Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has brought forth Canada’s plans to get the immigration system back on track.
In the 2021 Budget, Canada allocated $85 million to reduce processing times across all IRCC lines of business. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also called on Fraser to reduce processing times in the minister’s mandate letter. Fraser is now saying the budget will allow Canada to return to processing service standards for study permits, work permits, and permanent resident card renewals by the end of the year. Canada is also working to reduce processing times for visitor visas and proof of citizenship.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) made decisions on over 500,000 permanent resident applications in 2021. Fraser announced that Canada is planning to make 147,000 permanent residence final decisions in the first quarter of 2022—doubling that from the same period in 2021. Canada will also introduce a new Permanent Residence Application Tracker in February 2022 for spouses and dependents, to allow applicants to see their application information and status online.
In recent weeks, internal IRCC documents have revealed the department’s actual anticipated processing times for economic immigration programs are much longer than what it says on the government website. Fraser said Canada will update the online processing times tool in the coming months to give IRCC clients more up-to-date estimates of how long it will take to process applications.
According to a November 24 memo, at the time, IRCC was expecting Foreign Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) application processing to take 20 months, well beyond the processing standard of six months for Express Entry-managed programs. The same memo said processing was expected to be nearly eight months for Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates.
The memo also suggested Express Entry draws would not invite FSWP and CEC candidates for the first half of 2022. Fraser did not give a date for when these draws would resume but said the measures introduced today were intended to speed up immigration processing. He said pausing these draws to process the Express Entry inventory will allow IRCC to eventually hold draws without further exasperating the backlog.
Immigration Canada is currently facing a backlog of more than 1.8 million people waiting on decisions. This includes citizenship applicants, temporary foreign workers, families, students, refugees, and visitors. The Express Entry backlog alone stands at about 119,000 applicants as of December 2021.
For Express Entry candidates in Canada who may have to leave their jobs or leave Canada while IRCC holds off on draws for certain candidates, Fraser said they are looking at options to keep workers in Canada, but they have not yet come up with a “perfect solution.”
“I know that processing delays have been incredibly frustrating for many individuals. Helping clients come to Canada quickly, with predictable processing times and efficient communication with IRCC, remains a top priority for me,” Fraser said in a media release. “Immigration benefits all Canadians—it helps grow our economy and strengthens our communities across the country. Many people are choosing Canada as the place to visit and build their future, and to ensure that we stay competitive, we have introduced concrete measures to make sure those who want to come to Canada have the client experience they deserve.”
How IRCC has started to reduce processing times
The pandemic highlighted the need for IRCC operations to modernize. In response to pandemic-related challenges, IRCC has hired about 500 new processing staff, digitized applications, and reallocated work among IRCC offices around the world.
Since public health measures reduced in-person services, IRCC has brought some paper-based immigration programs online. IRCC previously told CIC News in an email it expects the online application portal to be fully implemented in the spring or summer of 2022. IRCC says so far these efforts have allowed average processing times for spousal sponsorship applicants to return to the service standard of 12 months for new applications.
IRCC has also developed a portal to allow permanent residence applicants in Canada to finalize their process and receive their permanent residency cards without any in-person interaction. From June 2021 to December 2021, 225,000 permanent residents have used this portal.
IRCC recently issued a media release saying it is using advanced data analytics to speed up Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) applications. The system does not refuse or recommend refusals of applications, IRCC says only immigration officers can do that. It was first implemented in 2018, and allows applications to be assessed 87% faster.
For citizenship applicants, IRCC has introduced online testing, created an online application tracker, and launched virtual citizenship ceremonies. Canada has sworn in 170,000 new Canadians since April 1, 2020. Canada is continuing to expand the use of virtual ceremonies.
In the future, Canada is looking to allow people to self-administer their Oath by signed attestation, and celebrate their citizenship at a later date. This would shorten the waiting time for those at the final stage of their citizenship process.