Government of Canada Response to the Second Report of the
Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, “Protecting Canada and Canadians,
Welcoming the World: A Modern Visa System to Help Canada Seize the Moment”
The Government of Canada thanks the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration for its Second Report entitled “Protecting Canada and Canadians, Welcoming the World: A Modern Visa System to Help Canada Seize the Moment”. This report was tabled in the House of Commons on March 24, 2014. The Government supports the overall intent of the Report and welcomes the opportunity to have these issues examined from the broad perspective of the many stakeholders who participated in the Committee’s study.
As affirmed in the 2011 Speech from the Throne, the Government is committed to addressing threats to our national security and protecting the integrity of our immigration system. The Government recognizes the historic importance and significant contributions of immigrants and temporary residents to Canada. The Government understands that in order to continue welcoming record numbers of temporary residents to enrich our economy and our communities and to ensure that Canada remains a destination of choice, the visa system must be user-friendly and efficient. We also recognize the importance of legitimate trade and travel to Canada’s economy. In 2013, Canada issued a large number of visitor visas and study permits. The Government understands that in order to continue welcoming large numbers of temporary residents to enrich our economy and our communities, and to ensure that Canada remains a destination of choice, the visa system must be more user-friendly, timely and efficient. It is not a choice, in today’s global market, it is a competitive imperative. Canadians must also have confidence in the integrity of the system. To that end, we continue to develop policies and practices to strengthen and modernize the visa system with enhancing client service and protecting Canadians’ safety and security.
In recent years, the Government has made great strides to both facilitate the entry of temporary residents and uphold the integrity of the visa system. Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 also provided an investment to significantly bolster Canada’s capacity to process temporary resident applications to meet the demand. Initiatives such as those stemming from the Beyond the Border Action Plan enhance border security, increase information sharing, and strengthen identity management capabilities.
While the Government has made much progress in this regard in recent years, the Committee’s Report has put forward some important recommendations. In order to articulate its ongoing vision for the Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) system, while addressing the totality of issues raised in the Report, the Government response will be addressing each of the Committee’s recommendations individually.
Recommendation 1: That the Government of Canada further develop its e-application system to prevent delivery delays for applications. That the Government of Canada make the visa application system more user friendly to allow hosts to enter information directly in an e-application that can be submitted for processing.
Government Response: Agree Fully
The Government continues to innovate to make it easier and faster for visitors, students and business people to visit Canada. Currently, approximately one third of temporary resident applicants use the online system. The Government takes seriously the need to safeguard the privacy of personal information it collects while improving accessibility and services to all those who apply. In the current online client system, also known as MyCIC, the onus is on the client to complete an application and gather all of his or her documents before uploading them into the e-application system. Our objective at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is to see the vast majority of visitor visas submitted and processed online at the earliest possible date. We also seek to have e-applications available on all platforms, including smartphones and tablets.
In situations where a Canadian host needs to provide a letter of invitation or support to the applicant, including financial documents, the host will send the letter and supporting financial documents to the applicant, who in turn uploads the information with their online application. This means that applicants can view confidential information provided by their Canadian host.
Alternatively, the Authorized Paid Representative portal is a system that is similar to what is being proposed by the Committee. In this system, a third party such as a Canadian lawyer or immigration consultant gathers the information from both the applicant and the Canadian host and uploads the relevant application and supporting documentation into the portal. Further information on the Authorized Paid Representative portal may be found at: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/e-services/portal.asp. Guidelines for writing a letter of invitation in support of a temporary resident applicant can also be found on CIC’s website (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/letter.asp). The Government will consider the Committee’s recommendation as further refinements and developments are made to the e-applications system and will examine the costs and logistics for implementing changes to its system.
Recommendation 2: That the Government of Canada continue to liaise with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in order to enhance the protection and privacy of personal information collected at visa application centres abroad.
Government Response: Agree
The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation and considers the protection and privacy of personal information a priority in the oversight and management of the global Visa Application Centres (VAC) network. CIC has the mandate to deliver Canada’s immigration program abroad and is working to improve client service around the world as a part of its modernization agenda. VACs are an example of Canada’s commitment to improving service to applicants and increasing processing efficiency. VACs are also key to the implementation of biometrics in Canada’s immigration program by offering more points of services to enrol biometrics. While extensive safeguards are in place, having a private company handle personal information entails some risk of negative stakeholder perceptions. To curtail this, CIC has engaged the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) at critical phases to ensure that privacy risks are identified and eliminated or mitigated in the global VAC network. CIC will continue to liaise with the OPC in developing any new requirements for VACs that may have an impact on the protection of personal information.
Recommendation 3: That the Government of Canada explore the feasibility of an alternative fee structure for an express visa service that is timely and achieves business commerce needs.
Government Response: Agree Fully
One of the top priorities for this Government’s immigration policy is making it easier and faster for legitimate travellers to come to Canada. This is good for Canada’s economy – now and in the future. The Government strives to issue visas as quickly as possible in order to facilitate travel for tourists and business visitors. In addition to continually improving its client services, CIC is working with its partners and supporting the Federal Tourism Strategy, as well as the Government of Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan. While CIC does not have a fee for express visas, the department has developed specific facilitative initiatives targeting business visitors and tourists in key markets where the volumes and demand warrant and where the risks to Canada and Canadians can be mitigated.
For example, the Business Express Program (BEP) expedites business travel from China, India, Mexico and Chile with visas issued within days and an approval rate of close to 100%. The BEP was created in 2010 to provide qualified businesses and their employees with a number of service advantages, including less paperwork, priority processing of visa applications, and a dedicated service to respond to the needs of those within the program. Another facilitative measure is the launch of the CAN+ program on May 12, 2014 which streamlines visa processing for people from Mexico with previous travel to Canada or the USA. These programs are aimed at providing a fast, simplified visa application experience.
As well, in February 2014, the Government implemented new processing fees in the temporary resident program. There is now a single fee of $100 CAD for the processing of either a single- or multiple-entry visa in comparison to the previous separate fees of $75 and $150 respectively. As a result, visitors to Canada are now automatically considered for a multiple-entry visa when they apply for a visitor visa. By harmonizing the single- and multiple-entry visa fees, the visa application process is now simpler for applicants and promotes tourism and trade by increasing the number of eligible travellers who are able to make multiple visits to Canada. These changes also reduce the burden on Canadian taxpayers and provide a greater degree of assurance that fees closely reflect the real cost of processing applications. CIC now has an appropriate fee structure that closely recovers the costs for the various programs. In addition, CIC will explore the feasibility of an alternative fee structure that would be based on specific eligibility criteria in order to allow more flexibility vis-à-vis processing times and service standards.
Recommendation 4: That the Government of Canada make publicly aware to applicants that, in many circumstances, they can retain their passports during the application process and that when passports are collected by the government, they are returned as promptly as possible.
Government Response: Agree Fully
Under Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013, the Government of Canada announced an investment of $42 million over two years to enhance CIC’s capacity to process temporary resident applications. This investment aims to meet the growing demand from foreign visitors who want to come to Canada. To improve client service, CIC created an online application system for overseas visitors, which means applicants can hold on to their passports until near the end of the process.
To increase awareness about this facilitative measure, CIC will update its web site and visitor visa instruction guide and include this information within the e-application. It will also include this messaging when promoting CIC’s facilitative measures, for example, in departmental news releases, media responses, fact sheets, and through social media channels.
While it is operationally efficient to allow e-applicants to hold on to their passports until the end of the process, in some cases it is not as efficient and convenient if applicants are submitting a paper application without their passport through a VAC. In particular, it would be administratively burdensome on the visa office to temporarily store the application while they contact the client to request their passport.
Recommendation 5: That the Government of Canada continue its efforts to reduce fraud in student visa applications by expediting its efforts to implement proposed regulations which seek to ensure that students come to Canada to designated institutions. In implementing these regulations, CIC should continue to work closely with the institutions affected.
Government Response: Agree Fully
The Government agrees with the Committee that international student-related fraud poses risks to the immigration system and to public safety. The Government has worked collaboratively on this issue with provincial and territorial ministries of immigration and education for several years, as they are constitutionally responsible for education and the regulation of educational institutions in Canada. The Government will continue to strengthen the integrity of Canada’s immigration program by implementing regulations that require study permit holders to actively pursue their studies, reduce the number of non-genuine and poor quality educational institutions hosting study permit holders, and facilitate the entry into Canada of those foreign nationals that sincerely wish to obtain a Canadian education.
CIC’s 2010 Evaluation of the International Student Program (ISP) identified integrity gaps within the ISP, including non-genuine students and questionable educational institutions. As a result, regulatory amendments to the International Student Program were published in Part II of the Canada Gazette on February 12, 2014, with a coming into force date of June 1, 2014. Key reforms include introducing new study permit conditions requiring international students to be enrolled and actively pursuing studies while in Canada on a study permit, and limiting issuance of study permits to international students destined to designated educational institutions. CIC is working closely with all provinces and territories to conclude bilateral arrangements that will allow them to designate post-secondary institutions for the purpose of hosting international students. All provinces are working through designation processes to ensure that institutions in their respective jurisdictions will be designated by June 1, 2014. Additionally, a reporting system is being developed that will allow designated institutions to report to CIC on the status of international students, in support of departmental study permit compliance activities.
Recommendation 6: That the Government of Canada explore the feasibility of conducting in-person interviews in situations where there is a possible risk of trafficking in persons seeking entry to Canada as part of larger groups.
Government Response: Agree in Principle
Human trafficking is a criminal offence under both the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Federal anti-trafficking efforts are coordinated by the Human Trafficking Taskforce lead by Public Safety Canada. In June 2012, the Government consolidated its ongoing efforts to combat human trafficking through the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (NAP) which emphasizes the need for awareness in vulnerable populations, support for victims, dedicated law enforcement efforts, and for all Canadians to prevent the trafficking of individuals. The Government unequivocally condemns trafficking of persons and continues to take strong actions to address it. The Government works with its provincial and non-government organisation partners and plays an active role in the fight against trafficking of persons through the NAP. In light of this, the Government continues to implement various program integrity and quality assurance tools, including the use of interviews to reduce the risk of human trafficking.
Although CIC and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers interview all suspected victims of human trafficking in Canada, as well as some overseas, it is not practical for visa officers overseas to interview all large delegations destined to Canada. All visa offices are under intense pressure to simultaneously increase facilitation and reduce processing times, as well as to cope with annual increases in requests for visas. CIC’s overseas officers will continue to interview applicants as warranted, at the discretion of the officer.
Recommendation 7: That the Government of Canada consider establishing exit controls for border crossings by air and water, in addition to the existing exit controls at land border crossings, and to ensure that CBSA and CIC officers have the information they need to target high-risk passengers efficiently.
Government Response: Agree in Principle, further work required
In December 2011, Canada and the United States (U.S.) announced the Beyond the Border Action Plan (Action Plan). Establishing an entry/exit information system to address threats at the earliest possible point was viewed as essential to strengthening security. Entry/Exit supports the Government’s commitment to manage the flow of legitimate people and goods into and out of Canada, and to prevent the departure of high risk goods and/or travellers. On June 30, 2013, Phase II of the system was launched at all automated common land Ports of Entry to systematically collect exit information on the Third Country Nationals and Permanent Residents of both countries. To date, more than 5 million exchanges have occurred.
The Government agrees with the Committee’s recommendation. As per the Canada–U.S. Beyond the Border Action Plan, Phase III of the Entry/Exit Initiative will include expansion to include the systematic exchange of biographic entry data on all travelers at all automated land border ports of entry. In Phase IV, Canada will develop exit information systems for air travel. With respect to air travel, Canada will develop a system to establish exit protocols, similar to that in the U.S., under which airlines will be required to submit their passenger manifest information on outbound international flights. Exploratory work will also be conducted for future integration of entry and exit information systems for the marine and rail modes. Legislative and regulatory changes will be required in order to implement the subsequent phases of Entry/Exit.
Recommendation 8: That the Government of Canada equip CIC and CBSA officers with the tools they need to monitor immigration lookouts on all intercepted lookouts.
Government Response: Agree in Principle, work already underway
The Government agrees in principle with the Committee’s recommendation. Specifically, a lookout is an intelligence product designed to identify a person, corporation, conveyance, good or shipment that may pose a threat to the health, national security, economy or environment of Canada and Canadians. Advanced controls around the lookout process are critical to the interception of high-risk travellers connected to terrorism, organized crime, and irregular migrants. If these controls do not function as intended, high-risk travellers may enter Canada and threaten its security, safety and economy. As such, the Government continues to implement more rigorous performance reporting, quality assurance, training and learning standards to improve lookout processes.
CIC and the CBSA currently have tools to monitor lookouts and report on intercepts. An immigration lookout may be issued for a number of different purposes. For instance, they may be issued to identify individuals involved in human smuggling or trafficking, immigration fraud or organized crime groups. An intercept is an encounter between CBSA or CIC officers and the individual, goods or conveyance named within a lookout. As the CBSA and CIC work to strengthen existing lookout practices and tools, the Government recognizes the importance of these efforts to the overall security of Canada and Canadians.
In 2008, a comprehensive Lookouts Policy was developed in response to the Office of the Auditor General’s report Keeping the Border Open and Secure. In 2012, an operational bulletin was released to clarify officer safety cautions. Officer safety cautions are supplementary to a lookout and assist in identifying if the subject of a lookout poses a threat or danger to an officer, the public or themselves. A Lookouts Working Group was also established in September 2012, to review the lookout management process. This led to the release of a National Directive in 2013 to mandate the consistent and timely reporting of lookouts and the revision of the Lookouts Policy and Standard Operating Procedures to clarify accountabilities and responsibilities of staff. For proper follow-up of lookouts, it is critical to consistently document results of referrals and the results of secondary examinations. Lookouts currently housed in the CIC Field Operations Support System (FOSS) will be transferred to CBSA systems prior to the decommissioning of FOSS. At that point, those lookouts will be managed and maintained by the CBSA according to its Lookout Policy.
Recommendation 9: That the Government of Canada review existing training and guidelines with a view to ensuring that administratively clear instructions and appropriate training and quality assurance measures are in place to improve the consistency and clarity of decisions made by visa officers. Particular attention should be given to the meaning and application of dual intent provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Government Response: Agree, work ongoing
The Government recognizes that prospective Permanent Residents may wish to visit Canada before immigrating and that they can respect the terms and conditions of their temporary resident visa, including leaving Canada at the end of their authorized stay. The Government has also expressed its commitment to attract more international students to Canada, and to tap into this source for the selection of highly skilled workers as permanent residents who will contribute to the Canadian labour force in the long term.
The Operational Bulletin (OB) 131, issued in July 2009, instructs all CIC visa officers in Canada and abroad and is the foundation of all decision makers’ training. It provides a definition of dual intent; reaffirms that an application for temporary resident status will not be refused based on dual intent; and clarifies what steps temporary residents must take in the application process. OB 131 refers to the Principles of Procedural Fairness that oblige officers to inform the applicants of the reasons why the application was refused. Pursuant to section 72 of IRPA, an applicant who believes that the decision maker erred in their decision has the option to apply for leave and judicial review by the Federal Court. When a decision is overturned by the Federal Court, the decision maker and their manager are informed. Managers have the responsibility to use this opportunity to provide guidance to their staff to correct their approach and to ensure consistency within the office.
For purposes of consistency, such decisions are communicated internally and training material and guidelines are amended accordingly and serve as a quality assurance exercise. In addition, network-wide program integrity exercises take place twice yearly to ensure quality assurance and quality control.
Training on “dual intent” is provided to all new decision makers. Before they are allowed to make decisions on an application, new decision makers have to demonstrate through an examination that they possess the capacity to apply the Act and its regulations. Training on “dual intent” is also included in refresher training sessions given to officers before they are posted abroad. Further, refresher courses on the Act and its regulations are provided regularly to decision makers abroad.
The Government will continue to ensure that the training they provide to the decision makers reflects the Act and its regulations and constantly evolves to address any areas identified for improvement.
Recommendation 10: That the Government of Canada review the visa application guide in order to give applicants a better understanding of the information required to fill in a complete visa application.
Government Response: Agree Fully
As part of its modernization agenda, the Government is committed to providing clients with easier, more accessible quality services. For example, CIC makes it easy for clients to complete their applications, which they can submit in English or French, either through its online system (MyCIC), or by using the services of one of 129 VACs in 92 countries.
Overseas applicants can use the services of a VAC, to get administrative support services in their own local languages help to ensure that applications are complete before they are transferred to the visa office for a decision. VACs offer support services to applicants including accepting their applications, documents and bank drafts payable to the Canadian embassy or high commission, verifying their applications for completeness, and securely transmitting these to and from the respective visa offices. Also, the CIC website offers numerous guides, checklists and FAQs to help applicants submit complete paper applications, which in turn, decreases refusal rates. For those who submit their applications online, CIC offers an interactive, online tool, known as the Come to Canada Wizard, which helps visitors through the steps of an application and provides the relevant forms and instructions. By following the steps in the application guides, including completing the relevant forms and submitting the requested documents, clients are able to submit complete applications to CIC.
The Government is committed to improving its service to clients and CIC has developed new client service goals to help guide the delivery of services such as ease of use, timely service, up to date case information, clear decisions and opportunities to provide feedback. This recommendation fully aligns with the ease of use goal and the government is assessing each lines of business to identify opportunities for improvement. The Government welcomes the Committee’s recommendation and recognizes that there are some differences between the online application checklist and the paper application guide and checklist. The Government will immediately correct the discrepancies of which we are aware and work to further streamline the TRV application guides, including plain language editing, to ensure that the majority of applicants will understand the basic requirements needed to submit a complete application. In the context of reviewing and improving online applications, the Government is already working to provide more client specific information in a client’s refusal letter.
Recommendation 11: That the Government of Canada consider establishing a list of countries whose nationals may be eligible for expedited visitor and student visas. That it also establish an appropriate fee structure that would better recover the costs of processing applications, including those for expedited visitor visas.
Government Response: Agree in Principle
To continually improve its client services, CIC has developed specific facilitative initiatives targeting business visitors, tourists and students in key markets where the volumes and demand warrant it and where the risks to Canada and Canadians can be mitigated. To successfully deliver these facilitative initiatives, CIC works closely with trade and policy colleagues at the missions, as well as with trusted external partners, such as the Association of Canadian Community Colleges and other Canadian education stakeholders; the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC); the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, and known and genuine companies.
Efforts to implement facilitative initiatives are paying off. Together with the CTC, CIC has implemented the Tourist Partner Program in India, the Travel Express Program in Mexico and Approved Destination Status Preferred program in China, all based on partnerships with reputable travel agents. More than 31,000 such applications were received at the Canadian visa offices in Beijing and Shanghai last year. Processing times averaged less than one week and the acceptance rate was 96%. These programs are aimed at providing a fast, simplified visa application experience. As iterated in the Response to Recommendation 3, a new processing fee was introduced in February 2014 to ensure that fees closely recover the real cost of processing applications.
Furthermore, the Student Partners Program in India and China achieves higher student permit approval rates for those who study at one of a number of Canadian community colleges with permits issued within 14 days and an approval rate of close to 100%. In addition, China introduced a Study Direct Stream with similar criteria, but open to any post-secondary education program that is eligible for the post-graduate work permit program. As well, both Brazil and Mexico have implemented similar student facilitative initiatives tailored to their specific environment and client needs.
The Government does not maintain a specific “list of countries for expedited services” because it would be too costly and impractical to maintain. However, based on the success of its numerous visa facilitation programs, the Government will continue to work with its partners to provide service enhancements for key priority markets. To maximize its finite resources, CIC targets key markets where Canada derives the most benefit.
Recommendation 12: That the Government of Canada establish a program that streamlines applications from foreign nationals who have already been screened by the United States and examine the feasibility to include those screened by the European Union.
Government Response: Agree in Principle
The Government is committed to improving its client services so that Canada remains a destination of choice for international students, tourists and business visitors. CIC’s Visitor Visa Program seeks to achieve a balance between facilitating legitimate travel while protecting the integrity of the immigration and asylum system and protecting the health, safety and security of Canadians.
As recommended by the Committee, the Government has taken steps to make it easier and faster for travelers to come to Canada if they have previously travelled to Canada or the U.S. For example, the CAN+ program expedites visa processing for visitors from Mexico, which ensures that visas are issued faster than usual and at a higher approval rate. These applicants, who must demonstrate that they have previously travelled to Canada or the U.S. in the last 10 years, do not need to normally provide proof of financial support. The CAN+ program has been endorsed by the Canadian tourism industry as it helps make Canada a more competitive destination, while continuing to protect the safety and security of Canadians. The Government launched the CAN+ program for Mexican nationals on May 12, 2014, following a six-month pilot. We are exploring the feasibility of expanding the CAN+ program to other priority markets.
As the Government continues to implement new technologies, processes and capabilities, including those stemming from the Canada-U.S. Beyond-the-Border Action Plan, it will explore more ways to facilitate legitimate travellers, including those screened by trusted partners. There are several critical factors the Government must carefully consider when deciding whether to accept immigration screening done by peer countries. These factors include differences in legislative and admissibility frameworks, information sharing capabilities, and privacy concerns. Further to Beyond-the-Border, our Can + and Trusted Traveller/Nexus programs include administrative arrangements with the United States only. That said, we are looking to expanding further partnerships with other countries who, among other factors, have similar security regimes to Canada. Ultimately, Canada must retain its sovereignty in making admissibility and eligibility decisions, particularly as it relates to screening applications for threats to Canada’s national security.
In introducing new facilitative measures, CIC will continue to ensure that it is able to mitigate the risks to Canada and Canadians while protecting the integrity of our immigration system. The next few years will bring about more improvements to the temporary visitor visa system to encourage repeat travel to Canada while maintaining the safety and security of Canadians. The Government will explore further facilitative or specialized processing programs in key markets, undertake visa reviews of certain countries to verify whether they qualify for an exception to the TRV requirement and develop an electronic screening tool for the future.