New tool could help immigrants decide where to live in Canada

Of interest. Useful experiment and it will important to see how much it is used and the extent that it improves immigrant outcomes:

Researchers are working on a new tool that will help newcomers identify which Canadian city they are most likely to be successful in.

Most immigrants end up choosing to live in one of Canada’s major cities. In fact, more than half of all immigrants and recent immigrants to Canada currently live in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, according to Statistics Canada.

However, there may be better opportunities for these immigrants elsewhere. Perhaps a film director or a tech worker may be suited to Toronto, but a petroleum engineer may not.

Since 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been working on a research project alongside the Immigration Policy Lab (IPL) at Stanford University that may pave the way for this tool, dubbed GeoMatch, to come to fruition.

The project attempts to repurpose an algorithm that is used in resettlement efforts, to work for Canadian immigration. It uses historical data to help immigrants choose where they might thrive the most, IRCC spokesperson Isabelle Dubois told CIC News.

“The study suggested that prospective economic immigrants who followed the GeoMatch recommendation would be more likely to find a well-paying job after they arrived,” Dubois said in an email.

“Currently, newcomers tend to gravitate to cities they’ve heard of— which tend to be the largest. Yet such a tool could help change that by promoting different localities across Canada, beyond major urban centres like Toronto and Vancouver.”

According to their website, GeoMatch uses machine learning capabilities to make its predictions. It considers factors such as previous immigrants’ work history, education as well as personal characteristics. It then finds patterns in the data by focusing on how these factors were related to economic success in different locations.

GeoMatch may then be able to predict an immigrant’s likelihood of success in various locations across Canada.

“Research suggests that an immigrant’s initial arrival location plays a key role in shaping their economic success. Yet immigrants currently lack access to personalized information that would help them identify optimal destinations,” said a report published by the IPL.

The report reiterates that the approach is motivated by data that show an immigrant’s first landing location is influential in their outcomes.

“We find that for many economic immigrants the chosen [first] location is far from optimal in terms of expected income,” the report adds.

The report suggests that many economic immigrants choose Toronto simply because that is all they know of Canada, but they may be in “the wrong place” for their skillset. For example, Toronto is ranked number 20 out of 52 regions in terms of maximizing income in the year after arrival. This means that for many immigrants, there were 19 other regions where they would have likely made a higher income.

Immigrants may, of course, choose not to use the tool. However, it is worth mentioning that GeoMatch takes into consideration not just “data-driven predictions” but immigrants’ location preferences as well.

Source: New tool could help immigrants decide where to live in Canada

International students aren’t making as much money as their Canadian classmates in the first years after graduation, report suggests

Significant study on the importance of work experience:

Despite equal Canadian education credentials, international students earn less than their Canadian peers after graduation, Statistics Canada says.

That’s because they fail to secure enough local work experience before they graduate, data from the agency indicates.

International students earned “considerably” less than domestic students during their first five years after graduation, said a report released Wednesday in collaboration with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Fewer years of pre-graduation work experience and lower levels of pre-graduation earnings among international students accounted for most of their observed disadvantage in post-graduation earnings.”

This revelation will be crucial for Canada to address as the federal government has increasingly drawn on its pool of international students as future immigrants. In 2019 alone, more than 58,000 international graduates successfully applied to immigrate permanently.

They are favoured over immigrants who are traditionally selected directly from abroad because they’re generally younger and have more years to contribute to the labour market after immigration. There is also less uncertainty about their quality of education and language ability, and little barrier related to credential recognition when joining the labour force.

Based on Canada’s Post-secondary Student Information System and tax data, researchers compared early labour-market outcomes and sociodemographic information of international students and domestic students who graduated from post-secondary institutions between 2010 and 2012.

International students comprised six per cent or 66,800 of the sample, with Canadian citizen and permanent resident students accounting for 87 per cent and seven per cent of the population (about 927,700 and 71,900), respectively. The classification was based on the students’ immigration status at their time of graduation.

Overall, 43.6 per cent of international students had no Canadian work experience prior to graduation, compared with 2.2 per cent of Canadian citizens and 9.7 per cent of permanent resident students.

The average number of years of pre-graduation work experience was 6.2 for Canadian citizen students, 3.9 for permanent resident students and just 1.2 for international students.

Four in 10 domestic students earned more than $20,000 in a year before graduation, whereas only one in 10 international students did so.

One year after graduation, the income gaps between international graduates and Canadian citizens were larger for graduates with an advanced degree than for their international peers with a lower education. The difference was about 10 per cent for bachelor’s degree holders and 40 per cent for the ones with master’s degrees.

However, by the fifth year, the gap narrowed for international students with graduate degrees, while it increased over time for their peers with a bachelor’s degree or college diploma only.

International students had lower earnings on average than domestic students in many fields of study, with a few exceptions where they had similar earnings: visual and performing arts, and communications technologies; humanities; health and related fields.

For the four most popular fields of study among international students, graduates from the STEM fields (architecture, engineering and related technologies; and mathematics, computer and information sciences) suffered a smaller earnings gap than their non-STEM peers in business, management and public administration; and social and behavioural sciences and law.

The disadvantage faced by international students in securing pre-graduation work experience can be explained by language proficiency, cultural differences, concentration in fields of study, course grades, employers’ reluctance to recruit and train job applicants with temporary residency status, and possible employer discrimination, the study suggested.

“International students may face these barriers when looking for a job while studying, before they formally enter the labour market, and after they graduate,” it said. “Another possible answer is the difference in participation rates between domestic and international students in work-integrated learning (which) provides participating students the benefits of workplace-related skill accumulation and connections to potential employers.”

International students lack knowledge about the local labour market, have limited local networks, and face financial barriers, such as relocation costs and the additional tuition fees required for delayed graduation — all contributing to their lower participation in internship and co-op, said the report.

Although the federal government has relaxed the off-campus employment rules for international students during school year since 2014 by allowing them to work up to 20 hours a week without requiring a work permit, they still have limited access to government-sponsored student hiring programs where priorities are given to Canadians.

“The disadvantage for international students in pre-graduation work experience hampers their ability to compete for a high-paying, high-quality job after graduation,” said the report.

“The results of this study imply that policies to reduce the pre-graduation work-experience gap are crucial to reducing the post-graduation earnings gap between international and domestic students.”

Source: International students aren’t making as much money as their Canadian classmates in the first years after graduation, report suggests

New tool could point immigrants to spot in Canada where they’re most likely to succeed

A neat example of algorithms to assist immigrants assess their prospects although human factors such as presence of family members and community-specific food shopping and the like may be more determinate. But good that IRCC is exploring this approach. More sophisticated that the work I was involved in to develop the Canadian Index for Measuring Integration. Some good comments by Harald Bauder and Dan Hiebert:

Where should a newcomer with a background in banking settle in Canada?

What about an immigrant who’s an oil-production engineer?

Or a filmmaker?

Most newcomers flock to major Canadian cities. In doing so, some could be missing out better opportunities elsewhere.

A two-year-old research project between the federal government and Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab is offering hope for a tool that might someday point skilled immigrants toward the community in which they’d most likely flourish and enjoy the greatest economic success.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is eyeing a pilot program to test a matching algorithm that would make recommendations as to where a new immigrant might settle, department spokesperson Remi Lariviere told the Star.

“This type of pilot would allow researchers to see if use of these tools results in real-world benefits for economic immigrants. Testing these expected gains would also allow us to better understand the factors that help immigrants succeed,” he said in an email.

“This research furthers our commitment to evidence-based decision making and enhanced client service — an opportunity to leverage technology and data to benefit newcomers, communities and the country as a whole.”

Dubbed the GeoMatch project, researchers used Canada’s comprehensive historical datasets on immigrants’ background characteristics, economic outcomes and geographic locations to project where an individual skilled immigrant might start a new life.

Machine learning methods were employed to figure out how immigrants’ backgrounds, qualifications and skillsets were related to taxable earnings in different cities, while accounting for local trends, such as population and unemployment over time.

The models were then used to predict how newcomers with similar profiles would fare across possible destinations and what their expected earnings would be. The locations would be ranked based on the person’s unique profile.

“An immigrant’s initial arrival location plays a key role in shaping their economic success. Yet immigrants currently lack access to personalized information that would help them identify optimal destinations,” says a report about the pilot that was recently obtained by the Star.

“Instead, they often rely on availability heuristics, which can lead to the selection of suboptimal landing locations, lower earnings, elevated out-migration rates and concentration in the most well-known locations,” added the study completed last summer after two years of number crunching and sophisticated modelling.

About a quarter of economic immigrants settle in one of Canada’s four largest cities, with 31 per cent of all newcomers alone destined for Toronto.

“If initial settlement patterns concentrate immigrants in a few prominent landing regions, many areas of the country may not experience the economic growth associated with immigration,” the report pointed out. “Undue concentration may impose costs in the form of congestion in local services, housing, and labour markets.”

Researchers sifted through Canada’s longitudinal immigration database and income tax records to identify 203,290 principal applicants who arrived in the country between 2012 and 2017 under the federal skilled worker program, federal skilled trades program and the Canadian Experience Class.

They tracked the individuals’ annual incomes at the end of their first full year in Canada and predicated the modelling of their economic outcomes at a particular location on a long list of predictors: age at arrival, continent of birth, education, family status, gender, intended occupation, skill level, language ability, having studied or worked in Canada, arrival year and immigration category.

Researchers found that many economic immigrants were in what might be considered the wrong place.

For instance, the report says, among economic immigrants who chose to settle in Toronto, the city only ranked around 20th on average out of the 52 selected regions across Canada in terms of maximizing expected income in the year after arrival.

“In other words, the data suggest that for the average economic immigrant who settled in Toronto, there were 19 other (places) where that immigrant had a higher expected income than in Toronto,” it explains, adding that the same trend appeared from coast to coast.

Assuming only 10 per cent of immigrants would follow a recommendation, the models suggested an average gain of $1,100 in expected annual employment income for the 2015 and 2016 skilled immigrant cohort just by settling in a better suited place. That amounted to a gain of $55 million in total income, the report says.

However, researchers also warned against the “compositional effects” such as the concentration of immigrants with a similar profile in one location, which could lower the expected incomes due to saturation. Other issues, such as an individual’s personal abilities or motivation, were also not taken into account.

The use of artificial intelligence to assist immigrant settlement is an interesting idea as it puts expected income and geography as key considerations for settlement, said Ryerson University professor Harald Bauder

“It’s not revolutionizing the immigration system. It’s another tool in our tool box to better match local market conditions with what immigrants can bring to Canada,” says Bauder, director of Ryerson’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies.

“This mechanism is probably too complex for immigrants themselves to see how a particular location is identified. It just spits out the ranking of locations, then the person wonders how I got this ranking. Is it because of my particular education? My particular country of origin? The information doesn’t seem to be clear or accessible to the end-users.”

New immigrants often gravitate toward a destination where they have family or friends or based on the perceived availability of jobs and personal preferences regarding climate, city size and cultural diversity.

“This tool will help those who are sufficiently detached, do not have family here and are willing to go anywhere,” says Daniel Hiebert, a University of British Columbia professor who specializes in immigration policy.

“People who exercise that kind of rational detachment will simply take that advice and lead to beneficial outcomes.”

But Hiebert has reservations as to how well the modelling can predict the future success of new immigrants when they are basing the advice and recommendations on the data of the past.

“This kind of future thinking is really difficult for these models to predict. There’s too much unknown to have a good sense about the future,” he says. “These models can predict yesterday and maybe sort of today, but they cannot predict tomorrow.”

Source: New tool could point immigrants to spot in Canada where they’re most likely to succeed

Ottawa will continue online citizenship tests after success of pilot program

After a slow start, some encouraging news:

Ottawa’s groundbreaking virtual citizenship exam pilot program has exceeded its target intake, and more online tests will be scheduled.

Since the exam was launched virtually at the end of November, more than 6,700 applicants have taken the test, surpassing the initial target of 5,000, according to Asim Zaidan of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Prior to the pandemic, IRCC had embarked on a citizenship modernization program to improve client service delivery. Online tests are a part of this program, and have been prioritized due to COVID-19,” Zaidan told the Star in an email.

“Moving citizenship events — ceremonies, tests and interviews — to an online format is a part of the department’s goal of bringing efficiencies to the citizenship program and simplifying the application process.”

The pandemic has slowed much of the department’s operations due to reduced processing capacity as staff moved — and continued — to work from home. The delay led to a ballooning backlog of more than 85,000 people awaiting a test and thousands of others in the queue to be officiated as new Canadians.

While citizenship exams were resumed only virtually two months ago, online citizenship ceremonies returned earlier in June. To date, almost 50,000 new Canadians have taken their oath at 8,000 virtual ceremonies.

“This has been successful thus far. At this point, the new testing platform is still being assessed,” said Zaidan.

“A further number of applicants continue to be invited to take the online test, and we continue to monitor system performance closely and make improvements if necessary.”

Source: Ottawa will continue online citizenship tests after success of pilot program

Express entry economic immigration timelines a ‘joke,’ say lawyers as processing times increase

Further to the IRCC departmental results report and its failure to meet its service standards (see :

Canada’s “express entry” approach to key economic immigration programs isn’t working, immigration lawyers say, following a recent report showing that none of them are meeting the six-month service standard.

That failed grade was among 17 missed performance targets the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reported for the 2019-20 fiscal year, or 31 per cent of the 54 total targets. It said none of the government’s business lines for permanent residents adhere to service standards during a time period that had yet to feel the pandemic’s full impact. 

Launched in 2015, the express entry process is described by Canada as its “flagship” system for various federal skilled worker programs, and a portion of the provincial nominee program, as a pathway to permanent residence for skilled workers in Canada and overseas. IRCC has said it plans to increase permanent-resident admissions, setting a target of 341,000 for 2020 and 350,000 for 2021, with most of the uptick expected from economic immigration streams.

Evelyn Ackah, founder of Ackah Business Immigration Law in Calgary, laughed when she repeated the program’s name.

“Express entry, that’s a joke. When they first launched that program a few years ago, it was incredible. It was three months, four months,” she said, but now she warns clients it can take more than a year.

She said it’s disappointing the government hasn’t been able to keep up with the high volume of applications. To her, it’s a clear resourcing and staffing problem that doesn’t line up with Canada’s stated goals to increase immigration levels. 

“It’s not working as an express process, absolutely not. It’s the same as the old process, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s lost its credibility with people,” she said. “The trend is getting slower and slower.”

Over the last three years, and before COVID-19 interruptions, processing times have increased, and in some cases, doubled the time it takes to deal with 80 per cent of applicants. The federal skills trade stream jumped from six months in 2017 to one year for the majority of applicants, while the federal-skilled worker and provincial-nominee programs increased from six to nine months in that same time frame. The Canadian Experience Class increased from four to seven months. Across all programs, only 60 per cent of the applications met the standard by the end of 2019.

According to the department’s latest plan, its overall spending is set to increase from $1.92-billion in 2017-18 to the peak last fiscal year at $3.46-billion, before going back down this fiscal year to $2.84-billion, $2.6-billion in 2021-22, and $2.56-billion in 2022-23.

The stretching timelines reflect an increase in applications to express entry, with the 332,331 submissions in 2019 amounting to a 20 per cent jump from the number of applications in 2018. Among the 2019 profiles submitted in 2019, 72 per cent were eligible for at least one of the business programs, according to the program’s year-end report.

Still, the government promises to those searching for information online about the express entry system that it “will result in fast processing times of six months or less.

“I can’t even bring up that number [to clients],” said B.C.-based  immigration lawyer Will Tao of Heron Law, saying more transparency is needed. 

It’s “misleading” and can “give the wrong impression” to applicants, he said, especially now with the pandemic posing even more of a challenge to processing times.

“I think they pretty much internally abandoned it, so from my perspective, if you’ve done that, then you probably should … let clients know,” he said, calling for better transparency so that people can get more certainty about their situations. 

Even though it’s supposed to be an automated system, based on points, both lawyers said the process gets bogged down during the authentication stage, as officials check over and verify the many documents submitted. Eligible candidates in the pool are given a score based on their skills and experience, with top-ranking candidates invited to submit an application for permanent residence. As of June 2017, IRCC added extra points to candidates with strong French-speaking skills.

Both Mr. Tao and Ms. Ackah acknowledged it can be a complicated process, but Ms. Ackah said that’s all the more reason to match up resourcing.

In IRCC’s report on performance targets, the department said “substantial efforts” have been made to reduce applications that took longer than six months to process in the express entry system.

“While service standards are being met for a higher number of applications compared to previous years, this was offset by an increase in applications and the processing of older applications,” the report said.

The department noted early results show “progression towards higher admission targets” and efforts to increase the intake are having an impact on service standards, in this case, the promise to have the majority completed within six months. The department doesn’t control intake for provincial nominee program’s paper applications and Quebec-selected skilled workers.

By email, IRCC spokesperson Lauren Sankey said the government remains committed to reducing application processing times and improving the department’s service delivery. 

IRCC misses a third of 2019-20 targets

In 2019-20, the department met 37 of 54 performance targets, and missed 17, or 31 per cent. The express-entry delay was the worst among several performance targets the department didn’t reach. Canada’s backlogged asylum system again failed to make the cut, with the department reporting only 32 per cent of asylum claims were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada within service standards, compared to target of 97 per cent.

A couple of targets found language-development delays for people settling in Canada. In one case, only 37 per cent of IRCC’s settlement clients reported improved official language skills compared to the target of 60 per cent, while 19 per cent of people reported receiving language-training services compared to target of 25 per cent.

Ms. Sankey said every newcomer’s experience is unique, including their participation in settlement services, which is managed by IRCC and delivered by more than 500 service provider organizations across the country, outside of Quebec. Federally funded language training is “a key component” said Ms. Sankey, who noted there’s been a proportionate increase in newcomers with limited knowledge of English or French over the past few years.

In 2019-20, IRCC also reported 2.82 per cent of permanent residents outside Quebec identified as French speaking, compared to the target of 4.4 per cent. Ms. Sankey said under the Francophone Immigration Strategy, IRCC is “pursuing year-round targeted promotion and recruitment” to attract more qualified French-speaking candidates, and noted under the express entry program, the government increased invitations to French-tested candidates from 4.5 per cent in 2018 to 5.6 per cent in 2019.

These results suggest issues with respect to service standards, language training, and refugee claims, said Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who was once a director general at the department’s Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch.

While many reflect perennial problems and backlogs, given these markers IRCC seems to be “systematically” missing the standards it sets to monitor how well it’s delivering its services, he said.

“So if they’re consistently their targets it says there’s either a management problem, an operational problem, a resource problem, or some combination of those,” he said. 

Even so, he noted a contrasting target the department met: a 91 per cent satisfaction rate from visitor, international students, and temporary worker applicants who reported they were satisfied overall with the services they received. While he doesn’t advocate for lowering targets, Mr. Griffith questioned why the government reports on aspirational or unrealistic goals. 

“Personally, I favour realistic standards for public departmental reports, with aspirational more appropriate for internal use,” he said. 

IRCC’s targets are based on factors like historic trends, program objectives, resourcing levels, client service goals, and evolving influences such as the impact of increasing temporary resident and permanent resident immigration levels, said Ms. Sankey.

“Targets are reviewed regularly, and in some cases, the department establishes ambitious targets that serve to stretch program vision and encourage innovation. In other cases, they are based on baselines and historic trends where achievement is more certain,” said Ms. Sankey, noting following a 2020 departmental review how IRCC tracks performance will change.

Distilling service performance down into two tracks—one for permanent residents (PR) and one for temporary residents (TR)—is not a true representation of the department’s performance, she said, given the disparate programs under the two umbrellas. Instead, IRCC will report on the service standard for each individual program, which Mr. Griffith called a “significant change” given the “overly simple” approach before.

“This change will capture more accurate service standard performance for the many lines of business which make up the temporary and permanent resident programs,” Ms. Sankey said. 


Immigration Program: IRCC Results Highlights

Further to yesterday’s highlighting of the citizenship program results, reviewed results for the other programs. As always, it is the commitments not met that are more interesting than the ones met (perhaps unfairly).

I have thus focused on those commitments that IRCC did not meet by a margin of five percent or more, with the exception of francophone immigration outside Quebec.

The ones I find most concerning pertain to language skills, adherence to service standards in a number of areas, and earnings of immigrants:

Only 37 percent of settlement clients improved their official language skills compared to the target of 60 percent.

“The November 2017 Evaluation of the Settlement Program showed that higher-need clients progress at a slower pace. The growing number of clients in basic settlement language training classes who have low language and literacy skills is due in part to the Department’s goal to reduce waitlists for priority clients at basic levels and to the increase in admissions of vulnerable newcomers. There are many learners in part-time classes who, compared to those in full-time classes, may not progress as quickly. This could explain why the number of clients who improved one of their skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) by one level has declined.”

0 percent of permanent resident business lines that adhered to service standards compared to the target of 100 percent

“Substantial efforts were made to reduce Express entry (EE) applications that took more than 6 months to process. While service standards are being met for a higher number of applications compared to previous years, this was offset by an increase in applications and the processing of older applications. Early results showed progression towards higher admission targets in EE and efforts to encourage higher intake caused slowing in the processing continuum, having an impact on service standards. IRCC remained committed to finalizing the higher number of cases and made adjustments to the production environment, but cases near finalization were older than expected and the time to train employees and adjust the workflow did not produce results as planned. IRCC does not control intake for Provincial Nominee Program (paper applications) and Quebec-selected Skilled Workers (QSW) and inventories remain larger than can be accommodated within standards; and for QSW, IRCC does not control output.”

2.82 percent of permanent residents admitted to Canada, outside Quebec, who identify as French-speaking compared to the target of 4.4 percent

“Recent changes to selection tools, including changes in 2017 to assign additional points to candidates with strong French-language skills under Express Entry, have been increasing French-speaking admissions outside of Quebec. The Department is also pursuing year-round targeted promotion and recruitment support activities to attract a growing number of qualified French-speaking candidates. As of 2019, a more accurate and inclusive definition has been used to count French-speaking immigrants outside Quebec, resulting in a notable impact on admissions data. The new definition moves away from the concept of “mother tongue” and focuses instead on first Canadian official language for which they are most at ease.”

32 percent of asylum claims made in Canada that are referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada within service standards compared to target of 97 percent

“To provide the Government greater flexibility to manage volumes at the border, the requirement to complete the eligibility assessment within three days was repealed in June 2019 as part of the Budget 2019 Implementation Act. The intent remains to determine claim eligibility as fast as possible. Once a claim is received, an acknowledgement of claim letter is issued to the claimant within three days, which can be provided as proof of Interim Federal Health Program coverage until an eligibility decision is made, and a refugee protection claimant document is issued.”

44 percent of provincial nominee principal applicants with employment earnings at or above the Canadian average, five years after landing, compared to target of 50 percent

“Five years after landing, about 44% of provincial nominee immigrants had employment earnings at or above the Canadian average. This is a drop from almost 48% in 2016 and about 51% in the previous year. While this figure still continues to demonstrate the ability of provincial economic immigrants to earn employment income on par with, or above, the Canadian average, it has been below the target of 50% for the last 2 years. This might be attributed to a number of factors, such as growth in the provincial economic immigration program allowing for greater diversity in the types of occupations (and associated wage levels) being filled by provincial nominees. This indicator is an important factor in assessing an immigrant’s capability to integrate into the economy. Note: The result is subject to change as the Pandemic has affected data reporting capabilities by our partners.”

19 percent of clients who received language training services compared to target of 25 percent

“In 2019–20, approximately 105,000 unique clients accessed language training services, which is relatively the same as in 2018–19. However, the percentage of clients who received language training services, as a proportion of all settlement clients, has declined year over year, decreasing from about 20% in 2018–19, 24% in 2017–18, and 26% in 2016–17. The admission of vulnerable populations with lower language and literacy levels has resulted in a greater number of clients who have complex needs and require additional support which could impact the timing and their ability to appropriately access services. Since there is high demand for language training, the Department has prioritized clients at basic levels who, compared to learners at higher levels, may occupy seats for a longer period of time. The Department also provides other options to newcomers to improve their official language skills, such as employment-related language training and workplace-based communication workshops.”

80 percent of temporary resident business lines that adhere to service standards compared to target of 100 percent

“In the past fiscal year, the Department met targeted service standards for eight out of ten (80%) temporary resident business lines. Service standards were not met for temporary resident visas and work permit applications for International Experience Canada. The Department continues to implement and explore measures to respond to higher volumes, and improve services and processing times.”


Citizenship Program: Results Highlights

A quick look at the IRCC citizenship program results posted on the TBS site indicates the following:

  • 95 percent satisfied with the service received;
  • Only 65 percent of applications processed within the 12 month service standard (target is 80 percent). Don’t believe IRCC has ever met this standard, reflecting perennial structural and financial issues with the program.
    • Departmental explanation: “In 2019–20, a total of 65% of citizenship grant applications were processed within the 12-month service standard. The absolute volumes of citizenship applications continue to increase year after year. The number of citizenship applicants who became Canadian citizens has increased by 118%, from 112,969 in 2017–18 to 247,139 in 2019–20. Growing application volumes have strained the operational processing model causing increased processing times. The citizenship applications process is heavily paper-based and relies on manual data entry. The program is also facing a large increase in demand and the current funding levels are outpaced by application volumes. The program is exploring ways to transform the processing model to increase speed and efficiency and develop digital tools for improved client service.”
  • 86 percent of eligible permanent residents have become Canadian citizens. As I have mentioned repeatedly, the performance measure is based upon the total number of immigrants who became citizens, whether they arrive 5 or 50 years ago, and hence is meaningless as a performance indicator. A real performance indicator would use the percentage of recent immigrants who have become citizens, those who immigrated to Canada in the past Census period (5 to 9 years):
    • “Rationale: Canada’s immigration model encourages newcomers to naturalize (become citizens) so that they can benefit from all the rights of citizenship and fully assume their responsibilities, thereby advancing their integration. Take-up rates are considered a proxy that illustrates to what extent permanent residents value Canadian citizenship. Calculation / formula: Numerator: Permanent residents in Canada who are eligible to acquire Canadian citizenship and self-report on the Census that they have acquired Canadian citizenship. Denominator: Permanent residents in Canada who are eligible to acquire Canadian citizenship. Data Source: Statistics Canada’s Census Baseline: 2016: 85.8% Definitions: Naturalization: The Census instructs individuals who have applied for, and have been granted, Canadian citizenship (i.e., persons who have been issued a Canadian citizenship certificate) to self-report their citizenship as “Canada, by naturalization”. Notes: In the performance narrative, IRCC administrative data could be used to tell the story of citizenship from an operational and policy perspective. Information on age, gender, immigration stream, and country of origin of new citizens would be considered in order to explain changing trends. It is also important to note that calculations using IRCC’s administrative data will be based on the number of people admitted as permanent residents who took up citizenship. Figures from Statistics Canada indicate that in 2011, about 6,042,200 foreign-born people in Canada were eligible to acquire citizenship. Of these, just over 5,175,100, or 85.6%, reported that they had acquired Canadian citizenship. This naturalization rate in Canada was higher than in other major immigrant-receiving countries. In telling the story of the naturalization rate, it will be important to explain the reasons why some people choose not to naturalize.”


Departmental Plans: Canadian Heritage (multiculturalism), IRCC (citizenship)

Relevant highlights from the departmental plans. No real surprises.

The campaign and mandate letter commitment to eliminate citizenship fees is worded as “to bring forward a plan to eliminate fees for citizenship for those who have fulfilled the requirements for obtaining it.” This suggests that it will take some time which the financial projections, which do not include any impact from elimination of fees, confirm.

The previous mandate commitment to revise the citizenship guide, Discover Canada, remains part of the plan:

Canadian Heritage (multiculturalism) Planning highlights

Canadians value diversity.

In 2020-21, the Department will undertake the following activities towards achieving this departmental result by:

  • Supporting the new Anti-Racism Secretariat, which will demonstrate leadership in overseeing a coherent whole-of-government approach on combating racism and discrimination, ensuring comprehensive and coordinated actions with measurable impact, and fostering continuing dialogue with provinces, territories and our diverse communities.
  • Implementing a new data and evidence approach to promote a better understanding of the barriers faced by racialized communities, religious minorities and Indigenous Peoples; and collecting data and information and conducting research as a means of informing policy and program development and performance reporting on “what works” in anti-racism programming.
  • Delivering more targeted community-based projects to communities, which address systemic barriers to employment, justice and social participation for Indigenous Peoples, racialized communities and religious minorities.
  • Consulting civil society representatives of LGBTQ2 communities to lay the groundwork for an LGBTQ2 action plan that would guide the work of the federal government on issues important to LGBTQ2 Canadians.

Youth enhance their appreciation of the diversity and shared aspects of the Canadian experience.

In 2020-21, the Department will undertake the following activities towards achieving this departmental result by:

  • Supporting projects, exchanges, and forums that allow youth throughout Canada to connect with one another, have a better understanding of what they have in common, and learn new things about Canada’s diverse cultural expressions, history, and heritage, with special emphasis on reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, and official language minority communities.
  • Working towards breaking down barriers to participation and providing more opportunities for diverse youth, such as youth from official language minority communities, racialized and Indigenous communities, and rural, remote and Northern communities.
  • Advancing the government-wide priority of inclusivity by involving young people in federal decision making through its work in 2020-21. For example, the Youth Secretariat will continue to manage the operations of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, including the recruitment of a diverse and representative cohort of new members in 2020; as well as working with the Privy Council Office to implement the commitment to have 75% of all Government of Canada Crown Corporations include a youth member, as mandated by the Canada Youth Policy.

Planned spending is about $130m. Source:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (citizenship) Planning highlights

Departmental Result 7: Eligible permanent residents become Canadian citizens

In 2018–2019, more than 207,000 people were granted Canadian citizenship, an 84% increase over the previous fiscal year. A significant reason for this increased demand for citizenship was the coming into force of Bill C-6, which amended the Citizenship Act to make it easier and give more flexibility to permanent residents in becoming Canadian citizens. In 2020–2021, the Department will continue updating the citizenship grant operating model and client service tools with the aim of reducing processing times, improving service delivery and client experience, and enhancing system efficiency while maintaining program integrity. The Department will also bring forward a plan to eliminate fees for citizenship for those who have fulfilled the requirements for obtaining it.

The Department remains committed to revising the citizenship guide and Oath of Citizenship to better reflect Canada’s diversity and, in particular, to include more Indigenous perspectives and history. In 2020–2021, the Department will continue to engage with stakeholders, including Indigenous organizations, minority populations, women, Francophones, LGBTQ2 individuals and persons with disabilities, on the content of the revised citizenship guide to support newcomers in studying for the citizenship test. IRCC also remains committed to completing the legislative work on changes to the Oath of Citizenship to reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

IRCC will engage in a proactive communications campaign to encourage eligible permanent residents to become Canadian citizens by showcasing the value and pride of Canadian citizenship and highlighting the benefits of active and engaged citizenship to all Canadians, especially young Canadians.

Citizenship funding

For the citizenship component, resources are mainly used for assessment activities, administration of tests, criminal record checks, activities to detect and prevent fraud, citizenship ceremonies and development of tools such as citizenship tests and guides. Citizenship planned spending from 2020–2021 to 2022–2023 ranges between $69.2 million and $71.7 million.


Responsibly deploying AI in the immigration process

Some good practical suggestions. While AI has the potential for greater consistency in decision-making, great care needs to be taken in development, testing and implementation to avoid bias and to identify cases where decisions need to be reviewed:

In April, the federal government sent a request for information to industry to determine where artificial intelligence (AI) could be used in the immigration system for legal research, prediction and trend analysis. The type of AI to be employed here is machine learning: developing algorithms through analysis of wide swaths of data to make predictions within a particular context. The current backlog of immigration applications leaves much room for solutions that could improve the efficiency of case processing, but Canadians should be concerned about the vulnerability of the groups targeted in this pilot project and how the use of these technologies might lead to human rights violations.

An algorithmic mistake that holds up a bank loan is frustrating enough, but in immigration screening a miscalculation could have devastating consequences. The potential for error is especially concerning because of the nature of the two application categories the government has selected for the pilot project: requests for consideration on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, and applications for Pre-Removal Risk Assessment. In the former category of cases, officials consider an applicant’s connections with Canada and the best interests of any children involved. In the latter category, a decision must be made about the danger that would confront the applicant if they were returned to their home country. In some of these cases, assessing whether someone holds political opinions for which they would be persecuted could be a crucial component. Given how challenging it is for current algorithmic methods to extract meaning and intent from human statements, it is unlikely that AI could be trusted to make such a judgment reliably. An error here could lead to someone being sent back to imprisonment or torture.

Moreover, if an inadequately designed algorithm results in decisions that infringe upon rights or amplify discrimination, people in these categories could have less capacity than other applicants to respond with a legal challenge. They may face financial constraints if they’re fleeing a dangerous regime, as well as cultural and language barriers.

An algorithmic mistake that holds up a bank loan is frustrating enough, but in immigration screening a miscalculation could have devastating consequences.

Because of the complexity of these decisions and the stakes involved, the government must think carefully about which parts of the screening process can be automated. Decision-makers need to take extreme care to ensure that machine learning techniques are employed ethically and with respect for human rights. We have several recommendations for how this can be done.

First, we suggest that the federal government take some best practices from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR has expanded individual rights with regard to the collection and processing of personal data. Article 22 guarantees the right to challenge the automated decisions of algorithms, including the right to have a human review the decision. The Canadian government should consider a similar expansion of rights for individuals whose immigration applications are decided by, or informed by, the use of automated methods. In addition, it must ensure that the vulnerable groups being targeted are able to exercise those rights.

Second, the government must think carefully about what kinds of transparency are needed, for whom, and how greater transparency might create new risks. The immigration process is already complex and opaque, and with added automation, it may become more difficult to verify that these important decisions are being made in fair and thorough ways. The government’s request for information asks for input from industry on ensuring sufficient transparency so that AI decisions can be audited. In the context of immigration screening, we argue that a spectrum of transparency is needed because there are multiple parties with different interests and rights to information.

If the government were to reveal to everyone exactly how these algorithms work, there could be adverse consequences. A fully transparent AI decision process would open doors for people who want to exploit the system, including human traffickers. They could game the algorithm, for example, by observing the keywords and phrases that the AI system flags as markers of acceptability and inserting those words into immigration applications. Job seekers already do something similar, by using keywords strategically to get a resumé in front of human eyes. One possible mechanism for oversight in the case of immigration would be a neutral regulatory body that would be given the full details of how the algorithm operates but would reveal only case-specific details to the applicants and partial details to other relevant stakeholders.

Finally, the government needs to get broader input when designing this proposed use of AI. Requesting solutions from industry alone will deliver only part of the story. The government should also draw on expertise from the country’s three leading AI research institutes in Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto, as well as two new ones focused specifically on AI ethics: the University of Toronto’s Ethics of AI Lab and the Montreal AI Ethics Institute. Another group whose input should be included is the immigration applicants themselves. Developers and policy-makers have a responsibility to understand the context for which they are developing solutions. By bringing these perspectives into their design process, they can help bridge empathy gaps. An example of how users’ first-hand knowledge of a process can yield helpful tools is the recently launched chatbot Destin, which was designed by immigrants to help guide applicants through the Canadian immigration process.

The application of AI to immigration screening is promising: applications could be processed faster, with less human bias and at lower cost. But care must be taken with implementation. Canada has been taking a considered and strategic approach to the use of AI, as evidenced by the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, a major investment by the federal government that includes a focus on developing global thought leadership on the ethical and societal implications of advances in AI. We encourage the government to continue to pursue this thoughtful approach and an emphasis on human rights to guide the use of AI in immigration.

Source: Responsibly deploying AI in the immigration process

‘Anything would be better:’ Critics warn Ottawa’s family-reunification lottery is flawed, open to manipulation – The Globe and Mail

Almost comical if it were not for the impact on people. And it should not be surprising, given our immigration system’s emphasis on high skilled economic immigrants, that some of them should have the mathematical and technical smarts to point out the lack of randomness:

Canada’s family-reunification program is using a common spreadsheet application to select candidates as part of a process critics say is flawed and open to manipulation.

As the first step in the program, the federal government uses Microsoft Excel to randomly pick applications in its lottery, The Globe and Mail has learned. Experts have warned that using Excel to conduct such a sensitive lottery could be problematic, and that the lottery process itself may make the system less fair over all.

The Parents and Grandparents Program allows Canadians to sponsor family members for permanent-resident status. The Liberals introduced a lottery in 2017 in an effort to make the system fairer – previously, applications were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. The program receives roughly 100,000 applications each year and selects 10,000.

Details on the lottery, obtained through an Access to Information request shared with The Globe, show a procedure carried out in just a few steps: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses Excel to assign each application a random number, then takes the first 10,000 numbers.

Excel’s method for generating random numbers is “very bad,” according to Université de Montréal computer-science professor Pierre L’Ecuyer, an expert in random-number generation. “It’s a very old generator, and it’s really not state-of-the-art.” Prof. L’Ecuyer’s research has shown that Excel’s random-number generator doesn’t pass certain statistical tests, meaning it’s less random than it appears. Under the current system, “it may be that not everybody has exactly the same chance,” Prof. L’Ecuyer said.

Excel uses pseudo-random number generators, a class of algorithms that rely on formulas to generate numbers. These generators have a key flaw – they rely on a “seed” number to kick off the mathematical process. In the case of Excel, this seed is generated automatically by the application. “If you know one number at one step,” Prof. L’Ecuyer explained, “you can compute all the numbers that will follow.”

This means the process could be exploited by someone with the right skills. It’s happened before: In 1994, IT consultant Daniel Corriveau discovered a pattern in a keno game – which uses a random numbering system – at the Casino de Montréal and won $620,000 in a single evening. An investigation later determined the game was using the same seed number at the start of each day.

Using more robust generators, such as the ones used for cryptography, may not cost the government much, either. “Cryptographic generators are free. They are on the internet,” Prof. L’Ecuyer said. “Just pick one, you need to know about it and that’s all. It’s not complicated.

“Anything would be better.”

For its part, IRCC is satisfied with its use of Excel, spokeswoman Shannon Ker said in an e-mailed statement. “We stand by this randomized selection process as a sufficient means of equal opportunity for all who look to express an interest in sponsoring their parents and grandparents.”

Others would rather see the lottery scrapped altogether. For the past two years, Igor Wolford, a data-analytics manager at Loblaws, has applied to sponsor his parents in Russia. He hasn’t made it past the lottery stage, and recently started a website to petition the federal government to abandon the system.

Mr. Wolford has corresponded with members of Parliament about his concerns. “I actually prepared an Excel sheet showing how random processes work,” Mr. Wolford said. “After 10 years of selection, only half of people who were eligible 10 years ago would be selected.”

Number of people from an original pool of 95,000 applicants who haven‘t made it past the lottery stage
Assuming 20,000 new applicants each year and 10,000 applicants selected each year 

Although the lottery selects roughly one in 10 applications, the number of people who pass additional vetting and ultimately make it into the program is far lower.

“Last year, they selected the original 10,000 people [during the lottery], but only 6,000 people actually [made it into the program],” Mr. Wolford said. This is partly be cause the lottery is the first step in the process, meaning anyone can fill out the form.

IRCC responded to these complaints in 2018 by including a self-assessment screening for applicants. However, the questions are still optional, as one Twitter user noted.

When told the lottery was conducted in Excel, Mr. Wolford wasn’t surprised. “That’s a very sad process. It’s easily manipulatable,” he warned. According to IRCC, the process is double-blind, and to date there is no indication the system has been manipulated.

“The process has become unpredictable,” Mr. Wolford said. “Before, you knew that it would take seven years from start to finish, and you could plan your life. Right now, you don’t know if it will happen this year, in five years, in 15 years.”

“Because it’s a lottery, you might never be selected.”

via ‘Anything would be better:’ Critics warn Ottawa’s family-reunification lottery is flawed, open to manipulation – The Globe and Mail