New data shows big boost in hiring at Canada’s immigration department. ‘What were they doing?’

The Toronto Star

Nicholas Keung The Star Mon., Nov. 14, 2022

Only eight months into 2022, Canada already received almost as many permanent and temporary resident applications it did in 2019 before the pandemic.

After a two-year slump, the engine of the country’s immigration system is running above its capacity in 2019 by 45 per cent and the number of permanent and temporary residence applicants processed through the system is bound to exceed the 3.2 million recorded in the pre-COVID year.

According to never-before-published data, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada currently has 8,104 front-line operations staff, up from 5,583 in March 2019 — with the bulk of the extra work force added since the beginning of 2022. That is despite the number of staff on leave having crept up from 559 in March 2019 to 733 in October.

Those employees who continued to telework have also come down from almost 100 per cent at the beginning of the pandemic to 71.8 per cent last month.

“More people can do more files,” immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland told the Star. “Combined with the artificial intelligence decision making system, it should result in greater volumes of decisions.

“You’re having the A.I. do the heavy lifting. You have more humans to take care of files that need that human touch now on track, and they’re on the right path.”

But there are also numbers that immigration officials would rather see in check:

  • Web forms, a main mechanism for applicants to communicate with the department, rose from 1.61 million in 2020 to 2.26 million in 2021 and 2.42 million as of September this year;
  • Access-to-information requests, another key tool for inquiries, spiked from 98,042 pre-pandemic to 204,549 in 2021, before declining to 122,016 to date this year;
  • The number of lawsuits against the immigration department for a court order to compel officials to process a file rocketed from 112 cases in 2019 to 963 in 2022.

Not all critics are convinced the immigration system is back on track.

“Why do we have 45 per cent more people processing applications yet still have these backlogs?” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens. “I’m curious as to why it feels like processing times just keep getting worse in numerous programs and certain visa offices. I don’t understand.

“Is it glitches with new tech? Are there IT issues at certain visa posts? Are there tech issues with working from home? It’s hard just to know what’s going on from the data because the ‘why’ is missing and the department won’t say.”

Ravi Jain of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association says the ramped-up staffing levels at the department did not jive with the “massive slowdown” in people’s experience with the immigration system. He would like to see a royal commission report into the immigration delays and backlogs.

“What were they doing? I don’t think they were doing much,” said Jain. “They can’t get away with this. It just feels criminal to me because it’s affecting people in so many different ways.”

As of Aug. 31, Canada received more than 2.9 million new permanent and temporary resident applications through the major immigration programs. With four months remaining in 2022, those numbers are certain to push the total above the 3.2 million files in 2019.

Over the time period, immigration officials processed 2.25 million immigration applications — 207,590 permanent and 2.04 million temporary residents, compared to the total of 3,225,130 (235,257 permanent and 2.99 million temporary residents) recorded in 2019.