ARCHIVED – Operational Bulletin 323 - July 15, 2011

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

Overseas Selection and Processing of Refugees: Recommendations from the Privately Sponsored Refugee Quality Assurance Report

Summary

In 2008, a quality assurance (QA) project reviewing selection decisions made on Privately-Sponsored Refugee (PSR) applications in the Africa-Middle East Region was undertaken. The Privately-Sponsored Refugee Quality Assurance report (PSR QA report) that followed this review contained a number of recommendations for enhancing refugee decision making.

Issue

This Operational Bulletin (OB) summarizes recommendations for implementation at overseas visa offices.

Background

An extensive QA project was launched in 2008 to review a sample of selection decisions made on PSR applications in the Africa-Middle East Region. The findings of that review have been compiled in the PSR QA Report, which makes several recommendations to improve the quality, consistency, and procedural fairness of refugee decision making.

Several of the PSR QA Report’s recommendations are for implementation at missions abroad. They are summarized below for the attention of immigration program managers (IPMs) and all officers who assess refugee cases. These instructions are intended to complement those in the Overseas Processing (OP) Manual, and will be added to chapter OP (PDF, 779.32KB)5: Overseas Selection and Processing of Convention Refugees Abroad Class and Members of the Humanitarian-Protected Persons Abroad Classes (PDF, 779.32KB).

Recommendations and Instructions

Officer Working Tools

The PSR QA Report recommends that:

  • guides be developed to help officers to structure refugee interviews, assess cases against the statutory/regulatory requirements, and draft decisions;
  • locally-developed templates for case notes be standardized to enhance consistency;
  • links to reliable online sources of Country of Origin information (COI), manuals, UNHCR publications, gender guidelines, and other resources be made available in one place for ease of reference.

To meet these identified needs, a Refugee Interview, Analysis, and Decision Tool Kit has been developed through a consultative process. All components of the tool kit have been vetted by Legal Services and field tested at refugee processing missions. The tool kit provides step-by-step guidance on assessing cases against the regulatory criteria, and includes a standardized case notes template which can be adapted to local requirements and to each individual case. An annotated version has also been developed to assist officers new to refugee interviewing. Annexes to the tool kit include links to processing resources available online, including country conditions information. The tool kit can be accessed on the International Region (IR) intranet site on Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Connexion.

INSTRUCTION: Officers who make decisions on refugee cases are asked to make use of the new tools in their decision-making, and in particular to consult the research links.

Country of Origin Information (COI)

Up-to-date knowledge of conditions in a refugee applicant’s country of origin is essential to making a solid eligibility decision. COI helps officers to question effectively at interview, evaluate the factual basis of an applicant’s refugee narrative, and assess credibility. Use of COI enhances fairness and consistency in refugee decision making across the program. The QA review found, however, that decision records demonstrated limited use of COI.To assist officers in utilizing COI, web links to reliable online sources of COI have been provided in the refugee tool kit. Where COI is factored into a decision on a refugee case, officers are encouraged to copy and paste URLs of the web pages consulted, or relevant passages of COI text. This is a best practice that will strengthen the record of decision.

INSTRUCTION: Officers who assess refugee applications must ensure that their knowledge of conditions in refugee applicants’ countries of origin is current. COI is not a factor in all refugee case decisions, but where a negative credibility assessment is based on COI (e.g. there are serious inconsistencies between the refugee applicant’s story and known conditions in their country of origin), officers are encouraged to cite in notes the source(s) of COI they consulted.

Communicating with Applicants and Sponsors

Traditional modes of communication such as postal delivery may be unreliable in places where refugee applicants live. Refugee applicants with no fixed address may have to depend on others to receive mail or telephone calls on their behalf. Those who move during processing may not know how to update the contact information in their file. Whereas resettlement partners such as UNHCR and the IOM facilitate communications with government-assisted refugees (GARs), communicating with PSR applicants can be more challenging.

It is a best practice to involve sponsors when sending communications to PSR applicants. Sponsor groups maintain regular contact with the refugees they sponsor, and they are responsible for passing on information sent by the visa office. Copying the sponsor on all PSR case correspondence increases the likelihood that applicants will receive and comply with CIC requests. This results in lower interview no-show rates and improved program outcomes. Sponsors also play an important role in ensuring that completed application forms, supporting documents, and case updates reach the visa office.

INSTRUCTION: Visa offices are expected to be flexible and make reasonable efforts to contact clients. To increase the likelihood that refugee applicants receive information at each processing step so that they can in turn comply with requirements, visa offices are encouraged to explore communication options other than mail. These could include sending correspondence by e-mail to applicants and sponsors who have been authorized to receive information relevant to the case, or following up an interview convocation letter with a call or text message to a mobile phone. There is no expectation that multiple methods of communication be used, only the most effective method for contacting clients in the local context.

E-mail is also an efficient means of sending the mandatory benchmark letters. Visa offices are required to send two notifications to sponsors during the processing of each PSR case: the first when the application is received (the acknowledgement of receipt), and the second when a selection decision is made (the refusal letter or confirmation of approval in principle). One finding of the PSR QA study was that visa office compliance on the benchmarks – particularly notification of positive selection decision – was inconsistent.

INSTRUCTION:  The importance of sending the benchmark notifications needs to be reinforced in all offices with PSR caseloads. As long as the authorization on the IMM 0008 Schedule 2 Part D has been signed (or there is an IMM 5476 “Use of Representative” or IMM 5475 “Authority to Release Personal Information” form on file in favour of the sponsor), copies of all letters including the AOR, document request, interview convocation, confirmation of approval and refusal can be sent to:

  1. the local CIC office that approved the sponsorship undertaking;
  2. the Sponsorship Agreement Holder, Constituent Group, Group of Five, or Community Sponsor (wherever an e-mail address has been provided on the undertaking); and
  3. the refugee applicant(s).

Notification of a positive selection decision should likewise be e-mailed to the local CIC office and sponsors. Applicants, if not advised at interview that their application was approved in principle, can be advised by attaching a generic letter to the medical form which explains the decision, next steps, and includes a reminder to declare any changes to family composition.

Interview Preparation, Processing Volumes, and Timeliness Targets

The findings of the PSR QA study acknowledge that refugee decision making is legally complex and procedurally demanding. Officers report that the biggest challenge to doing quality casework is the limited time available to prepare for interviews, conduct research, and write case notes and refusal letters. Several related recommendations came out of the PSR QA Report.

Managers should aim to keep officers’ caseloads at a reasonable level to allow for a full assessment of every case. This will, however, need to be balanced against the demands of meeting targets, maintaining service standards, and managing inventory levels. CIC-National Headquarters (NHQ) recognizes that refugee processing missions have limited resources and multiple program delivery pressures, but nonetheless encourages managers to implement these best practices to the extent possible:

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Interview Preparation: Where not already in practice, it is recommended that work schedules be planned to include pre-interview preparation time to allow officers to review individual case files and to research country conditions for refugee cases they will be deciding. The amount and frequency of preparation time required will vary from caseload to caseload and from office to office. The operational context will determine whether pre-interview preparation occurs prior to each interview or each group of interviews, or periodically to update knowledge of COI.
  2. Processing Volumes: Where it is not already the case, it is recommended that managers determine the average time it takes to complete a refugee assessment, factoring in pre-interview preparation, interviewing, analysis, decision making, and writing case notes and letters. This average time, which will differ for GARs and PSRs, should be used to gauge the number of refugee interviews to schedule per day, and to set productivity expectations on the number of decisions per week per officer.
  3. Timeliness Targets: As a general principle, case notes should be entered as soon as possible following an interview. Given that refugee interviews often necessitate area travel, delays in entering case notes are sometimes unavoidable. Managers are nonetheless encouraged to set a standard for officers to enter selection decisions and reasons in case notes, and monitor compliance to avoid unnecessary delays. The timeframe will vary depending on the operational reality of the visa office, but a guideline of within two (2) weeks of the interview in 80 percent of all cases is recommended.

Gender Appropriate Interviewing

CIC’s Declaration on Refugee Protection for Women commits to a gender-sensitive approach to refugee selection abroad. It is recognized that implementation of this commitment will be limited by the size and location of the visa office abroad, and the availability of officers and interpreters of the same gender as the applicant.

INSTRUCTION: All officers need to be sensitive to gender-based protection issues, and proceed with care when interviewing victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Wherever operationally feasible, female officers should conduct refugee interviews with female applicants, and missions should make active efforts to recruit qualified female interpreters. Officers are encouraged to acquaint themselves with the Declaration, which is available at the following link Guidelines on Assessing Gender-Based Claims of Persecution (PDF, 779.32KB)

Systematic QA

Rigorous QA of file work and decision-making is an objective of IPMs’ Performance Management Agreements. For managers of offices or units with refugee caseloads, this means conducting quality assurance activities on a representative, random sample of refugee cases each year. The PSR QA Report specifically recommends the systematic observation and review of refugee interviews and written decisions, which will help managers identify training needs and improve the quality and consistency of refugee decision making.

INSTRUCTION: Systematic QA activities should be designed to look at factors such as:

  • Whether the interview respected CIC’s gender sensitivity guidelines;
  • Whether the officer made use of the decision making tools in the Refugee Tool Kit;
  • How the statutory/regulatory definition was applied;
  • Whether COI was cited in support of the decision as applicable;
  • Whether the decision making process was procedurally fair;
  • How well the decision was documented

Sampling and reporting tools are available online in a QA Tool Kit. QA activities should be reported back to NHQ with the annual International Region Immigration Management Plan.

Periodic Training Workshops and Regular Mentoring

All officers receive refugee training prior to taking on an overseas assignment, whether in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) course, the IRPA refresher course, or the specialized Refugee Resettlement Course. To ensure that officers’ skills and knowledge are kept up-to-date, visa offices will find it beneficial to offer in-house training workshops and mentoring opportunities. These are particularly important to familiarize newly-arrived officers with the specific refugee caseloads on which they will be working.

NHQ will explore how best to make training materials from the Refugee Resettlement Course available online. In the meantime, IR Training can provide modules on request, including researching COI, establishing credibility, and documenting decisions. Resettlement partners, including UNHCR and IOM, can also be invited to give presentations.

INSTRUCTION:  To enhance the training of officers who select refugees for resettlement, IPMs are encouraged to hold periodic workshops to update officers’ knowledge and skills. Newly arrived officers should be mentored by experienced officers so that they can gain knowledge of the regional country conditions of refugee caseloads early in their postings. Whenever possible, the annual rotation should be planned to allow for an overlap between incoming and outgoing refugee officers.

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