Clearing the backlog: Upcoming measures to reduce processing times

A consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been increased processing times at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  Until recently these processing times appeared to only be worsening, as IRCC each day seemed to receive more applications than it could process.

After several years of unfulfilled promises that processing times would decrease there is reason to believe this may be changing and that backlogs may soon be meaningfully reduced.

New measures to reduce processing times

First, and perhaps most significantly, on August 24, 2022 IRCC has announced that it is hiring 1,250 new employees to process temporary and permanent residence applications.  The previous IRCC 2022-23 Department Plan budgeted in 2022-23 for 1,478 full-time equivalent employees to process temporary residence applications and 3,866 full-time equivalent employees for immigrant and refugee selection and integration.  The addition of 1,250 full-time equivalent employees is very significant and should meaningfully increase IRCC’s capacity to reduce the backlog.

Second, on September 1, 2022, Sean Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, announced that he will exempt permanent and temporary residence applicants who are already in Canada and meet certain criteria from the immigration medical examination requirement.  Although it is not clear what the “certain criteria” are, IRCC estimates that this will impact approximately 180,000 applicants.  In addition to saving time, and the frustration of some applicants having to do multiple medical exams as previous exam results expire, applicants will also save hundreds of dollars per person.

Third, IRCC is expanding telephone and video interviews for spousal sponsorship applicants and has launched a pilot project allowing spousal sponsorship and other applicants to take part in virtual interviews at some visa application centers rather than having to travel to a visa office.  This development was likely a result of the 2022 Federal Court decision Djikounou v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration).  IRCC told the court that family class applications from Ghana which required an interview were indefinitely paused because IRCC did not think that telephone interviews were appropriate.  Justice Mosley said that this was unacceptable, stating that it is not consistent with the objectives of Canadian immigration law for IRCC to continue to process applications from Western countries while applications in Ghana are left to languish.  While it is unfortunate that it took a court order for IRCC to introduce these measures, hopefully they will help rectify inconsistent processing times based on visa office and reunify families.

Fourth, IRCC has introduced a more detailed online application tracker which provides applicants with information about the processing of their application, including stating when correspondence has been sent by e-mail.  This should greatly decrease the risk of missed communication. It will also enable applicants who hire representative to independently monitor the processing of their applications.
Fifth, IRCC is expanding its use of online portals to submit immigration applications. Such portals should theoretically enable faster processing as information is automatically inputted to IRCC rather than having to be received at a mail room and scanned.

Finally, IRCC is using artificial intelligence (AI) to help triage applications and streamline processing. IRCC has since 2018 used AI to triage applications from China and India so that eligibility assessments of straightforward applications would be automatic, and the Department has created processing tools, like a software called Chinook, that enables bulk processing of applications. Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has announced that IRCC will continue to leverage technology to make processing faster.


While the above measures are both welcome and necessary there are some reasons to be concerned. An emphasis on speed could lead to rushed decisions of poorer quality, especially given how many new officers there will be.  The use of AI could also lead to a lack of transparency in how triaging works. Bulk processing could lead to the increased use of bulk refusals. IT issues could lead to processing delays and applications being lost.

Nonetheless, while stakeholders should be vigilant in ensuring that their fears do not materialize, I believe that for perhaps the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began there is actual reason for optimism that IRCC is about to meaningfully reduce processing times.


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