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/

How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

Too early to tell but the opportunities are there:

The COVID-19 pandemic has handed the public service a grand-scale opportunity to experiment with new ways of operating, including rethinking the need for massive office buildings in Ottawa-Gatineau and embracing digital government more fully. What public servants learn in the next few months by working remotely and in crisis could jolt the bureaucracy into a re-ordering of practices and culture that reformers haven’t been able to do in 25 years.

Public servants rapidly mobilized over the past month to implement a massive financial aid package, abandoning play-it-safe and rules-bound processes to put the needs of Canadians first as they doled out billions in emergency funding.

“It’s not that the crisis is forcing us to reshape the public service, but the post-pandemic world could be the window of opportunity, or necessity, to accelerate the renewal and reforms in institutions,” former privy council clerk Michael Wernick said in an interview.

Alex Benay, the former chief information officer who led the government’s digital agenda until he left for the private sector, wrote the crisis unleashed a “new norm,” the “digital first” government he’s long pressed for.

“Sadly, it took COVID-19 for people to realize that the real problem was not technology, not necessarily the culture…The real ‘enemy,’ so to speak, has been the operating model of government has yet to change to adjust to the new digital realities,” Benay wrote in a recent LinkedIn post.

Crises sparks change, but not always lasting change

It’s not the first time the public service has roared into action to combat a crisis. Its rapid response was reminiscent of the moves it made during the “program review” budgetary cuts of the 1990s, after the 9/11 attacks, and during the 2008-09 financial crisis, which had lasting impacts on government.

These events didn’t, however, fundamentally change the culture of the public service and many argue it went back to its old risk-averse and hierarchical ways as the crisis receded. That culture is hard-wired into public service, built on rules developed to keep governments accountable for the decisions they make with taxpayers’ money.

The public service has been slow to embrace technology that’s changing the private sector at breakneck speed. Bureaucrats have been pushed to innovate, to use digital tools to rethink how they work and deliver services, to take risks, and even to fail as they experiment with new ways of working.

Mel Cappe, who was Canada’s top bureaucrat in the aftermath of 9/11, said today’s public servants rightly opted to get emergency aid out to those who needed it over a “bullet-proof system” that ensured no mistakes at the front-end. The thinking was that errors could be fixed later.

It allowed the public service to take just two weeks to distribute employment insurance payments to 2.4 million applicants, the number it normally handles in a year. Money “going to people undeserving is an error I would rather have than depriving people of the money they need in crisis,” Cappe said in a podcast.

“Work will change and services will change. Why does a call centre have to have a building?” he said in an email. “Our expectations of the role of government have increased dramatically. New programs, new services, new bodies. But we have no idea what or how.”

A smaller, more distributed public service?

Long before the pandemic struck, questions had been raised as to why nearly 42 percent of federal workers are clustered in office towers in the National Capital Region. In the blink of an eye, thousands of bureaucrats are working from home. Many predict it won’t be long before politicians will be asking why these home offices are in the nation’s capital. Why can’t those jobs be across the country?

The public service’s headquarters is in Ottawa-Gatineau – where it occupies about 3.5 million square metres of office space – because that’s where Parliament, ministers and deputy ministers are. The pandemic shows cabinet, Parliament and MPs can meet virtually, so it’s “inevitable there will be push to spread those jobs across the country,” said Wernick

“I think that 10 years from now the public service will be much smaller, more distributed, less concentrated in Ottawa and flatter in hierarchy. It’s been moving in that direction and this will accelerate it,” he said.

Ryan Androsoff, who teaches digital leadership at the Institute on Governance and is a co-founder of the Canadian Digital Service, calls the crisis an “inflection point” for remote work. Forced to work at home, public servants know they can do it.

He argues agents who work at the government’s 221 call centres could work remotely, as could many policy analysts and other knowledge workers. It could lead to a major reduction in federal real estate holdings across the country.

There are bugs to iron out – more laptops and tablets are needed; employees need access to software for video conferencing, cloud and collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams; and above all, they need more bandwidth. Employees not working on the pandemic or other critical jobs have been directed to stay off the network during peak hours because of limited available bandwidth. Protocols would also need to be developed for accessing confidential documents remotely and the setting of productivity goals.

By headcount, the public service is larger in the regions, but there has long been a divide between headquarters and regions. Senior management is in Ottawa, where policy and decisions are made, leaving operations to the regions. Regional workers have often complained they feel out of the loop and like second-class employees.

Technology and distance working will eliminate that divide and allow the government to recruit a workforce that better represents the country to help resolve the regional alienation dividing the country. Androsoff warned, however, that divide could worsen if the region’s operational workers make the switch to remote working, but Ottawa policy-makers go back to the office as normal.

“Moving to a remote and distributed workforce as the norm for everyone opens up all parts of the country to feel they are a part of the central government rather than isolated in regional outposts,” Androsoff said.

“I am a westerner, from Saskatchewan, and in Ottawa you tend to see far fewer people in policy-making or executive roles from the east and west partly because it requires a move to Ottawa.”

Office accommodation for 300,000 employees is one of the government’s biggest operating expenses. It may be cheaper to set up workers at home, but it will also require a new approach to management for some 15,000 supervisors and 7,000 executives.

“It’s never been a technology limitation. It’s the philosophy about managing the workforce that has to change,” said Michel Vermette, a former CEO of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

“It means making people accountable for what they produce, and the public service has not done that very well. It has substituted office presence for production.  Managers need to think differently; hold people accountable for what they do, not for showing up,” he said.

Vermette said the crisis is showing managers they can trust employees are actually working when not in the office because suddenly “they have no choice and people are demonstrating they can be productive at home.”

It could also help change the culture of endless meetings. Some hope the number of large in-person meetings could be curtailed and call for training on how to run them better. Meetings held online or by videoconferencing should treat everyone the same whether they are physically present at headquarters or calling in.

Improving digital access to services

Under lockdown, people are living even more digitally and will emerge expecting better and speedier digital service — especially after they received almost immediate relief benefits in their bank accounts, said Androsoff. He expects demand for digital services will accelerate and the 32 percent of Canadians who still visit federal offices will decline.

The Liberal government has put a lot of stock in modernizing digital services as a way to restore trust in government. The crisis, however, exposes the risks of aging technology that governments have been warned about for a decade. Systems are outdated; some more than 50 years old, costly to maintain and on the brink of failure.

That’s particularly the case at Employment and Social Development Canada, which with the Canada Revenue Agency, jumped huge technological and approval process hurdles to deliver emergency funding.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, argues a “silver lining” is the realization that technology is the backbone of government’s business, not just the back office.

“There will be a big push for improvement in technology because the government is way behind in investments in infrastructure and training,” said Daviau, whose union represents 17,000 federal information technology workers.

“But the downside is whenever there is an economic stimulus, they take it back from the public service, so I worry for the future. There will be a restraint budget. How will the public service be reshaped; what will be cut and what will government decide it can live without? This situation clearly highlights the importance of a public service that can act quickly.”

Government is already racing to figure out how to steer the country into a post-pandemic recovery, which will remain uncertain until a vaccine is found. Many bureaucrats are braced for a cost-cutting budget, whether in 2022 or 2023. They say national and health security will be top spending priorities, and will nudge technology upgrades off the table.

“I share concerns that the inevitable fiscal retrenchment in next couple of years will slam on the brakes,” said Wernick. “We could lose the best parts of the innovation of the public service that has already happened and the appetite for continuing to invest in back office, IT and service improvement.”

Source: How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system

Recommendations do not appear very surprising in their focus on service and service standards.

But I am surprised in their recommendation number 16 on service standards that they did not include regular performance reporting on meeting those standards, basic to accountability:

The Immigration Department’s most recent clients’ survey in 2015 found 85 per cent of clients were satisfied with the service, with the rest complaining about a range of issues from the inability to access case status information to errors in applications.

In 2016, the department received 5,000 complaints and the top three concerns related to processing times, the call centre and the operation of the applicants’ online accounts.

The report’s number one recommendation was to train staff at the call centre on client service and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French, as well as setting a 15-minute waiting time standard for clients to talk to a live agent for inquires.

The report recommends the department consider having agents specialize in particular programs or application types such as temporary residence, permanent residence, refugees, citizenship and passports.

“The call centre may be used to check the status of an application that is beyond the normal processing time and report changes regarding an application that is in process,” suggested Toronto immigration lawyer Stephen Green.

“While the idea of the call centre is commendable, unfortunately the limits placed on call centre agents in terms of the information that they are permitted to disclose often results in the applicant being unable to ascertain the information required.”

The report said immigration officials should establish service standards and processing times for all programs and publish the information on its website. It said the department should simplify its forms and evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on its applications.

“If you talk to any MP, 80 to 85 per cent of our caseload involves immigration files. The long delays and lack of information are frustrating people,” said MP Jenny Kwan, immigration critic for the opposition NDP, who sits on the immigration standing committee.

“All we are saying is these are simple fixes that make an inordinate amount of sense.”

Bernie Derible, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the department has made tremendous strides in speeding up processing times and simplifying processes, particularly for family sponsorship applications.

“We are reviewing the recommendations and have been improving many areas already under our government . . . Client experience is a key focus of Minister Hussen’s mandate,” said Derible, adding that the government has designated a director general responsible for improving client services.

Source: Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system | Toronto Star

The Conclusions and Recommendations from the report:

The Committee recognizes that IRCC has made a priority of modernizing client service delivery. Testimony heard in the course of this study confirms both the necessity and the complexity of this endeavour. Immigration is a life-changing journey for individuals who should not be frustrated by processes and bureaucracy. As such, the Committee makes the following recommendations to build on the department’s efforts already under way.

Call Centre

The Committee was pleased to hear about the changes IRCC has implemented to the Call Centre for family class applications. These changes address concerns raised by witnesses and improve operational efficiency, as evidenced by the reduction in the number of same-day calls. The Committee encourages the department to implement similar changes in other lines of business and looks forward to hearing progress reports on further Call Centre improvements.

As IRCC moves forward with reforming the Call Centre, the Committee wishes to draw attention to several issues. The Committee heard that Call Centre agents do not communicate their knowledge in simple-to-understand terms for those who may be new to English or French; nor do they facilitate calls when interpreters are involved. The Committee also heard that callers often wait for long periods before being connected to a live agent. Finally, witnesses suggested that Call Centre agents could be assigned to a certain type of immigration application so that they could develop greater subject-matter expertise as a means of improving service. In light of this testimony and the important role that the Call Centre plays in conveying IRCC’s information to clients, the Committee recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 1

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada train all Call Centre agents on client service excellence and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French speaking abilities.

RECOMMENDATION 2

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide a standard process to facilitate calls between a client and a Call Centre agent when an interpreter is used.

RECOMMENDATION 3

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have a 15-minute standard for clients to be connected with an advisor or agent for all Call Centre operations.

RECOMMENDATION 4

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider including specializations and subject-matter experts for Call Centre advisors and agents based on application type, including (1) temporary residence, (2) permanent residence, (3) refugees, including protected persons, (4) citizenship and (5) passports.

Website

The IRCC website is also an important client service interface. Witnesses drew the Committee’s attention to certain problems with the website in its current form and also provided concrete suggestions for improvement. In light of what we heard concerning the IRCC website, the Committee recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 5

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider, as part of the redesign of its website, using (1) client-centric design principles to produce digital channels for each business line, (2) plain language, (3) languages other than French and English, similar to what the Government of British Columbia is doing, and (4) virtual assistance.

RECOMMENDATION 6

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada make improvements to “My Account” to allow clients to view and print applications before filing and during processing, and allow applicants to maintain a complete record of every application filed.

RECOMMENDATION 7

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada improve the ability for applicants and their representatives to link paper applications with online accounts.

RECOMMENDATION 8

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide alternative payment methods for individuals without access to online payment services and credit cards, such as returning to the previous policy of accepting proof of payment at a bank.

Providing more frequent and useful information

Another important issue also raised in the course of this study is the need to obtain more frequent and useful case information from IRCC. Witnesses made a number of suggestions in this regard, including making GCMS notes available online and providing more detailed status updates through a client’s online accounts. With respect to the private sponsorship program, witnesses suggested that the government establish standards for frequency of communication with sponsoring groups so that their resources can be used effectively and they can maintain support for the sponsorship.

The Committee heard from the department that providing clients with greater assurance that their application is moving forward is one of their current priorities for client service. We fully support this priority and make the following recommendations:

RECOMMENDATION 9

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada contact clients via email or other channels when (1) processing exceeds times provided at the time of application (2) an incorrect payment is made (3) common or simple errors are made on the application.

RECOMMENDATION 10

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada implement an online portal for clients and authorized representatives to track application progress, including but not limited to: (1) current status of the application, (2) any reasons for delays, (3) an estimated time for decision and (4) any missing information or complications with the application.

The Committee also feels that the department could consider providing more useful information on refusals, particularly for temporary resident visa applicants and humanitarian and compassionate applications. The example from Australia suggests that it is possible to provide failed applicants with a more fulsome explanation while maintaining fast processing. Further, as indicated by witnesses, proactive disclosure of reasons for refusal may lower the volume of Access to Information requests made to the department. In light of these observations, the Committee recommends the following in relation to providing clients with more useful information:

RECOMMENDATION 11

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide more information and details to clients on the reasons for negative decisions.

Finally, in the area of providing more frequent and useful information, the Committee recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 12

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada examine ways, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, to increase the number of pre-arrival service sessions available, including attendance, in Foreign Service locations.

RECOMMENDATION 13

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure Members of Parliament and Senators continue to have access to the Ministerial Enquiries Division.

Application forms

The Committee would also like to address the issue of application forms. We understand that the department plans to draw on its experience with revamping the spousal sponsorship application kit to make changes to other programs. The Committee supports regular review of application forms so that they can be as client-friendly as possible. The Committee would also like to address the issue, as raised by some witnesses, of clients being penalized by form changes that occurred after their application was submitted. On the matter of application forms, the Committee recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 14

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada regularly review all application forms to (1) simplify the form, (2) improve the client experience, and (3) evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on applications.

RECOMMENDATION 15

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada establish a process for notifying applicants when forms are changed and establish a mechanism to ensure that completed applications submitted with once-current forms are not rejected due to form changes.

Processing Times

Processing times and service standards were also identified as important client service issues by witnesses, who noted that not all IRCC lines of business are subject to service standards. Witnesses also noted that, for certain applicants working temporarily as they await a final decision that would allow them to remain in Canada, the validity period of the work permit does not correspond with the waiting period for the decision. To address these concerns, the Committee recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 16

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider establishing service standards and processing times for all business lines and publish the standards on the website.

RECOMMENDATION 17

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada extend the validity period of work permits from six months to one year to take into account processing times at the department.

Performance Measurement and Client Feedback

The Committee heard that IRCC has mechanisms in place for soliciting client feedback and some performance indicators for client service. The Committee encourages the department to continue work in this area and recommends as follows:

RECOMMENDATION 18

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada offer automatic client service feedback forms for applications to the department.

RECOMMENDATION 19

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review key performance indicators for all client service channels and review best practices from other immigration systems around the world, such as those of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Reconsideration

The Committee heard that errors in processing applications that could easily be rectified sometimes end up in court because there is no other way to address them. The Committee is of the opinion that it would be in everyone’s interest to avoid this costly route, and we make the following recommendation accordingly:

RECOMMENDATION 20

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a “Reconsideration Committee” to deal with reconsideration requests within applicants’ 15-day deadline.

Continuous Improvement in Customer Service

In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Committee feels that IRCC should conduct more outreach, including targeted efforts for employers and refugees. We also encourage the Department to examine the possibility of providing customer service in person, which is not currently possible. Specifically, the Committee recommends the following:

RECOMMENDATION 21

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct “client service and delivery” consultations with customer and client service experts, the private sector, former and current clients of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and all Canadians on how the department can better provide service.

RECOMMENDATION 22

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consult with refugees to determine their issues with client service and take steps to address them; the review would include (but would not be limited to) the website, Call Centre, languages used, access to technology and payments.

RECOMMENDATION 23

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work to better serve Canadian businesses and employers by studying the possible benefits of the department creating a trusted employer program to offer employers an expedited service for assessments (subject to a fee); that this study include input from Canadian businesses and employers; and that IRCC make its findings available to the Committee.

RECOMMENDATION 24

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct a cost‑benefit analysis on having regional immigration offices to deliver in‑person service similar to Passport Canada and Service Canada locations.

For many Members of Parliament, a large percentage of their constituency work is related to immigration and citizenship applications filed with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The Committee recognizes that the department handles many applications on a daily basis and generally delivers timely and professional service. It is our hope that the recommendations in this report will assist IRCC in its continued efforts to modernize its approach to client service and at the same time reduce the need for intervention from Members of Parliament.

Full text: Report 9: Modernization of Client Service Delivery Presented to the House: March 23, 2017