As a law firm, we move with our clients through their immigration journeys, and sometimes the ride is bumpy with regard to processing times. A recent report from the Auditor General, released last Thursday, has cast a critical spotlight on some systemic issues that are serious for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

The audit embarked on an extensive analysis, focusing on eight key immigration programs encompassing economic, family, and refugee and humanitarian classes. The findings were disconcerting, to say the least, revealing a persistent backlog across all these programs as of the end of 2022. Despite IRCC’s ambitious goal to process 80% of the applications within its stipulated service standards, the reality was starkly different. The backlog transcended the 20% mark in all programs, with refugees bearing the brunt of the delay. The waiting period stretched to a staggering 30 months for privately sponsored refugees and an average of 15 months for overseas spouses or common-law partners, overshooting the set 12-month service standard.

The audit also shed light on a fundamental operational glitch: the inconsistent processing of applications. The principle of ‘first-in-first-out’ was thrown to the winds as newer applications often leapfrogged over the older ones in the queue. For instance, more than 21,000 applications in the family class were processed within six months, leapfrogging at least 25,000 older applications that remained stagnant in the system by the end of the year. The waiting time for provincial nominee program applications swelled from 12 to 20 months over the course of last year, and the age of in-Canada spousal sponsorships applications rose drastically from 27 to 47 months.

The deviations from the ‘first-in-first-out’ principle were attributed to shifting priorities, like the special resettlement program for Afghan refugees, and the pressure to process a high volume of applications to meet the annual immigration targets. These priorities, although significant, highlighted a lack of a robust system capable of adapting to evolving circumstances without compromising on fairness and efficiency.

A particularly alarming revelation was the lack of resource assessment before assigning application workloads to different offices. The Dar es Salaam office in Tanzania, despite having a workload five times greater than the Rome office in Italy, operated with a comparable number of staff. The chronic under-resourcing of visa posts in sub-Saharan Africa, handling some of the highest processing volumes for family and refugee programs, was a glaring oversight. The lack of a strategy to redistribute files to offices with available capacity further exacerbated the backlog, especially in high workload offices like Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

The overarching problem, as per the audit, is the intake of more applications than what IRCC can handle, given the immigration targets set by the government. Despite the surge in applications, there was a lack of proactive measures to control the intake during the pandemic, from March 2020 through 2021. The launch of a new digital assessment tool and online application portals, although a step in the right direction, lacked adequate monitoring to gauge their impact on reducing processing times or identifying and resolving unintended differential outcomes for applicants.

The Auditor General’s recommendations call for a re-evaluation and overhaul. The suggestions include identifying and addressing differential wait times, examining backlogged applications to act on processing delays, providing clear timelines to applicants, and enhancing the consistency of application processing times across various offices by aligning workloads with available resources. We would add greatly increasing IRCC’s allocation so the department can hire additional personnel.

In conclusion, IRCC’s commitment to improving processing speeds should transcend beyond mere rhetoric and translate into actionable strategies that ensure fairness and efficiency, regardless of an applicant’s country of citizenship or the office handling their application. It’s not just about meeting targets; it’s about upholding the ethos of a system that has long been a beacon of hope for individuals seeking a better life in Canada.


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Victor Hernandez

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