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IRCC’s action plan to address the permanent residence application backlog

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has released the details and deadlines of its action plan to address recommendations made in a report by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) last October.

The details, released in a recently obtained Access to Information Request, offer an insight into how IRCC will address a backlog of permanent resident applications for newcomers across all lines of business.

The OAG has several functions. Mainly, it holds the federal government accountable for how it handles public funds and conducts audits that provide objective information, advice, and facts for Canada’s parliament. These help parliament to measure how government activities are performing.

The original OAG report found that throughout 2022, the backlog of permanent residency (PR) applications had far exceeded acceptable levels throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It noted that refugees had been disproportionally impacted by the backlogs.

The report contained key recommendations for IRCC to improve processing times for permanent resident applications in future.

Timelines and service standards

The first recommendation was that IRCC provide applicants with clear expectations of the timeline for a decision on their application. It said IRCC can do this by reviewing service standards that consider the volume and age of applications already in inventory.

IRCC aims to process 80% of all applications within service standards, or the length of time the department has deemed reasonable to make a final decision on an immigration application. Service standards vary depending on the type of application. For example, service standards for family class sponsorship applications take up to 12 months to process while Express Entry applications take six months.

In response, IRCC says it will establish service standards for programs that do not currently have them, such as federal and regional economic class immigrant, family class sponsorship programs and resettled refugee immigration programs.

The department expects new service standards to be in place by December 31, 2024, and will recommend updated service standards for economic class permanent resident programs, as well as family class sponsorship applications by March 31, 2024.

IRCC also said it will establish a clear method of communicating service standards with immigration applicants and a new methodology will be in place by December 31.

Differential wait times

The OAG report found disparities in the time it takes for IRCC to process applications within any given program.

It noted that this is inconsistent with the Immigration Levels Plan, which sets annual targets for the number of permanent residents that Canada aims to welcome each year. The logic being that if IRCC knows how many PR applications it can expect, there should be sufficient capacity to process them within service standards.

IRCC says that the disparities occur because all applications are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and some are more complex and require more time. It also says that commitments to specific populations may displace the processing of applications already awaiting a decision.

Further, to determine if processing times are impacted by a candidate's source country or ethnicity, IRCC says it will develop a tool to monitor forward-looking wait times by country of residence. It will also develop a pilot plan to “test methodology and gain insights about the best way to collect, analyze and use race-based and ethnocultural data.”

 The pilot will launch by October 1, 2024, and the department says it will determine how the findings will “be incorporated into the examination of differential wait times” by April 1, 2025.

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