In January, the CBA National Immigration Law Section outlined how the government can improve the way it deals with immigrants, in a submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration’s study on the modernization of client service delivery. The MPs want to know about the experience clients have with the government departments and recommend best practices for improvement. Why? Because when things go wrong, the complaints land on their desks.
The CBA Section submission can be summed up in a few words: as an appeal for consistency, transparency, clarity and fairness in applying rules and protocols, and proper ongoing training of those who enforce the rules.
While applauding steps already taken and priorities for “enhancing service excellence” already identified by the government, the Section identified a number of issues that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada needs to address, dividing them into structural and program issues.
Among the structural issues, the submission notes that some visa offices and Immigration Program Managers are less responsive than others to communications from immigration applicants and their lawyers, sometimes delaying for weeks or months and requiring applicants to escalate to the Case Management Branch.
“Our members have reported anomalous handling of immigration applications prepared and filed by immigration lawyers through Visa Application Centres, including reordering documents and removing the submissions of legal counsel,” the submission says. “We encourage continued training and oversight by Immigration Program Managers at VACs to ensure quality control and program integrity.”
One of the key areas requiring attention, the Section says, is points of entry into Canada, where client service delivery “has become progressively less facilitative and more enforcement-oriented in the past 20 years.”
“It is common knowledge among Canadian immigration lawyers to avoid certain points of entry based on a history of lengthy delays, unwarranted scrutiny and bad decisions,” the submission says.
“Overall, client service delivery at Canadian points of entry involves a great deal of uncertainty and inconsistency in outcomes based on the attitude and training of the particular CBSA officer.”
The Section recommends better training and staffing to address these issues, as well as the application of “clear and consistent guidelines.”
Labour Market Impact Assessments are another area the Section has earmarked as needing more consistent application of policies, experienced staff and a more expeditious service delivery model.
Program issues include things like technical issues with the Global Case Management System that could have been avoided if it had been tested first with immigration lawyers, and had taken into account how clients and lawyers use the system.
It would also be helpful if the IRCC would establish service delivery standards and publish actual processing times, to increase public confidence and accountability. The Section notes that establishing a “trusted employer” system or an intra-company transfer system would help reduce processing times. Also, an automated email to clients when applications are delayed would help cut down on inquiries and complaints.
The Section’s lawyers also note that immigration lawyers themselves can be part of the solution.
“Developing policies and methods to enhance communication with immigration lawyers on applications to avoid unnecessary delays, errors and appeals will also improve efficiency and client satisfaction,” the submission says, but notes that lawyers “continue to be misrepresented on government websites.”
“The CBA Section recommends replacing current information about immigration lawyers on IRCC, CBSA and other websites with materials that distinguish lawyers from other types of representatives based on legal education, training and regulation by provincial and territorial law societies with high standards of ethics and competence. We would gladly provide such materials.”
Kim Covert is a writer and editor at the CBA. / Kim Covert est rédactrice et éditorialiste à l’ABC.