Accenture: A digital transformation can make Canada’s immigration system world-class

Although by one of the companies likely vying for contracts under the various modernization initiatives, valid high level arguments. But the article is largely silent on the policy and program simplification and streamlining necessary to success of digital transformation, the harder aspect given the various stakeholder interests involved, both in and outside government.

Also less convinced of the need for “faster” policy development. Think better policy development and operational implementation is the greater issue.

Worked with Accenture and other consultants at Service Canada 2004-7 and was impressed with their competence and expertise and how they were able to provide a different and needed perspective to some of the issues we were dealing with:

A digitally empowered, efficient, strategic and fair immigration system will be essential for Canada to meet its ambitious immigration target of 1.2 million new residents between 2021 and 2023.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is well on its way to making that happen. It was one of the first federal departments to work with the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) and to express enthusiasm for digital transformation. The COVID pandemic was a catalyst to move faster and address backlogs while responding to new travel and entry requirements.

In recognition of the department’s ongoing work internally and with partner organizations such as the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), IRCC has been recognized as a winner of the Canadian digital government community awards 2022, including excellence in innovation for its online citizenship test; excellence in open government for its digital application status trackers; and excellence in product management for its permanent residence digital intake portal.

However, ongoing travel and border restrictions and other global concerns have slowed momentum. The federal government is investing hundreds of millions to modernize IRCC’s IT infrastructure to ensure those targets can be met in the face of these new realities.

Finland, the United States and Australia have all had success modernizing their immigration systems. Canada could look to their example for inspiration.

Finland: Ten years ago, the Finnish Immigration Service was experiencing process inefficiencies and significant backlogs, inspiring the start of its transformation journey. The service decided to develop a modern case-management tool to meet its demands. The result was the end-to-end electronic immigration case-management system.

The system integrates every process within the immigration, citizenship and asylum workflow. It moves from digital electronic submission through processing and communication to electronic archiving. There are 15,000 potential users based in Finnish government locations and offices across the globe. Authorities consider this project a best-in-class immigration management system.

It was subsequently expanded through the implementation of “EnterFinland” – an online self-service portal, designed for both residence permits and citizenship cases.

EnterFinland is a testament to cross-government collaboration, with solutions that have introduced supplementary chatbots and artificial intelligence applications into workflows across departments. Importantly, many departments had to come on board with the new system for it to be successful.

The United States: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has been on a mission to become fully digital. Several programs were put in place to achieve that goal: the end-user experience design (EUXD) program and “myUSCIS” program. The EUXD program puts application users at the centre of design efforts. Working with the community helped enhance user experience, define proper project requirements and increase user adoption and satisfaction.

The myUSCIS program transforms the immigration process with a digital portal and digitized forms for paperless processing. The driving goal was to allow users to track progress during their immigration journey.

A recurring theme of each digital transformation was understanding that it would take more than a single technology or going paperless. It required a business transformation and cultural shift within the organization.

Accordingly, in Canada, by framing digital transformation efforts in terms of people, process and policy, IRCC will optimize its own transformation efforts.

Australia: Australia has kept its annual immigration target intake steady at more than 160,000 per year for a number of years. A decade ago, it embarked on a modernization effort. The “seamless traveler” vision was created in response to an increase in citizenship and online visa applications, increased processing times, resource challenges and security threats.

What officials learned was that digitizing processes weren’t enough to achieve operational efficiencies. New processes needed to be intuitive, and human-centred to empower the workforce. In October 2020, Australia introduced its reusable permissions capability, a platform that provides consistent processing, approvals and decision-making for departments who issue visas, permits, accreditation, licences and registrations.

The Australian Department of Home Affairs streamlined processes at the border by digitizing existing Incoming passenger cards. This included collecting additional health-related declarations and passenger contact information to support the national COVID response and speed up processing times.

There are three keys to success in Canada – people, process and policy.

People

Starting with the experience of the end user is essential. Technology adoption must be about meeting the applicants’ needs from their vantage point – pivoting existing processes to user-centric digital experiences, and then adopting the latest technologies that can deliver on those goals.

When thinking about a world-class immigration system from the perspective of those wishing to become Canadian, a system must be fast and efficient with information that is timely, and each step of the process well thought-out. It should be easy to use, with services and processes that are intuitive and accessible, and it should be able to understand and accommodate the needs of the applicant. The processes should also be fair and transparent, so applicants know the status of their file as it progresses.

Also, the right stakeholder groups must be included. The countries that had the greatest successes valued co-ordination.

Grouping and classifying cases that are related – such as various categories relating to families – will mean that they can be processed more efficiently and will potentially address any biases. Government can then respond with digital systems that take into consideration variables including diversity, equity and inclusion, among others.

Process 

To realize a user-first vision, the government must fully embrace digital culture, tools and capabilities. This is no longer just an IT exercise. Every directorate and organization must become a digital organization for a workforce that is seamless in adopting new approaches and sharing information. As workforces become increasingly hybrid in nature, building the right digital culture and skills in the end-to-end organization will be essential.

Policy

Even if we fix technologies and create the best digital experience, none of that is useful unless the policy supports it. Given the transformative and disruptive nature of digital transformation, flexible policy is paramount to capture and respond to input from competing and changing priorities.

In Canada, we need to find a faster way to update policy. For instance, in the U.K., the government’s open innovation teamfollows a “policy at pace” style to actively engage citizen users.

Canada has a strong foundation and clear will to improve the ways it manages immigration and delivers user-centric digital experiences to newcomers as they navigate each step of their immigration journey. By considering lessons from around the globe, we can achieve a truly modern, innovative and world-class immigration system.

Source: A digital transformation can make Canada’s immigration system world-class

Saunders: How the pandemic may have made government agencies better at their jobs

Ironic timing, given that large immigration and passport backlogs in Canada. That being said, IRCC is moving on IT and more online services.

But perhaps MPI should have accompanied this analysis with a snapshot on backlogs in all the countries surveyed:

Chaos descended on governments more than two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of frontline public-service workers and back-office bureaucrats to abandon their offices, stop meeting with clients and managing lineups, and switch quickly to improvised digital services in departments that in many cases had barely moved beyond the fax machine.

Unsurprisingly, some departments became frozen and dysfunctional, leaving a legacy of perpetual waiting lists, undelivered projects and unanswered calls. But an unexpected consequence of the global crisis was that some branches of government actually sharply improved their quality of service, in terms of both timeliness of delivery and effectiveness of results. The virus forced transformations, in many places, that should have happened decades ago.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way governments have changed how they deal with the process of immigration, settlement and the pathway to citizenship. If you’ve ever emigrated to new country, you know it involves years of day-long waits at government offices, repeat trips to bring in the proper documents, hard-to-arrange appointments with officials, forms that must be handled in person and often years of non-optional classes in language and citizenship. Even for a middle-class immigrant with resources, it’s a complex, disruptive process that can go on for years.

But the pandemic had a striking and often overwhelmingly positive effect on the Western world’s immigration bureaucracies. That’s made apparent in a new study, “The COVID-19 Catalyst,” by Jasmijn Slootjes of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe, in which her team looked at the immigration bureaucracies of 14 countries, including Canada’s.

Pretty much every developed country faced twin problems during the pandemic. One, restricted travel and sometimes-closed borders made it very hard to bring in the people who were needed to keep the economy rolling, especially in suddenly crucial fields such as healthcare, eldercare and food production. And two, an already undersized bureaucracy was now working from home and unable to operate service desks, offices and classrooms.

Three important things happened, according to Ms. Slootjes.

First, the entire landing, settlement, integration and naturalization process was moved online. While this created some disadvantages – immigrants often value in-person meetings and the networking opportunities that come with them – these, the researchers were surprised to find, were usually far outweighed by the benefits, which allowed more people to be reached, far more quickly and effectively, across a wider geography and with less inconvenience.

This was particularly true for immigrant women and members of vulnerable refugee communities, who, for various reasons, previously had trouble making in-person meetings during business hours but now could be reached directly, in large numbers. Some countries did this immediately: Germany spent €40-million in 2020 developing online language-oriented integration classes.

Of course, some immigrants and especially refugee claimants have trouble finding internet connections and smart devices. But the speed with which this problem was solved surprised everyone. In the Netherlands, a major new program brought tech companies together with government to give devices to more than 12,000 people. Canada’s tech-donation schemes became far more active, and Ottawa launched a popular digital-literacy program for immigrants during the pandemic.

Second, national governments were forced to work with outside organizations and local governments, who actually have more front-line knowledge. (That’s the paradox of immigration: It’s a national policy area that manifests itself almost entirely at the municipal level.) “In Canada, Finland, Flanders and France, governments were forced to reach out to colleagues in other policy areas to address newly arising issues,” Ms. Slootjes writes

Many countries decided to follow the decentralization lead of Canada, whose settlement and integration services are mostly delivered not by the federal public service but by 500 not-for-profit institutions and local-government offices whose employees and volunteers are able to work longer and more flexible hours, adapt more quickly and work in more trusted relationships with clients, at lower cost.

And third, the pandemic forced government agencies to rethink their primary missions – and sometimes, their entire purpose.

The concept of “integration,” which in Europe had often meant language and “values” education, was quickly redefined around its more important meaning: inclusion in the country’s economy, education and housing systems.

Immigration agencies, which had previously seen themselves as gatekeepers that slowly filtered in the more desirable and well-off people from lists of applicants, suddenly found “a renewed appreciation of low-skilled migrant workers in essential roles,” and often invested in chartered flights and instant naturalization invitations in order to fill the economy’s yawning gaps with such people.

Countries that undertook this rethink are, in this year of overheated recovery, typically having less difficulty with shortages and inflation than countries that stuck to their old ways. And, thanks to the wholesale reinvention of their immigration bureaucracy, they’ve been able to respond better – and with less hassle or controversy – to the millions of Ukrainian refugees they now face.

Few of them will publicly credit a deadly pandemic with making them better at their jobs. But they could.

Source: How the pandemic may have made government agencies better at their jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: https://cila.co/ircc-is-disadvantaging-its-clients-with-its-new-citizenship-application-process/

Saunders: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

Good commentary:

For a surgeon who had been risking his life in pandemic-hit Canadian hospitals performing organ transplants, the April 14 invitation was a welcome gift. Despite his highly sought-after, life-saving skills and the risks he was taking to do his job, he’d so far had no pathway to becoming Canadian.

Then Marco Mendicino, the immigration minister at the time, announcedthat Canada would give permanent residency, and thus eventually citizenship, to 90,000 immigrants, refugees and foreign students currently living here on temporary visas and mostly doing in-person jobs deemed “essential.”

It was one part of a broad goal, announced earlier this year, to meet an ambitious target of 401,000 new Canadians in 2021, despite then-closed borders, mainly by drawing on the huge number of people already living and working here.

It sounds good – but the pandemic months have taught us that Canada does not have the immigration system to deliver it.

Almost immediately after that announcement, those invitations collided with a bureaucracy – including a Byzantine and outdated set of federal and provincial immigration rules – that all but prevented those worthy goals from becoming realities.

The transplant doctor soon noticed. He had been slowly accumulating points under Canada’s main immigration system, known as Express Entry, which grants points for things such as education and language fluency and requires full-time work experience in Canada. (Surgeons are classified as self-employed, so have a harder time earning those points.)

While the invitation was a gift, the rules all but prevented him from accepting it. His application – which had to be begun afresh, with no relationship to the existing paper trail of his Express Entry application – had to be personally submitted at a specific time on a weekday. This hours-long procedure on a newly created and deeply dysfunctional and crash-prone web portal was nearly impossible for a working surgeon. For some reason it forbade lawyers and immigration agents from helping, and reportedly barred applicants from working during the application process, which could drag on for months.

The long-standing rules also required him to submit the results of a fluency test in English or French. His language skills weren’t in doubt – you can’t be a high-level surgeon without them – but the testing centres had weeks-long delays, and the minister’s invitation had an hours-long application window.

Many people filed applications without the language test, hoping it could be added informally later. Months later, they found their claims were rejected without any communication from the department, and the whole system had to start again. It was an ordeal for a privileged surgeon; for the nurses and home-care workers for whom the program was intended, it was far worse.

“In 25 years of practice I have never seen the client service as poor as it is now,” says Barbara Jo Caruso, the surgeon’s immigration lawyer. “I think there is a fundamental disconnect right now. … The department needs to change the way front-line workers work, so they can be facilitative and solve problems by making a call. Otherwise they’re wasting enormous amounts of human resources doing the same things over and over.”

The major problem, says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department, is “not understanding the service needs of the target population.”

In essence, Ottawa is trying to force a growth-oriented policy through a haphazard, enormously complex and often uncommunicative set of provincial and federal bureaucracies that were constructed over the last five decades to restrict immigration and control numbers, and to administer a range of often contradictory immigration programs.

The result has been chaotic. Even though experienced front-line health workers ought to be the most desirable new Canadians, Ottawa was not able to come close to its target of 20,000 of them – after the deadline passed this summer, only 7,155 had reportedly been able to get their names on the list. Tens of thousands more simply could not manage to apply.

Other invitations suffered the opposite problem: The target of 40,000 student-visa holders who’ve completed their degrees was met in fewer than two days. Then a computer failure reportedly caused thousands more to be let into the system in a mess of false messaging and panicked confusion, so Ottawa had to give another 7,300 applicants admission.

Despite its high annual immigration targets (which will continue to rise), Canada has become notorious for its inability to turn people into immigrants and citizens without years of unnecessary delay and reams of procedures that can’t be navigated without a lawyer – even if you’re a nanny earning less than minimum wage. Ottawa currently says it has 1.8 million immigration applications stuck in the queue, many lost on the desks of an understaffed and overburdened public service.

A new Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a few weeks ago. He ought to have one job: to scrap and rebuild the entire system, reducing the off-putting hodgepodge of outdated programs and procedures with a single, understandable and sensible immigration pathway for all applicants that actually serves the country’s needs. If nothing else, the pandemic months have taught us that we need to start afresh.

Source: Opinion: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

Canada now accepts citizenship applications online

Good. Will be interesting to see the take up once expanded to families and whether that reduces processing time along with providing more timely application statistics:

Canadian permanent residents can now submit applications for citizenship online.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has launched a new online tool that allows citizenship applications to be submitted online.

Get help applying for Canadian citizenship

As of August 11, IRCC has opened the online portal to single applicants over the age of 18. It is not open to family applications, nor representatives. Also, it is not open to those who are employed by the crown and living outside of Canada.

Later in 2020, IRCC intends to open the online application to families, and minors under age 18. In 2022, the online application will be available to representative to apply on behalf of their clients. It will also be open to crown servants declaring residence outside Canada.

Applicants who have already submitted on paper should not try to reapply online, IRCC says in a media release.

IRCC had already been developing this new tool, as part of an initiative to modernize the immigration system. In late 2020, it released the tool to test the platform’s capacity.

The new online portal allows applicants to save partially-completed applications and resume them at a later time. It also allows users to upload supporting documents, proof of payment, print a PDF and ask for a confirmation of receipt.

Modernization of the immigration system

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has said his vision for Canada’s immigration system to become paperless.

The pandemic forced IRCC to start modernizing to allow for immigration to continue amid public health measures. So far, Canada has made citizenship testing available online, and also started holding virtual citizenship ceremonies.

Along other lines of business, the department has also begun doing virtual landings for newly-arrived permanent residents. For immigration applicants, a number of paper-based programs are starting to go digital.

Source: Canada now accepts citizenship applications online

Citizenship Modernization Case Study

This deck looks at the Canadian citizenship program and the need for modernization in the context of Budget 2021’s allocation of funding to upgrade IRCC’s IT infrastructure. It contrast the current citizenship process with a streamlined process that makes it easier for applicants and more efficient for the government. This was presented at a modernization discussion organized by the Public Policy Forum.

Immigration Minister open to raise permanent residency caps

Of note, more signs of government determination to meet 2021 levels target of 401,000 (January-March 2021, 70,425 permanent resident admissions, or an annualized rate of about 280,000). Modernization remarks also of note:

Canada’s Immigration Minister says he’s not ruling out expanding a new program that would grant permanent residency to 90,000 temporary foreign workers and international student graduates as part of the country’s annual immigration goal.

“I am open to discussing whether or not to revisit the current caps,” Marco Mendicino said in an interview Wednesday.

He made his comment after delivering a speech on modernizing immigration earlier in the day. He said in the speech to the Canadian Club that more than 50,000 people have expressed interest in the spaces since last Thursday’s opening for applications.

He said the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department needs to carefully assess the early results of the program, including the quality of applications, and see how quickly the department hits the 90,000 target.

“At that point, I will certainly have a much greater line of sight on whether or not there may be a need to revisit the caps.”

Asked if he could secure cabinet approval for such a shift, Mr. Mendicino said, “Well, we got this far, didn’t we? I am open to revisiting the caps.”

In mid-April, the minister announced the plan to allow 20,000 temporary foreign workers in health care, 30,000 workers in other occupations deemed essential and 40,000 international students who have graduated from a university or college to apply to become permanent residents.

However, migrant groups have criticized the program, saying program exclusions and requirements shut out many refugees, undocumented people and thousands of migrants, with caps in application streams meaning few will be able to get their applications in before spots are filled.

In a statement, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Wednesday that the rollout of the new pathways to permanent residency for the 90,000 applicants has been problematic, adding it excludes many essential workers and does not recognize those who have lost status.

Also Wednesday, Mr. Mendicino called for moving toward a paperless immigration system that would offer prospective new Canadians more opportunities to file claims online and even be sworn in virtually.

“The reality is that our immigration system is one that has been bogged down by paper. We need to change that,” Mr. Mendicino said in the speech to the Canadian Club. “The technology is behind the times.”

As Canada has raised levels of immigration – the goal is 401,000 new permanent residents this year – Mr. Mendicino said there have been challenges in capacity and processing times exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We need to retire our systems that are long past their best-before date,” he said.

Mr. Mendicino said the recent federal budget commits more than $800-million to create a new digital platform to replace the existing Global Case Management System, which the department uses to process citizenship and immigration services applications.

In the interview, Mr. Mendicino said there is an online component to immigration now. “But what I would like to do is transform the entirety of our system,” he said.

“We still have many aspects of the system that have to be done in person or through paper-based applications. Transforming the system means that every aspect of that process will be an online application process with in-person meetings being substituted and replaced by digital and virtual meetings.”

He said he expects there will be a dedicated department team to look at the issue and drive it forward. “I think it’s a safe thing to say this will be a multiyear project, but not that long,” he said.

Ms. Kwan said that while digitizing the immigration application process is “long overdue,” the Liberals have been using this as an excuse to avoid talking about current delays.

“The process to move to a new system could take years and the government has failed to present a plan or provide resources to address current backlogs in a reasonable timeline,” she said.

But Mr. Mendicino said the department is well-advanced on its goals of meeting its target of 401,000 new permanent residents this year.

Jasraj Singh Hallan, the Conservative immigration critic, echoed Ms. Kwan’s concerns, saying the Tories have long called for the modernization of the immigration system. But he said Mr. Mendicino’s announcement does nothing to address thousands of applicants caught in backlogs.

“Because of the Liberal government’s poor management of the immigration system, outdated systems, and paper applications, families who have been trying to reunite with their loved ones have been stuck in massive backlogs and delayed processing times causing hardship,” he said in a statement.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-immigration-minister-open-to-raise-permanent-residency-caps/

Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Needed modernization:

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process immigration applications more quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a new system.

The federal government pledged in the 2021 budget to spend $428.9 million over the next five years to deliver the platform that would gradually replace the existing case management system.

The new platform will launch in 2023 to improve application processing and provide more support for applicants, the government said.

Alexander Cohen, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said the new system is part of a wider shift towards digital platforms across the department and government.

“Alberta for a long time — my home province here — their provincial nomination system was purely paper-based. But then, in the past couple years, they decided to integrate their provincial nominee system with the Canadian federal government system.”

He said almost half of all immigrants who arrive in Canada under economic class programs come through sub-provincial programs.

“The actual larger issue here, I would say, is actually federalism, and maybe to align the provincial and federal governments on the issue of immigration,” he said.

Andrew Griffith, a former director of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department, said it has tried to simplify the process recently by allowing more online transmission of documents.

“These changes are not that easy to implement overnight,” he said.

Griffith said Ottawa’s promise to spend close to a half billion dollars to put in place a new immigration application processing system will be an interesting one to watch because implementing big IT projects presents challenges for the government.

The department should find ways to get rid of any duplication and overlap that may exist in the current immigration system, he said.

“Do we need all those steps? Can some of these steps be automated? Can we use (artificial intelligence) to make determinations?”

Cohen said the immigration department launched in 2018 two pilot projects using computer analytics to help immigration officers triage some online visa applications.

“This computer analytics technology analyzes data and recognizes patterns in applications to help identify routine and complex cases,” he said.

“The goal is to help officers to identify applications that are routine and straightforward for thorough but faster processing, and to triage files that are more complex for a more extensive review.”

He said all decisions on every application are made by a visa officer in all cases and the department’s artificial intelligence tools are not used to render decisions.

“We’re always looking to leverage technology to improve the process for Canadians and those who wish to come here.”

Source: Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

How one federal agency broke free of outdated IT infrastructure

While written a bit too much as a puff piece, an interesting and relevant example of modernization (some of these remind me of my time in the early days of Service Canada and IT infrastructure renewal, where of course the issues were on a much larger scale and higher risk for CPP and EI):

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the need for modern, agile IT systems as both the public and private sectors grapple with a suddenly remote workforce. Cloud platforms are the backbone of modern IT infrastructure, providing scalability, speed, and remote access, and are secure without the expense of physical infrastructure. Yet less than 10 per cent of federal departments have transferred some of their operations to a cloud platform. Part of this is because the pandemic diverted focus, but it is also due to fear of the unknown and uncertainty over security benefits and procurement rules.

Had the pandemic struck five years earlier, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) would have been crippled by its lagging IT infrastructure. Instead, CMHC’s operations continued without missing a step – even supporting the government’s pandemic response by rolling out critical economic support with record speed, such as the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance for small businesses and the Insured Mortgage Purchase Program to support the financial system.

CMHC’s partnership approach to transforming its IT infrastructure can serve as a model for other federal departments. CMHC and Accenture, a global professional services company, came together five years ago to move CMHC’s outdated and siloed systems to a robust digital service platform.

Back in 2016, CMHC relied on close to 1,000 separate software applications, many of which were customized and hard to maintain. From operations and insurance underwriting to applications for program funding and accounting, every structure had its own siloed system.

Technology was a source of frustration. Twenty-three per cent of CMHC employees rated it their number one barrier, and one in six employees spent their time trying to find data.

Today, those systems have been replaced with enterprise platforms that have automated manual tasks, sped up processing times and offer real-time data to support better decision-making. This endeavour was no small feat. Finding the right partner and doing a thorough analysis of the scope of the challenge took over a year.

Together as CMHC’s deputy chief information officer and Accenture’s federal government practice lead, we helped execute a project that took place over several years and involved hundreds of employees from both organizations. Ultimately, we found that how we implemented the technology was just as important as the technologies we invested in. Sometimes it was even more important.

Here are five key lessons learned that we believe can help other departments successfully approach digital innovation:

1. Leadership buy-in is crucial

The journey for the project – called CMHC in Motion – began under CMHC’s president and leadership team with the goal of becoming a more agile, focused and efficient company with a culture of accountability.

CMHC modernized its organizational structure and focused on communication and training to manage risk, change and execution and to encourage innovation. Fixing technology was the next step.

The leadership team ensured the building blocks were in place for technology and business transformation. Program funding and resources were made available to drive this three-year transformation and its evolution for years to come.

The CIO role was elevated. Now the CIO sits on CMHC’s executive committee and is positioned to influence decisions that affect all parts of the company. Digital and technological thinking need to be able to influence business strategy rather than being made to fit into strategy that is already set. The two need to evolve hand-in-hand.

2. Innovative solutions require innovative approaches

It was clear from the start that the traditional procurement route of a complicated and time-consuming request-for-proposal process would be an obstacle for the project. Inviting potential partners to analyze the scale of the problem was critical to finding not only the right partner but also the right solutions. For three months, two potential partners were given access to CMHC’s infrastructure and systems to fully assess the scale of the situation they would face. More importantly, it allowed CMHC to leverage the experience of external experts in defining the solution. Incorporating this into the proposal process allowed for a broader, more robust and feasible path forward.

When CMHC and Accenture came together there was already an understanding of the challenges and potential solutions, and the project team was able to move straight to planning implementation.

3. A true partnership and governance structure is vital

From day one, CMHC wanted a partner. The vision was an arrangement where both parties shared in the benefits and risks and would collaborate on challenges. Given the complexity and timelines of the project, it was impossible to predict where the work would lead, what outcomes and technologies would be needed or even be available. A risk-sharing fund positioned both parties to carefully consider potential project variances and cost overruns, and both parties came together to solve emerging needs and to consider any potential changes to the scope of work.

Agreeing up front to share in the financial risk is not the norm for public sector transformation projects, but it eliminated years of delay as we avoided time-consuming project scoping, trying to describe the perfect solution. It meant that CMHC was not dictating a solution, but rather defining the problem and getting fresh outside perspectives on how to address it through a cohesive joint team.

Managing outsourcing relationships isn’t easy, so CMHC created a partner relationship management team. Three levels of governance are used at CMHC. It starts at the highest level, with the executive team, then flows to the management and operational governance structures. On a bi-weekly basis CMHC and Accenture Canada’s CEOs met to discuss program performance, relationship status and planning. Five years after the contract was signed, these meetings still take place.

4. Commit to an uncharted path

A multi-year transformation will not follow a straight path. Innovative, agile organizations need to be open to imperfection and experimentation. Innovation requires an acceptance that not all ideas work, and that getting out of planning mode and into testing mode happens so we can learn, adapt and move forward. Progress over perfection and timeliness was important, and we made risk-based decisions to move quickly.

For CMHC, technology was also used to help drive a change in culture around risk-taking, speed and being ok with failure. For CMHC and Accenture, there was an understanding that immediate answers would not always be available, especially with rapid advances in technology. This enabled the delivery team to take risks and push forward at a quicker pace, knowing that it was ok to fail fast to avoid the lengthy detours of searching for the “perfect” solution.

Along the journey, unforeseen events – like the introduction of the National Housing Strategy in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic – required significant changes to plans and priorities. CMHC was able to adapt, demonstrating that with the right culture and committed senior leadership, organizations can become resilient and better equipped to respond to unexpected changes in their business environment.

5. Create a feedback loop to guide the pace of change

Engaged and enabled employees can make or break transformative IT projects. Change management is often the first thing to cut when an organization is trying to save its resources, yet it is one of the areas we found to be critical. Continuous dialogue and check-ins through surveys and consultations ensured employees believed in the transformation and had the skills and confidence to adopt transformed business approaches. It is essential to communicate early and often to employees in a transparent and simple way.

To get early buy-in from employees and to show our commitment to making this transformation work, the first project we tackled was the one with the biggest positive impact for our employees – moving off Lotus Notes email to Outlook and Skype. The success of this implementation was instrumental in gaining buy-in from employees and made the transformation real for them.

We were cognizant of the massive cultural shift we were asking employees to make. Their entire technological world was being altered, from a new email platform and filing systems, to a client relationship management system, invoicing and how they manage client requests. We developed a “heat map” to identify which areas of CMHC were undergoing the most change. With the map and employee feedback, we were able to adjust our approach and ease up where the pace of change was too intense. We worked alongside senior management and human resources to continuously evaluate progress and identify areas that needed more training or support.

Moving forward

We find ourselves at an exciting time, where rapid innovation in technology has the potential to drastically change the way we develop and deliver public programs and policy. Over the past few years, technology companies have improved the ease of use, security, scale and interoperability of their offerings. The flexibility and cost-effectiveness of cloud services are undeniable.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for agility in our IT infrastructure. As Canadians look to all levels of government to lead them through these unprecedented times, they have seen the tangible results of government in action to keep them safe, provide them with financial support and navigate the road to economic recovery. Now is the time to build a better, more resilient IT environment for our public sector, one that will allow us to weather storms and continue to provide Canadians with world-class government services.

Source: How one federal agency broke free of outdated IT infrastructure

Amid languishing numbers, Canada’s #citizenship process needs to be modernized

My latest:

COVID-19 upended all aspects of immigration policy and programs, requiring government flexibility with respect to documentation, time limits and other requirements. In many ways, this has been beneficial as it required rethinking processes and procedures and adapting to a more online world.

Citizenship was no exception, exposing the underlying weaknesses of citizenship program management: extensive paper-based processes and a dated IT infrastructure.

While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) consistently meets its immigration targets (with the exception of during the first pandemic year), the number of new citizens has fluctuated widely over time, reflecting resource and administrative weaknesses. This is in contrast to the steady increase in the number of new permanent residents (figure 1).

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For 2020, the number of citizenship applications declined 26.5 per cent (from 268,608 in 2019 to 197,472 in 2020). The number of new citizens dropped over twice that number – 55.9 per cent (from 250,083 to 110,214). Finally, new permanent resident applications declined by almost half at 45.9 per cent (from 341,175 to 184,615). Overall, as immigration numbers continued to grow, the naturalization rate of immigrants has declined.

Citizenship is simpler than the myriad immigration programs, and, unlike immigration, falls under exclusively federal jurisdiction. While changes to citizenship are more straightforward, it is a lower priority at both the political and bureaucratic levels than other IRCC programs.

While IRCC was quick to recognize the advantage of encouraging immigration from temporary residents already present in Canada during the pandemic, it initially shut down the citizenship program despite applicants already being in Canada and known to the department.

Modernization

The 2021-22 IRCC departmental plan notes how the department later responded through virtual citizenship ceremonies, piloting on-line knowledge testing and e-applications. Working with the citizenship program in 2008, during an orientation visit to the Sydney, N.S. processing centre, I was shown a large room of paper files that still had to be entered into the tracking system.

Budget 2021 includes $428.9 million over five years “to develop and deliver an enterprise-wide digital platform that would gradually replace the legacy Global Case Management System” to “enable improved application processing and support for applicants, beginning in 2023.” This would be a welcome change if my own experience is any example.

Modernization should result in more informative and timely citizenship information (currently, the government reports on the monthly number of new citizens by country of citizenship). However, there is no public reporting of monthly citizenship applications, province of residence or demographic data such as age, gender or immigration category, in contrast to most immigration datasets.

Modernization also needs to be accompanied by a meaningful citizenship performance standard, based upon the percentage of permanent residents who become Canadian citizens within five to nine years of arrival. This compares to the current and rather meaningless standard which uses the number of all immigrants, whether they arrived five or 50 years ago.

A more ambitious approach, albeit riskier, would help citizenship applicants by pre-populating their forms with permanent residence data and documentation (for example social insurance numbers and tax returns). With exit information now being collected from air carriers, determining whether an applicant has met residency requirements is more straightforward. Overall, applying for citizenship should become a largely automatic process. One could even go further and ensure invitations to apply are sent automatically to eligible applicants to encourage citizenship take-up.

Citizenship education

The IRCC also needs to deliver on existing commitments, including publishing the update to the citizenship guide, first promised  in 2016. A change to the citizenship oath to reflect Indigenous treaty rights is currently before Parliament. The government appears to have walked back from its 2019 election commitment to eliminate citizenship fees as this was not included in the 2021 budget.

The delay in releasing the revised citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, provides an opportunity to reflect on whether more efforts should be made with respect to citizenship education beyond the revising guide and holding high-profile citizenship ceremonies (e.g., at public locations such as a hockey arenas).

Given government plans to increase immigration and provide more pathways for less-educated and lower-skilled persons to become permanent residents, there is a greater need for citizenship education.

The 2018 evaluation of the IRCC’s settlement program indicated that while “Settlement clients reported having knowledge of Canadian laws, rights and responsibilities, …only employment-related services had a positive impact on the level of knowledge.” The 2020 evaluation of the citizenship program revealed that test “Pass rates are lower among applicants with less education and lower language proficiency.”

These evaluations, and census data on naturalization, confirm the need for greater citizenship preparation and training to help new Canadians better understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, particularly in the context of an increase in immigration numbers. Current training offered by settlement agencies and public institutions narrowly focuses on citizenship test preparation rather than a more fundamental understanding of Canada.

Consideration needs to be given to expand the current focus on early arrival integration to include citizenship preparation, either on a stand-alone basis or integrated into language training at intermediate levels, with the curriculum based on, but not limited to, the new citizenship study guide. This would facilitate civic integration, particularly those with less education and language proficiency, and should help address the decline in naturalization among recent arrivals.

COVID-19 continues to provide opportunities to rethink government programs and services, with immigration and citizenship being no exception. While existing government policies and processes make change complex and difficult, IRCC and other departments have been able to make some practical changes to improve existing processes and requirements to attenuate some of the impacts of COVID-19 and pave the way for further changes.

For citizenship, modernization of the IT infrastructure and related processes is key to addressing long-standing inefficiencies and deficiencies in the program. Broadening settlement programming to support more vulnerable groups becoming Canadian citizens should be viewed as part and parcel of increased immigration objectives.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2021/amid-languishing-numbers-canadas-citizenship-process-needs-to-be-modernized/