Internal audit of immigration and temporary resident program workforce management
Internal Audit & Accountability Branch
- The audit of Workforce Management to Support Immigration and Temporary Resident Program Delivery was included in the Department’s 2017-2020 Risk-Based Audit Plan which was reviewed by the Departmental Audit Committee at the February 2017 meeting and subsequently approved by the Deputy Minister.
Delivering Immigration and Temporary Resident Programs
- Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) determines the eligibility of foreign nationals to become temporary or permanent residents and offers Canada’s protection to those who qualify as refugees. IRCC develops Canada’s admissibility policy which sets the conditions for entering and remaining in Canada. As part of this process, IRCC conducts the screening of potential residents to protect the health, safety and security of Canadians, in collaboration with its partners. IRCC carries out these responsibilities through its workforce which operate in 27 points of service in Canada under the Domestic Network, four Case Processing Centres under the Centralized Network, and 65 points of service in 55 countries abroad under the International Network. The Department has committed to managing its programs to process visitor visas and applications for immigration by distributing the workload across the three processing networks and realigning its workforce accordingly.
- The Department has recognized that its workforce is a key success factor as it is an enabler in achieving its goal to provide a better service experience for clients through improved and more efficient service delivery. As a result, human resources is integrated with the strategic plan of the Department. Each processing network is required to maintain an integrated human resource planning process whereby priorities are identified and approaches are developed along with action plans to address each priority.
IRCC’s Program Delivery Overseas
- The Immigration and Temporary Resident programs are delivered by Canada’s Immigration Foreign Service Officers who process applications from prospective immigrants and refugees, visitors, international students, temporary workers and temporary resident permit holders. Immigration Foreign Service Officers also provide policy advice on international immigration trends and developments, and participate in overseas migration integrity activities. The Foreign Service Officers, officials on foreign assignments, and Temporary Duty (TD) Officers are managed by the International Network.
- Recruitment into the Immigration Foreign Service involves a three-year structured development program which includes in-class training and assignments in Canada and abroad. In addition, the Department also supplements its Foreign Service Officer complement with Foreign Assignment Officer (FAO) positions to support Immigration and TR program processing overseas. The FAOs are assigned to Foreign Service positions in Migration Offices for a single term when the Foreign Service position is vacant and unable to be filled with a Foreign Service Officer. Finally, when intermittent and temporary processing pressures are experienced in a Migration Office abroad, TD Officers are also deployed to process applications for short-term work assignments of approximately six weeks. FAOs have usually completed several TD assignments before filling a single term Foreign Service position.
IRCC’s Program Delivery in Canada
- As a result of the Department’s commitment to improve its efficiency and effectiveness in processing applications, IRCC is distributing the Immigration and Temporary Resident application workload across the network of processing centres and offices. The Department also committed to centralizing routine work for consistency where it makes sense. Consistency in how an application is processed in accordance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is important so that the Department can be sure that decisions about immigration and visitors are accurate and fair.
- The processing workforce in Canada, managed by the Centralized Network and the Domestic Network, continue to play an increasing role in supporting application processing including making final decisions on applications. The introduction of electronic systems, such as the Global Case Management System, as well as electronic applications facilitates the distribution of the workload to the workforce in Canada which also aligns with the departmental commitment to improve service delivery.
IRCC’s Commitment to Service Excellence
- In 2015, the Department released its Service Strategy as part of its modernization agenda. The Strategy identifies four pillars to achieve service excellence - managed risks, managed workload, managed workforce, and excellent client service. Under the Service Strategy, the Department committed to building a strong, efficient and adaptable workforce in order to ensure that Canadians are serviced by a skilled, well-trained, and professional IRCC workforce. The workforce management pillar of the Service Strategy aimed to ensure that the Departments employees had the knowledge, competencies and skills to perform their duties and meet present and future challenges.
- Through the departmental Integrated Corporate Plan (2016-17), IRCC monitors and reports on achievements of the Service Strategy, including the workforce management pillar. The Integrated Corporate Plan indicated that responsibilities and horizontal initiatives such as the Service Strategy require effective workforce planning and integration with human resource planning.
- In the 2015 departmental Service Strategy, the Integrated Network Project identified the need to lead a more streamlined, efficient, and integrated processing network for IRCC, leveraging automation as much as possible and focusing on the whole network. The Integrated Network Project roll-out was to begin in 2016 with the Temporary Residents line of business and then expand to other lines of business in the following years.
- However, in 2016, resources were shifted within the Department to address processing pressures and surges. In 2017, the Department communicated that it had achieved success with its modernization agenda under the Service Strategy which included the Integrated Network Project. IRCC is currently focusing on four new principles as part of its Service Excellence in Action strategy. The four principles include innovation, risk, client service, and confidence. Workforce management no longer remains a pillar in the Department’s strategy for service excellence.
II. Audit objective, criteria, scope and methodology
Audit objective and criteria
- The audit objective was to assess whether human resource plans and workforce management strategies effectively support an integrated approach to immigration and temporary resident program delivery.
- Criteria were selected to evaluate the extent to which the Department has met the audit objective. The criteria are based on internal and external sources, and leading practices. Two criteria were used to evaluate the audit objective:
- It was expected that workforce management plans to support immigration and temporary resident program delivery had been developed, managed and monitored using an integrated approach aligned to IRCC’s operational objectives; and,
- It was expected that strategies were in place to manage staff within the Operations Sector and to ensure all officers that process applications have sufficient training to perform their roles and responsibilities.
- The audit focused on Operations Sector human resources planning processes in place to support immigration and temporary resident program delivery. This included the human resources plans within the processing networks to assess the extent of integration and the alignment of human resources plans to departmental operational objectives. The scope also included workforce management strategies in place to manage staffing actions and training provided to employees. The audit covered the time period from January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2017.
- The scope did not include an examination of the management of employees, including Foreign Service Officers, working outside the three processing networks and did not include the management of Locally-Engaged Staff and Emergency Locally-Engaged Staff at Migration Offices overseas.
- The following audit procedures were performed:
- Conducted interviews with:
- Key IRCC personnel at National Headquarters,
- Regional offices in the Centralized Network (CN) – Case Processing Centres in Mississauga and Ottawa, and the Operations Support Centre),
- Regional offices in the Domestic Network (DN) – Edmonton, Vancouver, Etobicoke, and
- A select sample of Migration Offices abroad part of the International Network (IN) – London, Accra, Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou.
- Review of documentation such as program policies, procedures, guidance and manuals for HR planning and workforce management.
- Walk through of some of the systems and tools in place to support HR planning and workforce management.
- Conducted interviews with:
Statement of Conformance
- The audit is in conformance with the Internal Auditing Standards for the Government of Canada as supported by the results of the quality assurance and improvement program.
III. Audit findings and recommendations
Strategic Human Resource Planning and Workforce Management
Integrating Workforce Planning
- In an effort to improve processing times and gain processing efficiency, the Immigration and Temporary Resident workload is more frequently being shared across Migration Offices abroad, and also with offices and centres of the Centralized and Domestic Networks in Canada. As a result, the integration of processing across the networks necessitates integrated HR planning across the processing networks to reflect how the workforce is being coordinated and managed to achieve processing efficiencies.
- In each processing network, International Network, Centralized Network, and Domestic Network, human resource planning is carried out on an annual basis. Each network completes a template based on the integrated Human Resources Planning process recommended for all government departments and agencies by the Treasury Board Secretariat. However, the networks do not share or coordinate HR plans to inform and advise on horizontal HR planning to address an integrated processing workload.
Overseeing the Strategic Management of the Workforce
- As mentioned earlier, the Integrated Network Project called for a more streamlined, efficient, and integrated processing network for IRCC, focusing on the whole network. It was to provide the oversight function to modernize the workload to achieve efficiencies, improve processing and client service, and to integrate the workforce that would carry out the processing across the integrated networks.
- A Terms of Reference for an HR sub-working group was drafted in April 2015. The Terms of Reference identified specific deliverables and expected outputs as well as roles and responsibilities and governance mechanisms. However, after resources were shifted within the Department to address processing pressures and surges in 2016, the Integrated Network Project was never implemented. As a result, the HR sub-working group was never established and no oversight mechanism was put in place to oversee the integration of the workforce across the processing networks.
- A working group referred to as a Table on network integration and work sharing, was established by the International Network and the Centralized Network to discuss network integration and work sharing. Recently, the Domestic Network was invited to join the Table. A draft Terms of Reference, developed in January 2017, identifies objectives, composition and targeted deliverables. The Table, which has no decision-making authority, is to meet biweekly and produce deliverables to present to the Directors General of the three processing networks for feedback and validation. However, the Table has only met once since its creation and no records of decision have been maintained.
- The goal of the Table is to discuss opportunities to maximize and leverage the networks in work sharing. However, integrated HR planning and workforce management strategies are not identified in the draft Terms of Reference. As no Records of Decision are maintained, the extent to which the Table provided any strategic oversight of the integrated workforce could not be determined. There has been an International and Centralized Network working group that has met since 2016. However, when requested, information on the records of decisions and recommendations was not provided.
Leveraging the Workforce Across the Processing Networks
- Decisions on applications are made by the workforce in the International Network, Centralized Network, and Domestic Network. The current Immigration and Temporary Resident application processing model includes intake of paper applications overseas which are distributed to Migration Offices abroad, and electronic applications received online and distributed to Case Processing Centres in Canada or to Migration Offices abroad. In some cases, the Case Processing Centres and Domestic Network offices will also move the electronic applications to the Migration Offices abroad when further information is required. In addition, extensions of existing visas are processed centrally in the Centralized Network and distributed to the Domestic Network offices if a need for follow-up interviews with applicants are warranted.
- In the International Network, paper and electronic applications are distributed to Migration Offices abroad to support application processing. In an effort to address the overseas workload, the workforce abroad is often supplemented with decision-making officers from IRCC in Canada as part of the TD Officer assignment program.
- Recently, there has been an increasing demand for TD assignments to address the growing Temporary Resident application volumes overseas (see exhibit 1). The initial objective of the TD program was as a contingency to deal with unplanned events such as illness, emergencies, evacuations, and special projects to reduce backlogs. However, the International Network has come to heavily rely on the TD program to address the increasing volumes and processing pressures overseas.
- The International Network oversees the TD program through the TD Committee. The Committee meets quarterly to determine the workforce needs of the Migration Offices, based on information provided by the Migration Program Managers and Area Directors abroad. The Committee determines which TD requests are to be pursued and the TD Assignments Officer then communicates with candidates in the TD inventory to determine availability and preferences.
- The TD inventory is typically comprised of three categories of candidates:
- Retired processing officers with overseas experience who are contracted to work for the Department as a TD officer,
- Officials with in-Canada processing and decision-making experience (with the Centralized or Domestic Networks), or
- Canadian staff who have completed the Short-term Operational Assignment Training (SOAT).
- The SOAT has been designed to educate, train, and provide experience for IRCC employees who do not have processing experience. Candidates for SOAT training hold substantive positions in other Branches within the Department outside of the processing networks. The goal of the SOAT training is to educate the officers to make informed, defensible and timely decisions on applications in accordance with IRPA and to build processing capacity.
- Managers are required to recommend candidates who wish to be considered for the TD inventory; by doing so, they are confirming that they are willing to release the employee for a TD assignment when requested, barring significant operational obstacles. When officials in the TD inventory are approached to pursue a TD assignment, they are required to obtain permission from their manager to temporarily leave their position in Canada.
- The TD program is viewed as a staff retention tool as well as a knowledge and capacity-building mechanism for other Branches outside of the processing networks, as there are many advantages for employees to participate in the program. In addition to providing support to overseas operations, the program allows TD officers to gain hands-on experience with the decision-making process and applying IRPA. There are also opportunities to share insights, successes and challenges with the Migration Offices abroad, and to use lessons learned from the overseas experience once back in Canada.
- The TD program provides an opportunity to leverage the existing workforce to gain efficiencies in processing overseas. Over the past three fiscal years, about one third of the TD assignments were filled by IRCC employees in the TD inventory or SOAT-trained officers.
Exhibit 1: Source of Temporary Duty Officers by fiscal year
Text version: Exhibit 1: Source of Temporary Duty Officers by fiscal year
|Year||Retirees||IRCC Inventory||SOAT||FSO||CBSA||Local Hire||IRCC - Other||Totals|
Source: International Network
- Retired visa officer (salary paid by in the International Network).
- IRCC Inventory:
- IRCC employee in the roster of IRCC officers with processing experience.
- Participant in the IRCC Short-Term Operational Assignment Training program.
- Active Foreign Service Officer.
- Canadian Border Services Agency officer.
- IRCC Other:
- IRCC employee who does not fall within the TD inventory categories but have specialized knowledge and/or experience.
- The TD program has become critical to addressing workforce shortages and increasing processing volumes overseas. However, the TD program does not operate as part of an overall workforce management strategy that leverages an integrated workforce management approach. A more integrated workforce management strategy could also allow employees in Canada to gain regional knowledge, establish working relationships with IRCC colleagues overseas, and build a truly integrated workforce across its processing networks.
- It was not possible to gather accurate information on specific costs related to TDs, however, estimates based on the methodology used for forecasting and costing exercises indicated that the cost of sending retirees on TD assignments overseas is significantly more as their salaries are paid by the International Network. Salaries of existing processing officers or SOAT officers on TD assignment are covered by their home branch.
- For example, shifting the workforce between the four processing offices in the International Network and the two processing centres in the Centralized Network that are responsible for the China workload could help build a network of processing officers with expertise and knowledge specific to this caseload to better support consistent decision-making in China and in Canada.
- A key aspect of developing an overall workforce strategy as part of an integrated approach would include a means of assessing the capacity of the processing offices and centres. A capacity assessment could identify elements such as the skills and knowledge available or required for processing at a particular location, the number of staff available and/or required, etc. Understanding the workforce capacity would help inform management decision-making to ensure that resources are used in the best way possible. The Department indicated in its Service Strategy (2015) that this would help to maximize productivity of the network and ensure that the right person, with the right knowledge, is making the right decision. If this is not achieved, the Department risks not maximizing opportunities to take advantage of its operational capacity and build an integrated workforce, and at an increased cost to the Department.
Managing and Monitoring Human Resource Planning
- The Department committed to measuring and monitoring the overall progress with each of the Service Excellence pillars, including workforce management. Each processing network has been managing and monitoring its respective workforce but not from an integrated perspective. In the Centralized Network and the Domestic Network, the workforce is managed at the corporate level by the Human Resource Branch. Workforce management is carried out within the International Network for the Foreign Service.
HR Planning in the Foreign Service in Migration Offices abroad
- Within the International Network, the processing and decision-making on Immigration and Temporary Resident applications at Migration Offices abroad is carried out primarily by Canadian-based officers. These include Canadian officers who are in the Foreign Service, or are part of the Foreign Service Development Program (FSDP).
- When there is a lack of Foreign Service officers to fill the required positions abroad, the International Network will supplement the workforce with FAOs. As previously indicated, when there are more short term processing pressures abroad, the Canadian-based workforce is supplemented with TDs.
- While there have been occasional alternate means of entry, to become part of the Immigration Foreign Service, candidates must go through the FSDP. Foreign Service Officers are expected to be posted abroad at Migration Offices for the majority of their career and agree to be rotational. That is, they are required to rotate offices, based on the needs of the Department, approximately every two to four years depending on the length of the specific term of the posting.
- The International Network carries out a process to fill upcoming vacancies and to staff its headquarters positions. Foreign Service officers are required to submit their top posting preferences for the coming year. Based on criteria and consideration of preferences, the Assignments Officer identifies suitable candidates who are then contacted regarding the posting options.
- Once the Foreign Service Officer assignments have been determined, the International Network supplements any remaining vacancies with FAOs. FAO assignments are generally for two years, and are used to fill vacancies in Foreign Service positions.
- FAOs normally have processing experience or have completed SOAT training and have carried out a few TD assignments. The manager of the FAO from the substantive position must agree to release the employee for the duration of the posting. As a result of requiring the Foreign Service positions abroad to be supplemented by officers on assignment, an inventory of FAOs exists who can be approached to fill overseas vacancies when required. While the initial objective of the FAOs is to fill assignments on a one-time basis, it has recently become more common for FAOs to be cross-posted from one single assignment into another assignment at another Migration Office abroad.
- In 2012-13 to 2014-15, about 17 percent of Foreign Service positions were filled with FAOs. This percentage has more than doubled in recent years. In 2015-16, 28 percent of Foreign Service positions were filled with FAOs, and 29 percent in 2016-17. The increase in Foreign Service positions filled by FAOs indicates a lack of Foreign Service officers available to meet the needs of overseas operations. In fact, there has been a decrease in Foreign Service officers in Foreign Service positions over the years from 2012-13 to 2016-17, and a corresponding increase in vacancies as well (see Exhibit 2).
Exhibit 2: Foreign Service Officer Positions
Text version: Exhibit 2: Foreign Service Officer Positions
|Year||# of FSOs||# of FAOs||Vacant||Total|
Source: International Network
HR Planning Tools in the Migration Offices Abroad
- From an HR planning perspective, the Migration Offices overseas prepare an International Network Integrated Management Plan (INIMP). The INIMP is an annual planning and forecasting tool which are intended as tools for the effective planning and management of human, financial and material resources to achieve program delivery objectives. As such, the INIMPs identify challenges and risks that the Migration Offices are managing, including any HR planning issues.
- A review of the INIMPs identified that there is limited short-term and no long-term forecasting in the INIMPs to facilitate HR planning and workforce management. In addition, the INIMPs are not a timely tool for HR planning and workforce management as they are submitted in February, which would not permit adequate time to carry out HR planning or workforce management for the next fiscal year. Managers in the International Network as well as in the Migration Offices overseas indicated that the INIMPs are not used to make HR decisions, and there is no tool used to track the INIMP HR issues from one year to the next.
- Overall, there is no standardized process in place to identify the HR planning needs across the processing networks. As a result, the Operations sector may not know how well the HR planning and subsequent workforce approaches such as TD assignments are meeting the processing needs in the Migration Offices overseas and Case Processing Centres in Canada. While the INIMPs do identify HR issues and staffing gaps, when solutions are implemented such as temporary assignments as an approach to manage the gap, there is no monitoring or reporting on the effectiveness of these approaches. As a result, the Department does not know if its HR planning and workforce approaches are fulfilling the needs of the Migration Offices and broader Departmental processing, HR and staffing objectives.
- Recommendation 1. The Assistant Deputy Minister Operations, in collaboration with the Assistant Deputy Minister Corporate Services, should develop a workforce management strategy that considers human resource planning and management from an integrated perspective across the processing networks. The strategy should include HR resource capacity assessments of the processing offices and centres within the Operations Sector so that when decisions to distribute the workload are taken, the workforce can be managed to better align with the workload distribution decisions. In addition, as part of the development of an integrated workforce management strategy, the TD program should be reassessed to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the Department.
Training for the Processing Networks
- The Department has indicated that continuous learning is critical to ensure that the workforce has the knowledge, competencies and skills to perform their duties and meet present and future challenges. With the increase sharing of the workload and distribution of files, it is important for the Department to have assurance that the workforce have the skills, competencies and knowledge so that caseloads are processed consistently across the networks.
- There is no specific training programs across the integrated networks. While the Learning and Development Division is the functional authority on learning, they do not engage with all three processing networks to coordinate and design integrated training for immigration and temporary resident program processing. As a result, there are inconsistencies in how the training for processing officers is managed and monitored in each processing network.
- For example, the International Network operates its own training unit that designs and implements its operational training autonomously. This structure also allows the International Network to use its expertise to develop courses, such as the course on IRPA which is required for all the International Network new hires. In some cases, other networks and Branches in the Department have requested the International Network to deliver this training.
- Another inconsistency is that learning roadmaps have been established for processing officers in the Centralized Network and the Domestic Network. The purpose of the learning roadmaps is to provide a pathway of different learning and training activities as well as tools tailored to the processing officer position. Corporate Human Resources Branch assists with the development and implementation of the learning roadmaps for the Centralized and Domestic Networks. However, learning roadmaps were not available for processing officers in the International Network.
- A challenge to achieving integrated training is not having a governance structure in place to decide what resources are committed to training and learning across the processing networks, and to decide if the resources are being used effectively. There is need for a coordinated and integrated oversight of training across the processing networks so that potential duplication or gaps in training are reduced.
- Recommendation 2. The Assistant Deputy Minister Operations, in collaboration with the Assistant Deputy Minister Corporate Services, should develop and implement a coordinated and integrated training program for officers across the processing networks. The training should focus on building on the strengths of each network’s existing training practices so that successes in training can be shared across the networks. A coordinated and integrated training program across the networks would help to ensure that assessments and decisions are consistently made according to the same standards, processes and procedures.
- The Operations Sector, in collaboration with the Corporate Services Sector, is generally supporting the Immigration and Temporary Resident program delivery with human resource plans and workforce management strategies. The processing networks – International Network, Centralized Network, and Domestic Network – carry out annual HR planning and have approaches to manage their workforce in order to meet processing demands.
- Opportunities for improvement were identified to strengthen the HR planning and workforce management across the processing networks with support from the Human Resource Branch. These included developing a strategy to manage the workforce in an integrated approach across the processing networks in order to leverage capacity; having a plan in place to monitor the HR planning and workforce management strategies so that improvements can been made as needed; and coordinating and integrating training across the processing networks in order to achieve consistency in the administration of processing applications.
Appendix A: Management response
The Assistant Deputy Minister Operations, in collaboration with the Assistant Deputy Minister Corporate Services, should develop a workforce management strategy that considers human resource planning and management from an integrated perspective across the processing networks. The strategy should include HR resource capacity assessments of the processing offices and centres within the Operations Sector so that when decisions to distribute the workload are taken, the workforce can be managed to better align with the workload distribution decisions. In addition, as part of the development of an integrated workforce management strategy, the Temporary Duty program should be reassessed to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the Department.
Management agrees with the recommendation.
Further to the departmental People Management Strategy, a more comprehensive, customized and integrated workforce management strategy will be developed for the networks with an emphasis on training and resource optimization to enhance flexibility, ensure appropriate workload distribution, and develop greater efficiencies.
Increased rigour in people management planning will be achieved by leveraging Human Resources Branch (HRB) programs, practices and tools to provide strategic advice in an integrated fashion to the networks. Continuing with the partnership team model, HRB will work with the Operations Sector to explore options to expand functionality of key planning tools such as the International Network Integrated Management Plan and cost-management survey. Departmental dashboards and data analytics will also be used to enhance capacity assessments and allow for more accurate long-term workforce resource forecasting.
The Operations Sector currently adjusts workload between offices and between networks based on real-time analysis but a more formal mutually agreed upon strategy will be negotiated and codified. The current approach to Temporary Duty (TD) will also be reassessed to ensure that it is used strategically to meet specific needs of the Department.
The Assistant Deputy Minister Operations, in collaboration with the Assistant Deputy Minister Corporate Services, should develop and implement a coordinated and integrated training program for officers across the processing networks. The training should focus on building on the strengths of each network’s existing training practices so that successes in training can be shared across the networks. A coordinated and integrated training program across the networks would help to ensure that assessments and decisions are consistently made according to the same standards, processes and procedures.
Management agrees with the recommendation.
As the Operations Sector integrates the work across the networks, a standardized immigration officer training program, consistently delivered across the networks, will establish a common training ground.
A training partnership model will be used to develop this program. The Operations Sector will work with HRB’s Learning and Development Division (LDD) to design, develop and deliver a national, modular and role-specific immigration curriculum, aligned with the IRCC Learning and Development Management Framework.
The training partnership between HRB and Ops will build on the strengths of each network’s existing training practices, including International Network (IN) delivery of operational training to foreign service officers, foreign assignment officers as well as participants in the Short-term Operational Assignment Training (SOAT) Program. The integrated curriculum will benefit from existing training material (in-class and online) and delivery expertise in IN.
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