Immigration backlog in Canada reaches 2.4M

Good overview of the backlogs, with helpful charts (nice to see CTV investing in good data journalism). The pandemic, like in so many areas, highlighting long-standing government management and operational issues, one that IRCC has started to address but is a multi-year project given IT and other modernization:

The immigration backlog in Canada has ballooned to 2.4 million people, with over 250,000 applications adding to the pile over a one-month span alone.

That’s according to recent data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) across all categories, from temporary residence and permanent residence to citizenship applications.

“I have not seen backlogs like these in 16 years of my career as an immigration lawyer,” Rick Lamanna, director at Fragomen Canada, an immigration services provider, told CTV News in a phone interview on Thursday.

“Prior to the pandemic, things were running fairly well.”

The increased backlog has already led to frustrations for those waiting to receive an application update from IRCC.

The recent data only raises more questions than provides answers to the applicants in limbo.

Can’t see the graphs below? Click here

Despite being among the top five destinations with immigrant-friendly policies around the world, Canada is seeing an upward trend in backlogs since the pandemic.

Long processing times and a lack of communication and transparency are some of the many issues highlighted by families that reached out to CTVNews.ca.

‘EXTREMELY STRESSFUL’

Lamanna said changing processing times are preventing families and even businesses from planning anything ahead of time.

“If you were to go online right now, and take a look at the processing time, out of India, it’s taking close to a year,” he said.

Part of the problem he pointed out is that IRCC faced a cascading effect from the fall of Afghanistan and then the pandemic.

During COVID-19, IRCC staff was not deemed as “essential workers” so the backlogs only started to grow. Now with the Ukraine war, there is a massive backlog, he adds. Between March 17 and June 8, 2022, 296,163 applications were received under the program.

For most, the long delays have postponed their life decisions as they continue to wait in another country.

Kazim Ali applied for permanent residency through the Express Entry program in 2020 from Pakistan and has been waiting since to receive an update. He said he has no idea how long he has to wait until he begins his new life in Canada with his wife.

“Our lives have come to a screeching halt because of a lack of communication and no clear timeline on the processing delays,” Ali said in an interview with CTVNews.ca from Pakistan over a zoom call on Wednesday.

Ali said the estimated processing time was six months at the time of submission.

Despite repeated emails, Ali’s application seems to have come to a screeching halt. He said the IRCC helpline is of no help to those outside Canada.

He was told to reach out to the visa office that is processing his application. Currently, it lies in the London, UK office with no updates.

Ali has put a stop to his long-term plans–including his career, buying a home, and family planning.

He said the wait is now taking an agonizing toll on his mental and emotional health and has been “extremely stressful” for the couple.

“IRCC really needs a reality check and needs to understand that it is not only processing a bunch of papers but making decisions that are affecting lives of families and generations to come,” Ali said.

In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, IRCC’s communications officer Jeffrey MacDonald said that application inventories grew during the pandemic while health and travel restrictions were in effect, and it will take some time to fully recover.

McDonald said IRCC is moving towards a more integrated, modernized, and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally.

He said IRCC is also working to improve the level of service at the Client Support Centre (CSC).  Between April 2021 and March 2022, IRCC’s CSC communication lines received over 10.5 million inquiries (8.6 million by telephone and 1.9 million by email).

‘COVID IS NO LONGER AN EXCUSE’

But Mustakima Gazi, who works as a long-term care pandemic resident assistant, said COVID-19 can no longer be an excuse.

Gazi, a Canadian citizen from London, Ont., has been waiting for her husband’s spousal application since December 2021 and has seen incremental progress since she last spoke with CTVNews.ca in May.

But despite the application reaching the next stage, she remains discouraged.

The couple is a part of a Facebook community that includes families waiting for IRCC updates. She said that some who had submitted the request for medical exam ( a requirement for those filing for permanent residency) last year have still been waiting to get an update from IRCC.

Gazi’s husband lives alone in the Netherlands and with his application in limbo, is under immense mental stress.

Making matters worse, she said, are the processing times on the online portal that keep changing.

She said one would think that the processing time would decrease as applications are being processed.

“But that is not the case,” she said. “At one point the estimated time was 12 months, and the next week it was 23 months.”

Processing times for different visa categories [May vs. June]

Data was retrieved on May 6, 2022 and June 14, 2022 for comparison purposes and is subject to change on the website due to fresh updates.

Page 1 of 2

Table with 3 columns and 54 rows. Currently displaying rows 1 to 30.

Categories 14-Jun-22 6-May-22
PR Cards
Waiting for the first card 71 days 99 days
Renewing or replacing a PR card 60 days 70 days
Citizenship
Citizenship grant 27 months 27 months
Citizenship certificate (proof of citizenship) 17 months 17 months
Resumption of citizenship 23 months 23 months
Renunciation of citizenship 15 months 15 months
Search of citizenship records 15 months 15 months
Citizenship for adopted persons Part1: 10 months Part1: 12 months
Part 2: Varies by complexity Part 2: Varies by complexity
Family Sponsorship
Spouse or common-law partner living inside Canada 15 months 15 months
Spouse or common-law partner living outside Canada 23 months 22 months
Dependent child depends where the child lives depends where the child lives
Parents or grandparents 34 months 33 months
Adopted child/relative depends where the adopted child/relative lives depends where the adopted child/relative lives
Temporary residence (visiting/studying/working)
Visitor visa (from outside Canada) depends from where you are applying from depends from where you are applying from
Visitor visa (from inside Canada) Online: 166 days Online: 16 days
Paper: 29 days Paper: 27 days
Visitor extension Online- 196 days Online- 214 days
Paper:214 days Paper:216 days
Supervisa (parents/grandparents) depends where they live depends where they live
Study Permit (from outside Canada) 12 weeks 11 weeks
Study Permit (from inside Canada) 3 weeks 3 weeks
Study Permit extension Online: 65 days Online: 60 days
Paper: 193 days Paper: 219 days

Processing times vary based on: if the application is complete, how quickly applications are processed after they are received, how easily information is verified, how long the applicant takes to respond to any requests or concerns other factors. Additional information depends on the visa category applied for and is on the website.

Table: Deena Zaidi/CTVNews.ca Source: Government of Canada Created with Datawrapper

Gazi has tried to call IRCC many times to get more information on our application, hoping to speed things up, but has never been able to reach anyone who could provide her any answers on the status.

“Sometimes the helpline just gets disconnected without even putting me in a waiting line,” she said.

The one time that she got connected, the IRCC agent tried to help but could not provide any updates since the application was being processed outside Canada.

“Everyone is fighting a battle and trying their best to get through these hard times. We want to be close to our families who can support us,” she said. But the delay is leading to nothing but desperation.

‘ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION’

Among those frustrated by the lack of communication and transparency is Anne Marie Trad, a Canadian citizen waiting to be with her husband, Pierre Ajaltouni, since 2019.

The couple married in 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon and Trad filed for a spousal visa from there in 2019.

It has been over 50 months since.

Trad has tried all the routes to get updates: she contacted the MP office, reached out to her local MP, filled out web forms, and called the IRCC helpline. But nothing has helped.

Her husband’s spousal application was filed outside Canada (Beirut) so navigating through the application status is more complicated than those processed in Canada.

Trad said the status has been saying “doing a background check” since 2019.

In hopes of a quicker route, she filed for a visit visa from Canada in 2020. But even that has seen no momentum.

Trad last visited her husband in August 2021 and now worries that with Lebanon’s ongoing crisis, it could be increasingly difficult to make these visits.

The three-year wait has taken a toll on the couple’s mental health – leading to anxiety, and depression. Trad said her husband has lost a lot of weight and she is concerned about his health.

The couple took a legal route last year to get immigration officials to act on files caught up in delays – a writ of mandamus.

The legal route is definitely not cheap, Trad said, but she sees no better option to speed up the process.

“We just want to get our life back on track after wasting three years in waiting,” she said.

WHAT IS IRCC DOING?

MacDonald said that a number of factors can impact the application and these include the type of the application submitted, and how well and quickly applicants respond to the IRCC requests. These requests include biometrics and additional information. Verification and complexity of the application can also affect the processing time of an application.

To support the processing and settlement of new permanent residents to Canada, the government has committed $2.1 billion over five years and ongoing $317.6 million in new funding announced in Budget 2022.

With additional funding of $85 million from the 2021 Economic and Fiscal Update, IRCC is looking to reduce application inventories accumulated during the pandemic by hiring new processing staff, digitizing applications, and implementing technology-based solutions such as digital intake and advanced analytics.

Lamanna said the hiring will help reduce the backlogs but that itself will take some time.

“Even if IRCC hires more people, it could take months before any group of new hires is actually effective in tackling the backdrop since that would require new training,” he said.

He said digitizing is a step in the right direction but even that could take years before it is finally implemented and may not assist those who are currently waiting and may help new applicants in 2023.

“It is a very difficult situation,” he said.

HOW DID IT GET SO BAD?

Many immigration law firms have seen a spike in the mandamus applications. In over 10 months, Toronto -based law firm, Abramovich & Tchern has processed over 200 mandamus files.

It is unfortunate that applicants have to take this route, Lev Abramovich, an immigration lawyer at Abramovich & Tchern, told CTVNews.ca on Thursday.

Abramovich, who is not representing any of the applicants in this story, said it wasn’t COVID-19 itself that created the backlog, but it ultimately revealed the “archaic structure and the management style that is not very agile.

”After the pandemic hit, processing centers were operating with very limited capacity, and that partly contributed to the increasing backlogs.

Some application categories filed during the pandemic were paper-based and lay in offices, gathering dust for many months.

Abramovich said most mandamus applications his firm has received have been from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, India, and China.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Lamanna said one of the solutions is focusing on prioritizing groups or processes and fixing them instead of trying to have a catch-all approach. “So, people understand how to process these applications,” he said.

Abramovich said the existing system needs to be “centralized and agile.”

Many times, an application is stuck in an office outside Canada that may be partly functional due to a number of reasons such as shut down or remote work orders.

He said a centralized agile system would manage applications by redistributing them in different offices.

“And they will be processed, more or less based on when they came in, not based on the country of nationality or other factors which is deeply unfair,” Abramovich said.

Abramovich said the new immigration minister inherited the existing system and has been open to dialogue, and that an independent review could provide recommendations for a long-lasting change. He added an impartial investigation to understand the actual root causes will only help prevent something like this from happening in the future.

“We are dealing with human lives here and let’s not pretend it has something to do with COVID-19 and that finances alone are going to be sufficient,” he said.

Source: Immigration backlog in Canada reaches 2.4M

 

Immigrants are suing the U.S. government over delays in citizenship process

Of note. Comparable delays as in Canada, although initial progress on reducing backlog. Canadian applications are stored in the IRCC Sydney processing centre (unless changed since my time), certainly more accessible than a cave in Kansas city:

A group of immigrants is suing the U.S. government, claiming that unreasonable delays have kept their citizenship applications on hold for years. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency responsible for processing applications. But the recent lawsuit alleges that the agency moved a mass amount of applications to a storage facility at the beginning of the pandemic and never retrieved the documents, stalling the immigrants’ hopes of becoming U.S. citizens. Now that the agency is working at full capacity again, the applicants are demanding prioritization.

We wanted to know more about what’s going on here, so we called Kate Melloy Goettel. She is the legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council, the legal nonprofit bringing this lawsuit on behalf of immigrants. Kate Melloy Goettel, welcome.

KATE MELLOY GOETTEL: Hi, Elissa.

NADWORNY: So first, can you give us the background on filing this lawsuit?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Yeah. So we started hearing a couple of months ago that people were really frustrated that they had filed for naturalization about two years ago and that their applications were stuck. For a lot of people, they were looking towards November and want to be able to vote in the election then. Others just want to be a bigger, fuller member of U.S. society. And so they were getting frustrated that their applications were stuck, and they had learned that it was because their immigration files needed to be retrieved from the National Records Center that operates a limestone cave in the Kansas City area.

NADWORNY: So the crux is that the files are not in the place they need to be.

MELLOY GOETTEL: Exactly.

NADWORNY: And is that what the government is saying is the reason for these delays? Have they provided a response?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Well, so a lot of the applicants know through their attorneys that their immigration files need to be retrieved. Some of them have heard, in fact, that they’re at these National Archives cave in the Kansas City area, while others have just learned that they’re not moving forward because their immigration files are delayed, and they need those immigration files to go forward with scheduling the naturalization interview and then continuing with the sort of bureaucratic processes that have to happen before the final step of swearing the oath as a naturalized U.S. citizen.

NADWORNY: Can you tell me about some of the clients you represent?

MELLOY GOETTEL: One of the clients is Thomas Carter (ph). He’s filed suit because he’s very fearful that he and his husband could be separated if they don’t share the same citizenship. He also has an infant child, and I think that that has really encouraged him to want to have roots in the United States with his newly growing family. He’s also anxious to participate in the electoral process and to put down roots, so he’s one of the applicants who has been waiting since 2020 to be naturalized.

NADWORNY: What are you asking the court to do?

MELLOY GOETTEL: So we’re asking the court to tell the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as the National Archives to prioritize these naturalization applications and to go in there and try to get these applications out so that they can move forward with processing the applications. As you can imagine, there’s a number of steps and bureaucratic process that has to take place in order to approve someone for naturalization, and that process takes many months. And so we’re really down to the wire now to get people naturalized for November’s election.

NADWORNY: So some reports say that it can take up to 24 months to complete the naturalization process. I’m wondering, how is what’s happening here different than the wait times applicants typically experience?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Well, the wait times that USCIS has recently published have been around 11 months. But what we also know more anecdotally is we’re hearing many, many stories of people who filed after these 13 plaintiffs getting scheduled for their naturalization interviews and actually going forward and taking the naturalization oath. So we know that they’re not processing these in any sort of systematic line but rather that there are people who applied in 2020 who are just stuck because, frankly, their immigration files are stuck.

NADWORNY: Yeah, because these are stories, you know, that – they have implications for their family, for their life. You know, it’s…

MELLOY GOETTEL: That’s right.

NADWORNY: …This ripple effect. Your organization is representing 13 named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but how many are actually impacted here?

MELLOY GOETTEL: Well, we don’t know the exact number of how many are impacted, but I can tell you that since we filed our lawsuit, we have heard so many stories from individuals and from their attorneys that are stuck in the same position. So we do think this is a fairly widespread problem, and we’re hoping that, through this lawsuit, that we can really encourage the agency to prioritize naturalization and prioritize getting those files out and getting them scheduled.

NADWORNY: You’ve mentioned there is kind of a looming deadline. Your clients want to be able to vote in this year’s election this fall. Tell me about the timeline. Is that going to be possible?

MELLOY GOETTEL: With prioritizing naturalization applications, it totally could be possible. And what we want to point to is this administration, their own words and their own commitment to naturalization. In the early days of the Biden-Harris administration, they issued an executive order specifically calling out better processing of naturalization applications and, you know, talking about how important naturalization is. And so we really want them to live up to those words that they said in the early days of the administration and make this a priority. We think if it can be a priority, that that is a realistic timeline to get this done in the next six months.

NADWORNY: That was Kate Melloy Goettel. She is the legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Counsel. Kate, thank you so much for being with us.

Source: Immigrants are suing the U.S. government over delays in citizenship process

Minister Fraser participates in Citizenship Week ceremony – Some updated data

Of course, the Minister and supporting documentation picks the most favourable timeline and is silent how the program largely shut down in 2020. That being said, IRCC has ramped up the program and if they are able to maintain the rate of 3,000 per month as stated, the backlog will decline:

Citizenship Week is an opportunity for Canadians across the country and around the world to show pride in our history, culture and achievements.

Today, the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, attended a virtual citizenship ceremony, wrapping up another successful Citizenship Week. The ceremony, hosted in partnership with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, saw 25 new Canadians invited to take their Oath of Citizenship.

During the ceremony, the Minister spoke about the significance of citizenship, the rights and freedoms it affords, and the important responsibilities that come with it. He also acknowledged the individuals and families waiting to become citizens, and that IRCC is taking action so they can achieve this dream as soon as possible.

IRCC is working hard to process a large volume of citizenship applications, and has been taking steps to improve its operations. As a result, Canada exceeded its citizenship goals for 2021-2022, with over 217,000 new Canadian citizens, and is planning to welcome even more in 2022-2023.

IRCC has also been modernizing and increasing its services for people who want to become Canadians. On November 26, 2020, we launched a new platform that made Canada one of the first countries in the world to offer citizenship testing online. IRCC also adapted quickly to COVID-19 restrictions by introducing virtual ceremonies in April 2020. Thanks to these measures, we are now inviting more people to tests and ceremonies than we were able to do before the pandemic.

Becoming a Canadian citizen is a significant milestone in a newcomer’s immigration journey, and we will continue our efforts so that as many as possible can reach this goal. Supported by additional funding from the 2021 Economic and Fiscal Update, IRCC will continue its efforts to reduce application inventories accumulated during the pandemic.

Quote

“I am proud to be Canadian, and it is always a great honour to participate in welcoming new members to our Canadian family. This week has been a chance to reflect on everything that being Canadian means—the freedom for individuals to live as their authentic selves, the connections to our beautiful landscapes and the chance for everyone to reach their full potential no matter their background. I am thankful every day to be Canadian, and I encourage everyone to reflect on what being Canadian means to them.”

– The Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

 Quick facts

  • The citizenship ceremony is the final step to becoming a Canadian citizen. During the ceremony, participants accept the rights and responsibilities of citizenship by taking the Oath of Citizenship, which is administered by a citizenship judge.
  • Canada’s first citizenship ceremony was held 75 years ago, on January 3, 1947, at the Supreme Court of Canada.
  • In June 2021, the Oath of Citizenship changed to recognize the inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous peoples.
  • Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates in the world, with about 85% of newcomers becoming citizens.
  • The Citizenship Application Tracker was launched in May 2021 to help clients stay up to date on the status and any required next steps for their citizenship applications.
  • IRCC has also launched online application processes for some clients looking to apply for a grant of citizenship, get proof of citizenship or search citizenship records.
  • From the launch of IRCC’s new online testing platform on November 26, 2020 to April 30, 2022, almost 310,000 people have taken citizenship tests, and IRCC is able to invite about 5,000 applicants per week to complete the test.
  • Between April 1, 2020 and April 30, 2022, more than 300,000 people took the Oath of Citizenship in almost 14,000 ceremonies using a virtual platform. The Department is inviting on average about 3,000 applicants per week to participate in citizenship ceremonies.

El-Assal: How can Canada avoid major immigration backlogs in the future?

Reasonable and practical recommendations. We share belief in need for independent review but I would argue for a broader focus than just IRCC’s ability to deliver and implement.

A more fundamental review of the government’s approach, priorities and levels across the whole suite of immigration programs is needed, more on the why than the how:

Earlier this month the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) began a study on IRCC’s application processing times and backlogs.

The purpose of CIMM is to provide oversight of the immigration system and release studies that contain recommendations for improvement. CIMM invited me to Ottawa to participate in this study, which I did on May 5th. I would like to use this article as an opportunity to elaborate on my recommendations.

The backlog has doubled since the start of the pandemic to 2.1 million people. This includes applicants for permanent residence, temporary residence, and citizenship. Needless to say, the backlog is hurting Canada’s economy, keeping families apart, and undermining Canada’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

There is no doubt the pandemic has been a major contributor to the backlog. At the start of the pandemic, Canadian government employees needed to work remotely which limited their ability to process applications. However, the pandemic is not the only reason for the backlog, and at the very least, the pandemic cannot explain why Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has delivered such poor customer service for over two years now.

The following are six steps I feel can help improve the state of Canadian immigration operations.

1) Treat applicants with greater respect

The first step Canada needs to take to avoid backlogs from getting out of control again in the future is by treating all of its immigration applicants with far more respect. When we discuss backlogs, we often think about the number of files in the queue, and sometimes we forget about the number of human lives that are being negatively affected.

Taking a more human-centric approach to our immigration system is a necessary step towards progress. There is no justification for IRCC going months or even years on end without responding to enquiries from its clients. The lack of urgency to provide updates also explains why there has been a lack of urgency to process applications.

For some reason, we do not see immigration applicants as worthy enough of getting quality customer service, even though IRCC has a legal mandate to process applications. It is only fair that applicants get quality service given they are required to pay IRCC a fee for their papers to be processed. Imagine how upset you would be if you paid a postal company to deliver a parcel, only to discover they have yet to ship it and are not responding to any of your calls or emails.

Just like companies putting customers front and center of everything they do, so too should IRCC. Every decision the department makes should be through the lens of providing the best customer experience possible.

2) Align intake with processing capacity

The second step is for Canada to do a better job of aligning its intake with its processing capacity. We already do this with various programs such as IRCC’s economic class pilots, the Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP), the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), among others. Federal and provincial governments work within the confines of the allocation for a given program and ensure they do not solicit more applications than they are capable of processing within the allocation. This is not a perfect model and often leads to disappointment, as is the case with the PGP, but at the same time it helps us limit the potential for excessive processing times.

IRCC made several major mistakes at the start of the pandemic which has made the backlog much worse. It continued to solicit applications even when its processing capacity was slowed, meaning that it had a huge mountain to climb once its processing capacity began to return to normal.

For instance, Express Entry was launched in 2015 to help avoid backlogs by only inviting candidates that IRCC wanted to process. Nonetheless, we saw our Express Entry backlog skyrocket since IRCC continued to invite candidates throughout 2020, before realizing it needed to implement two major pauses in December 2020 and then in September 2021 to manage its Express Entry inventory. This could have been avoided altogether if IRCC simply reduced its Express Entry invitations in 2020 until its operations got back on track.

Unfortunately, IRCC made the same mistake in 2021 by first, continuing to issue very high levels of Express Entry invitations, and then second, by welcoming 90,000 additional applications under the Temporary Residence to Permanent Residence (“TR2PR”) Program. According to the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, it will now take IRCC two more years to catch up on all those applications before it can bring its economic class programming back to normal by 2024. Moving forward, IRCC should be more careful and ensure it has the capacity to process incoming applications within a timely manner.

3) Expedite technological transformation

The third step is for Canada to expedite the badly-needed technological transformation of its immigration system. Much of the immigration system remains paper-based, which slows things down. Moreover, it makes it difficult for staff to process applications remotely and to transfer files to other offices. IRCC should strive for all applications to be online within the near future, while at the same time providing accommodations for those who have disabilities, the elderly, among others who may need to submit paper-based applications. Technology is a major asset to the immigration system, and can expedite many processes. At some point we should strive to complete as many immigration processes online, such as changing visas status for those in Canada, and citizenship ceremonies.

4) Be more transparent

The fourth is for Canada to be more transparent on the state of immigration policies and operations. IRCC has kept us in the dark for much of the pandemic rather than fulfilling its obligation to inform the public on its policy priorities and state of operations. For instance, it went between December 2020 and April 2022 before telling Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) candidates when they would be invited under Express Entry again. It did the same for Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates between September 2021 and April 2022. Moving forward, IRCC should provide regular public updates, preferably on a monthly basis, outlining what its current policy priorities are, and the state of its backlogs. This will allow all stakeholders including applicants themselves, employers, post-secondary institutions, and more, to be able to plan accordingly.

5) Conduct an independent study

The fifth step is for Canada to be more accountable about its immigration system shortcomings during the pandemic. An independent study should be commissioned to evaluate what IRCC did right, what it did wrong, and what it can do better. While the pandemic is a valid excuse, it is not the only explanation why the backlog has ballooned over the past two years.

An independent study can shed light on the policy and operational causes of the backlog and provide recommendations so the mistakes do not happen again. Being more accountable will also help to restore trust in Canada’s immigration system. Many stakeholders have had a bad experience during the pandemic which has hurt the reputation of our immigration system. Showing the public that the Canadian government is capable of acknowledging its mistakes and rectifying them will likely result in more applicants viewing Canada in a positive light.

6) Form a National Advisory Council on Immigration

Sixth, the Canadian government needs to collaborate more with Canadian immigration experts. Canada has a large immigration ecosystem full of experts from many different industries such as law, business, the settlement sector, research, academia, governments, post-secondary institutions, and more. Yet, there have been few meaningful immigration consultations during the pandemic, leading to avoidable consequences.

Forming a National Advisory Council on Immigration (NACI) would be a positive step towards harnessing all this expertise so Canada can make the best immigration decisions possible. These sorts of expert councils exist among other Canadian government departments. Forming one on immigration would be a major asset for IRCC.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, we should feel optimistic that Canada’s immigration system will eventually get back on track. Immigration is far too important to Canada’s prosperity for the system to remain disrupted for much longer.

The technological investments Canada is making, plus the hiring of more IRCC staff, and increased public scrutiny from the likes of the media, CIMM, employers, post-secondary institutions, and applicants themselves will hopefully lead to Canada delivering a much better experience to immigration applicants in the years ahead.

Source: How can Canada avoid major immigration backlogs in the future?

Canada is leaving some would-be immigrants waiting just to hear whether their application has been received

More accounts on backlogs, processing delays and lack of communication:

When Manmeet Kaur applied to sponsor her newlywed husband to come from India to join her in Canada, it seemed like a no-brainer to submit the application online rather than to send the paperwork by courier.

Electronic application through new government portals was supposed to be faster and keep important documents — such as wedding photos and personal identification — from getting lost in the process or mixed up with others’ files.

And so, Kaur applied last September.

As she watched applicants she had met through social media groups, and who had applied around the same time, start to get their acknowledgment of receipt, better known as their “AOR,” the Brampton woman says, she expected that immigration officials would soon open her e-application and that her day would come.

She says she got nervous when others who had applied months after her were getting their AOR, which is only issued once a thorough check by officials ensures an application is complete — with no missing forms, documents and signatures. That’s when an applicant receives a file number and the actual processing starts.

“Many of the September applicants have gotten their passport requests and decisions made in January and February. While we’re still waiting for our AORs, some already have their spouses with them. Now January and February applicants are getting their AORs, too,” said Kaur, 27, a medical lab technician, who last saw her husband in India in July.

“The people who applied first should get processed first. I completely understand each file is different and some take longer than others. But we are talking about just checking if an application is complete or not. It should make no difference. Now, we’re lagging further and further behind.”

Few other federal services have seen so much disruption as the immigration system during the pandemic, with the operation grinding to a halt; staff working remotely with antiquated infrastructure; and travel restricted for newcomers abroad due to border closures.

Source: Canada is leaving some would-be immigrants waiting just to hear whether their application has been received

CIMM Citizenship delays call for Minister to appear [before end May]

Will be interesting to see the response, and the degree to which information is forthcoming:

Given that significant delays in citizenship applications (over two years) risk disenfranchising Canadians who are waiting for their citizenship in order to vote, and this issue is particularly urgent in light of the June 2nd Ontario provincial election, the government should move quickly to address this issue so that all Canadians who are eligible for citizenship and who choose to apply are able to participate fully in our democratic life. In light of the situation, the committee requests the Minister appear before the committee for two hours by May 27, 2022 to outline actions taken and further actions intended.

Source: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/CIMM/meeting-21/minutes

Canada immigration backlog exceeds 2M, applicants in limbo

Latest numbers (mid-April). One of the ironies of IRCC’s move to monthly reporting for most data sets (welcome improvement), is that data on inventory (neutral term that includes backlogs) was dropped from public data tables:

Canada continues to be one of the top destinations for immigrants around the world. But the increasing backlogs, exhausting processing times and lack of communication and transparency are causing mounting frustrations among those seeking their Canadian dream.

According to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) published by the immigration news website CIC News, the backlogs have increased to more than 2 million applications across all categories in April, compared to 1.8 million in March.

CTVNews.ca received over 100 responses to our callout from people caught up in this backlog, from those facing delays in visa processing times to those waiting to become permanent residents.

Source: Canada immigration backlog exceeds 2M, applicants in limbo

Campos: Canadian Immigration: Will the Improvements Be Enough?

Seem like a reasonable assessment, one that will become clearer over the course of the year:

In this feature, Canadian immigration lawyer Maria Campos offers her thoughts on the issue.

Do you think the proposed measure will go far enough to tackle Canada’s 1.8 million+ immigration backlog?

It is uncertain whether the current $85 million budget will have any meaningful positive impact in the short term, on the 1.8+ million immigration backlog. Most of the money was meant to be spent on developing online and electronic processing systems, which in themselves take time to create and meanwhile the backlog only increases. Also, there is a transition period once these new systems come into effect, which requires re-training of officers while many will still be processing applications in the traditional way. The express entry system is a perfect example of the time that it takes for an electronic processing system to become effective.

The express entry system was created in 2015, and in my opinion only started to show positive results within the last 2-3 years. This is because most people who are applying under express entry are finally familiarised with the system itself and the officers are now well aware of how the system works, both technically and legally. The pause in the express entry draws have nothing to do with the ineffectiveness of the electronic system itself, but with the significant number of invitations that IRCC issued in February 2021.

Most technical difficulties under express entry have been dealt with, but even with an already proven-to-work system it was insufficient to handle the backlog after the invitations last February. It does not matter how much technology IRCC uses if they continue to expand on the number of applications taken into processing. Another problem with technology in the immigration field is that there are currently several different portals to work with and multiple areas to submit applications, which may make it more difficult for applicants who qualify under different streams to navigate an ever more complicated electronic bureaucracy.

I do believe that the funds allocated now to improve the current system will have results at some point, but definitely not in the short term. The government of Canada has increased the number of targeted immigrants year after year without being ready to process all the applications.

It is uncertain whether the current $85 million budget will have any meaningful positive impact in the short term

Recently, what are some of the most common concerns you see from clients wishing to enter the country?

It is obvious that younger immigrants are usually the best candidates. Clients in their late thirties or early forties often feel discouraged by the fact that they will most likely have fewer opportunities to qualify under the various programs available. That being said, with the current backlogs and potential applicants getting older, they are concerned about not getting invitations on time or before they continue to lose points because of their age.

In your experience, which groups are most heavily impacted by the backlog?

Citizenship applicants are the most heavily impacted group. However, they are not necessarily in a rush, as most are already established permanent residents in Canada. The delays of the processing in the citizenship applications indeed help to prove intent to reside in Canada because applicants are “patiently” waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed.

How have IRCC operations attempted to address the increased demands of the pandemic?

There are some candidates across the world who would have not thought to come to Canada in the past, and the response by the Canadian government during the pandemic made people more aware of how incredible it is to be here. Those people who never thought of immigrating now look to Canada as an option. As a result, IRCC has more and better candidates to choose from.

However, the government has been missing out on this opportunity by not issuing invitations under the FSW program because they also have a responsibility to the applicants who are already in Canada, which might be the reason why they decided to issue thousands of invitations early last year under the Canadian Experience Class instead. It could be said that Canada has attempted to respond to this increased demand by facilitating more permanent residency options to immigrants who are already here.

Those people who never thought of immigrating now look to Canada as an option.

How has the IRCC started to reduce processing times?

The first move shown by IRCC to reduce processing times happened in the middle of the pandemic when the minister committed to processing family class applications within the regular processing times despite the initial backlog created at the beginning of the pandemic. Right after his statement, IRCC started issuing temporary file numbers to most applicants in the backlog. It was noticeable how within a few days, I started receiving dozens of emails from IRCC, all regarding family class applications providing their temporary file numbers.

Another obvious move was seen in the spring of 2021 when IRCC processed entire express entry applications within 3-4 months. Something that is definitely helping to reduce the backlog is the electronic landing system, which means applicants do not have to book appointments to perform their landing. They also do not risk missing their landing date deadline and are able to complete their process electronically.

It has been suggested that express entry draws would not invite FSWP candidates or CEC candidates for the first half of 2022. In your opinion, what are the major pros and cons of this?

A pro is that better candidates will submit their profiles for the next several draws once express entry resumes. Also, not issuing as many invitations helps reduce the backlog.

But the major cons are that in-Canada applicants are now turning to provincial nominee programs which are starting to show a backlog as well, and some applicants are relying on invitations to continue remaining in Canada, which makes their futures uncertain.

What is your opinion about the public policy permanent residency programs for international graduates and essential workers? Did these programs contribute to the backlog?

The essential workers program was great, because not many of those people had options to become permanent residents. The areas also cover industries in high demand and the program provided certainty for those immigrants.

The program for international students was good in substance as well, although badly planned. There are hundreds of thousands of international students in Canada and it was obvious that the program was going to fill up within hours, meaning that over 40,000 applications contributed to the backlog in one single day. Not to mention that many self-represented applicants rushed into submitting their applications without even understanding the basics, and while those applications have the right to be processed, their relatively poor quality puts an added burden on the system.

How do you foresee these changes to immigration processing times impacting your firm?

We have had to accommodate our cases remaining active for a longer period of time. Invicta Law is taking on new clients and addressing their immigration needs, but at the same time focusing on active files and addressing the statutory stages of the processing, replying to procedural fairness letters and ensuring clients keep their legal status at all times until they become permanent residents.

Source: Canadian Immigration: Will the Improvements Be Enough?

U.S. immigration agency moves to cut 9.5 million-case backlog and processing delays

Not only Canada that has backlog problems:

The Biden administration on Tuesday is announcing three measures to reduce a growing multimillion-case backlog of immigration applications that has crippled the U.S. government’s ability to process them in a timely fashion, a senior U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official told CBS News.

The agency plans to expand the number of applicants who can pay extra fees to have their immigration petitions adjudicated more quickly, propose a rule that would provide relief to immigrants waiting for work permit renewals and set processing time goals, the official said, requesting anonymity to detail the measures before a formal announcement.

USCIS adjudicates requests for work permits, asylum, green cards, U.S. citizenship and other immigration benefits, including the temporary H-1B program for highly skilled foreign workers and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

The agency, which is largely funded by fees, has struggled with application bottlenecks and processing delays for years. But the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially led to a shutdown of most global travel, a drop in applications and a suspension of in-person interviews and other services, greatly exacerbated those issues.

As of February, USCIS was reviewing more than 9.5 million pending applications, a 66% increase from the end of fiscal year 2019, according to agency data.

The growing case backlog has dramatically extended application processing delays, trapping many immigrants — from asylum-seekers and green card applicants to would-be U.S. citizens — in a months- or years-long legal limbo that can force them to lose their jobs, driver’s licenses and sources of income.

“USCIS remains committed to delivering timely and fair decisions to all we serve,” USCIS Director Ur Jaddou said Tuesday. “Every application we adjudicate represents the hopes and dreams of immigrants and their families, as well as their critical immediate needs such as financial stability and humanitarian protection.”

The new measures

Among USCIS’s new measures is a rule to expand “premium processing,” which allows certain applicants to pay $2,500 in extra fees to have their cases reviewed on an expedited basis. Currently, the service is limited to certain applications, including H-1B petitions and some employment-based green card requests.

The rule, set to take effect in 60 days, will expand premium processing to additional employment-based green card applications, all work permit petitions and temporary immigration status extension requests, allowing applicants to pay $2,500 to have their cases adjudicated within 45 days.

Premium processing will expand gradually, starting with work-based green card petitions for multinational executives or managers and professionals with advanced degrees or “exceptional ability” who are requesting a waiver that allows them to immigrate to the U.S. without having a job offer, which is typically required.

The senior USCIS official said the phased implementation will ensure other applications are not delayed by the premium processing expansion, which was authorized by Congress in 2020, when the agency faced a fiscal crisis that threatened to furlough 13,000 employees.

“We can’t just shift all our resources to premium filers, while everybody else suffers,” the official said.

USCIS is also unveiling another rule to provide temporary relief to immigrants affected by the work authorization delays by extending the period of automatic work permit extensions for those who apply for a renewal, the senior agency official said. The rule was recently submitted to the White House for review.

Currently, most work permit holders who apply for renewals are eligible for an automatic 180-day extension if their authorization to work lapses. However, many immigrants are waiting for their work permit renewals longer than that, often beyond 10 months, USCIS figures show.

“We’re regularly unable to adjudicate these renewals, not just by the expiration date, but by those 180 days past the expiration date,” the USCIS official said.

USCIS’ third measure includes hiring more caseworkers and improving processing technology to meet new timelines for adjudicating applications, which it believes it can achieve by September 2023. USCIS currently has several thousand job vacancies, according to agency data.

The agency will instruct caseworkers to try to adjudicate requests for temporary work programs, such as H-1B and H-2A visas for agricultural workers, within two months. Requests for work permits, travel documents and temporary status extensions or changes should be reviewed within three months.

According to the new processing guidelines, USCIS officers should adjudicate other applications, including those for U.S. citizenship, DACA renewals and green card requests for immigrants sponsored by U.S. family members or employers, within six months.

“It’s pretty unprecedented for the director of USCIS to say to the entire agency, to the entire workforce, ‘Our processing times are too long, it’s inhibiting us from delivering on our mission and so here are the goals that the entire agency is going to pursue and is going to achieve,'” the USCIS official said.

“You’re always worried”

Jairo Umana, a political dissident from Nicaragua seeking U.S. asylum, has been waiting for his work permit to be renewed for nearly a year. Because his permit expired, he’s working as a roofer in the Miami area using the 180-day automatic work authorization extension. But that is also set to expire on April 14.

As the sole provider for his two children, Umana said he’s worried about losing his work authorization and driver’s license, which is tied to his work permit.

“It is stressful. You’re always worried,” Umana told CBS News in Spanish. “Being out of work triggers a chain reaction: there’s no income, there’s no money for rent, there’s no food.”

The backlog of applications before USCIS is part of a broader logjam plaguing the immigration system. The Justice Department is currently overseeing 1.7 million unresolved court cases of immigrants facing deportation, while the State Department is handling a backlog of over 400,000 immigrant visa applicants waiting for interviews at U.S. consulates, which limited operations during the pandemic.

The Biden administration has vowed to reduce these backlogs, which it partially attributes to Trump-era policies that cut legal immigration and placed more immigrants in deportation proceedings. USCIS has made bureaucratic changes aimed at speeding up processing, but it still relies on paper records and forms.

As part of a massive spending bill passed by Congress earlier this month, USCIS received more than $400 million to address processing delays and application backlogs. On Monday, President Biden asked Congress to give USCIS another $765 million in fiscal year 2023 to finance the backlog reduction effort.

Conchita Cruz, co-founder of the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), an organization that works with more than 280,000 immigrants who requested U.S. asylum, called USCIS’ proposal to prolong automatic work permit extensions a “huge victory.”

“This extension will not only help ASAP members, but will benefit asylum seekers, other immigrant workers, as well as their employers and the communities that rely on their work as doctors, construction workers, truck drivers, software engineers and more,” Cruz said.

Lynden Melmed, the top lawyer at USCIS during the George W. Bush administration, said Tuesday’s announcement shows the agency recognizes the urgency of its case backlog and processing crisis — and its humanitarian impact on applicants and economic consequences on U.S. employers.

“At a time where every company is struggling to find workers, it is rubbing salt to a wound to have to terminate a worker because the government can’t process a four-page application in over a year,” Melmed told CBS News.

Source: U.S. immigration agency moves to cut 9.5 million-case backlog and processing delays

IRCC continues to evaluate Express Entry options, but will resume FSWP and CEC invitations in 2022

Useful and good analysis of memo and strategy. Backlog in citizenship processing will likely be much longer, looking at most recent operational numbers.

Remarkably short turn-around time for an ATIP request – less than two months:

CIC News obtained the memo today via an access to information request to IRCC.The memo was submitted to IRCC’s Deputy Minister on January 21, 2022. The Deputy Minister is the most senior non-political official in each Canadian government department. Unlike the Minister, who is an elected official tasked with carrying out the government’s political agenda, the Deputy Minister is responsible for providing the government with technocratic advice.

Key components of the memo include:

  • Invitation to apply rounds for Federal Skilled Worker Program, Canadian Experience Class, and Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) candidates will resume later in 2022.
  • IRCC will extend its temporary pause on invitations to FSWP, CEC, and FSTP candidates until March 31st, while continuing Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) invitations.
  • The continued pause will allow IRCC to address its inventory backlogs. The full length of the pause will need to be determined by IRCC’s evolving priorities.
  • IRCC will return to the Deputy Minister in March with a plan on the future of Express Entry invitations to determine what timeline and volume will align with the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024 and processing time objectives.
  • IRCC acknowledges candidates in the Express Entry pool, including those holding work permits due to expire, will continue to face uncertainty in the short term.
  • The backlog growth of Express Entry applications is due to the pandemic and IRCC focusing on landing in-Canada candidates to achieve its 401,000 immigration target in 2021. The backlog has caused IRCC’s average application processing times to exceed its 6 month service standard for Express Entry.
  • IRCC would need to reduce the Express Entry backlog by more than half in order to achieve the 6 month service standard for new applicants.

It is important to note the IRCC website continues to tell applicants the processing standard for Express Entry is 6 months.

How we got here

Up until this year, Express Entry was the main way Canada welcomed economic class immigrants. Prior to the pandemic, IRCC typically held biweekly Express Entry draws inviting the highest-scoring candidates, irrespective of their eligibility program, to apply for permanent residence. Most invitations went to FSWP and CEC candidates, while only about one per cent went to FSTP candidates. IRCC aimed to process the permanent residence applications within 6 months.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, IRCC initially held draws where it only invited CEC and PNP candidates. The rationale was that in light of COVID-19 disruptions including Canada’s travel restrictions, IRCC felt it made sense to invite CEC candidates since they were mostly likely to be able to transition to permanent residence given they mostly lived in Canada. PNP draws occurred to help support the labour market needs of provinces and territories across the country. Later in the year, IRCC also invited FSWP candidates in its Express Entry draws.

However IRCC then stopped inviting FSWP candidates in January 2021, and issued large numbers of invitations to CEC candidates. We learned later the rationale for this change was because IRCC wanted to transition as many in-Canada immigration applicants as possible to permanent residence to achieve its ambitious 401,000 immigration goal for 2021. CEC candidates comprised one-third of the 405,000 immigrants Canada landed last year.

IRCC also implemented a Temporary to Permanent Residence (“TR2PR”) program between May and November of last year to allow more international graduates and essential workers living in Canada to apply for permanent residence. This was meant as another way to support its levels goal for 2021.

The focus on CEC candidates and the launch of the TR2PR program caused IRCC’s backlogs to swell, and has seen the department fall behind its service standard of processing Express Entry applications within 6 months. This resulted in IRCC also pausing invitations to CEC candidates in September 2021.

Last month, IRCC announced its new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, which will reduce Express Entry admissions in 2022 and 2023 so the department can process all TR2PR program applications over these 2 years. This will relegate Express Entry to the second leading economic class admissions pathway after the PNP. In 2024, IRCC aims to return Express Entry to the leading economic class pathway by targeting over 110,000 immigrant admissions.

As noted in the memo, the pause in FSWP and CEC candidates is creating uncertainty for many prospective immigrants. The FSWP was Canada’s main source of skilled worker immigrants between its launch in 1967 and the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, CEC candidates risk losing their status and being forced to leave Canada. IRCC has not provided indication if they will introduce a special measure to allow CEC candidates to extend their temporary status until Express Entry returns to normal.

IRCC has processed 4,000 people in the FSWP backlog in the past 2 weeks, something that took 7 months in 2021

Recent IRCC data obtained by CIC News indicates major progress is being made in tackling Express Entry backlogs. Based on its recent rate of application processing, IRCC could see the Express Entry backlog fall to half by this May. This does not guarantee Express Entry invites to FSWP and CEC candidates will resume by then, but it would represent a milestone IRCC continues to note as one they want to achieve to be able to more strongly consider resuming FSWP and CEC invitations.

IRCC has processed more FSWP applications over the past 2.5 months than it did in all of 2021. In February, it processed the FSWP applications of over 4,300 people, compared to the roughly 600 people it was processing monthly for much of 2021. As of March 15, 2022, there were about 41,300 people in the FSWP inventory, a decrease of 4,000 people over the past two weeks. To put this figure into context, in the past 2 weeks, IRCC achieved what it took it 7 months to do in 2021 (i.e., process 4,000 people in the FSWP backlog).

Its current processing rate suggests it could bring the existing FSWP backlog to an end by the close of 2021, if not sooner.

CEC backlog could reach 0 by this spring

Meanwhile, there are just over 10,000 people left in the CEC backlog. IRCC processed 2,000 people in the CEC backlog over the past two weeks. At its current rate, IRCC could draw down the CEC backlog by the spring.

Minister Sean Fraser: Express Entry draws to resume in the “near term”

While this latest IRCC memo remains coy on when Express Entry will return to normal, there are some positive signs out there for FSWP and CEC candidates. IRCC is planning to resume invites to them this year, it is processing FSWP applications more quickly, and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has gone on the record to say the draws will resume in the “near term.” In the meantime, Express Entry invitations to PNP candidates continue biweekly. Yesterday, IRCC invited 924 PNP candidates to apply for immigration through Express Entry.

Source: IRCC continues to evaluate Express Entry options, but will resume FSWP and CEC invitations in 2022