This guest article was written by Ksenia Tchern, a Founding Partner at Abramovich & Tchern P.C., Immigration Lawyers, located in Toronto.
Excitement spread through our office upon learning that IRCC will resume Express Entry draws in July, after almost a one-year hiatus. In anticipation of this much-welcomed return, we made sure to review and update all our client’s profiles so that once the “we are pleased to invite you to apply for permanent residence” correspondence came in – we were ready.
After the first round of invitations, we had a few fortunate clients who had received such correspondence. We immediately began completing the eAPR’s and uploading documentation onto my authorized representative portal. For one client, however, each time we attempted to access the eAPR – we were met with a message from IRCC that their system was down as they are either updating the website or experiencing technical difficulties.
Given the frequency of portal glitches and technical issues myself and fellow immigration lawyers have experienced while using IRCC’s portal, I was not too alarmed and figured to try again later. Unfortunately, the technical issue did not resolve the following day, or even after performing the common ritual of clearing my browser history and using different search engines.
On its website, IRCC states that if you are experiencing any technical difficulties, you can submit a webform. If an application cannot be submitted online and requires accommodations, one can contact IRCC to request an alternative format. Following this advice, we submitted multiple webforms enclosing screenshots of the glitch, and requested for alternative instructions to submit the application given that Express Entry PR applications can only be submitted online.
None of our webform pleas for help and assistance received a response. Emails which were responded simply included links to IRCC’s webform. Calling the IRCC helpline is a task I would only assign as a form of punishment.
Alas – I receive an email response from the Immigration Representatives Mailbox:
“We regret to inform you that your client’s EE profile has now expired due to a technical issue with our online tools. You must create and submit a new EE profile and wait for another ITA to be issued before you can apply for permanent residence. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”
This response is alarming, as it ultimately places the burden on the applicant to deal with the consequences of a dysfunctional portal. This response does not take into account that, perhaps, there was an expiring LMIA, work permit, English test results – or that the applicant’s score may not be high enough to make the CRS cut-off on a future round.
The response is also an example that supports the concern fellow Canadian immigration lawyers have expressed with respect to the recent announcement by IRCC, whereby it will be mandatory to submit most permanent residence applications online.
The ability to submit PR applications by paper or online has been imperative, given the poorly functioning platforms and lack of timely user technical support. It is not uncommon to see the ‘rep portal is down’ email in our inbox and responses to webforms which were submitted over 30 days prior. IRCC has been made aware of these issues, but fully functional portals and timely responses to calls for help remain to be delivered.
Document upload size along with symbol size limits on IRCC’s Permanent and Temporary Residence portals have led applications to be filed on paper versus online, as the difficulties in navigating these restrictions and lack of technical support caused undue stress and delays for the immigration lawyer community and their clients – especially when there are impending deadlines.
No system is perfect, and technological issues may occur with the various tools legal practitioners have the ability to utilize these days. What is problematic, however, is the lack of support and guidance available to both immigration law practitioners as well as to unrepresented clients when dealing with IRCC’s online portals. Most of the time, inquiries are not answered, or responses to critical inquiries are significantly delayed, which has led applicants to postpone their work, studies or even miss PR submission deadlines which ultimately decide the fate of their future in Canada
There is room for improvement in how IRCC’s technical capabilities can be facilitated. For example, IRCC can provide explicit instructions on their website to those who are experiencing technical issues with submitting an application by listing a designated email address or location to which the application can be sent via courier accompanied by screenshots or explanations. A designated, live support chat or inbox for communicating errors or glitches would also be welcome, especially in time-sensitive situations.
Until IRCC can assure the public that the platforms will be fully functional and there will be ways to access timely assistance in case of technical issues, it should pause the transition of moving PR applications to be fully digitized or allow paper applications to be submitted as an alternative method in the event applicants face technical challenges with IRCC’s portals.