Express immigration programs overstaffed: budget watchdog

Backlogs yet…:

Three programs designed to get skilled immigrants settled in Canada faster have more staff than needed to meet the government’s goals, according to a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer released Tuesday.

The report looked at three “express entry” programs — the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Canadian Experience Class and the Federal Skilled Trades Program — and the government’s target of processing 80 per cent of applications to the programs within six months. Quebec does not participate in the three programs.

“Based on our analysis, current staffing levels at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are expected to be more than sufficient to meet the processing time goal for the next five years,” Yves Giroux, the parliamentary budget officer, said in a news release.

Source: Express immigration programs overstaffed: budget watchdog

Clarkson: If Canada loses its citizenship ceremonies, we risk losing ourselves

Calls out the efforts by the government and IRCC to diminish the value and meaningfulness of citizenship and highlights their lack of understanding of the fundamental meaning and belonging of ceremonies (disclosure I am providing citizenship and related data to the ICC).

To date, op-eds from the left (Toronto Star), centre (Globe) and right (National Post). Tenor of reader comments is against the proposed change but how many will submit written comments through the Gazette process and will the government listen.

And will either the NDP or CPC deem it important enough issue to raise given the understandable fixation on the government’s handling (or mishandling) of Chinese government foreign interference allegations:

One of the most wonderful things about becoming a Canadian is the citizenship ceremony.

There, new citizens are surrounded by a little crowd of other people who want to become Canadian too. It might be held in a federal citizenship office or in some other location that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has found that can accommodate people, though at the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, we try to hold our citizenship ceremonies in public spaces: libraries, city halls, university campuses, places we hope these new citizens will return to. Always, there is incredible joy – the kind that comes with recognizing that something special is happening. Wearing a head scarf or a beard, or an embroidered vest in brilliant colours, these about-to-become citizens know that they are doing something meaningful.

When I became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992, I was told that I would be able to preside over these ceremonies in the way a citizenship judge does. I was delighted by the idea: For my family and me, who arrived as stateless refugees during the Second World War, the precious gift of Canadian citizenship that we received in 1949 was something we cherished and celebrated.

The first ceremony over which I presided was overwhelming: there was such excitement and warmth among people of different backgrounds – even though the whole thing was taking place at the Metropolitan Toronto Police headquarters!

When my husband John Ralston Saul and I founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, one of the first things we wanted to do was to have special ceremonies to acknowledge how important this moment is in people’s lives. For six years, as Governor-General, I presided over citizenship ceremonies, and invited people who already had Canadian citizenship to come specifically to meet the new citizens, to sit at roundtables with them and have discussions before the formal ceremony. Everyone shared coffee and doughnuts afterward. It wasn’t elaborate, but it was congenial and hospitable.

When I left Rideau Hall, I decided that this would be a feature of the institute, and for 16 years we carried this on with the wisdom and guidance of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. With their help, we have ceremonies in which we have Indigenous speakers and music, and roundtables where people can share their experiences of Canada up to that point.

It’s not a big deal. But it is important. And everyone who is sworn in across the country as citizens recognizes that the others around them are people who, like them, have taken the risk of leaving their own country with the courage to come and make a new life in Canada.

We can’t overstate the significance of being able to be around each other when we take our citizenship vows, or of new citizens receiving the formal and yet warm welcome they get from professional and excellent Immigration officials, who leave no misunderstanding as to what a citizen is and how a citizen can contribute to their country. The citizenship judges, whether they are federal appointees or members of the Order of Canada, always take the ceremonies to heart, and it is so moving to see people from so many different countries at each ceremony joining together and saying that they will become part of Canada.

Now, there are reports that in order to get rid of an administrative backlog, new citizens will be given the option to take their oath online, rather than in a physical ceremony. Frankly, I’m horrified by this. I believe that people want ceremonies to mark important passages in their lives. I think welcoming people in person is the least we can do as a country. I feel that the people who work at the ministry understand that, and that they do put a human face on it as much as they can.

The idea that Canada, which is perhaps the most successful immigrant nation in the world, would resort to a machine-oriented way of saying that you are now a citizen, is egregious. In 2001, on my state visit to Germany as Governor-General, then-president Johannes Rau told me how deeply impressed he was that we inducted people into citizenship personally. He lamented the fact that Germany generally sent out citizenships by some form of registered mail.

I can’t help feeling very emotional when I talk about this, because I do believe that ceremonies are important stages of every human being’s life. There is a reason why we have birthday parties, for instance, or why co-workers often share a cake when someone leaves for another job. There is a reason why people go to city hall or to a religious institution to bring meaning to their marriage. There is humanity in marking milestones in each other’s company; it is the mark of a civilized society. And Canada should always think of itself as a society which not only knows how to welcome people, but shows that a personal welcome is only the beginning of belonging.

Adrienne Clarkson was Canada’s 26th Governor-General and co-founder of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

Source: If Canada loses its citizenship ceremonies, we risk losing ourselves

Yuan Yi Zhu: Canadian citizenship is embarrassingly cheap and online oath makes it cheaper

Apart from the unnecessary snark and playing to the gallery if the comments on Zhu’s article are any guide, he nails the substance of this misguided change. But hopefully he and others will take the time to file their objections to the proposal through the Canada Gazette process (I will share my input in a future post):
Newly published figures by Statistics Canada revealed that fewer than half of permanent residents now take Canadian citizenship within 10 years, a 40 per cent decline over two decades.
Cue soul-searching among the usual Ottawa think tankers, wondering why the world’s denizens no longer wanted to be on “Team Canada.” Why did so many recent immigrants, arriving in record numbers, refuse the citizenship we hand to them practically for free and after as little as three years’ residence, or 1,095 days spent within the country out of the last five years?

Source: Yuan Yi Zhu: Canadian citizenship is embarrassingly cheap and online oath makes it cheaper

In Niagara Falls, Roxham Road asylum seekers find less space and more strife as tourist season nears

Not all that surprising:

It had been a long time since Marie Saintil had last been to church, when she found herself at the pulpit of the Faith Tabernacle in Welland, Ont., on a recent Sunday evening.

“Est-ce que tout le monde parle Créole?” she asked the small Haitian congregation, a half dozen or so of whom had been shuttled to the service in their Sunday best from the various hotels in nearby Niagara Falls where they are living. The congregation nods in unison – yes, they all speak Créole.

Ms. Saintil, a lawyer of Haitian background herself, was there that evening to deliver not a sermon, but a primer on the refugee claims process.

When she took a job with the Niagara Community Legal Clinic in January, she was looking for a change of pace after two decades of practising immigration law in Toronto. Instead, she has found herself in the throes of a migration crisis, with thousands of asylum seekers unexpectedly placed in a tourist town that is not equipped to absorb them, transferred by the federal government from Quebec after crossing at Roxham Road.

More than 2,841 asylum seekers have been transferred to Niagara Falls by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada since last June, spread across more than 1,400 hotel rooms in the city after being shuttled on from their arrival in Quebec.

Another 702 have been placed in Ottawa, 618 in Windsor, and 1,396 in Cornwall, according to the IRCC. They began transfers to Atlantic provinces at the end of last month, with 63 so far transferred to Halifax and 30 people transferred to Fredericton.

But nine months in – as understaffed settlement and social services scramble to support the newcomers, and with as many as one in 12 hotel rooms occupied as the city’s tourism season looms – tensions are starting to build.

“These people are taken from Roxham Road in Quebec, and they’re put into a bus, and they’re dumped. And the word is dumped – they’re dumped here,” Ms. Saintil said.

“And now they’re being told, you’re not really wanted because we have tourists coming … It was fine to have them here during the slow season, in the wintertime, but now that the tourists are coming, you’re not wanted.”

Ms. Saintil cannot represent them, she told the congregants at the church, as she handed out information packets and business cards. This has not been her clinic’s mandate, but she feels compelled to help given how few lawyers in the area do this work.

The migrants did not choose Niagara Falls. They ended up here after being repeatedly shuffled along by American and then Canadian authorities – perpetually treated as someone else’s problem. Regardless of where their journeys began, these migrants have often crossed several borders before arriving in Canadain an effort to flee violence, persecution and poverty – and have faced hostility along the way.

At the Mexico-U.S. border, thousands of people are crossing each day. And once in the United States, they have faced increasing hostility, including from political leaders in southern states such as Texas and Florida, whose Republican governors have transported thousands of asylum seekers to places such as New York, Washington and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

In New York, Democratic politicians have responded to an influx of migrants by offering one-way tickets to Plattsburgh, N.Y., a short distance from the Canadian border at Roxham Road.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., asylum seekers must file their claims in whichever country they arrive in first, which means they will be turned back if they attempt to get into Canada at official border crossings. Because that agreement covers only official border points, crossings at the unofficial Roxham Road entry have risen sharply.

Now in Canada, the migrants are finding themselves unwelcome in Quebec, too. With the numbers at Roxham Road continuing to rise – close to 40,000 migrants entered Canada there last year – Quebec’s Premier François Legault has protested the “strain” the influx has put on his province’s social services and urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shut it down, or send them elsewhere.

“Everybody is sending the ball to somebody else,” Ms. Saintil said. “It’s a blame game.”

With a population of 95,000 people, Niagara Falls depends heavily on tourism and is known as much for the massive falls that straddle an international border as it is for the garishness of its main drag, lined with haunted houses and wax museums. The city has upwards of 16,000 hotel rooms, Mayor Jim Diodati said, and at first the IRCC contracts seemed like welcome news for hotels that have been struggling after three years in a pandemic.

“We’ve got lots of rooms, we’ll do our part and help out as much as we can – that’s kind of the attitude as it started,” he said. But as the numbers began to grow, he said the mood has shifted. “They went from 87 to 300, to 687, to 1,500 … And then we were told 1,700 and 2,000 were the next steps,” he said. “And, you know, we weren’t really sure how much we can handle, and at what point it would become disruptive, because we’ve never been through anything like this before.”

After a video call with Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, and his staff last month, the mayor said he still doesn’t know how long the hotel rooms are booked for. He said he’s concerned about the impact on the coming tourism season, which he describes as the “the goose that lays the golden eggs here.”

“A tourist is going to spend money in restaurants, the attractions, the casinos, the wineries … whereas these folks are just staying in the rooms,” he said. “A lot of people are counting on it to feed their families and pay their mortgages and pay their rents. So we’re asking, ‘What’s the plan?’ ”

IRCC spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald wouldn’t provide a timeline on how long the hotel rooms have been leased, citing confidentiality. In an e-mail, he said the department takes into account availability, cost, transportation and access to support services.

Mr. Diodati said he was told numbers were likely to peak in the coming weeks, as they began to transfer people to other areas, including the Atlantic provinces. But in the meantime, he warns the mood of the town has begun to shift. “Most conversations that people have with me start off with ‘I don’t want to be insensitive, and I’m not complaining … but where are we going with this?’ ” he said. “And we’re trying to get answers.” The mayor said he has asked the federal government for more money to help the city and local organizations keep up with demand. IRCC said in a statement that it was working with the local government to ensure they are prepared and to respond any concerns.

On a Friday evening almost one week after the mayor’s meeting with the immigration minister, the lobby of the Ramada hotel on Lundy’s Lane was crammed with 100 or so people lined up for dinner.

This type of scene, Ms. Saintil believes, is the real unspoken concern. “It just doesn’t look good to see all these refugee claimants in the hotels. That’s what it is,” she said. “It doesn’t look good in pictures with American tourists.”

On a frigid Sunday afternoon, Henry Carmona and a group of fellow Venezuelan migrants headed down from their hotel to take in the icy view of the falls.

The economic collapse and rise of political violence in Venezuela have led to one of the largest displacement crises in the world. It is a mass exodus that has sent a quarter of the country’s population – more than seven million people – fleeing to neighbouring Colombia and then onward.

It took these men years to get here. They each show off photos of the families they had to leave behind because of the dangerous nature of their journeys.

Truck drivers by trade, the men are eager to get their work permits, learn English and begin to find work. But they landed in Niagara only a few days earlier, bused in from Quebec after their arrival at Roxham Road.

They have appreciated their treatment in Canada so far, they said. They laughed as they took in the various gimmicky attractions on Clifton Hill. Next door to the Museum of the Stars, a stiff-moving dinosaur head called out to them from the Looney Tunes-esque Bone Blaster Shootin’ Gallery.

And though they’d expected to be in Quebec, they are content in Niagara for now; whenever their work permits are ready, they plan to go where the work is. Other asylum seekers who spoke with The Globe and Mail, some from Colombia and others from Haiti, said the same.

At the YMCA of Niagara, Deanna D’Elia, manager of employment and immigrant services, has scrambled to move some part-time workers to full-time in an effort to address the spiralling need.

Of their 65-member team, 25 or so are focused specifically on settlement. Others work on helping them find employment, though a major part of that process depends on work permits – which, given the backlog, can take many months or even years to be issued.

“Individuals and families have come to Canada to seek a better life and they are eager to work,” Ms. D’Elia said. In the meantime, many must rely on social assistance, which in today’s rental market can barely cover a room in the city. It’s a situation that she says has “amplified” discussions about the housing crisis, both regionally and across the province and country.

It’s a pressure that is being felt in social services across the region, which were under pressure even before the asylum seekers arrived.

On a recent Friday morning, Pam Sharp and her team at Project SHARE were preparing for a busy day at the largest food bank in Niagara Falls. They’d had to close the day before for an ice storm, and knew it was likely to be busier as a result.

Demand in the community was already very high. In addition to the food bank, they also provide homelessness prevention supports and other services, and served the equivalent of one in 10 residents last year, she said.

They see, on average, 100 families a day, and the infusion of 3,000 new vulnerable people is stretching them to their limits. Both the regional and city council have declared a state of emergency on homelessness, mental health and opioid addiction.

Ms. Sharp has noticed more and more asylum seekers coming in – for example, of the 157 families they served one day this week, 60 identified as asylum seekers –and the team has on occasion done outreach at the hotels directly.

“We want to make sure that anyone coming into our city is able to meet their basic needs,” she says.

Janet Medume, executive director of the Welland Heritage Council and Multicultural Centre, which is leading the local settlement efforts. said they weren’t told in advance about the asylum seekers’ arrivals but began to hear word through community networks last summer. Since then, more than 20 community organizations have banded together to develop a strategy, but she said they need both funding and staffing boosts from all levels of government to keep up.

“Let’s inject more resources so we can focus on ensuring individuals get the help they need, and hopefully get employment quick enough, so we can get them out of there as soon as possible,” she said. “Give us those resources and we’ll be okay.”

At the church Sunday evening, Ms. Saintil lingered after the service, passing out information pamphlets and business cards. She wore a sad smile as she watched a trio of siblings – ages 8, 7 and 1 – playing in the foyer. The older two, sisters, showed off cartwheels and boasted about their favourite school subjects.

She urged their father to get them scarves for the cold weather, and he nodded enthusiastically. They’ve been here eight months in a hotel, Ms. Saintil said, after they waved goodbye. The parents were only recently able to meet with a lawyer for the first time.

“Everybody’s doing their best,” she said. “But if they’re hoping this is not going to be a crisis in a month or two, they have to start acting now.”

Source: In Niagara Falls, Roxham Road asylum seekers find less space and more strife as tourist season nears

@IRCC Consultations: Shaping the future of immigration in Canada

Somewhat cynical about the consultations exercise.

On the surface, may be a response to the increased public commentary questioning the impact that current and planned high immigration levels have on housing, healthcare adnn infrastructure but without the political will for a fundamental review of immigration programs and policies, which appear largely based on a “more the merrier” approach. The “learn more” section suggests that no fundamental review is planned.

Will be interesting to see if those consulted include critics of the current approach, not from the various advocacy groups but more broadly:

Immigration is critical to Canada’s long-term success. To fully harness the potential of immigration and create the best experience for newcomers,

Canada needs an immigration system that is strong, easy to navigate and adaptive to change.

The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, today announced the start of a broad-based engagement initiative—An Immigration System for Canada’s Future—aimed at exploring how immigration policies and programs can support a shared vision for Canada’s future. The engagement, which will continue throughout the spring, will include in-person dialogue sessions across the country, thematic workshops and a survey for the public and our clients. The input gathered will inform Canada’s future immigration policies and programs, and will help shape a system that will benefit communities across the country for decades to come.

The next generation of Canada’s immigration system will involve continued, whole-of-society collaboration. That is why this engagement initiative is intended to capture a diversity of perspectives from a broad range of partners and stakeholders, including all levels of government, businesses, academia, post-secondary institutions, settlement organizations, implicated sectors in Canada and our clients.

To kick off the engagement initiative, Minister Fraser chaired the first dialogue session in Halifax. The session provided an opportunity for the Minister and participants to exchange ideas and discuss how Canada’s immigration policies and programs can better support the needs of communities from coast to coast.

If you would like to contribute to the future of Canada’s immigration system, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will also be launching a survey, which will be available to the public later in March in addition to the dialogue sessions and thematic workshops with stakeholders. We encourage you to visit our website to learn more about how to get involved.


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

Crise des passeports: Jusqu’à deux fois moins d’employés en 2022

Of note. See my earlier op-ed Passport delays risk undermining our trust in government on the complexity of linkages between IRCC, responsible for passport policy, and Service Canada, responsible for delivery, and the failure of both to anticipate demand even if official planning documents expected a surge once travel restrictions lifted:

Ottawa a réduit considérablement les effectifs affectés au traitement des demandes de passeport entre 2018 et 2021. Résultat : ils étaient presque deux fois moins au début de 2022 pour répondre aux nombreuses demandes des Canadiens désireux de voyager après la levée des principales mesures de restriction pour les déplacements à l’étranger.

Selon des données obtenues par La Presse en vertu de la Loi sur l’accès à l’information auprès d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada, 1512 fonctionnaires étaient chargés de répondre aux demandes de passeport au début de l’année 2018. On n’en comptait plus que 893 en 2021, un nombre qui est passé à 1161 au cours de l’année suivante.

Cette baisse substantielle des effectifs a nui considérablement à la capacité de Passeport Canada de traiter le flot de demandes au cours de l’été 2022, signale Yvon Barrière, vice-président exécutif régional Québec à l’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada (AFPC). « On avait entre 40 et 50 % de personnel en moins », précise-t-il.

Où sont allés tous ces employés ? Un très grand nombre ont été affectés à d’autres services au plus fort de la pandémie, alors que des mesures de restriction limitaient de façon importante les voyages à l’étranger. De nombreux fonctionnaires de Passeport Canada ont notamment travaillé au traitement des demandes de prestation canadienne d’urgence (PCU) au moment où la COVID-19 forçait l’arrêt de nombreux secteurs d’activité économique.

« Chaque fois qu’il y avait un nouveau programme d’aide aux citoyens, le gouvernement avait tendance à aller chercher du personnel à l’Agence du revenu, à l’Immigration et aux passeports. »

– Yvon Barrière, vice-président exécutif régional Québec à l’Alliance de la fonction publique du Canada


Mais selon M. Barrière, la diminution des effectifs n’est pas la seule cause de la crise des passeports qui a fait les manchettes au cours de l’été 2022. Un retard important dans le traitement des demandes au plus fort de la pandémie a aussi aggravé la situation.

« Les demandes de passeport, alors que les gens ne peuvent pas voyager, ils peuvent patienter. Laissez-les de côté, disaient les gestionnaires », indique M. Barrière, qui estime qu’on a ainsi cumulé jusqu’à un an et demi de retard dans le traitement des demandes.

« Tous les ingrédients étaient là pour ce qu’on a connu [à l’été 2022] », soutient-il. Au moment où il n’y avait plus de restrictions pour voyager à l’étranger, les employés se sont donc retrouvés à traiter une hausse considérable de demandes de nouveaux passeports ou de renouvellement. Tout cela avec un retard important cumulé dans les deux années précédentes.

« Ils n’ont pas vu venir la crise », plaide Yvon Barrière. Il estime pourtant que celle-ci était parfaitement prévisible. « Si les gestionnaires avaient prévu le coup, on n’aurait pas eu les files d’attente qu’on a connues », soutient-il.

Quand Ottawa a entrepris d’embaucher du personnel face au flot de demandes, la situation ne s’est pas nécessairement améliorée, du moins pas à court terme. « Il fallait former les employés et souvent, on prenait les meilleurs pour les former. Ils n’avaient pas le temps de traiter les demandes. »

Le représentant syndical rejette par ailleurs l’argument voulant que le grand nombre d’employés en télétravail au cours des trois dernières années ait pu ralentir le traitement des demandes de passeport.

Selon les données obtenues par La Presse, au moins 80 % du personnel traitant les demandes de passeport a travaillé à distance en 2020, 2021 et 2022. « Les gens ont des quotas, ils doivent traiter un certain nombre de demandes chaque jour, qu’ils soient à la maison ou au bureau », explique Yvon Barrière.


La majorité des employés prêtés à d’autres services ont été rapatriés, estime-t-il, jugeant que le retard dans le traitement des demandes a été comblé.

« Ils ont eu leur leçon. Ils sont en train de reprendre le contrôle. On ne devrait pas vivre de nouvelle crise », conclut-il.

Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada n’a pas donné suite aux questions de La Presse, nous invitant à écrire à Emploi et Développement social Canada (EDSC). En réponse à notre courriel, EDSC a précisé ne pas être en mesure de répondre à nos questions vendredi.

Source: Crise des passeports: Jusqu’à deux fois moins d’employés en 2022

No-shows, dropouts and asylum requests — these 10 schools have Canada’s highest rates of ‘non-compliance’ among international students

Time for their “designated learning institution” (DLI) status to be reviewed and possibly revoked. Back door immigration, not education stream.

Overly charitable to state that “While it would be unfair to cast doubt over the integrity and legitimacy of these colleges and universities” given that, at a minimum, they and governments are complicit in this abuse of the program.

Great that IRCC has identified this risk, what remains to be seen if IRCC acts on this by revoking their DLI or other measures to curb this abuse:

Ontario is home to seven of the 10 schools flagged by the Canadian government as having the highest rates of “non-compliance” when it comes to international students failing to show up for their registered courses, or instead applying for asylum.

The names of the so-called designated learning institutions, or DLIs — schools approved to host international students — were revealed in an internal report by the Immigration Department’s integrity risk management branch.

The list raises questions about Canada’s rapidly expanding international education industry, which has seen schools bring in hundreds of thousands of foreign students at significantly higher tuition rates than their Canadian peers, and whether it may be experiencing issues around compliance and enforcement.

Seven of the post-secondary schools on the list, compiled in November 2021, were private institutions while the other three are publicly funded universities: Laurentian University in Sudbury, Cape Breton University and Université Sainte-Anne, both in Nova Scotia.

The ratings of the schools were based on the percentages of “no show,” “no record” or “no longer registered/enrolled” among their enrolled international students. The list also cited the number of asylum claims made by enrolled students.

The overall potential non-compliance rates of the 10 schools ranged from 33 per cent to 95 per cent, compared to the overall average of just seven per cent among some 1,600 DLIs across Canada, according to the list obtained under an access to information request by immigration policy analyst and lawyer Richard Kurland.

Evergreen College in Brampton, renamed Eastview College in 2021, and the Academy of Learning College in Toronto topped the list, both scoring 95 per cent.

At Evergreen, where six asylum claims were traced, 274 of the 288 students were deemed non-compliant, including:

  • 132 no-shows, who were offered admission but never confirmed acceptance, registered but never attended class, or presented in class but stopped attending without telling school administration.
  • 140 “no records,” where the administration does not have a record of a letter of acceptance issued to this person or any record of the person being enrolled in the school, despite immigration records saying otherwise. Experts say such discrepancies can be the result of clerical errors. 
  • two who were dismissed, withdrew voluntarily or transferred to another institution.

A spokesperson for Eastview said the “no record” numbers originated from fake acceptance letters that were issued under Evergreen’s name. The spokesperson said the administration had brought the issue to the attention of the Immigration Department but that no action was taken to address it.

The no-shows, she said, could be attributed to those who just came to the college looking for an acceptance letter so they could extend their work permit or to use it as a stepping stone to gain admission to another college.

“With the acceptance letter, they’re supposed to start with the program. But you know what, they do not. We can’t do anything with it,” noted the spokesperson, adding that some of the no-show students didn’t even bother to ask for refunds of fees and tuitions.

While it would be unfair to cast doubt over the integrity and legitimacy of these colleges and universities based on the data, experts say it does suggest some issues around compliance and enforcement.

“Some students may be bona fide or genuine students coming in and then they can fall through the cracks and then start not showing up to their classes. Could it be that they don’t really have the funds to actually pay for the next semester, so they don’t show up and start going under the table and underground?” asked immigration lawyer Lou Janssen Dangzalan.

“You’ve seen the reports of colleges doing strip-mall classes or theatre classes. That could dissuade an international student from attending classes. If I were an international student and paid so much money for tuition, I would be so demoralized attending classes. Basically that’s recorded as a no-show or no-record or no longer registered.”

Michael Sangster, CEO of the National Association of Career Colleges, said he could not comment on specific cases, but said its 450 provincially regulated members work closely to ensure students are supported and have the skills training needed to succeed.

“As all post-secondary institutions experience, there are many personal reasons why prospective students may ultimately make the decision not to pursue their studies, particularly over the last three years,” he said in a statement.

Other private colleges that made the non-compliant list included the Academy of Learning Career and Business College in Owen Sound, with an 87 per cent rate; Flair College of Management and Technology in Vaughan (82 per cent); Canadian Institute of Management and Technology in Ontario (62 per cent); BITTS International Career College in Mississauga (60 per cent); and Pacific Link College in Surrey, B.C. (47 per cent).

The Star reached out to all 10 institutions on the list. Four had responded by time of publication.

Sandip Dhakecha, Flair College’s campus administrator, said some private institutions do have lower admission criteria than their publicly funded counterparts. Sometimes, international students stop showing up when they realize their programs won’t earn them postgraduate work permits and coveted permanent residence in Canada.

“This is a pressing issue for us also because, you know, it looks bad on our name. We want to provide the quality education. But the thing is, we don’t have any control over our students,” he explained. “If a student comes before the program starts and asks for a refund, we 100 per cent refund them.”

In a statement to the Star, BITTS International said it was surprised by the report because it always follows all procedures for reporting and registration as required by different federal and provincial ministries of all DLIs.

“The non-compliance percentage of students are (those) who obtain their admissions at BITTS and then never continue with their enrolment and full-time studies. Many of these students obtain multiple admissions and then enrol where they find it convenient,” it said.

“Whatever information, that has been obtained in this report, we would like to review all of it, in detail, and respond accordingly.”

At Laurentian University, which has a 39 per cent non-compliant rate (with 321 of the 828 students potentially breaching the rules), registrar Serge Demers said post-secondary classes don’t take attendance and the registration system has become a proxy to monitor students.

“We’re talking about people who are not here, so it’s difficult to ask them why they’re not here,” said Demers. “There’s all of these levels of privacy that exist. In a world where everyone was in good faith, we wouldn’t need this system. I think the system is in place because there are people that are working their way through the cracks.”

A total of 197 asylum claims were reported from students enrolled in the top 10 DLIs — an issue that Dangzalan blames partially on the fact that not all international students have access to permanent residence, as often marketed by unscrupulous recruiters.

“If you run out of your postgraduate work permit, you are able to get a work permit while you’re waiting for your refugee determination,” said Dangzalan. “It’s an offshoot of the problem of overmarketing Canada. The system is just overwhelmed and now they’re trying to use alternative avenues to stay and remain in Canada.”

Source: No-shows, dropouts and asylum requests — these 10 schools have Canada’s highest rates of ‘non-compliance’ among international students

Canada needs to consider the user experience of migrants when designing programs that impact them

Hard to argue with. But implementation will require varied and sophisticated strategies for different immigrants, not just at the category level:

The first interaction many Canadians have with government services today is digital. Older Canadians turn to the internet to understand how to file for Old Age Security or track down a customer service phone number. Parents visit school district websites for information on school closures, schedules and curricula.

These digital offerings present an opportunity to enhance the quality of services and improve citizens’ experiences by taking a human-centred design approach

Our research has revealed that governments across the globe are increasingly leveraging technology in immigration and integration processes. As Canadian government services focus on improving the experience of their citizens, efforts should be extended to future citizens as well.

Immigrants are a vital part of the Canadian economy and social fabric. In announcing Canada’s new immigration target of 500,000 permanent residents per year by 2025, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the numbers strike a balance between our economic needs and international obligations.

Bar graph showing the increasing amounts of immigrants Canada plans to welcome into the country over the years
Canada’s new Immigration Levels Plan aims to welcome 465,000 new permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025. (Statistics Canada), Author provided

Despite the importance of immigrants for the Canadian economy and national identity, it remains to be seen if immigrants are engaged in the development of policies, services and technological tools that impact them.

Advancements in the immigration sector

Canada has steadily been introducing digital technologies into services, programs and processes that impact migrants. This has especially been the case with the COVID-19 pandemic requiring organizations to innovate their services and programs without diminishing the overall quality of service.

Immigration scholar Maggie Perzyna developed the COVID-19 Immigration Policy Tracker to examine how the Immigration and Refugee Board and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) used digital tools to enable employees to work from home. This helped reduce the administrative burden and increased efficiency.

There continues to be a strong case for technological transformation in Canada’s immigration-focused departments, programs and services. As of July 31, 2022, Canada has a backlog of 2.4 million immigration applications

In other words, Canada is failing to meet the application processing timelines it has set for itself for services —including passport renewal, refugee travel documents, and work and study permits. 

While the Canadian government is trying to address these backlogs, there appears to be no discussion of asking immigrants about their journey through the application process. Rather, the government appears to centre employees. Still, issues with the Global Case Management System persist, driving current case management system issues for employees and government service users. 

Virtual processes were prioritized

While the Canadian government previously introduced a machine learning pilot tool to sort through temporary resident visa applications, its use stagnated due to pandemic-related border closures. Instead, virtual processes and digitization were prioritized, including:

  • Shifting from paper to digitized applications for the following: spousal and economic class immigration, applicants to the Non-Express Entry Provincial Nominee Program, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, the Agri-Food Pilot, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, the Québec Selected Investor Program, the Québec Entrepreneur Program, the Québec Self-Employed Persons Program and protected persons. 
  • Hosting digital hearings for spousal immigration applicants, pre-removal risk assessments and refugees using video-conferencing.
  • Introducing secure document exchanges and the ability to view case information across various immigration streams.
  • Offering virtual citizenship tests and citizenship ceremonies.

Additionally, Fraser announced further measures to improve the user experience, modernize the immigration system and address challenges faced by people using IRCC. This strategy will also involve using data analytics to aid officers in sorting and processing visitor visa applications. 

These changes showcase Canada’s efforts to pair existing challenges with existing solutions — initiatives that require relatively low effort. Yet while these digitization efforts streamline administrative processes and reduce administrative burden, application backlogs persist. 

While useful, these initiatives focus on efficiencies in IRCC processing for employees. As IRCC evaluates and develops processes, it should prioritize the experience of end users by taking a migrant-centred design approach.

The value of human-centred design

Human-centred design is the practice of putting real people at the centre of any development process, including for programs, policies or technology. It places the end user at the forefront of development so user needs and preferences are considered each step of the way.

To maximize value in technology implementation, IRCC should take a migrant-centred design approach: apply human-centred design principles with migrants treated as the end users. This approach should consider the following suggestions:

  1. Centre migrants in the development of immigration programs, policies and services, and digital and technological tools by seeking migrants’ input in forthcoming and proposed changes.
  2. Take a life-course approach to human and social service delivery by recognizing that “all stages of a person’s life are intricately intertwined with each other.” Government services prioritize Canadian citizens, but a life-course approach understands that all individuals in Canada, regardless of their current immigration status, represent potential Canadian citizens. Government services should implement a life-course approach by prioritizing quality services for migrants, some of which are seniors that will require different government services in the future.
  3. Combat discrimination and bias in developing new immigration technology tools. Artificial intelligence and other advanced digital technologies have the capacity to reproduce biases and discrimination that currently exist in IRCC. Any new technologies must be evaluated to prevent discrimination or bias. 

As Canada continues to explore how technology can help streamline and improve the migrant journey, migrant-centred design should be at the forefront of their planning. When we design processes, policies and tools with intended users at the centre, they are more likely to resonate with users

If Canada wants to be a first-choice migration destination, we need to approach immigration policies — including technology use — as opportunities to empower and encourage migrants.

Source: Canada needs to consider the user experience of migrants when designing programs that impact them

Immigration backlog leads to surge of legal cases against federal government

Yet another good analysis in the Globe, collateral damage from the government’s immigration policies and operational weaknesses that frustrate applicants and increase workload:

The federal government is facing a barrage of legal cases related to its backlog of immigration applications, which has led to slower processing times and plenty of frustration for those waiting years on a decision.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has been named in 709 mandamus applications filed in federal court this fiscal year, which started in April, according to figures provided by IRCC as of Nov. 14. The filings are easily on pace to surpass the total for the previous fiscal year.

Mandamus is an order issued by a court to a lower court, or government entity, to carry out their duties. Thus, hundreds of people are seeking a judicial order that compels Immigration to finish processing their applications.

Mandamus cases are generally filed when there is an excessive delay in processing an immigration application and without a reasonable explanation provided by the federal government for that delay.

Ottawa is ramping up its intake of immigrants, which it says is crucial to fuelling economic growth and alleviating labour shortages. However, some of its moves to boost immigration have led to significant processing delays, affecting applicants that include skilled workers who are highly sought after by employers.

In search of resolutions, more people are turning to the courts. Slightly more than 800 mandamus applications against IRCC were filed in the 2021-22 fiscal year, an increase of 465 per cent from 143 applications in 2019-20.Glo

While lawyers told The Globe and Mail that mandamus is a last-resort option, it’s increasingly one that immigration applicants are advised to take, given their mounting frustrations over a sluggish and opaque system.

“It’s an effective remedy,” said Mario Bellissimo, founder and principal lawyer of Bellissimo Law Group. “However, it’s a remedy that really shouldn’t be used as frequently as it is, when the system is running the way it’s meant to run.”

The federal government is trying to process a stockpile of immigration applications. As of Oct. 31, there were about 2.2 million applications in IRCC’s inventories. Around 1.2 million were in backlog, meaning they’ve been in the system for longer than service standards for processing. Processing times vary by immigration stream. The mass of applications has fallen since September, but is still much larger than before the pandemic.

The federal government has blamed the buildup on office closings related to COVID-19, hindering its ability to process files efficiently. However, several economists and legal experts say that Ottawa had a large hand in creating the situation.

After failing to hit its immigration targets in 2020, owing to the pandemic, the federal government found various ways of encouraging more people to apply for permanent residency, and the subsequent increase in applications overwhelmed IRCC’s ability to process files in a timely manner.

This has led to a number of grievances. For instance, some high-skilled foreign workers in Canada are nearing the end of their work permits, but have yet to hear about their status. Others applied for their permanent-resident cards years ago, but are unable to find out why processing of their files has stalled.

That is forcing more people to seek legal action.

Out of the 809 mandamus applications that were filed against IRCC in the 2021-22 fiscal year, 333 came from those in economic streams of immigration. Another 183 came from the family class of immigrants. (Many of these are spousal cases, with a partner stuck overseas.)

The mandamus process can be expensive. Max Chaudhary, an immigration lawyer in the GTA, said it can cost roughly $6,000 to $15,000 for a single case, depending on how many stages are involved.

Kerry Molitor, an immigration consultant, is concerned that processing delays are creating a situation in which wealthier individuals are better positioned to force the government’s hand.

“It’s a solution that’s out of reach for most people,” she said.

Lev Abramovich, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, says his firm has filed more than 300 mandamus applications over the past year, which makes him one of the more prolific users of this legal option.

“We take an aggressive approach. We’ve also been successful with it,” he said. “Generally speaking, a mandamus application will wake IRCC up and will put pressure on them to finalize the pending application.”

The process starts with a demand for performance to IRCC, often in the form of a letter. In some cases, the federal government will start processing the file at this point.

If the case remains stalled, lawyers will proceed to file an application for mandamus in federal court. At this stage, the federal government will usually resume working on a file and issue a decision, several lawyers said.

In rare instances, however, cases will proceed to a hearing.

That is what happened to Siavash Bidgoly and his wife, Iranian nationals who moved to Toronto from the U.S. in July, 2018. That same month, Mr. Bidgoly submitted his application for permanent residency, having recently been invited to apply by the federal government. His wife was listed as an accompanying dependent.

Mr. Bidgoly expected an approval within six months, based on the experiences of some friends. Shortly after he arrived, he started a company, Tribe Technologies Inc., which employs about 50 people today.

Instead, the process dragged out for years. Mr. Bidgoly made several attempts to learn more about his application status, often hearing that his security check was still in progress.

Mr. Bidgoly filed a mandamus application in February, 2021. A federal court justice ruled in his favour in March, 2022, ordering IRCC to issue a decision within 90 days. Mr. Bidgoly and his wife were later approved for PR status.

“It is stressful. It is draining. I love Canada, but I questioned myself,” he said. “You are here because you trust their immigration system, and now this is what you get.”

In the hearing, IRCC argued that the delay was not excessive, in light of the pandemic’s effect on processing times. Justice Paul Favel did not find that argument satisfactory.

“Simple statements to the effect that a security check is in progress or that the pandemic is responsible for the delay are insufficient,” read the decision, adding that IRCC “had to provide evidence.”

Source: Immigration backlog leads to surge of legal cases against federal government