Internal audit of temporary resident program workload distribution

[REDACTED] appears where sensitive information has been removed in accordance with the principles of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Internal Audit & Accountability Branch
15 Feburary 2018

I. Background


  1. The audit of the Temporary Resident Program Workload Distribution 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.

The Temporary Resident Program

  1. A temporary resident is a foreign national who is legally authorized to enter Canada for temporary purposes. A foreign national has temporary resident status when they have been found to meet the requirements for admission to Canada as a visitor, student, worker, or temporary resident permit holder.
  2. Under the Temporary Resident (TR) business line, IRCC processes applications under several categories:
    • Visitors;
    • International students;
    • Temporary workers; and,
    • Temporary resident permit holders.

Temporary Resident Intake and Processing

  1. The current TR application processing model includes intake of paper applications at Visa Application Centres overseas which provide administrative support services to applicants related to the TR applications. If the application includes all the required information, it is then processed by IRCC for a decision. 
  2. In 2012, IRCC introduced the Global Case Management System for processing applications and electronic applications for visitor visas, study permits, and work permits. This allowed the Department to manage the TR workload using a global distribution approach by having the ability to move the TR workload to offices around the world where it is most efficient and effective to receive and process an application. TR program applications are processed in offices within each and across the Operations Sector’s processing networks – the International Network, Centralized Network and, Domestic Network.
  3. The International Network delivers Canada’s immigration program abroad at more than 50 locations in Canadian Embassies, High Commissions, and Consulates. The Centralized Network is IRCC’s cross-Canada network responsible for the support and delivery of centralized processing functions and is comprised of six offices: four Case Processing Centres (CPCs), the Operational Support Centre (OSC), and the Call Centre. The TR business line is predominately processed out of CPC-Ottawa and CPC-Vegreville, and the OSC. The Domestic Network is responsible for immigration and citizenship program delivery across Canada, and also supports settlement program delivery. The Domestic Network will received TR applications for processing based on referral from the Centralized Network if a need for follow-up interviews with applicants is warranted.

II. Audit, objective, criteria, scope and methodology

Audit objective and criteria

  1. The audit objective was to assess whether IRCC is effectively managing the distribution of TR program workload across the departmental processing networks.
  2. 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:
    • A governance structure was in place and operating effectively to oversee the implementation of TR workload distribution plans and change initiatives; and,
    • TR workload distribution activities have been implemented to enhance application processing capacity to meet increasing TR demands.


  1. The scope of the audit covered the period from November 20, 2013 to November 30, 2017. The audit focussed on the Operations Sector’s management of TR program workload distribution activities. The audit examined the governance structure in place to manage the workload distribution decisions among the three processing networks, and the implementation of workload distribution activities.  This included the processing performed by the International Network, Centralized Network, Domestic Network, with support provided by the Immigration Program Guidance Branch and Integrity Risk Guidance Branch.


  1. The following audit procedures were performed:
    • Review of applicable legislation and policy documents;
    • Review of key supporting documents and relevant background documentation;
    • Conducted tests and examination of steps of key processes, procedures, and systems;
    • Conducted interviews with key personnel; and,
    • Conducted site visits to IRCC offices across Canada and Migration Programs at selected missions abroad, including:
      • Regional offices in the CN (CPC-Mississauga, CPC-Ottawa, OSC),
      • Regional offices in the DN (Edmonton, Vancouver, Etobicoke), and
      • A select sample of IRCC Migration Offices abroad (London, Accra, Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou).

Statement of Conformance

  1. 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

Governance Structure to Oversee the TR Workload Distribution

Oversight of the Distribution of the Temporary Resident Workload

  1. In 2013, the Department’s Operations Sector carried out research and analysis of the TR workload distribution in place at that time. A workload distribution model and associated governance model was proposed along with recommendations for implementation. A final report was produced, but the recommendations were never actioned.
  2. 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. It committed to ensuring the efficiency of processes through automating steps wherever possible, distributing workload across an integrated global network of offices and case processing centres, centralizing routine work for consistency where it made sense, while ensuring capacity to manage surges.
  3. As part of the 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 focussing on the whole network. The Integrated Network Project was expected to bring the most effective and efficient way possible to manage the workload and allow the Department to focus on higher value work.
  4. The Integrated Network Project was intended to provide oversight to the integration of the workload across the processing networks. The roll-out of the Project was supposed to begin in 2016 with the TR line of business and then expand to other lines of business in the following years. However, after resources were shifted within the Department to address processing pressures and surges in 2016, the Project was never implemented. As a result, a governance structure to oversee the integration of workload distribution was never put in place.
  5. 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. Managed workload no longer remains a pillar in the Department’s strategy for service excellence.
  6. 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. There has been an International and Centralized Network working group that has met since 2016.  However, when requested, information about the records of decisions and recommendations was not provided.
  7. While managers in the processing networks are communicating and sharing information about decisions to distribute the workload, this is done through emails and ad-hoc discussions on an as-needed basis. Without senior level governance to oversee the TR workload distribution across the processing networks, there is a risk that opportunities to more efficiently and effectively distribute the workload are not being implemented. As a result, the Department may not have the information it needs for optimal workload distribution within and across the networks.
  8. Recommendation 1. The Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations should establish appropriate governance mechanisms at the senior management level with the responsibility to develop, implement and oversee a strategy for the distribution of the workload across the processing networks.  This would help to provide horizontal oversight of an integrated approach across the processing networks.

Agreements and Arrangements to Guide Workload Sharing

  1. Formal workload distribution agreements across the processing networks would help clarify roles and responsibilities and provide measurable outcomes such as timelines and expected results. This would provide a basis to assess whether the agreements continue to achieve the intended objective or support efficient and effective processing.  As the Department seeks to improve efficiency by moving from place-based processing to capacity-based processing, leveraging opportunities to take advantage of the operational capacity of the workforce and infrastructure (e.g. physical space, IT systems) are critical to building an integrated network. [see the Internal Audit of Immigration and Temporary Resident Program Workforce Management, 2018]. 
  2. The processing networks are sharing the TR workload both across the offices within each respective network as well as across the networks. However, formal workload distribution agreements would provide structure and standardization around the management of the workload distribution. When formal agreements are not in place, there are instances where informal arrangements are made to distribute the workload.
  3. In 2015, the International Network and Centralized Network developed separate Dispatch Rules which list the processing offices where a TR visa caseload would be distributed for processing. (A caseload refers to applications from a particular nationality or from a particular time period that are defined by a discrete set of regional, risk and complexity rules.) A caseload can be distributed to one or several different Migration Offices abroad and/or processing centres.
  4. The Dispatch Rules are important because when an application is received, the nationality of the applicant may differ from the location of the file reception, as IRCC does not have a Migration Office in all countries across the globe. For example, the Migration Office in Accra is expected to process applicants from Ghana as well as from nine neighbouring countries in which IRCC does not have a Migration Office such as Liberia and Togo.
  5. The Dispatch Rules are to guide the processing networks in making consistent decisions regarding where to distribute a caseload for processing. For the TR program, the Dispatch Rules are by nationality and by business line. However, they do not identify the criteria on which the decisions to distribute the workload are based. 
  6. Furthermore, there is no clear governance regarding the responsibility for developing, reviewing and updating the Dispatch Rules. For example, the Migration Office in Abu Dhabi has processed electronic and paper TR applications for Islamabad since May 2016 but the Dispatch Rules have not been updated to reflect this.
  7. The recent visa-lift for Mexican nationals, also brought changes to the workload distribution for the Migration Office in Mexico City. For example, prior to the visa-lift, the Mexico City workload was predominately TR application processing. With the change in visa requirements, TR visitor visas were no longer required for Mexican nationals. This was not reflected in the Dispatch Rules.
  8. Furthermore, to address the reduction in work, the workload from other Migration Offices was distributed to Mexico City. Three workload sharing agreements/templates were established to identify how the workload would shift from other Migration Offices to the Mexico City office. However, how the rationale for moving the work to Mexico City was determined was not clear.  Information was not available on how the International Network assessed and determined which caseloads Mexico City would receive, or how the caseload was to be tracked and monitored to determine how well the Migration Office in Mexico City was achieving its objectives in processing the new caseloads.
  9. Decisions about TR workload distribution across the overseas offices occur informally on a day-to-day basis within the International Network. These decisions are made by Area Directors who have the flexibility to address the pressure points and share the workload within their respective region as needed, resulting in ad-hoc flexibility. However, the formal process for reviewing and revisiting these decisions to meet operating efficiency and effectiveness was not identified.
  10. The International Network does retain an electronic file containing primarily emails regarding workload distribution arrangements.  In reviewing the file and comparing the contents with some known arrangements, the file was incomplete and no formal agreements were retained in the file.
  11. The Centralized Network has developed a spreadsheet for work sharing arrangements with International Network, but it is not kept up to date. The list of work sharing arrangements included target number of applications to be processed and timelines in which the workload should be completed for each arrangement. The Centralized Network uses the spreadsheet in discussions at the Table on network integration and work sharing but the Table was only recently established in January 2017. The spreadsheet does not include information that would show how the targets and timelines are being monitored to determine if commitments are met.
  12. The Domestic Network processes about 4,000 TR applications per year based on referrals from the Centralized Network. For example, when an in-Canada application for a TR visa or permit extension is processed, and it is determined that an in-person interview is required, the application is forwarded to the Domestic Network. No formal agreement has been established to identify the roles and responsibilities of the two networks in file referrals and decision-making.
  13. Having formal workload distribution agreements in place would help the Department to monitor its decision to share the workload across the integrated processing networks. Formal agreements would more systematically guide the distribution of the workload across the processing networks so that the Department could assess progress toward its commitments and long-term goals.
  14. Furthermore, an important element that is missing for establishing workload agreements is an assessment of the capacity of the processing offices and networks to address the workload distribution objectives. Assessing the needs and capacity of the processing offices and networks would support decision making in determining where the work would best be distributed to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness in processing.

Addressing Workload Pressures: the Nigerian Caseload

  1. The Migration Office in Lagos, Nigeria, had the second highest processing times of all the Migration Offices overseas. To address this pressure, some of the TR workload was distributed to the Migration Office in Accra, Ghana.
  2. In 2014, Accra took on the Nigerian electronic applications visitor visas and study permits. In 2015-16, the paper applications for study permits for Nigerians were also transferred to the Accra office. The Migration Office in Accra assisted with the inventory (or back log) so that the Migration Office in Lagos could process the current intake of paper applications.
  3. The International Network Dispatch Rules do not list the work sharing arrangement between Lagos and Accra. Furthermore, the Migration Offices in London, Pretoria and Nairobi also processes Nigerian TR applications. None of these arrangements are in the Dispatch Rules and no formal agreements have been established.
  4. It was not clear how capacity was assessed to determine where the Nigerian caseload should best be distributed to improve processing efficiency and who would review and revisit the decision to distribute the Nigerian caseload to determine if the arrangement is meeting expectations.
  5. The operational performance target for TR program processing is to meet the service standard 80 percent of the time. A review of Global Case Management System data for the Nigerian caseload from September 2016 to October 2017 indicated that the average processing time for TR visitor visas was 64 days, with the 14 day service standard being met for 11 percent of the applications. The average processing time for work permits and study permits was 85 days, and the service standard of 60 days was met for 33 percent of the applications.
  6. The Nigerian caseload provides an example of how work is shared by multiple overseas offices. Maintaining flexibility to move work around and address processing pressures is important to the processing networks but this has resulted in multiple informal or ad-hoc arrangements. In addition, without a capacity assessment to determine whether a particular office can take on additional caseloads, the intent of easing processing pressures and maximizing operating efficiencies may not be met.

Centralizing the Workload: the China Network

  1. In 2016, the TR applications from China account for almost 25 percent of the total TR applications Canada receives (624,863 of 2,574,916). Since 2010, travel to Canada from China has more than tripled. In 2017, the Government of Canada committed to processing double the number of TR visas and permits for Chinese nationals over the next three years. Given the magnitude of the caseload, the Department sought to centralize the processing of low risk applications in an effort to achieve a modernized TR processing system that builds on the capacity and supports the integration of processing across the networks.
  2. To address the large processing volume, the network of Migration Offices in China - Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai – have implemented innovations to improve productivity. These include:
    • Streamlining low risk categories [REDACTED]; and,
    • Distributing the workload among the four China Migration Offices (referred to as the China network) and the Centralized Network.
  3. The International Network and Centralized Network have committed to sharing the China workload. In 2017, the Centralized Network finalized approximately three quarters of the paper-based CAN+Footnote 1  applications for the China network, as well as more than half of all TR electronic applications. When complexities with applications are encountered in the Centralized Network, the cases are transferred back to the China network for further assessment, which builds on the strength of the regional knowledge in the Migration Offices in China.
  4. The centralization of low risk files was put in place for the China caseload, but a formal agreement was not in place for the management and monitoring of this work sharing arrangement. That said, routine discussions did take place between the International Network and the Centralized Network at the managerial level across the processing offices. However, records of discussion are not maintained regarding challenges such as issues that arose and how they were resolved or successes in processing the caseload which could be used as lessons learned for others. 
  5. The China TR workload represents one of the largest caseloads for the Department with continuously increasing volumes. As such, significant focus is on the processing on these files.  A clear strategy with formal agreements, based on an understanding of the capacity of the networks to meet the commitment to process double the number of TR applications over the next few years is needed. This would clarify the details of the various arrangements for this caseload and provide a means to better monitor these work sharing activities and determine if processing efficiencies are being achieved and where further innovations could be implemented.
  6. Recommendation 2.  The Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations should ensure documented workload distribution agreements are established for all TR program work sharing arrangements across the processing networks. The agreements should contain sufficient detail to allow senior management to monitor the distribution of specific caseloads and assess the achievement of the arrangements’ objectives. The agreements should also be informed by an assessment of the needs and capacity of the offices and centres within the processing networks.

IV. Conclusion

  1. Overall, the Operations Sector is addressing its increasing TR workload by distributing the work when pressures arise. The processing networks - International Network, Centralized Network, and Domestic Network - were each generally managing the TR program workload within their offices and in some cases, sharing the workload with other processing networks.
  2. Opportunities for improvement were identified to more effectively manage the distribution of the workload across the processing networks. An appropriate governance mechanism to implement a strategy and provide oversight to workload distribution across the processing networks to support effective and efficient processing. Formal workload distribution agreements, based on capacity assessments of the networks, should clearly detail the specifics of the arrangements in place and provide a means for monitoring the achievement of objectives.

Appendix A: Management response

Recommendation 1

The Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations should establish appropriate governance mechanisms at the senior management level with the responsibility to develop, implement and oversee a strategy for the distribution of the workload across the processing networks.  This would help to provide horizontal oversight of an integrated approach across the processing networks.

Management response

Management agrees with this recommendation.

While we recognize that formal governance may not be in place, there have been on-going efforts to formalize workload distribution and establish governance mechanisms based on strategic operational planning and the Temporary Resident Vision to develop a nimble and sustainable processing network that anticipates needs, manages risk and contributes to positive client experience and public confidence.  As Temporary Resident (TR) volumes continue to increase, discussions with senior management to determine the best approach for TR workload distribution occur on an ongoing basis.

An Integrated Vision Steering Committee, comprised of Directors General from IRCC’s operational networks (i.e. International, Centralized, and Domestic) Immigration Program Guidance Branch, and with other key branches within the Operations Sector participating as needed, has been formed and provides senior management with a venue to discuss issues, planning and strategies related to program delivery. In addition to being responsible for guiding the development of a long-term TR Vision, the Committee also develops, implements and oversees immediate strategies for the distribution of workload across the processing networks. The Committee relays any decisions or recommendations to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations.

As part of its long-term strategy, the Operations Sector will create a governance that will have the authority to decide and execute workload distribution actions, as well as any governance adjustments to ensure standing horizontal oversight of an integrated approach across the processing networks and business lines.

Recommendation 2

The Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations should ensure documented workload distribution agreements are established for all Temporary Resident program work sharing arrangements across the processing networks. The agreements should contain sufficient detail to allow senior management to monitor the distribution of specific caseloads and assess the achievement of the arrangements’ objectives. The agreements should also be informed by an assessment of the needs and capacity of the offices and centres within the processing networks. 

Management response

Management agrees with this recommendation.

As an interim measure, workload distribution measures will be managed through the Operations Sector’s Integrated Vision DG Steering Committee, which is supported by the Operations Strategic Projects Office. Building on current practice, a workload distribution framework will subsequently be developed to enable a nimble and flexible response to changing flows in TR intake.

As part of this long-term strategy, a governance mechanism will be established to manage, execute and distribute TR workload appropriately across the operational networks.  It will be grounded in the TR Vision strategy which will foster a sustainable processing network that anticipates needs, manages risk, meets outcomes and contributes to positive client experience and public confidence.

The criteria to guide the framework will correspond with the risk level, volume and complexity of the work, and whether work-sharing is taking place within or between networks.  This approach will be designed and approved as part of the TR Vision and will outline specific roles and responsibilities and explicit details regarding arrangements with measurable outcomes.

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