Thank you for inviting us to come and talk about the modernization of services. As you know, the Canadian Council for Refugees is a national organization that accommodates more than 180 member organizations serving immigrants and refugees. We are very concerned in relation to the modernization of services happening within the IRCC. We want to talk a little bit more about how it impacts refugees and vulnerable migrants.
One of the things we have been seeing is that with the modernization, the changes on the website and online have been especially impacting refugees and our member organizations. They have been burdened by the work that has been downloaded onto them in terms of all the forms and also in applying.
I want to give you two examples of the impacts. One is that people have to pay for any of the applications, such as when refugees apply for permanent residence as convention refugees, or when people apply under humanitarian and compassionate grounds, or for work permits. They have to pay online. If you look at the online payments, you see that they're focused on immigrants.
When you talk about refugees, first of all, refugee claimants who've just arrived in Canada don't have access to credit cards. One of the problems we have seen is that it puts them in a vulnerable situation, because he or she has to count on a friend to give the credit card, or some of the settlement workers have to lend their credit card as a way to pay the fees. In the past, it was possible for the person to go and do the payment at any bank and then send a proof of payment. That was easier, because the person could go to the bank and send it by mail.
That's one of the challenges we've been seeing.
As well, when it's online, some of the refugees don't have either the access to computers or the expertise in terms of technology experience. Many come from either a refugee camp or countries where access to computers is more difficult.
The other example I want to bring to you is with regard to prepaid credit cards. We have been bringing this up at our round tables with the IRCC. They say that the person can buy a prepaid credit card, but on the prepaid credit card we haven't had a satisfactory response from the IRCC, because the prepaid credit card is always a very low amount of money.
The other point is that the electronic fill-in forms have also been a burden, especially with private sponsorship. To give you an example, schedule A is the form in which you need to declare what has happened or what you've doing for the last 10 years. You're trying to connect through Skype and fill in all the information with the client when they're outside the country. Even when you are doing the forms or the work permits here in Canada, it takes longer. That is one of the challenges.
We do see a positive in that when it's done online, we can scan all the IMM forms. Most of the time, private sponsors can save money on UPS and couriers, because they don't need to send it.
I also want to bring forward the fact that in the modernization, they have been increasing some of the fees, but there's no consistency from the IRCC officers. As an example, if a refugee claimant is refused, they have to pay the fee for the work permits. If you read online, they say that they increased it by $100, but it's not related to refused refugee claimants. When we tell that to the client and fill out the forms and do the payment, sometimes they send the application back because some of the officers are asking for $100.
What I'm trying to say is that the modernization of the service has some inconsistencies, and also there is no harmonization in the information that they provide to the immigration officers. For example, if you call the call centre, it gives you different information. We are recommending to the IRCC that, first of all, it take into serious consideration that if it is going to do a modernization and do everything online, it needs to consider the diversity and the different categories that are involved in immigration.
Also, in the past all of these have been focused on the economic perspective, but we also need to focus on the refugees and on how the vulnerabilities happened. At CCR we are concerned that sometimes when they start looking for help, they can be taken advantage of or exploited by having to pay fees for something that they could do for free if the access were more understandable. We also look at whether they are going to do the morning sessions for services. We also look at them talking to NGOs and having a consultation with them, because we are the ones doing things on the front line and working with the clients and doing the clear work.
One of the things we are looking at with the modernization is effectiveness. We have been saying to the IRCC and even to the minister that, for example, one aspect of the modernization should be to speed up the processing times, especially for family reunification. That is not happening. Also when a person is making a refugee claim, at the same time they could be using the interim federal health program and they could be issued a work permit. In that case, the person could start working.
That concludes my remarks.