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Making the case for faster immigration processing

The CBA's Immigration Law Section recommends measures to deal with the backlog in immigration applications due to the pandemic.

Obstacles to immigration into Canada concept

The COVID-19 pandemic has created backlogs in many settings, including in processing of immigration applications. In a letter to Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino, the Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association recommends measures to alleviate those challenges.

Part of the problem stems from immigration and visa officers working from home like so many of us, which has led to several meeting cancellations. Adding to the trouble are paper applications that need to be scanned and copied into IRCC’s computer system. “The antiquated Global Case Management System was not built for these circumstances,” the Section writes. “This has hamstrung IRCC from efficiently processing applications.”

The Section welcomes the plan to invest in modernizing GCMS and identifies a few areas where processing applications can be improved to address the backlog. What follows is a summary of those suggestions.

Landing applicants with expiring COPRs

To facilitate the landing in Canada of holders of expired or expiring confirmations of permanent residence, IRCC could re-establish a system to confirm permanent residency. In the past, permanent residents who held COPRs were encouraged to contact IRCC via a web form or email prior to travelling to Canada. Since January 2021, applicants are told not to contact IRCC and to wait to be contacted once they’re approved to come to Canada. As the Section notes, “it is unclear how IRCC is triaging applications and how long that will take. This will lead to more people contacting IRCC, which will increase wait times.”

The requirement that applicants commit to residing in Canada permanently should be reviewed. “We believe that applicants should have some leeway as they may need to leave Canada to assist family members in coping with the pandemic.”

Processing of spousal applications

The pandemic has created long processing delays for overseas spousal cases, to well beyond the 12-month standard. “IRCC should consider issuing a temporary resident visa to applicants from outside of Canada if the principal applicant passes criminality and security reviews. A temporary resident visa would allow applicants entry into Canada for a limited period so they could be with their spouse while they wait for their application to be processed.”

IRCC should consider a new pilot program to allow sponsored spouses to attend post-secondary education, similar to the open work permit process. “This would address the barrier some students face of showing they have the necessary funds to attend post-secondary schooling,” the letter says.

Pathways to permanent residence

The Section welcomes IRCC’s new pathways to permanent residence for essential temporary workers and international graduates. It believes there should be more such pathways: express entry draws, a higher age limit to earn points (from 45 to 55 years old) and modified criteria to allow work experience from self-employment, among others.

Other programs

The Section recommends the creation of a Canadian Business Experience Class. “We proposed criteria for this program in a 2015 letter, which included owning at least a third of a business, managing the business for at least two out of three years before applying, and employing at least three workers for at least two years.”

IRCC should give priority to Start-up Visa applicants already present in Canada by creating a designated contact email for them. It should also revitalize the caregiver program by making it easier to apply for permanent residence after 12 months of Canadian work experience and move from paper-based applications to an online model.

As to failed refugee claimants, many of whom have legitimate fears of returning to their country, they should be allowed to apply under an existing economic class permanent resident stream. “IRCC should allow them to submit their PR application without having to first leave Canada and file an Authorization to Return to Canada, which is difficult and costly to complete. This would reduce the IRB’s backlog and regularize the status of those who in some cases may be working in frontline positions.”

Finally, all applications should be moved to electronic filing while fully integrating authorized representatives in those new platforms. “The technology exists,” the Section says, “and it is time to embrace it.”