New Zealand: Despite automation, citizenship applications taking longer

Canada not the only country to have processing and service standards challenges, along with effective implementation of automation:

The average time it takes to become a citizen is continuing to rise.

But Internal Affairs (DIA) said it had brought down a backlog of applications by 10,000, with 26,483 applications on hand this week, compared to 36,417 at the same time last year.

Average wait times for residents applying to become citizens have risen to 188 days, up from 27 days in 2017.

Decisions are quicker for applications where many decisions can be made via automated checks, DIA said in a statement.

“Our teams have been working hard to reduce the decision timeframes on citizenship applications,” said DIA general manager of services and access Julia Wootton.

“During 2022, we completely caught up on pending decisions for applications which could be assessed with the maximum number of automated checks. These types of applications are now being decided on within one to three months.

“The remaining applications we are working through require more intervention, but we are working to increase the number of these applications that can be processed with automated checks.”

The longest applications now take more than two years, compared to almost four years in 2016, when people had to make an appointment to see a citizenship officer. Some took longer because of automated checks failing or information being sourced from overseas, she said.

“Reducing the decision timeframes on citizenship applications continues to be a priority for us, and we’ve been able to do that by establishing automatic checks when possible. We are taking several other measures to further reduce decision timeframes, including more training, investing in technology changes to speed things up, and recruiting more staff.

“Based on current trends and the additional measures detailed above, we expect to continue to reduce average wait times and the number of applications awaiting allocation.”

Source: Despite automation, citizenship applications taking longer

Soon a Canadian citizenship oath could be just a scroll and click away: But should it be?

The Canada Gazette notification of plans to further water down citizenship by allowing the oath to be administered by a “non-authorized person” risks further weakening the meaningfulness of Canadian citizenship.

IRCC justifies the proposal solely on operational and financial grounds, without any serious discussion of policy considerations. In a sense, this repeats the process of the previous government’s quintupling of adult citizenship fees in 2014-15, with a Gazette notice that discounted any impact from fee increases on naturalization rates. As we know from the recent Statistics Canada analysis and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, that was likely one of the factors, along with the impact of the pandemic, on the drastic decline in naturalization from 60.4 percent in 2016 to 45.7 percent in 2021, five to nine years after landing.

More worrying is some of the rationale for this change. Upfront costs of some $5 million over 10 years are expected to be recouped though reduced ceremonies as the Gazette notice states: 

“Consequently, it is expected that participation in ceremonies would be lower than it is currently, and there would likely be fewer ceremonies overall. Therefore, the Government of Canada would save costs, as the proposal would likely reduce the number of ceremonies the Department would be required to arrange.”

In a nod to inclusion, the notice mentions that applicants will save “up to three months processing time.” Furthermore, “swearing or affirming in this manner via the secure online solution is expected to take significantly less time” than the 90 minutes the current ceremonies take. 

These are insignificant compared to changes made early in the government’s mandate that eased residency and language requirements, or the more recent change to the Oath to recognize Indigenous and treaty rights.

But to make citizenship more inclusive, the government would need to implement, at least partially, its platform commitment in the 2019 and 2021 election platforms to eliminate citizenship fees, a much more substantive measure.

Citizenship, as I have argued in the past, provides a mix of personal and public benefits. 

Applicants personally benefit from the security citizenship provides in terms of mobility and voting rights and the ability to run for office. Canadian society benefits from the “common bond for Canadian-born individuals and naturalized Canadians alike, signifying full membership in Canadian society.” 

This proposed change highlights how the government treats citizenship as a service transaction rather than a substantive unifying and integrating process to help new Canadians feel fully part of Canadian society. That the government has not issued the revised citizenship study guide, announced three ministers ago, is but a further example. 

Canadians, newcomers and old-timers, should raise their concerns with their MPs, regarding this diminishment of citizenship and the integration of new Canadians:

Starting as soon as June, new Canadian citizens could take the oath on their own — without the need for a citizenship judge.

The proposed change is an attempt by immigration officials to reduce processing time and backlogs.

However, critics warn the move would drastically change the decades-old ritual for generations of newcomers and with a click on the keyboard, further dilute the meaning of Canadian citizenship.

“This just further cheapens the significance of becoming a Canadian citizen. It’s just as easy to click terms and conditions to become a citizen as it is to create a Facebook or a TikTok account,” said Daniel Bernhard, CEO of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.

“That’s really a shame.”

The change, as part of the modernization and digitalization of immigration processing, is expected to reduce the current citizenship processing time by three months to 21 months, according to the plan published in the Canada Gazette over the weekend.

Swearing an oath has been a legal requirement of becoming a citizen in this country since 1947. It’s a solemn vow taken by citizenship applicants to follow the laws of Canada and fulfil their duties as citizens.

Citizenship is not only a milestone for new immigrants toward their belonging and commitment to Canada, it also comes with the benefits of a passport, voting rights and the ability to run for elected office.

Under the proposed change, the immigration minister would have broad discretion to allow citizenship applicants to take the oath by other means and not necessarily before an authorized individual. 

Currently, new citizens swear or affirm the oath before a citizenship judge at virtual or in-person ceremonies, which are mainly scheduled on weekdays, during working hours, although ceremonies are occasionally scheduled on Saturdays. 

“Many clients have to take time off work to attend citizenship ceremonies, and this time off is not necessarily paid by employers,” the immigration department said in the Gazette.

“The flexibility would allow the Department to implement options aimed at improving client service and reducing processing times of citizenship applications.”

The proposed change came in the wake of new data indicating a nosedive in citizenship uptake over 20 years.

The 2021 census found that just 45.7 per cent of permanent residents became citizens within 10 years, down from 60 per cent in 2016 and 75.1 per cent in 2001.

“Citizenship does take a long time, and they’re working on the process,” said Bernhard, whose organization obtained the data. “But the actual problem is not how long it takes to get the citizenship. The actual problem is the desirability of Canadian citizenship itself.”

During the pandemic, citizenship processing time has doubled from the prior 12-month service standard, even though the number of citizenship applications granted annually has risen significantly to 243,000 from 113,000 over the last five years. 

With Canada moving toward bringing in half a million new permanent residents a year by 2025, the inventory of citizenship applications — standing at 358,000 — is expected to grow.

Citizenship applicants must go through a stringent screening process to ensure they meet all requirements, including three out of five years of physical presence in Canada at the time of applying. Those between ages 18 and 54 must also show proficiency in either official language and pass a citizenship exam before they are scheduled for a citizenship ceremony.

Due to COVID, officials have brought in virtual citizenship ceremonies as of April 2020. Since then, 15,290 of the 15,457 ceremonies have been held online in front of an authorized official, generally a citizenship judge.

The “self-administration” of the oath-taking would now allow new citizens to sign a written attestation online without a witness to complete the obligations of citizenship, and applicants would still have the option to do it before a citizenship judge, the immigration department told the Star in an email Monday.

Officials said the measure could result in savings as fewer ceremonies are expected to be hosted.

For Andrew Griffith, a former director general at the immigration department, the change marks another diversion of the federal government in its approach to immigration and citizenship.

“I just look at all of our immigration policies,” said Griffith, now an Environics Institute fellow. “It’s basically the more, the merrier. It’s not about the ability to integrate. It’s just increasing numbersI can see the logic in terms of you just want to push people through but I always thought that immigration and citizenship was more than that.

“We’re just really further diminishing the value of citizenship.”

The public has 30 days to comment and provide feedback to the proposed regulatory change.

Source: Soon a Canadian citizenship oath could be just a scroll and click away

Les longs délais de traitement des visas nuisent aux universitaires

More concern in Quebec regarding visa delays, particularly with respect to conferences and academics:

Les longs délais de traitement pour obtenir un visa de visiteur au Canada causent de plus en plus de maux de tête à des organisateurs de conférences à Montréal comme à Toronto, qui comptent sur la venue d’experts et de participants de l’étranger. Cette difficulté d’obtenir un visa dans les temps complique la tenue de plusieurs de ces grandes rencontres, allant même jusqu’à les compromettre.

Originaire du Maroc, AbdelazizBlilid collabore avec Stéphane Couture, un professeur du Département de communication de l’Université de Montréal, pour une conférence qui doit se tenir au mois de juin à Montréal. Malgré son souhait d’enfin rencontrer son collègue canadien, qu’il n’a jamais vu en personne, M. Blilid est résigné. Avec un délai officiel de 216 jours sur le site Web d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) pour obtenir un visa de visiteur, le professeur marocain n’a même pas encore pris la peine de déposer une demande.

« Si la situation reste comme telle, je ne demanderai pas de visa, et je manquerai ce deuxième colloque aussi », laisse-t-il tomber, en anticipant qu’il devra y assister à distance. Il commence à être habitué : la dernière fois, un long délai de quatre mois l’avait aussi dissuadé à déposer une demande de visa pour assister à un autre colloque.

L’été dernier, à la suite d’un article rapportant de longs délais de traitement pour les visas de visiteurs, le ministre de l’Immigration Sean Fraser avait réitéré son engagement à diminuer le temps d’attente à la fin de l’année 2022 pour le ramener aux normes de service. Or, comme Le Devoir le révélait mercredi, non seulement les délais n’ont pas baissé six mois après la promesse du ministre, mais ils ont plutôt explosé.

Stéphane Couture a reçu récemment une subvention du fédéral pourorganiser cette conférence, à laquelle40 intervenants et 200 participants sont attendus. Il avait en tête d’inviter des experts du Sénégal, du Maroc et du Cameroun avec qui il collabore. Mais devant les délais qui s’allongent, en particulier pour le Sénégal, où ils sont de 462 jours, il songe à tout reporter. « Une [solution] serait de tenir la conférence dans un autre pays », a dit le professeur.

Pour lui, ces longs délais de traitement nuisent non seulement à ses activités de recherche, mais également à toute son université. « Il y a une attractivité qui n’est pas là. Ce n’est pas très sérieux », soutient-il. « La mission de l’Université de Montréal, c’est d’être l’université francophone la plus influente du monde. Mais si ça prend un an et demi pour avoir la permission de venir visiter Montréal […] alors que mon collègue marocain dit que ça lui prend une semaine pour pouvoir aller en France… »

Les organisateurs de grands événements internationaux y penseront à deux fois avant de choisir Montréal comme ville hôte, craint M. Couture.

Plusieurs embûches

Longs délais de traitement, difficulté d’avoir de l’information concernant l’état d’une demande, acceptation ou refus de dernière minute : pour avoir été responsable de la logistique des participants pour différents congrès internationaux, Laura Sawyer, directrice générale de l’Association internationale de la communication (en anglais, ICA), sait de quoi elle parle.

Mme Sawyer a elle-même dû intervenir auprès des ambassades et des consulats pour aider des participants à obtenir le visa leur permettant d’assister aux divers congrès annuels de son association.

Cette année, le 73e Congrès de l’ICA, qui aura lieu à la fin mai à Toronto, accueillera plus de 4000 participants, dont plus de 3300 viendront de l’extérieur du Canada. Et selon leur nationalité, un grand nombre d’entre eux auront besoin du précieux sésame.

« Nous partageons la frustration des universitaires dans le monde face aux difficultés liées à ces voyages internationaux », a-t-elle affirmé au Devoir. Des difficultés qui se sont exacerbées depuis la pandémie, affirme-t-elle,et qui ont aussi un impact sur la logistique du séjour, dont la réservation des hôtels.

Sans pouvoir juger quatre mois à l’avance de l’ampleur du problème, Laura Sawyer, dont l’association compte plus de 5000 membres répartis dans 80 pays, s’attend encore une fois à devoir personnellement intervenir auprès des autorités migratoires canadiennes.

Les limites de la distance

Pour Mme Sawyer, même si les participants qui n’auront pas obtenu de visa pourront suivre le congrès à distance, il y a une limite à ne jamais pouvoir se rencontrer. « La valeur d’une conférence ne réside pas seulement dans les présentations et les panels, mais aussi dans les conversations de couloir, les événements sociaux, le réseautage », dit-elle. « C’est extrêmement frustrant quand un universitaire renommé, et qui est crucial pour un panel, se retrouve dans l’impossibilité d’entrer dans le pays hôte de la conférence. »

Assister aux conférences en ligne peut être une solution, mais c’est toutefois loin d’être idéal, croit aussi Stéphane Couture.

« Mettez-vous à la place de ces personnes-là. Si la conférence dure quatre jours en décalage horaire via Zoom, ils vont venir à deux ou trois réunions », laisse tomber le professeur. Il aurait aimé que ses collègues venus d’ailleurs restent quelques journées de plus que le colloque pour visiter la ville et tisser des liens. Toute la richesse des rencontres informelles est réduite à néant, déplore-t-il.

Une situation ironique, poursuit-il, quand on considère que la subvention fédérale qu’il a reçue se nomme Connexion, et que le but était « de connecter les gens ». « La dynamique qui permet des connexions va être grandement perdue, croit M. Couture. Les personnes africaines vont structurellement être désavantagées. »

De son côté, l’Université de Montréal indique que les universités canadiennes sont intervenues dans les derniers mois à ce sujet, au même titre que pour les permis d’études des étudiants étrangers.

Source: Les longs délais de traitement des visas nuisent aux universitaires

Longs délais pour les visas de visiteur malgré les promesses d’Ottawa

Of note, another operational issue:

Quiconque veut venir en visite au Canada pourrait devoir s’armer de patience avant de pouvoir le faire. Alors qu’Ottawa avait promis une réduction du temps de traitement et promettait un retour à la normale à la fin de 2022, Le Devoir a constaté que les délais officiels pour obtenir un visa de visiteur n’ont pas diminué et qu’ils ont, au contraire, explosé.

En six mois, entre juillet 2022 et janvier 2023, les délais affichés ont empiré dans 179 pays sur 195. Dans certains cas, les autorités consulaires canadiennes mettent parfois un an et demi à traiter des demandes de visa, selon les données officielles affichées sur le site d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) que Le Devoir a compilées.

« Ce n’est pas juste les délais en ligne qui sont longs, c’est ça aussi dans les faits », affirme Me Léa Charbonneau-Lacroix, avocate associée chez Brunel Immigration et qui traite plusieurs dossiers de visas de visiteur. Celle-ci a déposé des demandes au printemps, à l’été et à l’automne derniers pour des clients. Elle a reçu plusieurs approbations récemment et, « tous pays confondus », les délais étaient de huit ou neuf mois. « Des pays d’Afrique, d’Amérique du Sud, d’un peu partout, détaille-t-elle. Des fois, des gens veulent venir en vacances et ils vont attendre un an pour avoir une décision. C’est un peu irréel. »

En Tanzanie, les délais battent des records. Alors qu’un visa pouvait être obtenu en 64 jours en juillet dernier, il met maintenant dix fois plus de temps à être délivré, soit plus d’un an et demi (611 jours). Au Honduras, alors que le temps d’attente était de 82 jours en juillet, il est passé à 502 jours en janvier. Au Nicaragua, la situation est pratiquement la même, à quelques jours près.

Les délais s’allongent partout, même en Europe. Au Royaume-Uni, les délais sont 22 fois plus longs. Les Britanniques n’ont pas besoin de visa, mais ceux qui ne sont pas citoyens et qui ont besoin d’un visa de visiteur pour le Canada peuvent y déposer une demande. Ils doivent désormais attendre 222 jours, alors qu’un tel visa prenait à peine dix jours à être délivré il y a six mois. En Grèce, un visa qui prenait trois semaines à arriver met maintenant dix fois plus de temps.

Promesse non tenue ?

L’été dernier, à la suite d’une série d’articles du Devoir sur les longs délais de traitement pour les visas de visiteur et les permis de travail, le ministre de l’Immigration, Sean Fraser, avait réitéré l’engagement d’Ottawa de diminuer les délais pour permettre le retour aux normes de service d’ici la fin de l’année.

« On est vraiment proches du pic attendu [de l’attente pour un visa], avait affirmé le ministre Fraser fin août dernier. C’est possible qu’il y ait encore une hausse pendant à peu près un mois, mais on s’attend à ce qu’il y ait ensuite une réduction considérable du temps d’attente pour la délivrance d’un visa de visiteur [ou] pour différentes voies d’immigration. »

Selon le site de l’IRCC, la « norme de service » est un délai de 14 jours pour un visa de visiteur.

« Ce n’est pas ça qui se passe, tranche Me Léa Charbonneau-Lacroix. Nous ne sommes vraiment pas à un retour à la normale, loin de là. »

Une demande déposée par son cabinet en mai pour un client résidant en Côte d’Ivoire, où le délai officiel de traitement est de 518 jours, est toujours en attente. « C’est un dossier avec un certain risque de refus, mais ce n’est pas un dossier problématique. Ce n’est pas quelqu’un avec des antécédents, dit-elle. C’est vraiment étonnant. »

« Avant la pandémie, un bureau de visa qui avait des délais d’un mois, on trouvait ça anormalement long, renchérit-elle. On avait des gens qui voulaient voyager dans trois ou quatre mois et, normalement, on avait une décision avant. Là, il faut qu’une personne s’y prenne un an en avance si elle veut voyager au Canada. »

IRCC s’explique

La pandémie COVID-19 a causé un arriéré important dans le traitement des demandes. Plusieurs demandes datant d’avant la levée des restrictions pour voyager en septembre 2021 n’ont pas été traitées, et le gouvernement fédéral assure avoir embauché les 1250 employés qu’il avait promis pour la fin 2022 afin d’accélérer le traitement.

« Il est également important de noter qu’au fur et à mesure que nous traitons l’arriéré de demandes, les délais de traitement peuvent être faussés par des valeurs aberrantes, en particulier les demandes de notre ancien inventaire qui étaient auparavant en attente pendant une longue période et qui sont maintenant en cours de traitement, écrit IRCC au Devoir. Une fois l’arriéré de ces demandes éliminé, nous commencerons à voir des délais de traitement plus représentatifs de la réalité. »

14 jours 

C’est la « norme de service » pour l’obtention d’un visa de visiteur, selon le site d’IRCC, mais dans plusieurs pays, les délais dépassent 100 jours. 

Le délai par pays est mesuré sur la base du temps qu’il a fallu pour traiter 80 % des demandes déposées au cours des deux à quatre derniers mois.

Le cabinet du ministre Sean Fraser insiste de son côté pour dire qu’il y a eu des « améliorations importantes au cours des derniers mois ». « Sur une base mensuelle, le Canada traite désormais plus de demandes de visas de visiteur qu’avant la pandémie, écrit-on. Rien qu’en novembre 2022, plus de 260 000 visas de visiteur ont été traités. En comparaison, la moyenne mensuelle en 2019 était d’environ 180 000 demandes. »

Délais « de non-traitement »

Cette explication convainc à moitié. La présidente de l’Association des avocats et avocates en immigration, Stéphanie Valois, trouve cet allongement des délais « gênant » pour le gouvernement. « Comment peut-il demander aux gens des tarifs pour le traitement des dossiers alors que manifestement, ce n’est pas traité ? »

Me Denis Girard parle même de « délais de non-traitement ». L’avocat tente depuis le 28 juillet dernier d’aider une mère résidant au Bénin à obtenir un visa de visiteur pour qu’elle puisse venir visiter son fils, un résident permanent. Celle-ci était encore sans nouvelle en date du 29 janvier, soit six mois plus tard. Les délais officiels étaient de 167 jours en septembre l’année dernière. Ils ont ensuite bondi à 209 jours en novembre, pour repasser à 160 jours le 25 janvier.

Me Charbonneau-Lacroix dénonce surtout le manque de fiabilité des délais officiels affichés. « Moi, je dis à mes clients, n’achetez pas de billets d’avion tant que vous n’avez pas de visa dans votre passeport, parce qu’en ce moment, on peut s’attendre à tout et son contraire, lance-t-elle. C’est un peu embêtant pour les personnes qui veulent organiser un voyage, visiter leur famille. Ils ne peuvent se fier à rien de tangible. »

Source: Longs délais pour les visas de visiteur malgré les promesses d’Ottawa

Thousands of applicants have been assigned to inactive immigration officers and IDs. Are you one of them?

Another unfortunate example of processing failures. Departmental response weak to be charitable:

Canada’s Immigration Ministry has assigned tens of thousands of applicants to immigration officers or placeholder codes that are inactive and no longer working within their system — some who’ve last logged in and processed files up to 16 years ago, and from airports and visa offices around the world.

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data on “inactive users” on their Global Case Management System (GCMS) — its worldwide internal system used to process citizenship and immigration applications — show 59,456 open, pending or re-opened applications that were assigned to 779 former employees or dormant computer placeholder codes used to hold applicants in queue as of this February.

The department told CBC once a user is set as inactive, “it means they are no longer using the system and their access is no longer available.”

Source: Thousands of applicants have been assigned to inactive immigration officers and IDs. Are you one of them?

USA: Asylum rates drop as immigration cases are fast-tracked, research finds

Balance between speed/efficiency and fairness, there are trade-offs:

Fast-tracked immigration cases appear to be hurting migrants’ chances of being granted asylum, researchers are finding.

“The big takeaway message is that the Biden administration really is trying to speed up cases but data shows when you speed up cases they lose,” Syracuse University professor and researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report as he toured the South Texas border on Wednesday.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, orTRAC, one of the nation’s leading researchers on immigration court cases, on Tuesday released a study that found that since July, asylum grant rates have fallen and it “coincides with the extremely rapid increase in expedited cases.”

Although Fiscal Year 2022 had the largest number of individuals granted asylum of any year in immigration court history, in digging into the data, researchers found that the quicker the cases went through the courts, the lower the asylum seekers’ chances.

TRAC found that when asylum cases were completed within three to 18 months, only 31% of cases were granted asylum.

“More asylum cases were granted last year than any other year but the grant rate is actually going down in recent months,” Kocher said.

(TRAC Graphic)

Border Report met up with Kocher on Wednesday as he was on day 5 of his visit to South Texas as part of a seven-week research tour of the entire Southwest border.

He said immigration cases require collecting massive amounts of evidence and documents, and TRAC data has found that migrants who retain lawyers have a higher chance of being granted asylum. He said the rushed cases could be limiting and preventing asylum-seekers from gathering all the data they need to present full cases to the judges, and it could be preventing them from getting legal counsel altogether.

“We definitely know that the Biden administration has tried to accelerate these cases to try to clear out the backlog,” Kocher said. “They really are taking the backlog seriously and they really do want asylum cases to get decided more quickly but the problem is, as the data shows, that if you really speed cases up individuals don’t always have time to get attorneys and they don’t always have time to gather the full application materials that are necessary.”

Kocher crossed into Reynosa, Mexico, early Wednesday, and said he spoke with several migrants there who expressed their lack of resources and lack of legal aid as they wait across the border due to Title 42 restrictions.

Source: Asylum rates drop as immigration cases are fast-tracked, research finds

Why Desperate People Are Suing Immigration Canada

Good article and discussion, with good comments by Kareem El-Assal and Richard Kurland, particularly liked Aurland’s contrasting IRCC lack of status updates and application tracking with CRA’s client service:

From January to the end of February, Alejandro Ginares woke up daily at 6 a.m. in order to grab a spot in the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada phone queue.

He went about the business of his day — preparing breakfast, doing dishes and feeding his cat — until eventually, sometimes after eight hours of being on hold, he’d reach the front of the queue and receive a pre-recorded message: “all our agents are busy, try again later.” He’d hang up. If it was early he’d try again. If it was after 3 p.m., when the offices out east close, he’d make dinner, go to bed and start all over again the next day.

While news articles have been filled with stories of long lineups of Canadians stymied while renewing passports, less has been reported on how the pandemic and its knock-on effects have impacted would-be Canadians, whose immigration applications have been left in a backlog that has only increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

In Ginares’s case, he was desperately trying to track down the status of a permanent residency application he’d submitted 15 months before.

Occasionally he’d reach a human being, only to be told that his application was “not in the system.” He was baffled. He had paid the processing fee and had a Canada Post delivery confirmation in hand, certifying that the application had arrived at IRCC. He knew they’d received it. So why wasn’t he in the system?

Ginares eventually reached an agent who promised to help him. A few days later he got a response confirming for certain that his application had not entered the system.

It was then that he realized that IRCC had most likely lost his application.

“It’s awful to be waiting,” he says. “We don’t know if we’re waiting for a purpose or if we’re waiting for nothing.”

Resubmitting his application was risky. It would mean starting all over again. And it would cost another $1,000. He didn’t know what to do.

A geological engineer in Uruguay, Ginares had left his home and family to join his husband, Wendall Seldura, in Canada. The two had met in a cocktail and music bar in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2017. They’d fallen in love immediately and quickly decided that Canada was the country where they’d spend their future.

Ginares knew that permanent residency processing times can often reach 15 months. But he didn’t think it would take 15 months for the system to even receive his application, or approve a work permit.

Back home, Ginares worked, studied and volunteered. Now he feels like he’s stuck in limbo. “I fight every morning when I wake up to find motivation,” he says.

According to data released by IRCC Oct. 31, 2.2 million people are waiting for approval for temporary residence, permanent residence and Canadian citizenship applications. Like Ginares, 1.2 million have waited beyond the standard time expected for their application.

In permanent residency specifically, there are 603,700 applicants. Only 279,700 of these are being processed within standard times; 54 per cent, or 324,000 applications, are not being processed within the times projected by the agency.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix recently hit headlines when he called on Ottawa to halt the deportation of Claudia Zamorano, a hospital worker whose family is facing deportation because their applications have not yet been processed.

Nathaniel Preston, Ginares’s immigration consultant, says that he is seeing long wait times for all his clients. His colleagues report the same. “You exist but you don’t. You’re technically not supposed to be here. But maybe you could be here, if they approve the visa, or they restore your status,” he says.

New data shows big boost in hiring at Canada’s immigration department. ‘What were they doing?’

My sense, given under attention to processing efficiencies, automation and AI, is that IRCC had little alternative but to hire more staff. Whether or not there IT modernization initiative, a longer term project, and other initiatives such as more online applications and tracking, will allow IRCC to wean itself from the “just throw bodies” remains to be seen.

And of course, the government is unwilling to revise its targets downwards to align with its capacity:

Only eight months into 2022, Canada already received almost as many permanent and temporary resident applications it did in 2019 before the pandemic.

After a two-year slump, the engine of the country’s immigration system is running above its capacity in 2019 by 45 per cent and the number of permanent and temporary residence applicants processed through the system is bound to exceed the 3.2 million recorded in the pre-COVID year.

According to never-before-published data, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada currently has 8,104 front-line operations staff, up from 5,583 in March 2019 — with the bulk of the extra work force added since the beginning of 2022. That is despite the number of staff on leave having crept up from 559 in March 2019 to 733 in October.

Those employees who continued to telework have also come down from almost 100 per cent at the beginning of the pandemic to 71.8 per cent last month.

“More people can do more files,” immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland told the Star. “Combined with the artificial intelligence decision making system, it should result in greater volumes of decisions.

“You’re having the A.I. do the heavy lifting. You have more humans to take care of files that need that human touch now on track, and they’re on the right path.”

But there are also numbers that immigration officials would rather see in check:

  • Web forms, a main mechanism for applicants to communicate with the department, rose from 1.61 million in 2020 to 2.26 million in 2021 and 2.42 million as of September this year;
  • Access-to-information requests, another key tool for inquiries, spiked from 98,042 pre-pandemic to 204,549 in 2021, before declining to 122,016 to date this year;
  • The number of lawsuits against the immigration department for a court order to compel officials to process a file rocketed from 112 cases in 2019 to 963 in 2022.

Not all critics are convinced the immigration system is back on track.

“Why do we have 45 per cent more people processing applications yet still have these backlogs?” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens. “I’m curious as to why it feels like processing times just keep getting worse in numerous programs and certain visa offices. I don’t understand.

“Is it glitches with new tech? Are there IT issues at certain visa posts? Are there tech issues with working from home? It’s hard just to know what’s going on from the data because the ‘why’ is missing and the department won’t say.”

Ravi Jain of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association says the ramped-up staffing levels at the department did not jive with the “massive slowdown” in people’s experience with the immigration system. He would like to see a royal commission report into the immigration delays and backlogs.

“What were they doing? I don’t think they were doing much,” said Jain. “They can’t get away with this. It just feels criminal to me because it’s affecting people in so many different ways.”

As of Aug. 31, Canada received more than 2.9 million new permanent and temporary resident applications through the major immigration programs. With four months remaining in 2022, those numbers are certain to push the total above the 3.2 million files in 2019.

Over the time period, immigration officials processed 2.25 million immigration applications — 207,590 permanent and 2.04 million temporary residents, compared to the total of 3,225,130 (235,257 permanent and 2.99 million temporary residents) recorded in 2019.

Source: New data shows big boost in hiring at Canada’s immigration department. ‘What were they doing?’

2022 State Of New American Citizenship Report

The USA also has program delivery problems:

Surging BacklogCitizenship Application Filed Naationwide

A look at the past decade indicates a worrying trend.

Although application volume was expected to fall, the volume increased to almost 1.2 million applicants through the end of 2021, and although processing volume had begun to increase in 2019, the cessation of processing applications due to COVID-19 has led to a surge in the backlog of pending applications, with nearly 800,000 applications still pending by the end of 2021.

USCIS, the federal agency responsible for processing citizenship applications, has defended itself by noting that the backlog more than doubled during the Obama administration. This is true: the backlog rose from nearly 292,000 in September 2010 to over 636,000 by the time Donald Trump assumed office in January 2017.

But USCIS has also claimed that the surge in applications during 2016 and 2017 created a “record and unprecedented” workload. A look at the past 3 decades shows, however, that this is not true.


In 2007, citizenship applications surged to nearly 1.4 million, far higher than the recent uptick. This was driven in part by a looming 80% application fee hike that year, and an increase in newly eligible immigrants who had obtained their green cards 5 years earlier under the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act of 2000.

USCIS responded with a surge in processing volume the following year, and the backlog plunged to a 30-year low of about 257,000 in 2009.

In the mid-1990s, there was a truly “record and unprecedented” surge in citizenship applications, driven in part by a corresponding increase in newly eligible immigrants who had received green cards under the Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986 (IRCA, also known as the “Reagan Amnesty”). Between 1995 and 1998, application volume stayed well above 900,000, peaking at over 1.4 million in 1997. Although the backlog initially shot past 2 million in 1997-1998, USCIS responded with a comparable surge in processing volume that appears to have tamed the backlog by 1999-2000.

The data indicate that when USCIS devotes sufficient resources to a citizenship application surge, it is possible to dramatically reduce the backlog within one year. That’s what happened in 2000, 2007, and again in 2012.

On the other hand, when USCIS fails to devote sufficient resources, backlogs can get way out of hand. That’s what happened in the mid-1990s, and it appears to be happening again.


Pace of citizenship backlog reduction

Another way to evaluate this problem is to measure how efficiently USCIS beats back its backlogs. If USCIS processed every citizenship application it received in a given year, plus the applications that were pending from the previous year, that would yield a “backlog completion” rate of 100%.

In reality, USCIS achieved a backlog completion rate of 77% in 2009 — a 30-year high — and this number has been trending downward ever since. There was a 10-point drop in backlog completion between 2016 and 2017 (from 63% to 53%), but backlog completion crept back up to 67% in 2019 before falling drastically in 2020 to 47%, which was the lowest backlog completion rate since 2007 (39%).

By the end of fiscal year 2021, however, the rate at which USCIS was completing naturalization cases had recovered somewhat, to just under 52%. Unfortunately, comparing the fourth quarter of FY2021 with the first two quarters of FY2022, a trend is not immediately apparent: USCIS finished Q4 of 2021 with a backlog completion rate of 24%, but by the end of December 2021 it had dropped to 22% before recovering to 25% at the end of Q2 in March 2022. USCIS’s year-end data will reveal if the agency was able to maintain its improving overall pace of clearing the citizenship backlog.


Processing times citizenship

Growing backlogs have direct and negative consequences for immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens: They have to wait longer for their applications to be processed by the government.

Here the trend is unmistakable: Between 2012 and 2016, median application processing times hovered between about 4.5 to 6 months, before shooting past 8 months in 2017 and hovering at about 10 months in 2018 and 9 months in 2020. Compounding the worrisome trend, starting in March 2020 the coronavirus lockdown postponed the final steps for naturalization—interviews and oath ceremonies — until offices reopened in June 2020.

Source: 2022 State Of New American Citizenship Report

IRCC aims to grant citizenship to 300,000 people this fiscal year

Current stats indicate on track or better – 154,000 April-August 2022, or an average of 31,000:

CIC News has obtained an internal IRCC memo that outlines targets for the number of new citizens Canada will welcome for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The memo, drafted by the Operations, Planning and Performance division of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for a senior official, recommends that IRCC process a total of 285,000 decisions and 300,000 new citizens by March 31, 2023. A decision is a review of an application which is then approved, denied, or marked as incomplete. The citizenship target means that 300,000 approved applicants must take the oath of citizenship, either in person or virtually.

This is a significant increase over the 2021-2022 fiscal year and even exceeds the pre-pandemic targets of 2019-2020, when 253,000 citizenship applications were processed.

In 2021-2022, IRCC succeeded in welcoming 217,000 new citizens. So far in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, Canada has welcomed 116,000 new citizens and is well on track to hit target. By comparison, over the same period in 2021, Canada had only sworn in 35,000 people.

The memo also outlines the current challenges involved in processing applications as well as ensuring all positive decisions can take the oath of a citizenship within a reasonable timeframe.

IRCC moving away from paper applications

In March 2020, IRCC became unable to process most applications due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was because the department was only able to process paper applications that were mailed to a central location. As all in-person events were also cancelled, this meant that IRCC was unable to conduct interviews with candidates and there could not be any oath swearing at citizenship ceremonies.

These constraints led a shift towards making the citizenship application process entirely digital, for some applicants, beginning in November 2020. This has expanded to all those who apply who are over the age of 18. However, while this may streamline the process for new applicants, a large backlog of paper applications remains.

The memo recommends that IRCC continue with its current system of first-in-first-out for all applications, meaning maintaining focus on older, paper applications while also making room to prioritize a small number of digital applications to prevent backlog growth.

In 2021, IRCC had a goal of 5,000 digital applications for the fiscal year out of a targeted 245,000 decisions. As a larger number of applications are now digital, the report says that for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, there will need to be an increase in the number of digital applications processed.

Processing times over 20 months

Processing times in a subsequent report published in May stood at 27 months. The memo says this is to be expected due to increased online applications in addition to the backlog of paper applications. As of last June, there were 413,000 applications in the grant inventory.

IRCC says it has taken steps towards clearing the backlog, and processing 80% of all new applications within service standards. To do this, over 1,000 new staff have been hired and there are plans to expand access to the citizenship application status tracker to representatives. Additionally, minors under the age of 18 will be eligible to apply for citizenship online by the end of the year.

Source: IRCC aims to grant citizenship to 300,000 people this fiscal year