Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Yet the latest example of management weaknesses at IRCC as it appears to lurch from one program backlog to another. The risk is, of course, that the shift in resources to address student visas will adversely impact other programs, leading to future negative headlines:

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says his department has shifted its focus toward tackling backlogs in student visa applications, as many students who have been accepted to attend Canadian universities and colleges this semester wait nervously for their immigration approvals.

The minister made the comments Monday as part of the first news conference by the task force to improve government services. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the team of cabinet ministers in June when the federal government was facing heavy public criticism for failing to provide basic services, such as timely passport delivery or efficient traveller processing at Canadian airports.

Mr. Fraser said his department recently shifted its focus away from work permits to tackle the demand for student visas.

“We had been focusing over the course of the summer on processing as many work permits as possible to help address the labour shortage. We’ve made a pivot, and through the month of August, we expect that we’re going to process a little more than 104,000 additional study permits,” he said. “There has been an absolute explosion in demand when it comes to Canada’s International Student Program in recent years.”

The student visa delays recently prompted a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. India is the largest source country for international postsecondary students.

In addition to Mr. Fraser’s update, Monday’s news conference included assurances from Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould that passport wait times had improved and an update from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who said delays and cancelled flights have been dramatically reduced.

Opposition MPs said the task force is little more than a public relations exercise. They also say some of the improvements in areas such as passports and travel delays can be attributed to the fact that the summer travel season is coming to an end.

As for the Immigration Minister’s comments about student visas, Conservative and NDP MPs said this is part of a continuing pattern of shifting focus from one crisis to another, which they say ultimately creates bigger problems for the system as a whole.

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan said the students awaiting visas are expecting to start classes shortly.

“There are many students that are still left in limbo in this immigration backlog,” he said. As for the task force, he said many of the members are the same ministers who are ultimately responsible for the service issues.

“This task force really hasn’t shown or done anything yet,” he said.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said Canada’s immigration system, including student visa applications, is in a state of chaos. She said operating in a constant state of “crisis management mode” is not sustainable.

Ms. Kwan said there should be independent reviews of the key departments to determine why services are failing.

“The task force was established as a political cover-up,” she said.

International students from outside Canada pay tuition that is often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students.

Naman Gupta, a 22-year-old student in New Delhi, India, was planning to attend York University this fall to pursue a postgraduate certificate.

His study permit has not come through and he said unless something changes in a matter of days, he’ll defer coming to Canada until the start of the January term. However the $17,000 in tuition he paid won’t be returned in the meantime, he said.

“It’s going to be tough. All my plans are held up,” Mr. Gupta said. “I’m pretty stressed.”

He said he expected the visa processing would have been expedited to ensure that students could arrive in time for the start of their courses.

“I would’ve appreciated if they could apply more compassion to the situation,” Mr. Gupta said. “The response is slow.”

Pallavi Dang, who lives in New Delhi, applied for her study permit in March. She’s disappointed that more than five months later she still hasn’t heard whether she will be approved. Department guidelines said respondents can normally expect an answer in eight weeks, and that current average processing times are about 12 weeks.

She said she had made plans to hand over her business while she was away, but now she’ll need to change course.

“All that planning is on hold,” Ms. Dang said. “I’m not able to take another step.”

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of nearly 100 Canadian universities, said Canada trails countries such as Britain and Australia in visa processing.

He said there has to be more federal government investment in IT capacity to speed up processing.

“I think that’s really the solution,” Mr. Davidson said. “There’s all-party support for international students, there’s a good policy climate, but it’s the operational reality that needs to improve.”

Source: Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Tories, advocates call on Ottawa to remove bureaucratic hurdles to resettling Afghans

Needed:

Opposition Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to extend a special immigration program it set up to bring Afghans trying to flee the Taliban to Canada.

Tory MP Jasraj Singh Hallan says Ottawa has failed in its moral obligation to help people who assisted Canada with its military mission in Afghanistan and now face reprisals from the Taliban, which seized control of Kabul last year.

Trudeau’s government had announced plans to resettle 40,000 Afghans and put in place several programs through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to help meet the goal.

Among those was a special immigration program to which Afghan nationals could apply if they had assisted members of the Canadian Armed Forces as interpreters or worked at Canada’s embassy.

Ottawa made room for 18,000 Afghans to come to Canada through this program.

According to the federal government’s website, it has received around 15,000 applications, 10,730 of which have been approved.

It reports that 7,205 Afghans have actually arrived through the program.

“It took the government a year to process less than half of the Afghans who applied through these measures,” Hallan said at a news conference Thursday.

He said a recent decision by the Ottawa to wind down the program because nearly all of the application spots are full is “shameful.”

Hallan also questioned why caps were placed on these programs in the first place, including the government’s overall commitment of taking 40,000 Afghans, when there are thousands more in danger.

Speaking in Nova Scotia on Thursday, Trudeau didn’t directly address whether Ottawa would expand the special measures program, but said one of the challenges is that there are hundreds of thousands of Afghans who would like to leave.

Hallan was joined at his news conference by two Afghans who managed to leave and make it to Canada.

Saeeq Shajjan, a lawyer, said colleagues have spent 11 months waiting to hear back from the federal immigration department, a delay he says is unacceptable.

He pointed out the situation is nothing like routine family reunification where a relative is waiting safely in another country to come to Canada.

“You’re talking about people who are at risk right now just because of the services they provided to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and it really needs to change now.”

Rahima Paiman, who was among those evacuated to Canada last year, said some Afghans are hiding in third countries, adding that women face particular risk under Taliban rule.

“Those women who did their best in Afghanistan are now in danger. Their very lives are at risk. I’m requesting you to please not stop supporting women in Afghanistan.”

Source: Tories, advocates call on Ottawa to remove bureaucratic hurdles to resettling Afghans

Immigration Canada acts to end racism, cultural bias among employees

Of note:

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is conducting a study to explore potential cultural bias shown by its employees when it comes to processing visa applications at the country’s points of entry, according to a department spokesperson.

The study comes in response to a survey examining workplace racism at IRCC released last year that revealed multiple reports of racist “microagressions” by employees and supervisors.

Participants interviewed said that some of the overt and subtle racism they have witnessed by both employees and decision makers at IRCC “can and probably must impact case processing.”

The department has also made it mandatory for employees and executives to take unconscious bias training, and instituted a requirement for senior staff to take a specific course on inclusive hiring practices as a prerequisite for obtaining their delegated authority to sign financial and staffing decisions.

In addition, said spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald, IRCC is appointing anti-racism representatives in each sector of the department to support the work of a newly-established Anti-Racism Task Force and has created a Black Employee Network to ensure Black voices are heard in driving change.

“We must actively fight racism and continue to work tirelessly to foster a culture of inclusion, diversity, and respect…but actions speak louder than words,” MacDonald told New Canadian Media through email.

MacDonald said IRCC will be hiring an independent firm to do an Employment System Review (ESR). The ESR will identify new solutions in core areas such as people management practices and accountability.

IRCC also plans to release its Anti-Racism Strategy and action plan later this year.

Source: Immigration Canada acts to end racism, cultural bias among employees

Canada pausing intake of highly skilled immigrant workers amid heavy backlog 

Money quote: “These reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR [Temporary to Permanent Resident] stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada.”

The former was a policy choice in order to meet the government’s fixation on meeting its target of 401,000; the latter reflected lack of foresight, common to many countries, and thus the need to deal with the crisis:

Canada’s immigration system for high-skilled workers is severely backlogged and even amidst a labour shortage, the government is pausing new invitations because the department simply can’t process them quickly enough, according to a briefing document.

Immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens obtained the document through access to information and provided it to the National Post. In the memo, department officials outline that “an estimated 76,000” applicants are in the inventory for federal high-skilled worker applications, which is more than what the government needs to meet targets all the way out to 2023.

The same memo says the express entry pool, which includes skilled workers, skilled trades and people with experience living in Canada, has more than 207,000 people in it.

Canada’s immigration plan has a variety of different classes, including skilled workers, provincial nominees, family reunification and refugees. The government has continued to process applicants nominated by the provinces, but other economic immigrants have been stalled since last fall.

People applying through the high skilled worker and trades program submit a variety of documents including a language test and then wait for an invitation to finish their application before it is processed.

With travel bans in place, high-skilled worker applications from overseas have been on pause since September 2021. Last year, the government still managed to hit its record-high immigration targets, but did so mostly by inviting people already in Canada on temporary permits or as students to become permanent residents through a new temporary resident to permanent resident program (TR2PR).

The government’s current immigration plan forecasts bringing in 110,500 skilled workers next year, but the department says in a memo that could have to be cut by as much as half, because the department has so much other work.

“These reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada,” reads the memo.

The Liberals initially pledged to bring 20,000 Afghans to Canada, but during the fall campaign doubled the pledge to 40,000. As of the most recent update 7,000 of them have arrived in Canada.

A new departmental immigration plan will be tabled in Parliament when the House of Commons resumes in February.

The department aims for a six-month processing time for federal skilled workers (FSW), but in the memo they warned that could rise dramatically.

“Processing times are currently at 20.4 months (over three times higher than the service standard) and are expected to continue to grow as older inventory is processed. The FSW processing time is expected to rise to 36 months throughout 2022.”

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was not available for an interview, but Rémi Larivière, a spokeswoman for the department, said the government will still bring in highly skilled workers, because so many are already in the queue.

“The already existing robust inventory of skilled candidates to process means that there won’t be a reduction in 2022 of the number of new skilled permanent residents arriving in Canada to work and settle,” she said in an email. “This pause is temporary; invitations to apply under the FHS streams will resume once the processing inventory is reduced enough to create space for new intake.”

Larivière said the fall fiscal update included measures to help reduce the backlog.

“The Government of Canada has proposed to provide $85 million in 2022-23 so it can process more permanent and temporary resident applications and reduce processing times in key areas affected by the pandemic.”

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, the party’s immigration critic, said the delays are unacceptable.

“The massive backlog the Liberal government has created at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is not only hurting hard-working newcomers, families, immigrants and business owners, it also threatens billions of dollars of much-needed economic growth in Canada,” he said in a statement.

He said employers need workers and the government has to act quickly.

“Immigrants and Canadian employers cannot wait three years to have Federal Skilled Worker applications processed. It’s time for the Liberals to announce a precise date for when the pause on processing federal skilled worker invitations will come to an end.”

A Business Development Bank of Canada study from last fall found 55 per cent of Canadian businesses were dealing with labour shortages. They found that number was as high as 80 per cent in hospitality type businesses.

Potential immigrants to Canada are scored based on their level of education, language proficiency and other measures under the government’s Comprehensive Ranking System. The memo outlines that with the current state of applications someone would need a score over 500.

Betsy Kane, an Ottawa Immigration lawyer, said that is a very high score.

“What that’s going to mean is basically a young couple with very high education for both applicant and the person concerned, potentially only with executive-type job offers,” she said. “What it’s telling you is that only basically power couples are going to be who’s going to benefit from the 500-plus scores.”

Kane said with this backlog there are also going to be a lot of people on work or study permits who will need extensions because their application hasn’t been processed.

The federal Liberals have set targets to bring in more than 400,000 immigrants a year. Kane said they need more than lofty goals.

”The department has the capacity to do it. It just needs tools.”

She said that should include getting people back into the office to process applications, many of which come in on paper.

“This department is an essential service just like Canada Revenue Agency and just like the Canada Border Services Agency,” she said. “These guys should be back in the office.”

Sergio Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said the department also has to start focusing more on what Canada’s employers need.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of adding personnel. I think it’s a matter of realigning priorities, and reassigning personnel to process the type of applications that the Canadian economy requires,” he said. “Employers are desperate for skilled trades for people who are highly skilled typically in the construction industry.”

Source: https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/canada-pausing-intake-of-highly-skilled-immigrant-workers-amid-heavy-backlog