“We’re on track right now to restore our pre-pandemic service standard by the end of this calendar year for virtually every line of business,” said Minister Sean Fraser in a recent interview with CIC News. This article is Part 3 of a special CIC News series summarizing the interview with the minister.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser believes meaningful steps are being taken to get the immigration system back on track.
Fraser acknowledged ongoing application processing and client experience challenges when he sat down with CIC News for an exclusive interview in Toronto earlier this week.
Minister expects things to return to normal by the end of 2022
“The COVID-19 pandemic hampered our immigration system in two main ways. It shut down a lot of our offices around the world…we lost a lot of our horsepower as a department.”
The second way, he explained, was Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) needed to pivot to transitioning those in Canada to permanent residence since travel restrictions limited the ability of those abroad to enter the country. This was happening as new applications continued to flow in, leading to an accumulation of inventory. Then in August 2021, Canada made the commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees following the Taliban reclaiming power of Afghanistan and since February 2022, Canada has been looking to assist those impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The good news is I see light at the end of the tunnel…we’re on track right now to restore our pre-pandemic service standard by the end of this calendar year for virtually every line of business.”
Minister Fraser added the caveat that the service standard for Canadian citizenship applications may continue to lag a bit due to the inventory growing significantly at the start of the pandemic when in-person citizenship ceremonies were not an option.
Fraser: Three solutions to improve client experience and address backlogs
The minister believes the three solutions to improve the immigration system are “resources, policy, and tech.”
“On the resources side, we’ve added 500 more staff.” He also pointed out the additional $85 million and another $385 million allocated in recent federal budget announcements that will go towards improving application processing.
Meanwhile, Fraser believes Canada will need even higher levels of immigration to meet growing demand to gain Canadian permanent residence.
“The number one policy is our Immigration Levels Plan. We’re not going to chip away at the number of cases in the inventory if we don’t expand the numbers.”
In February, Fraser announced Canada would welcome over 430,000 immigrants annually beginning this year, by far the highest levels in Canadian history. He is set to announce the Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025 by November 1st of this year, which may result in another increase in Canada’s targets.
With respect to the third solution, technology, the minister said that “digital platform modernization is going to greatly increase the reliability and pace of our system.”
“These measures are starting to have an impact…a couple of weeks ago we passed 200,000 permanent residents landed in Canada.” The minister noted this has broken the previous record by 1.5 months.
“Work permits have almost 250% increased compared to last year.”
IRCC’s backlog has surged to 2.4 million persons during the pandemic and the department has struggled to achieve its own targets on the length of time it aims to process applications. Since the start of this year, it has made major announcements and changes as it seeks to reduce the backlog, processing times, and give its clients more certainty. In late January, minister Fraser held a press conference summarizing IRCC’s processing goals including the steps it was taking to increase staff capacity and modernize its processes and technology.
One of the benefits has been the reduction in the Express Entry backlog. The minister told CIC News that all-program Express Entry draws are tentatively set to resume on July 6. In addition, IRCC aims to get back to its pre-pandemic service standard of processing Express Entry applications within six months beginning in July.
Another benefit is that IRCC has introduced and is in the process of introducing more case trackers to allow applicants to review the status of their files. The minister says 17 lines of business will have case trackers by the end of this summer allowing applicants to digitally monitor their status.
While challenges remain, the minister expressed great optimism to CIC News.
“My sense is by the end of this calendar year, new applications coming in will have the kind of certainty that we’ll be able to meet our service standard and people will be dealing with 60 days or 6 months or 12 months, not an undetermined period of time.”