout the fall,” she told the Star, adding that there still aren’t enough trainers to get new hires working at full capacity.

Addressing frustrations experienced by Canadians trying to renew or apply for passports, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould acknowledged “the recent demand for passports far exceeded the government’s expectations.”

That was despite unions representing federal workers warning the government in 2021 that passport requests would rise, without the necessary staffing to take on the increased load.

Gould said Ottawa has boosted the number of staff handling the country’s passport program and that workers have implemented a “triage system” to better process applications. Passport services have also been expanded in a number of offices and Service Canada centres.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also discussed application backlogs within his department, which have left international students and others hoping to immigrate to Canada in limbo.

“Though we have a welcoming nature towards newcomers, our immigration system has faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles that have become larger and have compounded on one another over the past few years,” Fraser said.

He said that owing in part to staffing changes, his department had returned to a “pre-pandemic service standard” in some areas and was on track to reaching its permanent residency and study permit goals.

“We could have sat here and blamed others. We could have blamed airlines, we could blame this, that and the other. But we realized quite quickly that a lot of responsibility did lie on our shoulders,” Miller told reporters.

“To some extent, we were slow in responding to a number of unprecedented … things that Canadians expect to see from their governments.”

Indeed, ministers said Monday that Ottawa has been “scrambling” to contend with a series of challenges outside its control, from the havoc the pandemic wrought on Canada’s travel sector to continuous humanitarian crises that hampered which immigration applications were prioritized.

“We’ve thrown bodies at the problem, which is not the most effective way of doing things. It’s important because it got people their passports in time so they could finally travel after sitting in their houses for two years,” Miller said. “That is not the most effective way … of doing things.”

Source: Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Yet the latest example of management weaknesses at IRCC as it appears to lurch from one program backlog to another. The risk is, of course, that the shift in resources to address student visas will adversely impact other programs, leading to future negative headlines:

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says his department has shifted its focus toward tackling backlogs in student visa applications, as many students who have been accepted to attend Canadian universities and colleges this semester wait nervously for their immigration approvals.

The minister made the comments Monday as part of the first news conference by the task force to improve government services. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the team of cabinet ministers in June when the federal government was facing heavy public criticism for failing to provide basic services, such as timely passport delivery or efficient traveller processing at Canadian airports.

Mr. Fraser said his department recently shifted its focus away from work permits to tackle the demand for student visas.

“We had been focusing over the course of the summer on processing as many work permits as possible to help address the labour shortage. We’ve made a pivot, and through the month of August, we expect that we’re going to process a little more than 104,000 additional study permits,” he said. “There has been an absolute explosion in demand when it comes to Canada’s International Student Program in recent years.”

The student visa delays recently prompted a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. India is the largest source country for international postsecondary students.

In addition to Mr. Fraser’s update, Monday’s news conference included assurances from Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould that passport wait times had improved and an update from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who said delays and cancelled flights have been dramatically reduced.

Opposition MPs said the task force is little more than a public relations exercise. They also say some of the improvements in areas such as passports and travel delays can be attributed to the fact that the summer travel season is coming to an end.

As for the Immigration Minister’s comments about student visas, Conservative and NDP MPs said this is part of a continuing pattern of shifting focus from one crisis to another, which they say ultimately creates bigger problems for the system as a whole.

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan said the students awaiting visas are expecting to start classes shortly.

“There are many students that are still left in limbo in this immigration backlog,” he said. As for the task force, he said many of the members are the same ministers who are ultimately responsible for the service issues.

“This task force really hasn’t shown or done anything yet,” he said.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said Canada’s immigration system, including student visa applications, is in a state of chaos. She said operating in a constant state of “crisis management mode” is not sustainable.

Ms. Kwan said there should be independent reviews of the key departments to determine why services are failing.

“The task force was established as a political cover-up,” she said.

International students from outside Canada pay tuition that is often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students.

Naman Gupta, a 22-year-old student in New Delhi, India, was planning to attend York University this fall to pursue a postgraduate certificate.

His study permit has not come through and he said unless something changes in a matter of days, he’ll defer coming to Canada until the start of the January term. However the $17,000 in tuition he paid won’t be returned in the meantime, he said.

“It’s going to be tough. All my plans are held up,” Mr. Gupta said. “I’m pretty stressed.”

He said he expected the visa processing would have been expedited to ensure that students could arrive in time for the start of their courses.

“I would’ve appreciated if they could apply more compassion to the situation,” Mr. Gupta said. “The response is slow.”

Pallavi Dang, who lives in New Delhi, applied for her study permit in March. She’s disappointed that more than five months later she still hasn’t heard whether she will be approved. Department guidelines said respondents can normally expect an answer in eight weeks, and that current average processing times are about 12 weeks.

She said she had made plans to hand over her business while she was away, but now she’ll need to change course.

“All that planning is on hold,” Ms. Dang said. “I’m not able to take another step.”

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of nearly 100 Canadian universities, said Canada trails countries such as Britain and Australia in visa processing.

He said there has to be more federal government investment in IT capacity to speed up processing.

“I think that’s really the solution,” Mr. Davidson said. “There’s all-party support for international students, there’s a good policy climate, but it’s the operational reality that needs to improve.”

Source: Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

More than 1.3 million immigration applications still in backlog

Will see what the data shows in coming months, as well as the various media coverage of specific cases. Usual approach of throwing money and people rather than fundamental policy and program changes.

In one sense, almost the “citizenshipization” of immigration programs, as the citizenship program has a history of growing backlogs that are addressed, when too politically embarrassing, by an injection of funds (happened under Liberal Minister Volpe and Conservative Minister Alexander):

Canada’s immigration minister now projects it will only take a few months longer than originally hoped to get application wait times back on track, even though the crisis in Ukraine and other “external” events have worsened the backlogs.

In January, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser vowed to eliminate backlogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of the year. That was before Canada launched a major response to the refugee crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and approved hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and their families to come to Canada temporarily to escape the war.

Those efforts, combined with updates to the government’s aging technology, have led to longer waits for people who want to come to Canada, Fraser said.

As of the end of July, approximately 1.3 million immigration applications in the system have taken longer to process than the government’s service standards dictate they should. That’s about 54 per cent of all the pending applications in the system.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Fraser said the department may need a few extra months before all immigration streams are back to normal processing times.

“Based on what we’re looking at right now, we shouldn’t be too, too far off the projection of getting back to service standards for work and study permits by the end of this year, and I expect that within a few months of that the visitors visas will be back to service standards,” Fraser said.

That’s barring any new international disasters, he said.

New hiring spree to address backlog

While dealing with the backlogs and humanitarian crises, the Canadian immigration system is also fielding unprecedented demand, Fraser said.

As of July 31, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada issued more than 349,000 new work permits so far this year, compared to 199,000 in all of 2021.

At a news conference Wednesday, Fraser announced the Immigration Department is in the midst of a hiring spree to bring 1,250 new employees on board by the end of the fall to tackle the massive backlogs in processing applications and the increased demand.

Fraser said the new hires have so far allowed the government to get the waits back on track for new applicants to the express entry permanent residence program, which is the main economic stream for new permanent residents to Canada.

“In the weeks and months ahead there’s going to be a series of new measures that we’re going to be releasing that’s going to help bring workers here more quickly, make it simpler for families to be reunited with their loved ones, and to hold ourselves accountable by being transparent,” Fraser said at the news conference outside of the Vancouver Convention Centre.

The backlogs have been of growing concern since shortly after the pandemic began, when health restrictions made borders more difficult to cross and immigration slowed considerably.

At the end of last year, the government dedicated $85 million to reducing wait times. Another $187.3 million was set aside for the next five years in the 2022 budget.

In June, the prime minister announced ministers would form a task force to deal with growing delays for immigration applications and other government services.

Source: More than 1.3 million immigration applications still in backlog

Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2063068227573

Good service improvement move but will have limited impact on backlog. That being said, Service Canada data indicates progress compared to earlier months, although the number of applications is still greater than the number of passports issued.

Hopefully, ESDC/Service Canada and IRCC will publish monthly passport stats (applications and issued) on opendata as per other immigration and citizenship stats:

The federal government is adding new passport service locations across Canada as a backlog in processing applications continues.

Social Development Minister Karina Gould announced Wednesday that people can now apply for and pick up passports at Service Canada centres in Red Deer, Alta., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Trois-Rivières, Que., and Charlottetown, P.E.I.

That’s on top of five new locations added in July, and Gould expects to bring another seven to nine locations into the program soon.

“I think this is a really important and long-overdue change,” she said in an interview. “Those of us who live in more urban areas, we don’t realize that we’re so lucky to be close to a passport office.”

The additions should make it easier for people outside large centres to access services and ease stress on offices in regional hubs, she added.

No new federal money was required to make the change, Gould said. Resources come out of a revolving fund made up of passport fees. 

Gould said the current crisis and complaints over long wait times have accelerated the work but she was already looking at bringing passport services to more locations before the backlog.

She visited Sault Ste. Marie in April, before media began reporting on complaints over wait times. The local Liberal MP, Terry Sheehan, told Gould that people in the Sault had to drive seven or eight hours to Thunder Bay or Toronto to visit a passport office in person. 

Until Wednesday, there was no passport office on Prince Edward Island.

“So I was starting to already look at who is not close, and how can we fix this,” she said. “And then it became that much more acute.” 

Nearly 1.1 million applications for new and renewed passports have been filed since April as pandemic restrictions loosen and Canadians resume travelling. 

More than one-quarter of those hadn’t yet been processed as of early August.

Government statistics show the system is starting to catch up with demand, as the gulf between the number of passport applications each month versus the number of passports issued is getting smaller. 

Call centre wait times have gone down significantly and “triage measures” were implemented at 17 passport offices to mitigate in-person headaches.

Gould said 442 new employees were hired so far this summer and 300 are already trained and working.

But a large backlog remains.

In the first week of August, the number of passports issued within 40 business days of an application fell to 72 per cent from 81 per cent the week before.

That is largely because of mailed applications.

During the first week of August, passports from in-person applications were issued within the government’s 10-day service standard 95 per cent of the time, a rate that has remained steady throughout the summer.

For mailed applications the service standard of 20 days was met only 40 per cent of the time in early August, down from 53 per cent in late July. The government also warns it can take more than 13 weeks to get your passport by mail.

The overall numbers aren’t materially better than in June, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to respond to growing complaints and called the system’s performance “unacceptable.” 

The week of June 20, 76 per cent of passports were issued within 40 business days.

The processing times also don’t take into account the wait to get an in-person appointment and there are only a limited number of walk-ins available.

Proof of upcoming travel is required to get service within two months at offices with 10-day processing times, including those announced Wednesday.

Urgent services for people who can prove they need a passport within 48 hours are only available in bigger urban centres — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Gatineau, Que., and Quebec City.

As the backlash over the wait times continues, some reports suggest Canadians are making “fake” travel plans to show to passport officers, then cancelling their flights once their application is in the queue. 

Gould said she’s not aware of this being a “widespread issue” but she has heard about it anecdotally. “I strongly discourage Canadians to do that. It’s unfair, it’s unkind and it’s unnecessary,” she said. 

Gould said at the morning press conference that the government failed to predict to what extent demand would sharply spike earlier this year. She insisted an unexpected glut of mailed-in applications is the main culprit in the passport delays.

Although she wouldn’t comment on the specifics of its deliberations, she said a cabinet committee stood up earlier this year — the Task Force on Services to Canadians — is looking at how to make sure that services under federal jurisdiction are being delivered in “a timely and effective way” that takes the toll of the pandemic into account.

Source: Feds announce four new passport service sites as backlog continues

Passport delays spur some Canadians to game the system with fake travel plans

Ongoing saga. Understandable that some would feel need to game the system or engage line-up placeholders:

Canadians are getting creative trying to cut the long waits for passports that have been dragging on for close to five months after a surge in post-pandemic travel demand overwhelmed the system.

By Aug. 11, a total of 1,092,560 passport applications had been filed this year – with more than 550,000 of those applications flooding in since April.

Service Canada said it’s prioritizing the applications of people traveling imminently, increasing staff and processing sites.

Despite all this, applicants say they are spending thousands of dollars to travel to less-busy passport offices — or even faking travel plans to speed the process to beat the 340,000-application backlog.

Federal officials say they are working to fix the problem.

Fake trips impact entire system

Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, said Canadians are getting their passports on time, and there’s no need to “fake” travel — booking a flight you do not plan to take — to be eligible for Passport Canada’s urgent 48-hour approval mechanism.

“That impacts the whole system. There are a lot of people who did the right thing. They sent off their passports well in advance. Their applications are impacted by anyone who books fake travel,” Gould told CBC in a phone interview on Friday.

She had heard of the practice, but doubts it is widespread.

“I would be very disappointed to hear that, because that would be putting additional pressure on a system that is already pressured,” said Gould.

Meanwhile in Toronto, a man who CBC agreed to call Robert, said he has spent the past 59 days organizing 10 staffers to hold spots in lineups for about 500 absent passport applicants.

He said he has earned up to $1,000 per day offering this service.

No passport number needed to book many online flights

“Most of my customers book fake flights just to get their passports so they can drive across [the border],” said Robert.

“You’re going through more hoops to drive across [the border] than to fly. So what they do is just book a fake flight. It’s usually Toronto to New York or Toronto to Miami, and within 24 hours, they cancel it,” he said of his customers.

Multiple travel agents and Air Canada confirmed that many flights can be booked online without a passport number, and full-fare or business class ticket is often refundable.

Other travellers head to out-of-province Service Canada offices where the lines are not so long, with some citing shorter waits in Halifax or St. John’s.

St. John’s photographer Robert Young often gets called on for passport photos.

He said lately more travellers from other parts of Canada are utilizing the passport processing services in at Newfoundland.

“We’ve always gotten people from the edges of the world — like Pangnirtung (Baffin Island) — but now they are showing up from bigger cities,” said Young.

Government promises fix is working

Gould said lineups have decreased with the hiring of 500 new staffers, extended hours and the prioritizing of applicants with imminent travel plans, within 48 hours.

Back on July 25, Service Canada expanded passport pick-up services, adding five more locations in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. to the 29 existing passport offices.

In Ontario and Quebec, a business has popped up to deal with the long waits for passport applications. Line standers charge about $40-$60 per hour or a flat fee of about $240 to line up at dawn and hold applicant’s place so they can apply to get a Canadian passport or renewal. (Roger Thompson)

This and other measures – like transferring application files to one of the 300 Service Canada offices upon request — aimed to reduce passport processing waits.

But many who mailed in applications last spring say the turnaround remains sluggish.

It’s difficult to get anybody on the phone or get an accurate status on an application, according to many applicants, including Paula Langley, a Canadian living in the U.S. who applied for a new passport in April.

Updates difficult to get

“The biggest problem is people being unable to get an answer about where in the process their passport is. I think the issue is partially technology. They are likely using outdated software. Other countries let you check your status in an online portal,” said Langley.

“It is very difficult to even get somebody on the phone to ask questions. The 1-800 number just cuts off after the queue of callers gets too high.”

On Passport Canada’s website, delivery is promised in 46 days or six and a half weeks. But anyone needing a passport within two business days can go to specialized sites offering urgent service, if they have proof of travel.

The government’s plan was to ease backlogs, but it’s given some a chance to jump the queue by booking and then cancelling travel.

Broken system

“It’s upsetting,” said Leanne MacLeod who runs Getaways by Leanne out of Toronto and offers passport advice online. What’s not helping, she said, is booking a “fake” trip that you cancel to get travel documents.

“I’ve seen people recommend booking a refundable hotel, then cancelling,” she said. “It’s really what’s holding up the whole process right now. For every person who gets ahead, one gets bumped.”

Taylor Bachrach, the New Democratic Party’s transport critic, said the fact that people are trying to work around the system is evidence it’s not working.

“It shows how frustrated people are and the lengths they are willing to go,” said Bachrach.

“If people are having to ‘game’ the system to get their documents, that shows how broken the system is.”

People in his Skeena Bulkley Valley constituency in Northern B.C. live a 12-hour drive from the nearest passport office.

Bachrach has one staffer who has spent the past several weeks devoted to helping constituents secure passports.

Family trips at risk

“I have a constituent whose family needed to travel to the United States, and we were able to work with the federal government to arrange for the passports to be picked up. But he had to incur $2,000 in extra travel costs to get from here in Smithers, B.C., all the way to Victoria to pick up the passports. … This obviously has a big impact on people.”

Bachrach said these months of passport chaos are “unacceptable.”

“The increased demand for passports was entirely predictable. But the Liberals failed to act even though they had months to prepare for travel to return.”

That lack of foresight has left many Canadians apprehensive, with only a few weeks of summer left. Joseph Ivens of Terrace, B.C., applied to renew his two teens’ passports back on April 4.

The family of five has saved for a trip to Mexico for four years. The flight is booked for Aug. 27, but the passports have not come.

Minister promises family passports are coming

The father of three said he’s made hundreds of calls, several requests for a file transfer and appealed to his member of parliament. He may be forced to travel to Calgary or Vancouver at the last minute to try to secure the travel documents so the holiday is not lost.

“It’s causing my family massive stress with loss of sleep. It’s breaking us,” said Ivens. “I have no recourse.”

Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told CBC on Friday that Ivens will get travel documents on time.

“He will get his passport. I understand people are stressed, but everyone is getting their passport on time,” said Gould.

Source: Passport delays spur some Canadians to game the system with fake travel plans