IRCC’s reliance on McKinsey explains a ‘disconnect’ between money spent and value added, immigration lawyers say

More on McKinsey and IRCC. Hearing some concerns from within IRCC as well:

The decision by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada to hire McKinsey and Company to mobilize its digital transformation explains what immigration lawyers are calling a ‘disconnect’ between the resources being put into IRCC and the results it’s produced.

Barbara Jo (BJ) Caruso, an immigration lawyer speaking on behalf of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA), said when she heard about contracts IRCC had with McKinsey, “a light bulb went on.

“We were then able to sort of connect the dots and say, ‘Okay, now maybe this makes sense why everything’s been sort of haphazard, and pieced together,’ ” she said. 

At the beginning of January, a Radio-Canada report revealedthat the Canada branch of global consulting firm McKinsey and Company had seen a marked increase in the number of contracts it had been awarded by the federal government since 2015. In fact, the government later confirmed it had awarded McKinsey a total of 23 contracts at a cost of $101.4-million since 2015. By comparison, Stephen Harper’s government had spent $2.2-million on the firm throughout its nine year tenure. 

There’s been a disconnect, Caruso said, between the amount of money going into the department and the results it’s been able to produce, adding there’s been a lot of changes made, but “essentially no consultation from our vantage point.” 

“We’ve been perplexed by the amount of money that has been designated to the department and yet, we’re not really reaping the benefits of those financial contributions. We’ve got bigger backlogs than we’ve ever had, and probably the lowest client service standards, ever. And a diminishing trust from the public in the whole immigration system,” she said. 

The House Government Operations and Estimates Committee (OGGO), headed by Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, agreed over the break to undertake a study of the government’s contracts with McKinsey, particularly given this government’s relationship with Dominic Barton, who was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2019 to 2021, head of the Trudeau government’s advisory panel on economic growth, and prior to both those appointments, global managing director at McKinsey and Company between 2009 and 2018. It’s expected to call a total of seven ministers to testify before the committee, as well as top McKinsey executives, and Barton. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) said he welcomes the committee’s probe to determine whether there was “value for money” in the work McKinsey did. 

McKinsey spokesperson Alley Adams said the firm “welcomes the [committee] review of the services we deliver to the federal government.” 

“We look forward to working with the committee to resolve its questions and clarify relevant issues. We are proud of the contributions our firm has had across the public sector and are focused on working with the committee to discuss our impact in detail,” Adams said in an emailed statement. 

McKinsey and Company was a key player in the department’s “transformation agenda” since 2018, when it was awarded a $2.9-million contract to assess the department’s operations and “recommend a way forward for its transformation agenda,” according to IRCC.

Based on McKinsey’s assessment, “and IRCC’s own analysis of its operating context,” IRCC launched its transformation program in 2019, with the overarching goals of improving its operations. 

In 2019, McKinsey and Company was hired for a second contract to set “the service transformation agenda in motion.” According to IRCC, the contract focused on “reviewing, developing, and implementing digital tools, processes, and services.” It was initially valued at $16.37-million, but was later amended to add $8.47-million, bringing the total to $24.8-million. 

“Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, IRCC was faced with an immediate need to further accelerate the development and implementation of digital products and services. That is why the contract was amended in 2021 to help IRCC respond to these pandemic-driven pressures, manage increased volumes, and sustain core client services,” the department added. 

For its part, McKinsey has stressed that it was only involved in non-partisan, government operations, and did not influence policy.

“We work on independent research, economic and sector-based insights, in addition to core management topics such as the reduction of document processing backlogs, digitization of processes, technology strategy, operational improvements, and change management. This work does not include policy development and/or political advice. We support the service delivery objectives pursued by
the professional public servants who lead the departments and agencies we serve,” McKinsey said in a statement issued to media. 

However, Toronto-based immigration lawyer Maureen Silcoff—a former decision-maker at IRCC herself—said she doesn’t think the distinction between the two is so obvious. 

“I’m not sure that there’s really a bright line that can be drawn between the immigration policies and the immigration systems,” said Silcoff, who also sits on the executive of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “In the immigration context, [systems] necessarily impact the way laws and policies are implemented, or operationalized.” 

“Efficiency is crucial, but whatever measures are put in place, and have been put in place, have to be alert to the sensitivities of the population affected, which we know involves, very often, racialized people and vulnerable people,” she added.

The move towards digitizing and automating processes at IRCC has already proven to be a sticky process. 

The department has already been the subject of systemic racism allegations, and as the House Citizenship and Immigration Committee heard last March, artificial intelligence, and immigration expert witnesses expressed concern that systemic racism and bias would be embedded in any automated processes the department employs. 

“There’s advantages to algorithms, to artificial intelligence, to web-based portals, but they do come with a cost, and if attention is not paid to the frailties, there could be serious human rights implications,” Silcoff said. 

“A digitized refugee portal, for example. Is that accessible to vulnerable people, people arriving in Canada who have been subjected to torture or remain traumatized, who are new to the country and the systems?” 

An element that further exacerbates this challenge is who can access the portals on behalf of the applicant. 

One complaint Caruso and CILA have with IRCC currently is that lawyers cannot access certain online portals on behalf of their clients. 

According to IRCC, as part of its work on the department’s “digital transformation,” McKinsey helped design, develop, and launch an online citizenship application, which “enabled clients to apply digitally and IRCC to continue business throughout the pandemic.” 

However, Caruso said lawyers have not been able to access this portal on behalf of their clients, which she said is an impediment not only to their work, but to the efficiency of the department as well. 

“In our dialogue with the department, they absolutely recognize the role that counsel plays, that we can add value to the process, eliminate applications that have missing documents, because typically with good counsel, it’s a more complete application. There’s less back and forth and it means they can get to a decision sooner,” she said. 

It struck her and CILA as strange, then, when the department decided to roll out a portal that didn’t allow lawyers to access it. 

“For us, there has been this disconnect with the rollout of the technology and our role in the process. And now it sort of makes sense that it wasn’t the department, but an external player that maybe doesn’t appreciate the role that legal counsel can have in simplifying and ensuring efficiency,” she said. 

NDP MP Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.), her party’s immigration critic, said she’s eager to hear more about exactly what work McKinsey was contracted to do for IRCC, but added that overall, departmental work should be done in-house. 

Kwan said the fact that IRCC, along with the Canada Border Services Agency, spent the most money on McKinsey contracts of any department tells her “there’s very little transparency within IRCC.” 

“It’s just so concerning that there’s this discovery of these contracts and the government is anything but transparent about it,” she said, after describing a lack of transparency at IRCC as a “black hole.” 

“It just really speaks to the black hole that exists within IRCC. And it is deeply concerning,” she said.

Source: IRCC’s reliance on McKinsey explains a ‘disconnect’ between money spent and value added, immigration lawyers say

Immigration lawyers caution Ottawa on new Express Entry system

Some noteworthy comments:

Canada’s major overhaul of its Express Entry System to attract more economic migrants will see a dramatic increase in “invitations to apply” (ITAs) being issued by Immigration Canada (IRCC)

This could exacerbate the country’s historic visa backlog — 2.2 million applications under processing by IRCC as of this month — given the expansion and priority for immigration programs managed under the Express Entry system.

Nurse aides, long-term care aides, hospital attendants, elementary and secondary school teacher assistants, and transport truck drivers are examples of some of the 16 occupations now included in Express Entry under the National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2021.

Veteran Vancouver Immigration lawyer Victor Ing said the new NOC codes which took effect on Nov. 16  are generally viewed as a good move but cautioned that IRCC should be prepared for “backlog-easing shifts and measures” to meet the recent immigration targets set by the government.

Rising immigration levels

Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration announced this month that Canada is looking to settle 500,000 new immigrants by 2025. The announcement comes on the heels of a record-setting year in 2021 when Canada welcomed more than 405,000 newcomers.

Speaking to NCM, Ing said the federal immigration minister highlighted in his announcement that he intends to meet 60 per cent of his 500,000 target by welcoming “economic immigrants,” including those classes of applicants that fall under the Express Entry system.

“With the Minister’s latest announcement, we should expect that the number of ITAs being issued will continue to increase over time and that the increase could be quite dramatic,” said Ing.

He said before the pandemic, IRCC had never issued more than 4,500 ITAs at any one time. By comparison, during the most recent round of ITAs on Nov.9, the government issued 4,750 ITAs.

“We are, therefore, already seeing the effects of the Minister’s agenda to increase our immigration levels after a 10-month, pandemic-related hiatus from issuing any ITAs between September 2021 and July 2022,” Ing said.

“We need to have the resources in place to process the ITAs while not hampering applications in other pathways and the government needs to be transparent on how it plans to do it… The Express Entry system must continue to be a major contributor to our immigration system in the coming years.”

Uncertainty looms

Catherine Sas, former co-chair of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the International Bar Association, said the new NOC 2021 system will open doors for many individuals, but may also raise concerns for other applicants.

“If NOC 2021 will cause your occupation to fall below the new eligibility requirements, you are faced with a few options and you need to begin looking towards alternatives,” said Sas. “The introduction of NOC 2021 brings the most significant changes to Canada’s occupational classification system that we’ve seen in the past 10 years.

For prospective immigrants and for those who are currently in the process of applying, you will need to watch, assess, and potentially adjust your Canadian immigration plans.”

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) said while it is pleased with the recent return of all-program draws and six-month processing standards, it is the expected introduction of targeted draws in early 2023 is a concern.

“One of the advantages Canada offers prospective immigrants is certainty they will be assessed objectively,” the association said in a statement. “Express Entry candidates have a strong sense of what Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score they need to compete for a permanent residence invitation.

“The looming introduction of targeted draws, however, erases this certainty, thereby potentially eroding the competitive standing of Canada’s immigration system. Moreover, it begs the question as to what criteria and processes Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will employ to implement targeted draws.”

Marina Sedai, the past national chair (2018-2019) of the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Section and past provincial chair of the CBA BC Immigration Law Section, said she does not expect the processing backlog to be impacted significantly with the new NOC codes.

“Will the NOC 2021 serve Canada’s labour market needs better?  Yes, I think so,” Sedai told NCM.

“One example: Canada has had a truck driver shortage for years, which contributes to supply chain disruptions and inflation. Now, more truck drivers can settle in Canada permanently, easing the stress on these two variables.”

Sedai suggested the NOC be restructured more often than every 10 years because the labour market is evolving quickly.

“As someone who uses the NOC in my daily work life, I would like to see it restructured every 5-7 years,” she said. “We have to keep up to the labour market realities; otherwise, we impair Canada’s economy and interfere with the jobs, services, and goods that Canadians need.”

Immigration Canada told NCM that the department is planning to consult a wide range of stakeholders to inform new categories in Express Entry, as required by the legislation, and is preparing for technical implementation in spring 2023.

“IRCC will continue to invite candidates to apply through generic-ranked (ITA) rounds, such as those with high Comprehensive Ranking System scores, and program-specific (ITA) rounds,” said IRCC spokesperson, Peter Liang.

Source: Immigration lawyers caution Ottawa on new Express Entry system

CILA: “We Apologize for the Inconvenience”: A Cautionary Tale of IRCC’s Decision to Move PR Applications Online

Hopefully only teething problems but IRCC seems to have a number of them post-pandemic, not limited to digital services:

Excitement spread through our office upon learning that IRCC will resume Express Entry draws in July, after almost a one-year hiatus. In anticipation of this much-welcomed return, we made sure to review and update all our client’s profiles so that once the “we are pleased to invite you to apply for permanent residence” correspondence came in – we were ready.

After the first round of invitations, we had a few fortunate clients who had received such correspondence. We immediately began completing the eAPR’s and uploading documentation onto my authorized representative portal. For one client, however, each time we attempted to access the eAPR – we were met with a message from IRCC that their system was down as they are either updating the website or experiencing technical difficulties.

Given the frequency of portal glitches and technical issues myself and fellow immigration lawyers have experienced while using IRCC’s portal, I was not too alarmed and figured to try again later. Unfortunately, the technical issue did not resolve the following day, or even after performing the common ritual of clearing my browser history and using different search engines.

On its website, IRCC states that if you are experiencing any technical difficulties, you can submit a webform. If an application cannot be submitted online and requires accommodations, one can contact IRCC to request an alternative format. Following this advice, we submitted multiple webforms enclosing screenshots of the glitch, and requested for alternative instructions to submit the application given that Express Entry PR applications can only be submitted online.

None of our webform pleas for help and assistance received a response. Emails which were responded simply included links to IRCC’s webform. Calling the IRCC helpline is a task I would only assign as a form of punishment.

Alas – I receive an email response from the Immigration Representatives Mailbox:

“We regret to inform you that your client’s EE profile has now expired due to a technical issue with our online tools. You must create and submit a new EE profile and wait for another ITA to be issued before you can apply for permanent residence. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

This response is alarming, as it ultimately places the burden on the applicant to deal with the consequences of a dysfunctional portal. This response does not take into account that, perhaps, there was an expiring LMIA, work permit, English test results – or that the applicant’s score may not be high enough to make the CRS cut-off on a future round.

The response is also an example that supports the concern fellow Canadian immigration lawyers have expressed with respect to the recent announcement by IRCC, whereby it will be mandatory to submit most permanent residence applications online.

The ability to submit PR applications by paper or online has been imperative, given the poorly functioning platforms and lack of timely user technical support. It is not uncommon to see the ‘rep portal is down’ email in our inbox and responses to webforms which were submitted over 30 days prior. IRCC has been made aware of these issues, but fully functional portals and timely responses to calls for help remain to be delivered.

Document upload size along with symbol size limits on IRCC’s Permanent and Temporary Residence portals have led applications to be filed on paper versus online, as the difficulties in navigating these restrictions and lack of technical support caused undue stress and delays for the immigration lawyer community and their clients – especially when there are impending deadlines.

No system is perfect, and technological issues may occur with the various tools legal practitioners have the ability to utilize these days. What is problematic, however, is the lack of support and guidance available to both immigration law practitioners as well as to unrepresented clients when dealing with IRCC’s online portals. Most of the time, inquiries are not answered, or responses to critical inquiries are significantly delayed, which has led applicants to postpone their work, studies or even miss PR submission deadlines which ultimately decide the fate of their future in Canada

There is room for improvement in how IRCC’s technical capabilities can be facilitated. For example, IRCC can provide explicit instructions on their website to those who are experiencing technical issues with submitting an application by listing a designated email address or location to which the application can be sent via courier accompanied by screenshots or explanations. A designated, live support chat or inbox for communicating errors or glitches would also be welcome, especially in time-sensitive situations.

Until IRCC can assure the public that the platforms will be fully functional and there will be ways to access timely assistance in case of technical issues, it should pause the transition of moving PR applications to be fully digitized or allow paper applications to be submitted as an alternative method in the event applicants face technical challenges with IRCC’s portals.

Source: “We Apologize for the Inconvenience”: A Cautionary Tale of IRCC’s Decision to Move PR Applications Online

CILA: Expansion Of Post Graduate Work Permits for Career Colleges Not Needed

Agree. The sector and policies are in need of a fundamental rethink and questioning, rather than the “addiction” to the money it brings. Adding private vocational colleges is just a back-door immigration program.

CILA is one of the rare organizations that questions the current approach to international students and immigration, and raises some of the trade-offs involved between programs and applicants:

Current immigration policy and regulations allow foreign students who graduate from Canadian universities and publicly funded colleges to obtain a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) upon graduation. The PGWP is pushing the boundaries of immigration even during the COVID-19 pandemic. From January to November 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued more than 126,000 PGWPs (Government of Canada). The National Association of Career Colleges (NACC), whose members run private vocational colleges, is now putting pressure on IRCC to extend the availability of PGWP to their diploma and certificate graduates.

This expansion would raise significant concerns, due to the level of education of the graduates and it would mean exponential growth in the number of PGWPs issued annually. NACC member colleges offer courses as short as six months in anything ranging from liberal arts to public relations management. This expansion would attract a huge number of foreign students to those colleges, looking to learn something that is not challenging so they can find an entry level position and obtain permanent residence. Unlike university graduates, their goal would not be to start a career, but rather find a quick and easy way to obtain residency. Foreign students would pay a hefty price for their dream of residency.

Foreign students are often “steered” by unscrupulous agents and unlicensed consultants who receive a commission from educational institutions and misrepresent the feasibility of obtaining residency. When foreign students become aware that they are not eligible for PGWP, the agents often blame the career colleges, or a change in government policy, and let them deal with the fallout.

Even publicly funded colleges and universities pay millions of dollars in commissions to agents overseas with a flat fee per student or based on first year tuition fees. (CBC News, April 2019). “College fairs” are advertised in every country to attract foreign students. This has led close to 600,000 foreign students coming to Canada annually (Canadian Bureau for International Education,2021). This number is already too high in many study disciplines, eliminating the need for advertising or recruitment agents. The best recruiting tools are the quality of education imparted, and word of mouth from graduates who enjoyed a positive educational experience.

Even if career college students are genuinely looking to learn practical courses, this raises the question of whether the labour market can absorb them. The labour market is in short supply of skilled trades in manufacturing, construction, engineering and other professions and trades, as the older cohort of Canadian workers are retiring. Employers trying to recruit skilled workers are often faced with the difficulties posed by a tight labour market, while at the same time, receiving hundreds of resumes from unqualified individuals. There is a disconnect between the labour market and the availability of workers in many positions.

Colleges and universities have become too dependent on foreign student tuition fees, which are often triple those of Canadian residents. Also, the large influx of foreign students from countries where English or French are not the languages of instruction, may have caused admission standards to be lowered and many courses to require less stringent writing ability. While foreign students may have taken the International English Language Test (IELTS) or the Test d’Évaluation de Français (TEF), many still lack the necessary language skills to function at a university level.

IRCC should prioritize foreign students pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and computer science (STEM) disciplines or apprenticeships in trades, instead of those studying business, humanities, health, arts, social science, education (BHASE) who may not have good employment prospects. There should be a discussion about the economic cost and benefit of the foreign student program,  as Canada is quickly reaching the point in which the number of foreign college student graduates in BHASE vastly outnumbers the number of college graduates in STEM (Statistics Canada, 2021). Authorities should consider whether all foreign students should obtain residency or prioritize only those students involved in STEM disciplines. Any extension of the PGWP to career college graduates would be detrimental to the overall program.

The numbers cannot continue to increase because they are crowding out other immigration streams and competing for processing resources. Consider the fate of the Express Entry Foreign Skilled Worker Program (“FSWP”) permanent resident stream, suspended since December 2020, at a time when foreign workers with experience are needed by many employers, rather than entry-level workers.  Impeding the permanent resident processing of federal skilled workers from overseas is ill-advised and penalizes some of the best and brightest foreign workers who have excellent educational credentials and worldwide experience.

Source: Expansion Of Post Graduate Work Permits for Career Colleges Not Needed

Immigration Plan 2022-24: Reports and Reactions

Expect to see more detailed analysis and commentary over coming days to round out the initial reporting.

Overall, the plan continues the government strategy of growing the economy through growing the numbers of immigrants.

This reflects the various interests of the “immigration industry” and business: more bodies means more consumers, more work for immigration lawyers and consultants, more funding for settlement organizations, more research opportunities for academics etc.

Not surprisingly, no questioning of these perspectives in articles and commentary to date (see my earlier Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast.). The government strategy continues to be based on overall GDP growth, not per capita GDP growth and productivity, a long standing issue that governments have tried to address with limited to no success.

The articles below capture some of the aspects which groups and individuals quoted have raised as concerns, but these are all in the context of general suppoort.

In terms of the politics of the plan, unlikely that this will create many issues for the government. The NDP generally supports higher numbers and the Conservatives will likely continue to focus on implementation and administrative issues, given the backlogs and that this is much safer than engaging in a debate over numbers, given their vulnerability to charges of being anti-immigration (unfair IMO but too tempting a target for the Liberals given the Conservatives still wear the legacy of the “barbaric practices tip line” and other ill-thought political messaging).

Given the overall shorter-term perspective of most immigration analysis and commentary, I continue to advocate for a royal commission or equivalent for a more independent and thorough look at immigration policy and programs with a longer-term perspective.

Media articles and commentary to date (nothing negative so far but expect some in more right leaning media and will continue to monitor):

The Star:

Canada plans to welcome more than 1.3 million new immigrants to the country over the next three years to help its economy recover from COVID-19 and to drive future growth.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s multi-year immigration-levels plan was announced Monday.

“If we’re not ready to significantly increase our ambition when it comes to immigration, we are going to be in a position where our economy will suffer, and it could put into jeopardy so many of the public services and social supports that make me very proud to be Canadian,” Fraser said.

But the plan comes amid calls from critics for the federal government to first reduce the ballooning backlog of 1.8 million applications piling up in the system as a result of slowed processing capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new plan calls for an annual intake that will reach 431,645 in 2022; 447,055 in 2023; and 451,000 in 2024 — equivalent to 1.14 per cent of the population by 2024.

This year, the number of new permanent residents will include 241,850 from the economic class; 105,000 through family reunification; and 76,545 as refugees and protected persons.

Canada reached its 2021 goal — bringing in a record 405,000 newcomers — largely by granting permanent residence to migrants such as international students and foreign workers who were already in Canada and therefore not hampered by pandemic travel restrictions and border closures.

However, the disruptions caused by COVID-19 here and abroad — and the unexpected Afghan refugee crisis — have created an unprecedented backlog in the immigration system that experts believe will take at least three years to clear.

As of December, there were 548,195 pending permanent residence applications; 775,741 temporary residence applications, including study and work permits; and 468,000 citizenship applications in the queue for processing.

Fraser said he hopes to rein in the backlog through additional hiring and by modernizing processing through new digital platforms.

The new plan will change the composition of the intake slightly this year, with the share of economic and skilled immigrants down from 60 per cent to 56 per cent. The portion of newcomers under the family class will also fall from 26 per cent to 24 per cent, while the ratio of refugees will go from 14 to 20 per cent.

Immigration policy analyst Kareem El-Assal said he’s unsure how reducing the share of economic migrants to Canada is going to benefit the country’s economy, which faces a labour shortage equivalent to nearly one million jobs.

“That’s what they’re trying to tell us. And then you look at the numbers and you see that’s not what’s happened,” said El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at

“You don’t have to spin anything for us. Just tell us, ‘This is what we’re doing temporarily. We’re going to be reducing the economic class share and the family class share temporarily for two years so that we can accommodate more refugees.’”

Calling the government plan “ambitious,” Ravi Jain of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association said he was concerned about reducing the permanent residence quota for federal high skilled workers by half, from 111,000 to 55,900.

During the pandemic, many international students have been unable to earn the job experience they need to qualify for permanent residence despite the high tuition fees they have paid. Jain said Ottawa needs an immediate plan to extend their work permits in Canada.

“They’re going to be waiting potentially a few years and they’re going to need the status to be able to buy that time,” said the Toronto lawyer. “There are some major concerns around what to do about the people who are here and who won’t necessarily have a pathway for permanent residence.”

The federal government has devoted $827.3 million over five years to enable the department to develop and deliver an enterprise-wide digital platform, with an additional $85 million to hire staff to reduce backlogs.

But the system hasn’t transformed fast enough to meet the insatiable demand for immigration to Canada.

Shamira Madhany, managing director of World Education Services, said Canada can’t rest on its laurels, as other countries are also competing for skilled talents for their post-COVID economic recovery.

“What Canada has done here is basically saying, ‘Our borders are open for immigration,’” said Madhany. “In terms of our capacity (to absorb immigrants), it’s a different question. We need to make sure we have mechanisms and tools in place to leverage their prior skills and experience. We don’t want highly skilled people to come here to do low-skilled jobs.”

MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP immigration critic, said Fraser’s plan shows a continuation of the Liberals’ Band-Aid approach to systemic immigration problems.

“The government simply cannot continue to shift resources and immigration levels from one stream to another. This pattern of behaviour has and will continue to create further problems and chaos in the system,” said Kwan.

Source: Canada wants to welcome 1.3 million newcomers over three years — but can its immigration system keep up?

Globe and Mail:

The federal government aims to welcome nearly 432,000 immigrants to Canada this year, as a part of a three-year plan to fill critical labour-market gaps and support a post-pandemic economic recovery.

The annual immigration levels plan, tabled in Parliament Monday, projects Canada will admit 431,645 permanent residents in 2022, followed approximately by 447,000 in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024. The majority of the permanent resident spots – 56 per cent – will be designated for immigrants coming to Canada to fill job vacancies this year.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how key immigrants are to Canada’s success, as newcomers fill many front-line jobs.

“When I talk to restaurants, machine shops, health care providers or virtually any other business, I see help-wanted signs in windows,” Mr. Fraser said.

“By launching what is the most ambitious immigration plan in the history of Canada, we are going to equip the Canadian economy with the workers it needs.”

Ottawa says immigration accounts for 100 per cent of labour-force growth and, with five million Canadians set to retire by the end of this decade, the worker-to-retiree ratio will drop – demonstrating the need for increased immigration.

Goldy Hyder, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Canada, said the number of job vacancies in the country is near an all-time high and immigration will be a key driver of pandemic recovery. He welcomed the government’s immigration targets Monday, but he said the plan must be supported by increased processing capability and supports for newcomers.

“To help meet these new targets, we urge the government to expand the immigration system’s processing capacity by adding new processing centres, updating outdated IT systems, and increasing recruitment and training of border agents and settlement services personnel. A growing workforce should also be accompanied by increased investments in public services, housing, and infrastructure,” Mr. Hyder said in a statement.

Mr. Fraser said the government recently hired 500 new processing staff and set aside $85-million in new funding to reduce application backlogs.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan urged the government to introduce special immigration levels to give the 500,000 migrant workers already in Canada a path to settlement and help address the labour-skill shortage.

While the government plans to increase the number of economic immigrants it welcomes to Canada over the next three years, from nearly 242,000 this year to more than 267,000 in 2024, it will simultaneously reduce the number of refugees to whom it offers safe haven. Canada will resettle approximately 77,000 refugees this year, 74,000 in 2023 and 62,500 in 2024. Mr. Fraser said resettlement numbers will gradually decrease as Canada follows through with its commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees over the next two years. More than 7,550 Afghan refugees have been resettled in Canada since last August.

The reduction in refugee-resettlement targets – particularly the government’s plan to accept more privately sponsored refugees than government-assisted refugees – has sparked concern for advocates.

“The responsibility to resettle refugees lies with the government – to reflect that responsibility, the government should resettle more refugees than private citizens. Yet the levels show private sponsors are being asked to do one and a half times as much resettlement as the government,” the Canadian Council for Refugees said in a statement.

Overall immigration levels have grown substantially since the Liberals took power in 2015. Numbers continued to grow until 2020, when Canada only admitted 184,500 newcomers because of the challenges posed by the pandemic. Shuttered overseas visa offices, closed borders, quarantine restrictions and challenges booking flights heavily affected the immigration system.

Immigration numbers rebounded in 2021, when Canada welcomed 405,000 new permanent residents – breaking the all-time record set in 1913. The majority of the newcomers were already in Canada on temporary status, including temporary foreign workers in the skilled trades, health care and technology, and international students.

The government has not tabled an immigration levels plans since October, 2020. It normally announces it immigration targets by Nov. 1, but last year’s plan was delayed because of the federal election.

Source: Canada aims to welcome 432,000 immigrants in 2022 as part of three-year plan to fill labour gaps

Le Devoir

Ottawa espère également atteindre enfin sa cible d’immigration francophone hors Québec en 2023, soit 4,4 % de toutes les admissions, une cible ratée depuis des années selon le commissaire aux langues officielles.

En 2020, 184 606 résidents permanents ont été enregistrés au Canada, c’est-à-dire beaucoup moins que la cible annoncée de 341 000, confirme également ce rapport annuel. Ce nombre, selon le ministre Fraser, est néanmoins un « succès impressionnant compte tenu des fermetures et des restrictions frontalières » dues à la pandémie, y écrit-il.

Pour cette même année, on a compté 326 116 titulaires de permis de travail temporaire au pays, ce qui illustre une autre tendance lourde, soit l’augmentation des catégories temporaires. Ce qui s’appelle le « solde de résidents non permanents » représentait 1,3 million de personnes au 1er janvier 2020, selon des informations communiquées précédemment par le ministère fédéral de l’Immigration au Devoir. Les détenteurs de titre de séjour temporaire, toutes catégories de permis confondues, représentaient ainsi près de 3,5 % de la population totale la même année.

Il s’agissait lundi de la première annonce officielle de cibles depuis octobre 2020. En décembre dernier, le ministre Fraser avait affirmé dans une entrevue au Devoir vouloir être le gouvernement le plus ambitieux de tous les temps en matière d’immigration.

Pour 2021, il estime avoir atteint « cette réalisation historique » en accueillant plus de 401 000 nouveaux résidents permanents, avait-il annoncé par communiqué. La majorité de ces personnes était déjà à l’intérieur des frontières sous un statut temporaire et a accédé à la permanence par divers programmes.

Le record précédent datait de 1913, quand 400 900 nouveaux immigrants permanents avaient foulé le sol canadien. Le pays comptait alors seulement 7,6 millions d’habitants ; cet afflux représentait donc une proportion plus importante de sa population totale, soit plus de 5 %. En comparaison, la cible d’immigration pour 2022 équivaut à 1 % de tous les Canadiens.

Source: Ottawa dévoile des cibles d’immigration encore plus ambitieuses

New Canadian Media

Canada aims to attract about 1.3 million new immigrants over the next three years to help fill critical labour shortages and fuel post-pandemic growth.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) Sean Fraser announced the new targets on Monday as the government struggles to clear a backlog of about 1.8 million visa/citizenship and other applications in the queue exacerbated by pandemic-induced delays.

At the same time, the latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that job vacancies in the country remain high, with 874,700 unfilled positions.

In a statement, IRCC said there are still hundreds of thousands of positions in all sectors waiting to be filled. 

Immigrants  needed

“Immigration already accounts for almost 100% of labour force growth, and with 5 million Canadians set to retire by the end of this decade, the worker to retiree ratio will drop down to only 3:1,”  it said. “This is a clear sign that we have a strong economic need for increased immigration.”

The 2022–2024 Immigration Levels Plan aims to continue welcoming immigrants at a rate of about 1 per cent of Canada’s population, including 431,645 permanent residents in 2022 (an increase of about 21,000 people from its original plan), 447,055 in 2023, and 451,000 in 2024. 

“From farming and fishing to manufacturing, healthcare and the transportation sector, Canada relies on immigrants. Setting bold new immigration targets, as outlined in the 2022-2024 Levels Plan, will further help bring the immeasurable contribution of immigrants to our communities and across all sectors of the economy,” Fraser said during the announcement.

To support the new ambitious targets, which follows a record year of 405,000 new permanent residents in 2021, IRCC had earlier announced a plantomodernize Canada’s immigration system to fuel economic recovery and improve client experience.

Veteran Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, Richard Kurland, told  NCM  that “IRCC is banking on new information technology to deliver an aggressive program that will be faster for applicants and cheaper for government.”

“The objective is to have more people here, in less time, at less cost,” he said.

Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, said “even with full employment, the country will need newcomers to help fill all the jobs available.”

“To help meet these new targets, we urge the government to expand the immigration system’s processing capacity by adding new processing centres, updating outdated IT systems, and increasing recruitment and training of border agents and settlement services personnel,” Hyder said in a statement.

Perpetuating problems’

Jenny Kwan, the Vancouver East MP, who also acts as the NDP Immigration Critic, said the government is actually scaling back the Federal Skilled Workers Program by almost 50 per cent by shifting resources and immigration levels from one stream to another. 

“The immigration levels released today shows that the government is perpetuating the problems they created when they failed to adjust the levels to accommodate the new (temporary to permanent resident pathway) immigration measure,” she said.

The measure, also known as TR2PR, is a limited-time pathway to permanent residence applicable only to temporary residents currently working in Canada and to their families.

According to a government memo cited by the National Post, the federal skilled workers program was being scaled back because IRCC simply can’t process the applications quickly enough. 

It also said the “reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada.”

“This pattern of behaviour has and will continue to create further problems and chaos in the system,” Kwan told New Canadian Media in an email.

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) said it is pleased with the modest newcomer increase announced today, adding it will give IRCC time to improve its client experience, tackle its backlogs, and make the technological modernizations necessary to better manage the system moving forward.

However, it is calling for IRCC, in conjunction with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), to immediately expand the list of occupations eligible for premium processing under the Global Talent Stream.  

According to CILA, an added support for Canadian employers would be for IRCC and ESDC to waive national recruitment requirements for all occupations processed under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program where labour shortages are well documented by industry.

“By immediately helping employers address their labour needs over the next two years or more, IRCC and ESDC can reduce government red tape that only serves to delay and frustrate international recruitment,” the association said.

A visa as Valentine’s

Meanwhile, IRCC’s Valentine’s Day message on its Facebook site has been met with derision from those in limbo waiting for their visa, PR cards and citizenship documents.

Mahmoud AR wrote “ How about you guys give me a Valentine’s day gift by finishing my 30 month application for citizenship?”

“Please give my wife (a) visa as Valentine’s gift,” said Pargat Gill

Mary Joy Lee responded “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Finish Applications that are delayed & overdue.”

Source: Canada eyes 1.3 million immigrants to overcome labour pains

And among the advocates, starting with CILA:

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) is pleased with the modest newcomer increase announced today under the new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024. 

The gradual increase will give Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) time to improve its client experience, tackle its backlogs, and make the technological modernizations necessary to better manage the immigration system moving forward.

The new levels plan is beneficial to families and will provide safety to more refugees. On the other hand, CILA regrets that economic class immigrants will be negatively impacted by this plan as IRCC looks to reduce its backlogs. CILA once again calls on IRCC to share its backlog reduction plan so that applicants know where they stand in the queue.

Economic Class 

Express Entry: CILA is disappointed with the halving of Express Entry admissions in 2022 and calls on IRCC to reverse course by immediately resuming invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates.

FSWP candidates have unfairly paid the price throughout the pandemic. This has included expired holders of Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) being neglected at the start of the pandemic, FSWP processing being significantly reduced in 2021, and IRCC pausing invitations to FSWP candidates since December 2020.

Welcoming more immigrants under the FSWP is key to supporting Canada’s labour force and economic growth. Temporarily cutting Express Entry admissions will undermine IRCC’s stated goal of strengthening the labour force via immigration. 

Ongoing disruptions to the FSWP will also hurt Canada’s international competitiveness as global talent will be forced to look elsewhere due to dimmer prospects for them in Canada over the next two years.

While it is good news that IRCC plans to bring Express Entry levels back to normal by 2024, this will be of little comfort to the many Canadian employers in desperate need of talent to address their immediate labour shortages.

The halving of Express Entry admissions this year will also be of grave consequence to Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates. The pause in CEC invitations since September 2021 is creating significant hardship for thousands of international students and temporary foreign workers who have spent years contributing to Canada’s economy and society, and who now have fewer permanent residence spots available to them. Many such individuals risk losing their legal status in Canada which may cause them to leave the country. This will also hurt Canadian employers and the economy. CILA calls on IRCC to quickly offer bridging permits to those with Express Entry profiles who have jobs, regardless of whether they have received an Express Entry Invitation to Apply. Alternatively, IRCC could re-introduce a one-time extension to Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders like it did in early 2021.

Provincial Nominee Program (PNP): CILA is pleased to see that IRCC will be increasing its PNP admissions targets from 80,000 to 93,000 immigrants by 2024. Since its launch in 1998, the PNP has been successful in promoting a broader distribution of immigration across Canada and addressing local labour market needs. The PNP is crucial to regions across the country amid labour shortages caused by Canada’s aging population and shifts to the economy amid the pandemic.

Start-up Visa Program: CILA believes processing times for Canada’s Start-up Visa Program (SUVP) are not globally competitive and is disappointed to see that admission targets remain unchanged under the new levels plan. IRCC has noted that processing times for the SUVP are now up to six years which is far too slow to support an innovation-driven economy.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP): The new immigration levels plan is ambitious and is premised on acute labour shortages across Canada. Employers experiencing labour shortages need continued access to international talent to meet the demand for their products and services in Canada and international markets. To complement the new levels plans, IRCC in conjunction with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) should immediately expand the list of occupations eligible for premium processing under the Global Talent Stream. IRCC should immediately devote resources to applications eligible for two week processing under the Global Skills Strategy (GSS). Pending applications under the GSS remain backlogged by several months thereby negating the purpose of introducing the GSS.

An added support for Canadian employers would be for IRCC and ESDC to waive national recruitment requirements for all occupations processed under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) where labour shortages are well documented by industry and government data. A good practice that can be replicated across Canada is the Quebec List of Occupations Eligible for Facilitated Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs). By immediately helping employers address their labour needs over the next two years or more, IRCC and ESDC can reduce government red tape that only serves to delay and frustrate international recruitment.

Family Class 

Spouses and Partners: CILA reiterates its call for IRCC to extend its Spousal Open Work Permit Pilot Program to spouses and partners living outside of Canada. It is unfair to offer work permits to inland sponsorship applicants as well as the partners of study and work permit holders, but force outland sponsorship applicants to remain separated or unemployed while inside Canada. Allowing spouses and common-law partners to work would allow these applicants to contribute to the labour market immediately. In addition, CILA hopes IRCC will achieve its goal of returning to a 12-month service standard for spousal sponsorship applications by the end of this year.

Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP): The increase in Canada’s PGP intake over the coming years is welcome and will help to support families across the country. At the same time, CILA encourages IRCC to consult widely on how to effectively manage the PGP moving forward.

Refugee and Humanitarian Class

Afghan refugees: CILA welcomes the Canadian government’s desire to fulfill its international humanitarian obligations by welcoming more refugees. CILA hopes Canada will be able to resettle Afghan refugees as quickly as possible to achieve its goal of providing safety to 40,000 Afghans.

Source: CILA’s Statement on Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024

CILA: IRCC is disadvantaging its clients with its new citizenship application process

My understanding, based on articles as well as discussions with immigration lawyers, is that citizenship is a relatively small part of their practice, given that immigration is vastly more complex with many more pathways and requirements, than citizenship which is a relatively simple program with most applications being straightforward.

Do we have any data on how many citizenship applicants engage a lawyer? A client-centric perspective, as advocated by CILA, would essentially do that for all but the more complex cases.

Needless to say, the policy and program objective should be to eliminate the need for counsel through simplification, streamlining and technology:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been beta testing a new Citizenship Portal which enables future new Canadians to submit their citizenship applications electronically. The ability to submit applications electronically should help reduce backlogs and speed up processing by removing the bottleneck caused by IRCC having to manually scan applications as they arrive in the mailroom. Electronically submitted applications can also more easily be resubmitted if found to be incomplete. For these reasons applications submitted through the Citizenship Portal are likely to be processed faster.

Under normal circumstances, the modernization of Canada’s immigration system at a time of historic backlogs should be celebrated. Regrettably, however, the creation of this portal is problematic since IRCC has once more made the deliberate choice to exclude those assisted by counsel. The beta version of the portal explicitly excluded all applicants who were represented by an authorized representative. Today, IRCC has amended the instructions on the Citizenship Portal, to permit applicants who are being assisted by a lawyer to use the portal, with one very large caveat.

Representatives are still not permitted to actually access the portal, input data, upload documents, or review applications for their client. IRCC’s expectation appears to be that representatives would screenshare while an applicant inputs the data and uploads the supporting documents themselves. The representative would have to rely on screenshots or what they are able to see via screensharing to ensure that the information is accurate. There is no way for a representative to ensure that the applicant has uploaded the correct supporting documents.

This latest iteration of the IRCC beta Citizenship Portal only does lip service to including counsel while still excluding them from actually being able to properly represent applicants and ensure that a complete and accurate application has been submitted. It also ensures that clients who need the most assistance, who do not have the language skills or technological savvy to use the portal on their own, are not able to benefit from this improved submission method. The courts understand the benefits representatives bring to their clients and the efficient operation of the justice system; why does IRCC not understand the benefits of including counsel?

From a representative’s perspective, the time involved in having to screenshare and talk an applicant through completing an application on their own, and the resulting additional expense to clients cannot be justified. Applicants share the most private details of their lives with their representatives, and so there is no reason that applicants should not be permitted to share their login credentials with their counsel provided there is a way that applicants can advise IRCC that they have used a representative, for example by including a Use of Representative Form (IMM5476), and requiring that clients confirm within the application that they and not the representative have reviewed and signed off on the information being submitted.

Authorized representatives had been promised that a representative portal for citizenship would be available early in 2022. However, it now appears that a representative portal will not be available any time soon. This means that applicants who are represented will either not be able to benefit from the new electronic portal, and will have to submit a paper application, or they will have to complete their applications largely on their own.

CILA also wishes to stress that Canadian citizenship applicants voluntarily choose to hire immigration lawyers. As anyone that has gone through the process before will tell you, applying for, and gaining Canadian citizenship is a defining life moment.

Due to the magnitude of this event, many citizenship applicants choose to hire an immigration lawyer for competent and professional representation. They hire a lawyer they can trust to submit a complete and accurate application to IRCC so that they can gain Canadian citizenship as quickly as possible. They understand fully that any error or omission in their application can delay the citizenship application process by months, or even worse, years. Hiring a lawyer that is familiar with the legal requirements, the forms and the documents needed not only offers peace of mind for an applicant but helps to ensure that the application is processed without delay and is ultimately successful. Using legal counsel conserves valuable department resources so that applications are not filed prematurely and are complete on submission.

At the end of the day, the exclusion of counsel is an access to justice issue. However, there is also a significant operational consideration at stake. Canada is currently grappling with a backlog of some 1.8 million applications, of which some 468,000 are Canadian citizenship applicants. It is in everyone’s best interests for IRCC to receive complete and accurate applications. As we all know too well, however, errors and omissions do occur during the application process which creates additional work and stress for all involved parties. In this vein, it is imperative for IRCC to see counsel as an ally in the shared pursuit of a fast and efficient immigration system. Enabling immigration lawyers to submit Canadian citizenship applications online increases the likelihood that IRCC will be able to render a decision at the first possible opportunity, and reduces the likelihood of unnecessary delays for clients and additional work for IRCC.

CILA expresses its disappointment that IRCC continues to exclude counsel despite a multitude of conversations and correspondence between the immigration bar and the department on this very issue throughout 2021. CILA has submitted letters to IRCC on this matter on August 5August 18, and October 27. Prior to that, the immigration bar has raised alarm on this matter, including in spring 2021 on how the exclusion of counsel would prejudice those looking to apply to the time-limited TR to PR pathways. The crux of the matter here is that IRCC continues to make the choice to disadvantage its own clients.

CILA wishes to offer two major recommendations to IRCC. First, keep your clients front-and-centre of all your modernization initiatives. Having a client-centric view will allow you to unveil modernizations which are inclusive to as many of your clients as possible at the outset, and avoids the creation of a two-tiered system, where some are disadvantaged. Second, consult with as many stakeholders as possible before going live with modernization initiatives; this includes beta testing portals with all stakeholders. Representatives are more effectively able to identify issues with new systems than applicants who only have experience with one application. Canada has a vibrant immigration ecosystem with plenty of stakeholders that can provide IRCC with beneficial guidance that will allow the department’s modernization efforts to be as successful as possible. Again, this will represent a win-win for both IRCC and its clients, including during life-defining events such as the Canadian citizenship uptake process.