Evaluation of Ministerial Instructions (Implementation)

3. Findings

3.1 Relevance

Using information from the document review, interviews, and survey, this section presents the key findings regarding the relevance of MI.

Q1: Is there a continued need to issue Ministerial Instructions?
Stakeholder views and the existence of a backlog for MI1 applications support the continued need for a policy tool, such as Ministerial Instructions, to allow CIC to respond to changing external conditions. This legislative change allowed the Minister to announce a second set of instructions to quickly address issues emerging from MI1, and subsequently, to issue new Instructions for other immigration programs.

The legislative amendments included in the 2008 Budget Bill (C-50) were intended to better manage the immigration system by providing the Minister with the ability to make changes fairly quickly to the number of, and manner in which, applications are processed. The primary processing concern at the time MI was approved was the backlog of FSW applications which, by 2008, was over 640,000, and represented a wait of up to six years for applicants to be processed. With this length of waiting period, it is difficult to attract “the best and the brightest”, or to be responsive to current and emerging labour market needs. It also has a negative impact on program integrity, as employers and provinces turn to other immigration programs to attract skilled workers; and the impact of policy changes are diluted, as they generally can’t be applied to files in process. Further, this lengthy delay risks political pressures, rising complaints from applicants and their representatives, and potential litigation. Finally, it is very costly for the Department to manage an inventory of this size as information has to be updated and enquiries are more frequent.

Consequently, the first set of Instructions limited the eligibility criteria for FSW applicants, which was expected to reduce the volume of applications received, and thereby allow CIC to process the existing backlog more quickly. As discussed in the next chapter, MI1 reduced the number of applications received only temporarily and a new backlog of MI1 cases developed in a fairly short period of time. MI allowed the Minister to then quickly issue a second set of Instructions to address the problems with MI1. This ability to respond quickly to changing economic and processing conditions points to the continued relevance of MI.

All interviewees agreed the management of FSW application intake is critical, especially since the backlog of applications continues to exist. In addition, two-thirds of CVOA survey respondents felt that MI as a legislative tool continues to be relevant, at least to some extent. Judging by their answers to other survey questions, those who downplayed the relevance of MI were not dismissing the importance of controlling application intake or dealing with the backlog, but were dubious about whether MI was the best way of doing so.

3.2 Design and implementation

Because the introduction of MI authorities was a new change to IRPA, the evaluation included several questions related to its design and implementation. Specifically, the evaluation team, in consultation with program partners, highlighted the need to examine the flexibility of MI’s design, communications within CIC and how the Regulatory change was communicated to stakeholders.

3.2.1 Flexibility and responsiveness of MI design

CIC policy makers considered a variety of options for dealing with the backlog problem prior to the implementation of MI. These included raising the pass mark, increasing the resources devoted to processing and offering a refund of the application fee to any FSW applicants who withdrew their application. However, these alternatives were either rejected or found to be relatively ineffective: raising the pass mark risked giving the impression that Canada was “closing its borders” at a time when there were shortages of many types of skilled labour; adding resources to process the backlog did nothing to stem the number of applications; and refunds were offered, but did not generate many application withdrawals.Footnote 13

The amendments to IRPA, which gave the Minister the authority to make changes to the way in which most categories of applications are managed, was seen by CIC policy makers as a broad and flexible tool to address both current and future processing issues. The MI authority was not, however, without its detractors. Opposition parties asserted that the provisions were too vague; the Canadian Bar Association echoed this concern, claiming that it gave the Minister unprecedented power to issue instructions without prior public debate and stakeholder input;Footnote 14 and immigration associations and refugee advocates worried that the discretionary powers would be used to discourage family reunification. To address these concerns, CIC undertook an extensive consultation process wherein the Minister and senior department officials visited every major city in Canada to explain the need for the change and allay the fears about its potential abuse. The amendments to IRPA were passed in Bill C-50, the 2008 Budget Implementation Act.

Q2: Is the design of the MI flexible and responsive?
The MI authorities allow for a significant amount of flexibility and give the Minister a great deal of scope to affect change. In addition, the implementation of effective systems and methods of monitoring the performance of MI1 and the CIO allow decision makers to make relevant adjustments to policy and/or operations, making the system very responsive.

The major evidence indicating the flexibility and responsiveness of the MI design is that, as noted in the discussion of relevance in section 3.1, when the first set of Instructions demonstrated limitations, the Minister was able to introduce a second set to address these issues.

The majority of informants also felt that the MI authorities were sufficiently flexible (Figure 3-1), giving it a rating of excellent or good (mean grade B+). They suggested that the MI authorities give the minister a needed ability for crafting measures to manage application intake. Those giving a lower rating regarding flexibility pointed to the need to go to Cabinet to change the instructions as a limiting feature.

Figure 3-1: Flexibility according to CIC NHQ and CIO interviewees and CVOA survey respondents

Flexibility according to CIC NHQ and CIO interviewees and CVOA survey respondents

The implementation of MI1 was accompanied by the establishment of a number of monitoring tools:

  • C-50 monthly reporting — operational data, such as the volume of applications, approval rates, and outcomes at key decision points, throughout the processing continuum (i.e., from the CIO to processing and visa issuance at overseas missions);
  • Mission reporting — a questionnaire to assist missions in reporting their observations about their experience with MI1, which allowed CIC to follow qualitative trends and identify problems and potential solutions;Footnote 15
  • A DG Steering Committee on Production Management and Capacity, Operational Dashboard and Performance Measurement Strategy approved by Treasury Board;Footnote 16
  • A monthly call to immigration program manager of each mission; and
  • An intra-departmental working group to ensure the successful implementation of the instructions and successful operationalization at the missions. They met very often initially to discuss issues, identify challenges and make recommendations on immediate operational concerns.Footnote 17

The timeliness and quality of the information gathered from the monitoring processes made it possible for CIC to make relevant adjustments in a timely manner to policy and/or operations. Examples include: highlighting the over-subscription of certain NOC codes under MI1 such as college instructors, which suggested a cap was needed; identifying challenges around interpretation of language of instructions and addressing them with updated manuals (e.g., how one year’s worth of work experience or education should be determined); spotting uneven workloads and moving work from busy to less busy missions; identifying oddities such as “ghost consultants” (undeclared and illegal immigration consultants) from the appearance of the same address on multiple letters received by CIO; and through spotting inconsistencies in what missions around the world were requiring in terms of supporting documentation (which enabled the department to increase the standardization of requirements so every mission is using the same list of documents to support decisions). Ultimately, it was the data from these systems that provided the evidence to make additional changes to the terms of the eligible occupation list under MI2 (June 26, 2010) and MI3 (July 1, 2011).

The systems/monitoring processes were seen as being very effective by virtually every key informant. Informants could not think of any improvements to the monitoring of the initiatives with the minor exception of making some statistical reports easier to read.

3.2.2 Stakeholder and immigrant awareness and understanding of MI1 criteria

Q3: Did stakeholders and prospective immigrants understand the first set of MI criteria once issued?
CIC undertook extensive consultations to ensure that a wide variety of stakeholders were informed regarding MI1. Over time, the reduction in incomplete and ineligible applications provided evidence that prospective immigrants generally understood the MI1 criteria. These conclusions were also supported by most interviewees.

In order to address stakeholders’ concerns regarding the influence the MI authorities gave the Minister, the government conducted a rigorous consultation process. The Minister, Deputy Minister, assistant deputy ministers, and other department officials made a number of public presentations across the country with the provinces and territories, the Canadian Bar Association, immigration consultants, ethnic communities, community groups and the media, explaining the rationale behind MI and how the new authority was expected to operate. Many questions, most put forward by immigration consultants, were answered. The introduction of the Ministerial Instructions authorities was published in the Canada Gazette.Footnote 18 No media time was purchased, but the media covered the events as news. Given this level of effort, CIC NHQ interviewees were of the opinion that stakeholders were well-informed about MI.

All provinces were consulted during the planning stage of MI1, although they were not satisfied with the outcome of these consultations, suggesting that their individual needs were not incorporated. More specifically, all of the provincial representatives interviewed were opposed to the concept of a national occupation list. They also reacted against the particular list that was established, claiming it did not respond to their needs, although only three provinces had provided CIC with a list of their priority occupations.

To convey the new eligibility criteria to potential immigrants, MI1 was featured in the FSW application kit and displayed centrally on the CIC portal for many months.Footnote 19 Responses to frequently asked questions were drafted and posted on the website. In addition, a letter-writing campaign to principal applicants in 2008-09 alerted them to MI and invited them to withdraw their old application and make an application under MI.

The following two indicators support the conclusion that both immigrants and immigration consultants increased their awareness and understanding of the MI1 criteria over time:

  • The first indicator is the proportion of files returned to applicants because they were incomplete.
    As Figure 3-2 demonstrates, the percentage of incomplete applications began around 27% and ultimately fell to around 12% in May 2010, although it was not a continual decrease. CIO managers were asked to explain the fact that the rate actually increased between weeks 27 and 53. Although they couldn’t be certain, they felt it might be the strict way in which applications were assessed. For example, if the ‘other countries of residence’ field was not filled in on the application form, the CIO returned the application as incomplete for a period of time until instructed to do otherwise. This was driving up the proportion of incomplete applications by about 15 to 20 percentage points, according to CIO managers. But in spring of 2010 CIC decided that it was acceptable if this field was left blank, so the proportion of incomplete applications fell dramatically.

Figure 3-2: Proportion of incomplete applications under MI1

Proportion of incomplete applications under MI1
  • Another indicator of how well applicants understood MI1 is the proportion of applications that ended in negative eligibility assessments.
    As highlighted in the following figure, the proportion of applications that ended in negative eligibility assessments started out at over 40%, but fell over time, suggesting that immigrants and immigration consultants generally understood MI1 criteria over time.Footnote 20

Figure 3-3: Proportion of negative eligibility assessments at the CIO

Proportion  of negative eligibility assessments at the CIO

In the initial period of MI1, the monitoring information gathered in the two previous figures informed CIC that it needed to make adjustments to its tools such as application kits, guides and forms. As a result, CIC continually improved these products, which helped inform immigrants and consultants, eventually leading to the reduction in the number incomplete applications and negative eligibility assessments.

The majority of NHQ informants were of the opinion that immigrants understood MI1. They suggested that the sheer volume of applications received is evidence of this understanding. Over time the acceptance rates on applications increased, which was an indicator that applicants were learning and understanding the new process; applicants (or their consultants) were quick to figure out how to creatively meet the requirements. Most respondents from missions (83%) believed prospective immigrants understood MI criteria at least to some extent.

3.2.3 Communications

Although the evaluation framework did not include any questions related to communications, the data collection did address this issue in relation to the level of communication between the CIO, Centralized Processing Region (CPR) and CVOAs.

Communications: While communication between the CPR and CIO was reported to be excellent, that between the CIO and CVOAs was indirect and insufficient.

Most informants indicated that the level of communication between the CPR and the CIO is excellent, commenting that the CPR provides oversight and is in regular contact with the CIO. There were no suggestions offered to improve the communications between these two groups.

Under MI1, communication between the CIO and CVOAs was indirect. The main mode of communication between the CIO and the visa offices was through CPR in its discussions with International Region via the intra-departmental working group and monthly conference calls. Neither CIO nor the visa offices were satisfied with the level of communication under MI1. On occasion, CVOAs received information on the volume of applications the CIO was receiving, but there was little information exchange beyond this.

With the introduction of MI2, the missions were able to provide feedback to the CIO about decision-making, but there still remains some dissatisfaction regarding communications. The CVOA survey respondents gave a C+ grade to communications between their office and CIO, stating that there is still no direct and effective line of communication between the CIO and overseas missions — both parties have to channel questions through Ottawa. One rationale for why non-case related feedback from visa offices is sent via IR to CPR is to ensure that the CIO is not bombarded with inconsistent direction about how to process their files.

One informant with CPR stated that program managers at missions too often take their complaints directly to senior decision makers in the department before giving the CIO the chance to respond to, and potentially rectify any problems. CVOA informants wanted a more dedicated channel of communication with the CIO. Recently, an email box was set up for visa offices to communicate with the CIO, which has improved communications, though CIO and CVOA informants said that it is mainly used for clarifying information related to specific files. A more formal mechanism was desired by the visa officer staff to be able to provide constructive feedback to the CIO.

3.3 Performance

The key findings concerning program performance are presented in this section. It begins with an assessment of two of the three key objectives of MI1: to process applications in a timely, consistent and transparent manner; and to limit the intake of applications and reduce the FSW backlog. The last sections discuss cost-effectiveness, the impact of centralization and MI2.

3.3.1 Timely, consistent and transparent decision-making

Timeliness

Q4: Does program delivery under the first set of MI facilitate the timely, consistent and transparent processing of prospective skilled worker immigrants?
Processing of MI1 applications started off within planned timelines (6-12 months), but soon fell behind as the number of applications climbed. However, the processing time was substantially faster for MI1 cases than it was for those submitted prior to the implementation of Ministerial Instructions.

In order to reduce wait times for new Federal Skilled Worker applicants, the Action Plan for Faster Immigration set the following MI objective: all eligible applicants should receive a decision on their application within six to 12 months. Administrative data shows that during the initial period of MI1 implementation, processing times were in line with CIC’s timeliness target. However, as the number of applications increased, CIC’s ability to process them within the stated objective decreased.

As the next graph (Figure 3-4) shows, the CIO average processing time was less than two weeks during the initial weeks of MI1. But as applications continued to flow in at a higher rate than forecasted, mean processing times climbed until they reached 90 days for negative assessments and 70 days for positive assessments as MI1 ended.Footnote 21

Figure 3-4: Mean processing time trends for initial CIO eligibility assessments under MI1

Mean  processing time trends for initial CIO eligibility assessments under MI1

For the typical MI1 applicant whose case had been decided by May 2011, the time between submitting an application and the final positive case decision at CVOA was 412 days, about a month and a half above the upper limit target of 12 months.

However, as illustrated in further detail in the cost-effectiveness section, while MI1 did not achieve the specific 6-12 month processing time objective, it was still faster than the previous FSW system. Processing times varied between 11 and 16 months, with an average of 13.6, in comparison to 25.5 months for the period from January 2006 to February 2008 (pre-C50).

Figure 3-5 shows time trends for each stage in the MI1 process. The time it took for missions to complete the final eligibility assessment, including the 120 days applicants had to submit all their documents, accounted for approximately half of the wait time on average. The time between selection decision and final case decision, which corresponds to the time required for background checks, took about a third of the total time on average.

Note that the overall time to final case decision appears to decline somewhat over time, but most of the decline is accounted for by a shorter timeframe for the final step, which is likely a statistical artefact; i.e., all cases that applied in May 2009 where a final decision was rendered within 24 months are included in the graph, but only those May 2010 cases where a decision was rendered within 12 months are included. The great majority of May 2010 (and subsequent) applicants are still in the queue.

Figure 3-5: Mean elapsed days between application received at CIO & final case decision at CVOA, positive decisions

Mean  elapsed days between application received at CIO & final case decision at  CVOA, positive decisions
Consistency

Q4: Does program delivery under the first set of MI facilitate the timely, consistent and transparent processing of prospective skilled worker immigrants?
The consistency in CIO decision-making from one officer to another, and the consistency between the CIO and CVOA eligibility decisions, was good. Although missions reversed 16% of CIO’s eligibility decisions, only 5-10% of these were due to a mistaken decision in the CIO.

Consistency in CIO decision-making

One of the reasons for centralizing the eligibility assessment under MI1, which is discussed in greater detail in section 3.3.4, was to ensure that all applications were treated in the same way, regardless of the country from which they originated.

In support of this objective the department implemented a variety of training and quality control initiatives to ensure that eligibility decisions were consistent from one CIO officer to another.

In addition to some initial training, staff at the CIO received coaching from experienced officers, and shared information and ideas informally among staff. It was also noted that all negative determinations were reviewed by a senior officer at the CIO. When a processing inconsistency was discovered, all staff received the same message and directions on how to handle the issue. The location of the CIO in Sydney, where staff turnover is low, also contributes indirectly to consistent decision-making, as staff became very experienced.

Interviewees at NHQ and those surveyed in the missions thought that consistency in CIO decision-making from one decision to the next was high, giving this element a mean grade of B+, and B- respectively. Those saying consistency was excellent tended to focus on the benefits of centralized intake on consistency, suggesting that when required administrative tasks are completed in one office instead of dozens of offices around the world, consistency should improve. Some CVOA informants pointed out that consistency was likely to be high under MI1 because the CIO did not have supporting documents for applications, so it had to accept that the information provided in the application was valid.

Figure 3-6: CIO consistency according to CIC NHQ and CVOA survey respondents

CIO consistency according to CIC NHQ and CVOA survey respondents

Consistency between CIO and CVOA decisions

The consistency between the CIO and visa office eligibility decisions was assessed using administrative data, the file review during the CIO site visit and the CVOA survey.

One of the indicators for assessing consistency was the reversal rate for CIO decisions. Reversals refer to an application that received a positive eligibility decision at the CIO, but had this decision reversed at the mission. In total, 76,781 MI1 cases were determined eligible at the CIO and referred to missions. In these cases, missions reversed 12,342, for an overall reversal rate of 16.1%.Footnote 22 However, it is important to recognize that some of these reversals were for cases that were withdrawn, or because applicants failed to send in the necessary documents within the 120 day time limit.

There are no central data at CIC to identify the different reasons that CIO eligibility decisions were reversed, so the site visit included a file review to better understand this issue. According to this file review, missions reversed the CIO decision because of a difference in their assessment of the case in only 4% of the cases: either because of an ineligible NOC (1%); or because the applicant did not meet the one-year experience requirement (3%). A further 5% were reversed because the applicant did not send the required documents within the 120-day deadline; and 4% were withdrawn by the principal applicant.

The CVOA survey also asked about this issue. Survey responses estimated the percentage of decision reversals to be about 9%, excluding those where the applicant had failed to send the documentation.Footnote 23 While this is higher than what was found in the file review, it is still lower than the total reversal rate and it is fair to conclude that the CIO error rate was probably between 5 and 10%.Footnote 24

The mean grade NHQ informants gave for consistency between the CIO and CVOA decisions was B- and the mean grade given by staff at the visa offices was C+ (Figure 3-7). Many of those who thought that decision-making between the two groups was less than average also felt that it was, in large part, a result of the fact that the CIO had only a partial application (with no supporting documents) and the missions had the complete application. Moreover, the missions had the benefit of local knowledge and much greater experience processing FSW applications, which might dictate a different decision. Some interviewees felt that the number of disagreements decreased over time.

Figure 3-7: Consistency according to CIC NHQ and CVOA survey respondents

Consistency  according to CIC NHQ and CVOA survey respondents
Transparency

Q4: Does program delivery under the first set of MI facilitate the timely, consistent and transparent processing of prospective skilled worker immigrants?
Most NHQ informants and CVOA survey respondents thought that the requirements associated with MI1 were transparent to outside observers.

Overall, the majority of CIC NHQ informants and CVOA survey respondents felt that the transparency of CIO eligibility decisions was good, giving this criteria a rating of B-. The reasons given were that MI1 was clearly delineated on the website; the criteria were clear; the department went out of its way to inform provinces and territories, the Canadian Bar Association, immigration consultants and other stakeholders; and applicants were informed about the decision and given an explanation if deemed ineligible. Some respondents downgraded their rating because the department could not be open about what the content of MI1 was going to be prior to their publication (between February and November, 2008), both because they had not been finalized and because CIC worried there would be a surge in applications, as had been the case with the announcement of IRPA.Footnote 25

Furthermore, the CIO worked to maximize transparency by following the Act and Regulations “to the letter”, not allowing room for much interpretation, and by developing templates of letters to clearly explain their decision to the applicant based on the Regulations (e.g., ineligible NOC; missing information in application).

3.3.2 Application intake and backlog reduction

Intake of applications under MI1

Q5: To what extent has the first set of MI reduced the intake of applications and contributed to reducing the backlog of FSW applications?
Although the volume of applications under MI1 was initially quite low, it increased very rapidly, and by early 2010 the quarterly intake of applications was higher than it had been prior to C-50.

MI1, by limiting who could apply for the FSW Program, was intended to reduce the intake of new applications, thereby allowing CIC to process these new ones on a priority basis while retaining enough annual FSW application processing capacity to also draw down the backlog. From what was known in early 2008, using the National Occupational Classification (NOC) as the principal means of limiting the intake of FSW applications was a reasonable option. The NOC is the nationally accepted reference on occupations in Canada. It organizes over 30,000 job titles into 520 occupational group descriptions, although only those in the professional and skilled occupational levels (NOC 0, A and B) are eligible under FSW. Limiting the number eligible for immigration to Canada under the FSW Program to 38 NOC should have substantially reduced the number of applications. In 2007, with no occupations restricted, 81,292 applications were received under FSW.Footnote 26 Policy makers who were interviewed believed that MI1 would significantly reduce the number of applications, with few believing that the number would reach 50,000 annually.

Although the number of applications received was initially quite low, it rose steadily over the delivery period of MI1, from 5,000 applications in the first quarter (12 weeks) of 2009, to 25,000 in the second quarter of 2010. This represented the highest intake seen prior to the introduction of Bill C-50 (see Figure 3-10). In total, from February 2008 until June 2010, CIC received 164,210 applications, excluding incomplete applications.

During the interim period between the effective date of the legislation (February 28, 2008) and the publication of MI1 on November 28, 2008, 59,442 FSW applicants applied even though the Department had not published the MI1 criteria and had strongly encouraged applicants to consider waiting until the new rules were published. During this period, referred to as pre-MI1, the only new applications processed were from those applicants with arranged employment (which are processed on a priority basis); most of the attention was placed on reducing the backlog, as discussed in the next section.

Figure 3-8: FSW application volume

FSW application volume

The next figure focuses on MI1 (excluding the “pre-MI1” cases applying in the interim period). The steady climb of applications is illustrated.

Figure 3-9: New applications received under MI1

New  applications received under MI1

According to most informants, the rebound in applications was due to the use of NOC codes to limit intake. More specifically, some of the high-demand occupations included under MI1 are very broadly defined and applicants/immigration consultants were able to creatively complete the MI1 application form in a manner that met the new criteria. Among the occupations mentioned by informants as particularly subject to creative interpretation were nurses, and college and other vocational instructors.Footnote 27

A number of informants also noted that defining a list of occupations needed by Canada created a type of “pull factor”, attracting applicants (many with creative resumes), who might otherwise not have applied.

There were also problems in the other two categories of eligible applicants under MI1. Firstly, there was a surge in arranged employment applications. Some interviewees in the missions indicated that AEOs are subject to fraud and should not have been included under MI1 at all. However, in response, key informants at NHQ pointed out that because the AEO eligibility stream strongly supports the objective of responding to labour market needs, it could not realistically have been excluded. Secondly, the inclusion of the FSW3 category provided a venue for many temporary workers and foreign students in Canada to apply for permanent residence. FSW3 was a new category with no regulatory basis, hence no clear definitions of qualifications, something consultants soon identified as a loophole.

As a result of the above mentioned outcome, informants and survey respondents rated the performance of MI1 very poorly. On average, CIC NHQ informants gave intake control a grade of C-. Some said their rating would have been lower had it not been for the initial months of MI1, when intake was down considerably, albeit because people had not yet adapted to the new regime. CIO informants and CVOAs gave intake control a C grade. Provincial representatives gave it a D-.

Figure 3-10: Intake control according to CIC NHQ, CIO and provincial interviewees and CVOA survey respondents

Intake control according to CIC NHQ, CIO and provincial interviewees and CVOA survey respondents
Backlog reduction

Q5: To what extent has the first set of MI reduced the intake of applications and contributed to reducing the backlog of FSW applications?
CIC was successful in substantially reducing the pre-MI backlog. However, as a result of the fact that MI1 did not ease application intake, a backlog of MI1 cases has subsequently been created.

While the strategy under MI1 was to limit application intake, the primary end goal was to reduce the large backlog of FSW applications that had accumulated by early 2008, and thereby reduce the wait time faced by potential immigrants. The government set the goal of reducing the FSW application backlog of 640,813 persons by 50% by 2013. More specific targets were set for key missions and are presented in Appendix G.

Figure 3-11 shows the trend in backlog between 2008 and early 2011. The pre-MI line drops steadily until June 2010, when MI2 was introduced, after which time it remains fairly steady, which can be explained by the fact that MI1 application intake ceased and MI2 applications were the processing priority. By April of 2011, the government’s goal of a 50% backlog reduction had been reached, two years ahead of schedule. The goal of a 50% reduction across seven key missions was also met by the end of 2010-11. By April 2011, the target of a 100% reduction in 15 specified missions had not yet been met by 13 missions, although eight additional missions were close to this target.

However, this finding needs to be understood in light of the fact that a substantial backlog of MI1 applications accumulated during this time, as a result of the higher than expected intake of applications, discussed above. As a result of the monitoring processes put in place, the CIO and CIC operations recognized this problem quite quickly. However, by the time the government introduced MI2, 132,900 applications had been submitted under MI1, leaving a total backlog that stood at 176,222 cases (493,742 persons) by late spring 2011. When this is combined with the pre-MI backlog, it represents a reduction of 23% from the total on February 27, 2008. However, if MI1 had never been introduced, CIC estimated that the FSW backlog would have been at least 850,000 persons by 2012.

Figure 3-11: Backlog reduction

Backlog reduction

Table 3-1: Inventory as of May 5, 2011 (persons)

Stage Pre-C50 Pre-MI1
(interim period)
MI1 MI2 Total Inventory
Pending eligibility 0 2,859 84,699 3,294 90,852
Pending selection 294,767 1,389 35,344 21,325 352,825
Pending final 24,525 3,695 16,780 5,065 50,065
Total 319,292 7,943 136,823 29,684 493,742

Source: RDIMS # 2763258; imm_caips_e_c50 as of May 5, 2011

3.3.3 Impact of MI2

As discussed previously in this report, the various issues identified through closely monitoring MI1, especially the continued high volume of applications, suggested that changes were necessary. Other factors also contributed to this conclusion:

  • The 2009 Auditor General’s report put pressure on the department to take action to curb intake and minimize a backlog of MI1 cases;
  • The recession reduced demand for labour in some of the NOCs included under MI1;
  • Provinces and territories were pushing for changes in the occupation list to help with their labour market needs; and
  • Competition for admissions space within the stable Annual Levels Plan continued to grow with increasing PNP admissions, growth of the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) ProgramFootnote 28 and the introduction of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).

The Minister introduced a second set of Ministerial Instructions to address these concerns. As described in the introduction, MI2 reduced the number of eligible occupations, established limits on the number of applications to be processed annually, made changes to the evidence required to demonstrate language proficiency and work experience, and excluded FSW3. Additional administrative changes were 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.

Impact of the introduction of MI2: Virtually all key informants asserted that MI2 is superior to MI1 in almost every respect and many gave credit to the lessons learned from MI1 for helping the department to do much better for the second iteration. However, the transfer of the eligibility decision to the CIO, which was done with the implementation of MI2, raises questions about the appropriate balance between efficiency and program integrity.

Nearly every key informant mentioned at some point during the interview that the major strength of MI1 was that it provided essential information that informed the development of MI2, which was viewed as superior to MI1 in many ways:

Controlling intake
  • Mandatory language testing and removing FSW3 reduces the number of applicants.
  • By establishing caps, CIC has total control over intake; i.e., once the cap is reached, new applications are not accepted.
  • In fact, initial monitoring data suggests that MI2 has been successful at limiting application intake (which was less than 17,000 eligible applications for the first year of MI2, compared to about 52,000 for the first year of MI1).
Improving processing efficiency
  • The caps may actually reduce the number of incomplete applications, because there is a risk to potential immigrants if there are delays in processing their applications; i.e., the cap will be reached.
  • Using language test scores, rather than having to read and subjectively score written submissions, makes the assessment process faster.
  • MI2 is much more prescriptive and clear in language of instructions. CIC now has documented decisions on how to handle specific situations.
  • These improvements in efficiency should reduce the time required to process an application which will, in turn, make the system more responsive to Canada’s labour market needs.
Reducing the workload in missions
  • The two-step eligibility process under MI1 led to delays and confusion, so all eligibility decisions are now made at the CIO and go to the missions for positive selection determinations, admissibility, and visa issuance.
  • Since there is no refund if an application is deemed positive at the CIO and negative decisions are not sent to the missions, missions have less clerical work to do and do not now have to deal with refunds (except for permanent resident fee refunds).

The CVOA survey respondents rated MI2 (B-) higher than MI1 (C+) overall. On average, missions felt MI2 decreased their workload somewhat as compared to MI1.

Despite these improvements under MI2, some of the associated administrative changes were viewed as potentially problematic. The most important of these was the fact that the eligibility decision now rests with the CIO. Key informants, particularly those at the missions and the CIO, but also some NHQ representatives, indicated that centralizing too much of the processing decision could increase the level of fraud, as CIO staff don’t have the local knowledge (e.g., language ability, understanding of the relevant education system or being able to verify the reliability of documentation) that is necessary to identify problematic applications. Some informants state that training CIO officers (possibly cross-training CIO staff overseas) and a more formal feedback loop would help to partially address this issue.

Related to this, while mission staff had no problem with the CIO making negative eligibility decisions, as the applicant can re-apply, many stated that their inability to reverse positive decisions can result in substantial additional work at the mission. In cases where they disagree with the CIO assessment, it is necessary to re-review the application and contact the applicant for further evidence of eligibility, in order to demonstrate procedural fairness.

Another administrative concern related to MI2 involves the need to keep track of the occupational caps. Both MI1 and MI2 allowed applicants to specify more than one NOC code for consideration, which was not a problem under MI1 because there were no limits on processing numbers. However, under MI2, with its various sub-caps, it is a substantial challenge. For example, it can be administratively challenging for CIO staff to manage applications if the applicant meets the criteria for multiple NOC codes. Because the initial cap counting is done at the clerical stage, when the file reaches the eligibility stage the cap for the particular NOC could be reached and the CIO officer would need to look at other eligible occupations. Similarly, if an applicant passes on eligibility and is included under the cap, but then has their credit card rejected, they need to be removed from the cap count, which is not easy under the current process.

3.3.4 Economy and efficiency

Economy and efficiency are key issues in any evaluation. In the case of MI, however, the focus of the associated questions was strongly influenced by an audit of the Selection of Foreign Workers under the Immigration Program undertaken by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) in 2009. This audit recommended, among other things, that the Department should, after the first year of operations, “evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the CIO and the extent to which it is meeting its objectives.”Footnote 29 This section of the report presents the available information on the cost-effectiveness of the CIO on the overall selection process. Because this information is inconclusive, and in order to comply with the OAG recommendation, it also looks at the achievement of other CIO objectives, most of which contribute to processing efficiency.

Cost-effectiveness of the CIO

Q6: Is the processing of FSW applications through the CIO more cost-effective than the previous approach?
The financial data available to assess the impact of the introduction of the CIO on FSW processing costs was not sufficiently detailed to arrive at definitive conclusions related to cost-effectiveness.

Extensive consultations were undertaken with Finance, CPR and International Region to compile financial data that would allow for a comparison of the costs before and after the establishment of the CIO. The original goal was to use data from CIC’s Cost Management Model (CMM) to determine the cost of processing one FSW application pre-MI, to the cost for one received under MI1. However, the level of detail captured in the CMM was not sufficient to allow for this assessment. More specifically, the time required to process an FSW application overseas does not distinguish between the three categories of skilled workers that are processed: Quebec skilled workers; FSWs who applied prior to the introduction of MI1; and FSWs who applied under MI1.Footnote 30 However, according to key informants, the actual level of effort to process each type of application is significantly different: generally, Quebec cases take less time than the other two types, and pre-MI cases take longer than MI1 files. Therefore, if the CMM identifies fluctuations in the total time dedicated to processing FSWs in a mission from one year to the next, it may be due to changes in the composition of the caseload, rather than to changes in the time required to process one of the three types of FSW applications.

Despite this limitation, a partial cost analysis of the CMM dataFootnote 31 from 2006/07, 2007/08 (pre-MI), and 2009/10 and 2010/11,Footnote 32 was conducted, and concluded that no general trend could be drawn in terms of the cost of processing an application over the four-year period. The average overseas cost/application fluctuated by 5-8% each year, but the direction of this fluctuation was not consistently up or down: i.e., the cost in 2006/07 was less than that in 2009/10, but the cost decreased a bit between 2009/10 and 2010/11.

Although it was not possible to quantify the impact of the introduction of the CIO on FSW processing costs, there is some evidence, related to the CIO’s original objectives, that centralization of the initial assessment of applications leads to efficiencies compared to the previous model.

Achievement of CIO objectives

Achievement of CIO objectives: The CIO, by addressing its specific objectives, has introduced a variety of improvements and potential efficiencies to the processing of FSW applications.

As discussed in section 1.2.2, the decision to centralize the front-end processing of FSW applications had four specific objectives, none of which were directly related to cost-effectiveness:

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

While a detailed assessment of the achievement of these objectives was beyond the scope of the original evaluation framework, the associated research did identify a number of relevant findings.

Front-end processing

The elapsed time required to process FSW applications under MI1, as discussed in section 3.2.3, was significantly less than under the previous process. Figure 3-12 presents the time it took from application to visa issuance under MI1 as compared to the previous system. In the pre-MI period from January 2006 to February 2008, the typical file took 25.5 months to process, although this had fallen to 18.7 months on average over the final six months.Footnote 33 But even in comparison to those last six months, selection processing time was much faster under MI1 than under the previous system, varying between 11 and 16 months, with an average of 13.6.Footnote 34 This decrease in processing time should have a positive impact on labour market responsiveness of the FSW Program, as new immigrants in high demand occupations will arrive in Canada more quickly. In addition, assuming that the level of effort required for processing applications doesn’t change from the previous model, centralization of front-end processing is more efficient; i.e., the department will achieve better results (faster decisions) for the same resources. In addition, the time currently required to manage the inventory (e.g., responding to enquiries, updating information, and the need for, and transport to, storage facilities) will be reduced as that inventory diminishes; i.e. the department will achieve the same result (management of the inventory) with fewer resources.

Figure 3-12: From application received date to visa issuance date — in months

From application received date to visa issuance date – in months
Workload in Missions

In general, mission respondents felt that the CIO had reduced their clerical workload under MI1, although this was offset by the need to spend more time on other tasks, such as responding to applicant complaints (particularly from those in the backlog), tracking three types of FSWs, closing 120-day cases, monthly reporting, and communication with the CIO. However, mission staff were largely positive about the role of the CIO under MI1 because doing the completeness check, file creation and cost-recovery in Canada freed up mission staff for work in clearing the backlog. However, it is important to emphasize that this sentiment only reflects missions’ views about the CIO in the context of MI1 and not MI2/MI3. As discussed in the previous section, missions contend that there are serious risks relating to program integrity that can result from the further centralization of processing tasks.

Consistency in implementation, assessment and record-keeping

Part of the reason for establishing the CIO was to be able to implement MI1 quickly and consistently: when the administrative tasks are done in one place by the same people, with the same training and quality control procedures, it is reasonable to expect that decisions will be more consistent than when these tasks are done in dozens of offices around the world. Section 3.2.3 provides evidence to demonstrate that the consistency in CIO decision-making (from one officer to the next), and the consistency between the CIO and CVOA eligibility decisions, were good.

However, it is also important to note that centralizing the front-end processing of applications has a positive impact on the consistency of data collection, as the same variables are collected from every mission. It also improves data reliability because the data are captured in the same way from all missions; for example, the CIO noticed that missions had different ways of entering applicant names into the data system and was able to establish consistent data entry protocols. Centralized processing also enabled the CIO to identify anomalies such as ghost consultants.

Management of fees

The centralization of fee payment, like the centralization of front-end processing, reduces the clerical workload in missions, and thus contributes to the overall efficiency of the process. However, as noted in the OAG report, the Department encountered some problems in managing application fees when it centralized the intake of FSW applications. While applicants under MI1 were instructed to pay the application fee to the CIO in Canadian fundsFootnote 35, it was quickly discovered that there were some countries where a certified Canadian bank instrument is impossible, or at least very difficult, to obtain.

In response, on May 29, 2009, Operational Bulletin 121 was released outlining new cost-recovery procedures at selected missions to assist applicants who could not obtain certified Canadian bank instruments. These procedures allowed applicants to pay their application fees at these missions in the local currency. Missions were also able to reimburse/refund clients where appropriate. Early in September 2009, applicants were also given the option of paying their FSW application fee with a credit card. This was a preferred solution for many clients, as it was easier and more efficient.

Generally, interviewees were supportive of centralizing the handling of payments and the department continues to work on initiatives, in partnership with GCMS and the Receiver General, to identify processes whereby most applicants can pay via electronic solutions.

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