October 27, 2021
The Honourable Sean Fraser, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
365 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1
Dear Minister Fraser,
The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) congratulates you on your appointment to cabinet. 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.
Immigration has always been important to Canada’s economic and social prosperity. It is now playing an even larger role in our national prosperity, as shown, for example, by Atlantic Canada’s recent success attracting and retaining more newcomers. Higher levels of immigration will be a key driver of Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
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 ministers and civil servants 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. A major reason for our country’s immigration success is because Canadians are constantly seeking to improve the system. Such improvements are made possible through your department’s consultations with Canadians of all stripes. CILA is enthusiastic about sharing our expertise and insights in these consultations to help maintain the global competitive standing of our immigration system.
We have reviewed the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2021 campaign promises pertaining to immigration. We are pleased to see your commitment to important initiatives such as launching the Municipal Nominee Program, reuniting families more quickly, removing Canadian citizenship application fees, and reducing the processing times of applications that have been affected by the pandemic. CILA wishes to draw attention to what we believe are other noteworthy objectives:
- 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. As you very well know as an Atlantic Canadian yourself, 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 AIP allocations so that they can attract newcomers, retain their Canadian-born residents, and attract more investment. CILA also welcomes the opportunity to consult with your department on how a new Municipal Nominee Program can support Canada’s regionalization objectives while at the same time complementing existing PNP and AIP streams.
- 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. We would welcome an opportunity to share some of these client experiences with you or members of your department and to make recommendations for meaningful and immediate change.
- Exclusion of Counsel: In our 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. 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.
- Afghan Refugees: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 such as Atlantic Canada. 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 look forward to scheduling a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss how we can help you fulfil your mandate.
The CILA Steering Committee
Barbara Jo Caruso