December 16, 2021
Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Dear Members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration,
The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) congratulates you on being appointed to the Standing Committee. CILA wishes you tremendous success and looks forward to partnering with you in pursuit of our shared objective to enhance Canada’s prosperity through immigration.
CILA was recently founded in January 2021 to promote justice and fairness in citizenship and immigration law. Our main goal is to support improvements to Canada’s immigration policies and operations. CILA recognizes that government officials have been requesting timely comment on breaking citizenship and immigration law issues. CILA is well positioned to assist as our members have extensive experience as practitioners and a long history of volunteering and commenting on all aspects of our immigration system.
As Canada’s immigration system continues to face major challenges due to the pandemic, the Standing Committee will remain vital to providing oversight of the system and offering recommendations for improvement so that we can collectively achieve our country’s immigration objectives.
CILA wishes to draw the Standing Committee’s attention to what we believe are noteworthy objectives:
1) Tackling Backlogs: Recent reports indicate IRCC is currently grappling with a backlog of some 1.8 million immigration applications. The backlogs are undermining Canada’s ability to address labour shortages and support our country’s economic recovery. In addition, the backlogs are keeping families apart and undermining our desire to provide humanitarian resettlement. The backlogs are also creating a negative cycle since applicants are being forced to submit additional, unnecessary applications to ensure they comply with Canadian immigration laws and regulations, which creates more work for IRCC. Quebec and all Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) are dealing with even longer wait times than usual (IRCC’s processing standards for the provinces was already slow prior to the pandemic). CILA stresses the importance of IRCC developing and publicly communicating an action plan on how it will get the backlogs down to a more manageable level as well as how it will improve its service standards and client experience moving forward.
2) Improving Client Experience: We appreciate the spirit of recent innovations, including the TR to PR Pathways, e-landings, the new Canadian Refugee Protection Portal, and online citizenship applications, ceremonies and tests. However, we are concerned about the ability of vulnerable applicants such as refugees and ‘low’ skill workers to navigate these systems without up-to-date operating systems, software, scanners and some technological savvy. CILA is also very much concerned with the lack of reliability of employer and representative portals as well as the significant overall increase in processing times. A typical person raised in Canada would find many of the systems and processes difficult, even with English or French as their first language. Although we acknowledge the pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for IRCC, based on feedback from our clients and members, “client experience” is currently at an all time low, primarily due to frustrations related to old and new technology, slow processing times, and generic responses to status inquiries that do not tell clients what they need to know. Often, IRCC fails to respond to Web Form submissions altogether which leaves applicants in limbo. Another major concern is that clients are often refused on erroneous grounds or see their applications incorrectly returned yet they do not have recourse in terms of how to address these errors. We would welcome an opportunity to share some of these client experiences with the Standing Committee and to make recommendations for meaningful and immediate change.
3) Afghan Refugees: CILA is concerned with reports of delays in Canada achieving its goal of resettling 40,000 Afghans and suggestions by Minister Fraser it may take some two years to achieve this goal. CILA suggests waiving the requirement of formal refugee status for those who have fled Afghanistan. This was done for Syrian and Iraqi refugees back in 2015 and should be done again given the precarious situation of those who have fled Afghanistan and the willingness of Canadians to engage in private sponsorships.
4) Fairness for Couples: Couples are being separated for even longer due to application processing delays caused by the pandemic. CILA believes it is regrettable that the spouses and partners looking to reunite with their Canadian loved ones are treated inferiorly compared to other partners. Canadian immigration policy allows the partners of foreign workers and international students to enter the country and also work here. On the other hand, even though sponsored spouses and partners are the Canadians of tomorrow, our immigration policy does not provide them with a streamlined pathway to join their loved ones in Canada and work here while IRCC processes their permanent residence application.
5) PR Cards and PRTD: CILA urges IRCC to be more transparent on the current length of time it is taking the department on average to process PR Cards and PR Travel Documents. Although IRCC claims it is currently taking about two weeks to process PR cards, clients of CILA members are currently experiencing wait times of some 6-9 months. These future Canadians deserve to know when they can realistically expect their applications to be processed and they should have certainty they will be able to re-enter Canada should they choose to travel abroad.
6) Address Challenges with IRCC Portals: IRCC’s “Authorized Representative Portal” and “Employer Portal” frequently experience outages that last from days to weeks. The outages cause applicants to miss IRCC’s deadlines. Foreign workers are unable to submit their applications in a timely manner, which hurts Canadian employers during a period of labour shortages across our country. In addition, immigration representatives are experiencing technical difficulties accessing the “PR Representative Portal” and are excluded altogether from using the “Landing Portal.” CILA asks IRCC to fix its portals without further delay, consult with CILA and other stakeholders frequently on how to optimize the portals, and introduce public policies that allow applicants who miss IRCC’s deadlines due to portal malfunctions to be able to submit their applications without consequences.
7) Exclusion of Counsel: In August 2021 letters, we first brought to Minister Mendicino’s attention the importance of access to competent counsel and the important role that lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. We have also brought this to Minister Fraser’s attention in our welcome letter to him in October. Protecting access to justice is a pillar of our profession and we have seen a steady erosion of the right to counsel as IRCC modernizes its digital platform and systems. It is critical that lawyers not be excluded or marginalized from immigration processes. Lawyers play an important role in serving the public and at the same time help to minimize the submission of unnecessary applications and reduce back and forth by filing complete applications, which in turn saves valuable department resources. New portals must incorporate lawyers from the outset to minimize mistakes which lead to fundamental unfairness to the applicants. Government websites should not discourage the public from using counsel to assist them with immigration and citizenship matters which may be of significant importance to the applicant. CILA members are available to test new initiatives prior to launch and to suggest improvements to government communications around when, who and how to select counsel.
8) Resume Invitations to FSWP Candidates: Express Entry invitations in 2021 have only been issued to CEC and PNP candidates to help your department achieve its 401,000 newcomer target. Prior to the pandemic, FSWP candidates were the leading recipients of ITAs. Statistics Canada research shows FSWP candidates integrate quickly into the labour market due to their high levels of human capital. Moreover, they are key to alleviating ongoing labour shortages that are slowing Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery. CILA encourages IRCC to resume invitations to FSWP candidates as soon as possible given that IRCC is on track to achieve its 2021 levels goal, FSWP candidates are major contributors to Canada’s economy, and there is no more justification to exclude them from Express Entry draws now that most of Canada’s travel restrictions have been lifted.
9) Promoting Immigration to Smaller Regions: Canada has enjoyed greater success promoting immigration to smaller provinces and communities over the past twenty years due to initiatives such as the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and more recently, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP). At the same time, CILA believes that more needs to be done to provide smaller jurisdictions with the tools they need to attract and retain higher levels of immigrants. Smaller jurisdictions are experiencing even greater economic and fiscal pressures due to population aging, low birth rates, and outmigration. IRCC can provide even greater support to smaller regions through higher PNP and other regional program allocations so that they can attract newcomers, retain their Canadian-born residents, and attract more investment. CILA also welcomes the opportunity to consult with the Standing Committee and IRCC on how a new Municipal Nominee Program can support Canada’s regionalization objectives while at the same time complementing existing regional streams.
10) Business Experience Class: Promoting immigrant entrepreneurship and investment can support Canada’s economic recovery. CILA is confident that IRCC can create modern and effective business immigration programs that allow Canada to benefit from the human, social, and financial capital of the many immigrant entrepreneurs and investors that wish to move to our country. A Canadian Business Experience Class would help transition a trillion dollars worth of small and medium sized businesses from retiring baby boomers to immigrants. This would be of particular benefit to smaller regions of the country. A skills and experience matching program could be developed and quality could be defined and assessed with passive schemes continuing to be avoided.
CILA congratulates you once again. We are available at the Standing Committee’s convenience to elaborate on our suggestions and share our expertise on other topics that are of interest to you.
The CILA Steering Committee
Barbara Jo Caruso