Not sure why your application was refused? You can submit a request for further details

On May 25, 2021, the Information Commissioner of Canada provided a Special Report to Parliament about how visa applicants are generally unable to obtain information they are seeking about immigration files, including the reasons for refusals.

The Information Commissioner’s report affirms about how the refusal letters that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) sends to applicants do not tell the whole story. It is accordingly crucial that applicants understand how to obtain the full refusal reasons. These refusal letters cover a range of different types of applications including study permits, work permits, immigration applications and visitor visas.

Learning the whole story
IRCC’s refusal letters are generally extremely vague. In the temporary residence context, they typically consist of generic letters stating that applicants did not meet the requirements of Canadian immigration legislation. They also typically contain a list of all possible reasons why IRCC may refuse an application, with an X next to the reason(s) applicable to the applicant. Possible reasons include “lack of funds,” “travel history,” “purpose of visit,” etc.
In the permanent residence context, refusal letters also typically consist of generic letters stating that applicants did not meet the requirements of Canadian immigration legislation. There may also be a 2-4 sentence paragraph explaining why. If IRCC sent a procedural fairness letter and the applicant responded, a refusal letter may also contain a short statement that the applicant failed to absolve the visa officer of their concern. Behind these decisions are additional, often detailed reasons that are not provided in the refusal letter. These internal reasons can range from a few short sentences to sometimes even more than a page of reasoning that IRCC does not share with applicants.
IRCC’s internal notes are referred to as the Global Case Management System (or GCMS) notes.

It is currently only possible to obtain these notes through an Access to Information Act or Privacy Act request (also known as an ATIP request). GCMS notes can be helpful for other reasons, including learning the detailed status of an application that is in processing and learning about concerns that an officer may have prior to them sending a procedural fairness letter or refusing an application. IRCC does not inform applicants that obtaining the GCMS notes is possible. However, due to the internet and social media, the word is clearly spreading. In 2017-2018, IRCC received 62,234 ATIP requests. In 2019-2020 the number was 116,928.

The Importance of ATIPs
As the Information Commissioner’s Special Report to Parliament noted, the reason for the dramatic increase in ATIP requests is because IRCC does not enable potential immigrants to know details about their application’s status or the basis for decisions. The Information Commissioner further noted that ATIP results produce the information that applicants want to know. IRCC in response to the Information Commissioner’s report has said that it plans on increasing the amount of detail contained in refusal letters to help individuals better understand the reasons their applications were refused. It also plans on modernizing its website and online portals to provide more information about the status of applications that are in processing. However, IRCC does not plan to provide applicants with copies of the GCMS notes.

Transparency
While it is nice that IRCC plans on providing applicants with more information, it is unlikely to reduce the number of ATIP requests. As long as IRCC insists to the Federal Court of Canada in judicial review applications that the GCMS notes form part of the refusal reasons, which the Federal Court has agreed is the law, then applicants are going to want to see them. This is only logical and inevitable.  There are several examples where obtaining internal IRCC notes were integral to an applicant’s success.  In one case, for example, an applicant sent a response to a procedural fairness letter to a visa office’s general e-mail inbox.  IRCC subsequently refused the application, and in the refusal letter included boilerplate language about how they considered all of the information that the applicant sent. It was only through the GCMS notes that we were able to learn that the response to the procedural fairness letter never actually made it onto the applicant’s file. The application was reopened when we pointed this out. As long as situations like this occur, the need for applicants to be able to review their full record with IRCC will continue to exist.

-Canadian Immigrant

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