CIMM - Impact on Processing and Operations - Mar 8, 2021
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) operations continues to adapt, innovate and evolve since the onset of the pandemic almost a year ago.
We continue to shift limited resources to focus on priorities, increase digitization of applications to allow for more remote processing, streamline our processes where possible and resume in-person operations while respecting public health and safety guidelines.
More specifically, the Department continues to prioritize processing for vulnerable people, those seeking to reunite with their immediate and extended family members in Canada and those in essential services. Additionally, IRCC’s in-person services across Canada, and visa application centres around the world have begun to reopen.
At the same time, we are exploring more ways to improve services to clients while managing through the pandemic.
Thanks to these new measures and additional resources, progress is being made every week. In November 2020 we completed 29,700 permanent resident application final decisions across all permanent resident business categories, roughly the same as our pre-pandemic number from February 2020.
IRCC began to process virtual permanent resident admissions in April 2020. From April 20–November 30, 2020, the Department has completed approximately 62,000 virtual admissions.
Our virtual permanent resident landings process has now actually reduced the amount of time it takes to land a permanent resident compared to the pre-pandemic process. As of February 19 2021, IRCC welcomed more Permanent Residents for this year than for the same period in 2020, before the pandemic.
Prioritization of application processing
The Department has an agile and nimble workforce, which has quickly adjusted in the face of COVID-19 processing challenges. In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the Department responded by prioritizing delivery of critical services, such as:
Certain business lines under the temporary residence program including in-Canada extensions, seasonal agricultural workers, essential and vulnerable workers, and more recently students.
Certain business lines under the permanent residence program including Express Entry (Canada Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Program), spousal (in-Canada and those who are exempt from travel exemptions under the Order-in-Council), Permanent Resident Travel Document and Humanitarian and Compassionate.
Asylum, including accepting asylum claims received electronically.
Continuing resettlement of government-assisted refugees through the Urgent Protection Program.
The Permanent Residence for Protected Persons in Canada program.
Urgent proofs of citizenship and the implementation of virtual ceremonies.
Passports, including urgent travel documents.
Over the spring and summer, IRCC equipped its officers with the tools to support remote processing where possible, partially reinstating our operational capacity both in Canada and abroad.
All IRCC offices in Canada are open and operating at various capacities.
More specifically, nearly 80% of our in-Canada officers are working remotely. Due to recent offices reverting to critical status (as of February 9, 2021), the remaining 20% of staff are either performing critical work in offices or pivoting to remote work where possible.
Three out of five Case Processing Centres that have been integral in supporting business resumption (CPC-M, CPC-O and OSC) are currently under lockdown. CPC-E was removed from lockdown on February 22, 2021.
In lockdown conditions, these offices are functioning at a reduced on-site capacity, focusing primarily on the performance of critical functions. These lockdowns may affect how much IRCC can ramp up to deliver more ambitious targets in 2021.
IRCC’s international offices, on average, approximately 50% of our workforce are in the office daily and approximately 26% are working remotely; however, some staff remain unable to work in the office or remotely on a full-time basis.
Facilitation measures and innovation
The Department implemented facilitative measures to extend submission deadlines for clients who face delays due to COVID-19 restrictions. IRCC is currently exploring options to return to pre-pandemic processing standards, while recognizing that officers will need to be flexible with clients missing documentation, if the service is not available in their country due to a COVID lock-down. These potential measures may further reduce the inventory created as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate returning to pre-pandemic processing times.
Digitization projects are underway to help upload thousands of paper files to the Global Case Management System for remote processing across the Integrated Network.
The Department has also implemented digital innovations and virtual alternatives to facilitate some client-facing services such as virtual interviews for some business lines, virtual landings as well as virtual citizenship ceremonies and online testing. In cases where virtual alternatives are not available, in-person services are provided at reduced capacity (where possible in accordance with the Departmental Pandemic Resurgence Monitoring System Report guidelines).
IRCC continues to accept and process temporary resident applications, though we recognize that service disruptions and travel restrictions due to COVID-19 may have an impact on processing times and the client’s ability to travel to Canada at this time.
IRCC’s operations has shifted its limited capacity in order to implement new measures to facilitate family reunification, international students and essential workers.
Exemptions for immediate and extended family
IRCC has implemented a process to facilitate the entry of extended family members of Canadians, persons registered under the Indian Act, and permanent residents, as well as of immediate family member of foreign nationals, who are exempt from the travel restrictions.
From October 8 to February 1, 2021 (inclusive), the Department has received over 95,000 emails that include written authorization requests and inquiries regarding travel restriction exemptions for immediate family member of foreign nationals and extended family members of Canadians, persons registered under Canada's Indian Act, and permanent residents.
IRCC implemented several measures during the global pandemic to assist with the processing of study permit applications, whilst responding to the needs of overseas applicants including the two-stage eligibility process and a travel exemption for certain international students:
A two-stage eligibility process was implemented to facilitate international students starting a program in the fall 2020 semester as well as the winter 2021 semester, by allowing for a positive eligibility assessment while certain admissibility assessments were still pending (e.g. biometric collection). This temporary measure provided some reassurances to international students who cannot submit all of the documentation needed to complete processing of their applications, and who choose to pursue programs through distance learning.
IRCC issued approximately 64,500 stage-one eligibility letters to students studying in the fall 2020 semester, and reviewed approximately 34,300 applications for students studying in the winter 2021 semester.
On October 20, 2020, the amendments to the Orders-in-Council (OICs) came into effect and travel to Canada resumed for asymptomatic international students planning to attend an institution determined by the province or territory to be ready to support students from a public health perspective.
To the extent possible, the Department has continued to process permanent resident applications to limit the buildup of a large inventory of applications when the travel restrictions are lifted, and support admissions.
For applications not yet entered into the system, due to reduced operational capacity, the Department has not maintained its pre COVID‑19 pace of issuing an Acknowledgement of Receipt (AOR) to clients under certain permanent residence categories for which applications are paper-based.
To minimize impacts on applicants, modified AORs have been implemented for certain application categories to advise clients that their applications have been received, but have not been accepted for processing yet.
The Department has continued to apply the facilitative measure whereby applications are not rejected or closed if the applicant is unable to submit missing information/documentation due to COVID-19 related reasons. This measure has impacted processing times as many incomplete applications remain in the inventory.
Recognizing that the service disruption related to COVID-19 has resolved (in full or in part) in most countries around the world, the Department is currently exploring options to return to pre-pandemic processing standards, while recognizing that officers will need to be flexible with clients missing documentation, if the service is not available in their country due to a COVID lock-down. This way the Department will be able to address some of its inventory of incomplete applications.
For applications that can be finalized, IRCC’s operations continues to catch up to pre-COVID permanent resident processing levels of final decisions. For example, in January 2021, we completed over 26,000 permanent resident final decisions across all business lines compared to 29,500 in February 2020 – the last full month before COVID restrictions were introduced.
IRCC has also shifted resources to facilitate applicants who received their Confirmation of Permanent Residence (CoPR) before March 18, 2020, (thus exempt from travel restrictions), by implementing a process to allow clients to travel to Canada using their expired CoPR document along with an authorization letter from IRCC.
To further facilitate clients, on November 9, 2020, the Department soft-launched a secure Permanent Resident Confirmation Portal that allows clients to send and receive protected files and finalize the in-Canada landing process digitally. Clients can now submit a recent photo through the portal to use as part of their permanent resident card application and download their “eCoPR”.
Permanent resident cards
Permanent resident card processing was paused at the beginning of the pandemic and resumed as part of business resumption in August 2020.
The current processing time for permanent resident cards for the 12‑month period ending on January 31, 2021, is 115Footnote * days for new permanent resident cards and 131Footnote * days for renewal/replacement cards.
Permanent resident travel documents
In May 2020, an alternate method for application intake, processing and document issuance of permanent resident travel documents was implemented. Clients are now able to email their complete applications to a designated inbox and foil-less documents are provided where regular VAC services are unavailable.
In response to the operational impacts due to the pandemic, IRCC has repositioned certain decision makers and shifted files to offices with additional capacity in order to increase access to spousal applications, process these applications more quickly and reduce wait times.
This has increased the monthly number of applications the Department is processing for spouses, partners, and their children – from fewer than 1,000 in May 2020, to just over 4,400 in January 2021. IRCC processed just under 46,000 applications by the end of the 2020.
For overseas spouses and partners, our service standard is 12 months for processing times. For the 12-month period ending January 2021, the service standard adherence rate was 48% (down from 76% in January 2020).
While the Department is prioritizing work permit applications related to critical services and labour market needs, economic permanent resident applications continue to be processed to a certain point, although overseas applicants present a challenge as most are not able to travel to Canada, given current travel restrictions.
Since September 17, 2020, the Department has allowed provinces and territories to request a processing pause for applications impacted by COVID-19, where applicants are filling labour market needs that will support economic recovery. The measure was extended until March 2021. IRCC is committed to actively engaging our provincial and territorial counterparts on this program.
In 2020, around 106,400 permanent resident admissions were in the Economic Class out of around 184,400 total admissions, accounting for 57.7% of overall admissions in 2020.
Immigration Medical Examinations
Our panel physician network is operating at 96% capacity globally (92% in Canada). Generally, there are no delays for applicants to complete Immigration Medical Exams (IMEs), however we have received recent reports of some clients in Canada being unable to obtain appointments within our 10-day service standard. Our Regional Medical Office is aware of this issue and currently working with panel physicians in the affected areas to increase capacity.
Although the cancellation of citizenship events as a result of the global pandemic has extended the wait time for citizenship grants to 17 months as of January 31, 2021, IRCC’s operations has implemented a number of innovative tools to limit the delivery of the citizenship program during the global pandemic:
On November 26, 2020, IRCC announced the launch of the online citizenship knowledge test. As of January 31, 2021, the Department had sent over 15,000 invitations to clients in the test-ready inventory to take the test online.
The Department has also leveraged existing videoconferencing capabilities for conducting interviews, hearings, and providing accommodation measures to those who request them.
With our virtual citizenship ceremonies, almost 50,000 clients have become new citizens between April 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021, in over 9,000 ceremonies.
Furthermore, on November 30, 2020, the Department launched the initial phase of the citizenship grant electronic application (e-application). In this initial phase, approximately 10% of randomly determined citizenship grant applicants visiting the Department’s website see the option to complete an e-application.
While this business line has been affected by COVID-19, 3,300 proofs of citizenship were issued in January 2021. Urgent proofs (certificates) of citizenship also continue to be processed for repatriation efforts within two business days.
Throughout the pandemic, IRCC and service delivery partners (Global Affairs Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada) continued to process passports and travel documents applications.
Essential passport services abroad continue to be provided to Canadian citizens despite significant COVID-19 related challenges faced by our missions in many countries. Since when COVID-19 first emerged in certain parts of the world (January 31, 2020), more than 4.6Kemergency travel documents and temporary passports have been issued by missions abroad.
Since when COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic (March 19, 2020) and impacted in-Canada services as well, more than 370K passports and travel documents have been issued.
Domestic passport mail-in services resumed on July 31, 2020, and in-person appointments became available for Canadians with an immediate need.
The Minister signed a public policy in March 2020, allowing IRCC to receive asylum claims electronically and issue Acknowledgement of Claim letters that provide access to the Interim Federal Health Program and social services.
Since March 17, 2020, IRCC has received over ten thousand claims electronically. Over one thousand have been referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board for a decision.
Due to the impact of office closures and not being able to interview clients for eligibility decisions and collect biometrics, online asylum claimants have not been able to receive work permits.
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