Evaluation of Ministerial Instructions (Implementation)

1. Introduction

This report presents the findings of the implementation evaluation of the first set of Ministerial Instructions (MI), which were issued on November 2008 on the basis of a legislative amendment made to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) earlier that year. In keeping with the requirements of the Directive on the Evaluation Function (TBS, 2009) and the Treasury Board commitment for an implementation evaluation of Ministerial Instructions during the second year of operation, the purpose of the evaluation was to provide an objective assessment of:

  • the continued relevance of MI as a legislative tool;
  • the design and implementation of the first set of Ministerial Instructions (MI1);
  • the performance of MI1 in achieving selected results; and
  • the cost-effectiveness of the Centralized Intake Office (CIO).

It is important to note that the original subject of this evaluation included MI, MI1, and the CIO. However, since the introduction of MI1, CIC has issued a second, third and, very recently, a fourth set of instructionsFootnote 1. Although these new instructions were beyond the scope of the implementation evaluation, the research did include a preliminary assessment of the impact of MI2. The fact that MI2 had been in effect for almost a year at the time the data collection was taking place, and that it resolved some of the major issues with MI1, made it very relevant to this study.

While the plan for the evaluation was to look only at the cost-effectiveness of the CIO, some of the research conducted was also relevant to the question of whether the CIO is achieving its intended results.

Because the evaluation was conducted approximately two years following the announcement of MI1, it looks only at initial and intermediate results; the first set of instructions were not in place for a sufficient length of time to assess the longer-term objective of labour market responsiveness. However, to the extent that applications can be shown to have been processed more quickly, wait times reduced and the eligible NOC codes drawn from high demand occupations, we would expect MI to be more responsive to the Canadian labour market in the long term.

The MI logic model and original evaluation matrix are provided in Appendix A. As described above, however, two additional sub-questions were added to this matrix. Table 1-1 presents the questions that were assessed in the study, and the linkages between those questions and the five core issues required by TBS for all evaluations.

Table 1-1: Summary of evaluation questions

TBS evaluation core issues Related question for MI evaluation Comments
Continued need for the program 1. Is there a continued need to issue Ministerial Instructions? As indicated above this question refers to the need for MI, as a policy tool, to be able to respond quickly to changing conditions.
ment with government priorities   MI is a tool, not a program, so these questions are not applicable. Accepting that the FSW Program is ed with government priorities, roles & responsibilities, then its internal management tools are also ed. The relevance of the FSW Program was assessed positively in the FSW Evaluation.Footnote 2
ment with Federal roles and responsibilities  
Design and Implementation


2. Is the design of the MI flexible and responsive? Because the evaluation was intended to look at the implementation of MI1, questions specifically relating to design and implementation were included.


3. Did stakeholders and prospective immigrants understand the first set of MI criteria once issued?
Achievement of expected outcomes 4. Does program delivery under the first set of MI facilitate the timely, consistent and transparent processing of prospective skilled worker immigrants?  
5. To what extent has the first set of MI reduced the intake of applications and contributed to reducing the backlog of FSW applications? MI2 was introduced to address some of the short-comings of MI1, so although the original scope of the evaluation was limited to MI1, a question was added to look at the initial impact of MI2.
Demonstration of efficiency and economy 6. Is the processing of FSW applications through the CIO more cost-effective than the previous approach? Because there was limited financial data to assess cost-effectiveness, the evaluation also looked at whether the CIO is achieving its intended objectives, all of which are intended to make the assessment process more efficient.

1.1 Organization of the report

The report is organized in four chapters: Chapter 1 provides background information on CIC’s Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) Program, and the introduction of MI and the CIO; Chapter 2 presents the methodology used for the evaluation; the study findings are presented in Chapter 3; and Chapter 4 provides the evaluation conclusions and recommendations.

Where qualitative evidence is presented, the following scale has been used in reporting to indicate the relative weight of the responses for each of the respondent groups.

Findings reflect the views and opinions of 100% of the key informants in the group;
Findings reflect the views and opinions of at least 75% but less than 100% of key informants in the group;
Findings reflect the views and opinions of at least 50% but less than 75% of key informants in the group;
Findings reflect the views and opinions of at least 25% but less than 50% of key informants in the group; and
A few
Findings reflect the views and opinions of at least two respondents but less than 25% of key informants in the group.

In addition, the interviews and survey asked respondents to rate various aspects of the performance of MI using an alphabetic scale: A (excellent); B (good); C (average); D (below average); F (Poor). The mean grade of their responses was calculated by assigning numeric values to the letters, determining the average value of the responses, and then using equal intervals to re-convert the numeric average into an average letter grade.Footnote 3

1.2 Background

Immigration has been a critical cornerstone of Canada’s success since the nation’s founding. Among the many benefits to Canada are population growth, economic growth, and social and cultural enrichment. With a low birth rate and an aging workforce, Canada depends on immigrants for continuing prosperity. Although Canada is a destination of choice for potential immigrants around the world, there is heavy international competition for immigrants with needed skills. If Canada is to compete in the global economy, it must attract and keep skilled immigrants through effective policies and programs, and through efficient processing.

Over the last decade, the number of applications received under the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program has exceeded the department’s ability to process them, resulting in long processing times and a growing inventory. This backlog had reached 640,800 by 2008 which, under the regulations at the time, represented a wait time of up to six years for processing an application, which was substantially longer than that of some of Canada’s international competitors.Footnote 4 Consequently, this backlog was felt to represent a roadblock in Canada’s ability to attract “the best and the brightest”. It also reduced the ability of the FSW program to be responsive to changing labour market conditions, threatened program integrity, and was highly inefficient, as substantial resources were required to manage the inventory.

1.2.1 Ministerial Instructions (MI)

The federal government elected to respond to the backlog issue by introducing amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), through Bill C-50 (the Budget Implementation Act), Bill C-50, which came into effect on February 27, 2008 and made a number of fundamental changes to the way in which most immigration applicationsFootnote 5 and requests were managed: it eliminated the (previous) obligation to process all applications received; and authorized the Minister to issue instructions (Ministerial Instructions) to immigration officers regarding which applications were eligible for processing, based on the government’s overall goals for immigration. Under these “MI authorities,” the Minister had the power to limit the numbers of applications processed, accelerate some applications or groups of applications, and return applications without processing them to a final decision.


The first set of Ministerial Instructions (MI1), which articulated how the Minister would operationalize the authority inherent in the changes to IRPA, were announced as part of CIC’s Action Plan for Faster Immigration on November 28, 2008, and were directed to the FSW ProgramFootnote 6. MI1 had three primary objectives:

  • to control FSW application intake; and
  • reduce the backlog of FSW applications by 50% by 2013; while
  • remaining responsive to the Canadian labour marketFootnote 7.

Under MI1, FSW applications were eligible for expedited processing if they:

  • were from a skilled worker who had at least one year of experience within 10 years preceding the submission of an application under one or more of 38 specific high-demand occupations (known as FSW1 within CIC); or
  • included an offer of arranged employment (FSW2); or
  • were from a foreign national living legally in Canada for one year as a temporary foreign worker or international student (FSW3).

Under MI1, it was anticipated that FSW applicants would receive a final decision within six to 12 months from the time they submitted their application. New applications that failed to meet the eligibility criteria were not processed, and the application fee was refunded.


MI2 was issued on June 26, 2010 and introduced a number of changes to the processing of FSW applications, including a revised list of eligible occupations (29 instead of 38); an annual cap of 20,000 on the total number of new applications to be considered for processing in the FSW class per year, with no more than 1,000 applications in any one of the 29 occupations; and revised eligibility criteria with respect to evidence of official language proficiency and work experience. In addition, the stream for temporary foreign workers and international students living in Canada for one year (FSW3) was eliminated due to concerns about overlap with the Canadian Experience Class and the Provincial Nominee Program, both of which target similar pools of applicants.

1.2.2 The Centralized Intake Office (CIO)

In conjunction with MI, and as part of the department’s Modernization AgendaFootnote 8 CIC decided that the initial review of FSW applications would be centralized in Canada. The Centralized Intake Office (CIO) was established in the Case Processing Centre (CPC) in Sydney, Nova Scotia, which was already undertaking citizenship and permanent resident card processing, and so had the infrastructure in place to administer the receipt and initial processing of FSW applications. The goals of the CIO were:

  • To expedite the front-end processing of applications, thereby increasing the efficiency of the overall process;
  • To reduce the workload in the missionsFootnote 9, freeing mission staff to focus on other, non-clerical tasks;
  • To provide consistency in implementing the Ministerial Instructions and assessing FSW applications; and
  • To facilitate the management of fees.

The CIO was created as a pilot project to test assumptions concerning CIC’s long-term vision for client service, including centralizing the front-end processes of file creation in Canada. Lessons learned from this centralization effort were intended to be applied to other lines of business in the department.

During its initial implementation, the CIO solely on FSW1 applications. By April of 2009 the CIO started to process FSW2 and FSW3 applications. CIC made the decision for CIO to only accept a simplified application because they wanted to avoid shipping large amounts of paper overseas. The process in Sydney and in missions is illustrated in Exhibit 1. A description of the work flow under MI1 is presented in Appendix C, Technical Report of the CIO Visit.

For MI1, the CIO had four central tasks: completeness checking; cost recovery (collecting fees and issuing refunds); file creation (data entry); and initial eligibility determination under the Ministerial Instructions. The last task comprised an examination of the application documents at face value; if the case appeared to meet the criteria it would go forward to the mission.

All FSW applicants had to send an initial application to the CIO. The initial application consisted of the FSW forms, a copy of the applicant’s passport bio-data page, the fee, the CIO checklist and one or two documents supporting eligibility. The CIO assessed whether an applicant met the criteria for processing. Under MI1 it did not assess whether an applicant met selection or admissibility requirements under the Act and Regulations. If the client met MI1 eligibility criteria, the CIO created a file in the Computer Assisted Immigration Processing System (CAIPS) and transferred an electronic file to the visa office identified by the applicant. The CIO also sent a letter to eligible applicants informing them that they had 120 days to submit all their supporting documents to the mission. Incomplete applications were sent back to the applicant and the fee returned.

Once they received the necessary documents, the mission confirmed whether the applicant met the MI1 criteria. If their assessment agreed with that by the CIO, the application was processed on a priority basis; if the applicant was determined to not meet the MI1 criteria, the applicant was informed, supporting documents were returned and the fee refunded.

There were subsequent administrative changes made at the CIO to coincide with MI2, the most important of which was that the final eligibility decision was made at the CIO, rather than at missions. Applicants sent their complete application packages, with supporting documents and results from the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), to the CIO. Staff at the CIO then reviewed the application and made the final eligibility decision.Footnote 10 They returned and refunded those applications that were not eligible and sent the eligible applications, together with associated documents, to the missions to be processed. Under this new process, missions could not reverse a positive eligibility decision, although they could refuse the application on other grounds.

Figure 1-1: MI1 application process

Figure 1-1: MI1 application process
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