Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 8:51
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before your committee. I'll begin with a few brief remarks and I'll be happy to take any questions you may have.
My name is Alex Benay. l'm the Chief Information Officer of Canada at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
I am responsible for providing strategic direction and for the implementation of policies relating to service, information management, information technology, security, privacy and access to information across the federal government.
The finding in the Auditor General's most recent report identified opportunities where Treasury Board policy direction can be strengthened to better support improvements to call centres. The Auditor General made several recommendations that will help the Government of Canada fulfill its commitment to improve service delivery to Canadians.
Over the past few years, TBS has developed various policy instruments to help departments take a more client-centric approach to the design and delivery of services, including the development and publication of service standards. While we've made progress, we agree that there is still much work to be done.
l'm glad to say that we have already begun this work. Currently, the Treasury Board Secretariat is reviewing existing policy instruments, with the goal of identifying opportunities to strengthen policies to better support improved services through all service delivery channels, including call centres.
For example, we recently introduced a set of digital standards that will help guide departments and agencies in designing better services for Canadians. One of its key principles is to design and develop services with users in mind and to work with them to understand their needs and the problems we want to solve. While they may be called digital standards, they are, in fact, applicable to all the service delivery channels whether they are offered online, in person or by telephone.
In spring 2018, the government approved targeted amendments to the policy on the management of information technology and the policy on the management of information, setting the foundation for the long-term development of a comprehensive policy on service and digital for the Government of Canada.
This proposed policy will build on the client-centric principles of the current Policy on Service, and provide direction for the design and development of seamless, integrated services that meet the needs and expectations of the Canadian public.
We're also working on enhancing our existing guidance and tools to support the development and publication of clear and consistent client-centric service standards. Both the proposed new policy and its supporting directive and guidance will incorporate changes to ensure that government services have comprehensive and transparent client-centric standards, related targets and performance information for all service delivery channels in use, including call centres.
The Treasury Board Secretariat will continue to work with federal departments and agencies to ensure service standards for call centres are more consistent, meaningful and transparent to Canadians.
In closing, I look forward to your committee's report and recommendations on this important issue.
Thank you for your time, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
That's good. I'll just weave in my message and keep saying how wonderful you are, because you understand how bad it is that the government's not giving the Auditor General enough money to do his job. That's why I'm so pleased to see.... No, I won't do that.
I thank you, Chair.
Secretary, what troubled me, on page 16, 1.62 stood out. “We found that the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat developed a government-wide service strategy in 2017: the Government of Canada Clients First Service Strategy.” That sounds great. “The strategy prioritized providing services online but did not include call centres or mention the government-wide modernization of call centres, despite the fact that they continue to be an important way for clients to get information.”
That number is 25%, a quarter of all Canadians use that. How on earth did you get to the point where you were planning contact for services for Canadians, and never gave a thought to the phone? Twenty-five per cent of Canadians.... Given the fact that Michael Ferguson's mantra was, again, “Do service well”, don't measure how well you move paper or a message from one desk to another. Measure the outcome for citizens and how they are, or are not, receiving the services they're entitled to.
How could something this obvious—a quarter of all Canadians—be overlooked in this grand strategy?
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:09
When the service strategy was issued in 2017, it was supposed to be channel agnostic. Since then we looked at the recommendations from the Auditor General and will integrate phones into the next series and issues of our June release for the digital policy and all the policy instruments that will come with it, and we will become very specific on various service channels.
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
The thinking at the time was that an agnostic service strategy was a better approach.
Alex Benay
View Alex Benay Profile
Alex Benay
2019-05-30 10:10
Not necessarily targeting one particular service channel. It could be mail. It could be in person. It could be digital. The thinking at the time was that an agnostic approach was good. At this point we've seen all the recommendations from the OAG and we'll move to make every service channel clear.
View David Christopherson Profile
NDP (ON)
People are paid good money to be planners. The whole idea is that they're supposed to think these things through. I understand if it was a small percentage, but a quarter of all Canadians? That's really disheartening. It's further disheartening that you don't seem to be able to acknowledge when anything is wrong. All you want to do is talk about how wonderful things are. I've told deputies before, don't come in here and be defensive. Do what the Auditor General did and approach the criticism that way. If it's wrong, say so, admit it, acknowledge you failed, and then say what you're going to do about it.
Don't spin. That's our job.
Voices: Oh, oh!
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
Thank you very much.
We talked about the fact that senior women don't have a great deal of access in terms of programming. One of the things that bothered me—I was a seniors critic and a veterans critic—was that government is using technology more and more. They're putting things online and the answer to someone who needs help is “Well, it's online”. To someone who is not literate in terms of that, that doesn't help.
We have all of these 1-800 numbers, and if you sit there for 45 minutes listening to the recording, it finally drops off and you have to start all over again. I think this lack of human contact is problematic. Is there a role for the federal government in terms of re-establishing that human face to programs, the things that people need, so that they can access them as they did in the past?
Lia Tsotsos
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Lia Tsotsos
2019-04-30 9:22
I would say there is a need for that, not only to provide a level of human contact but also to take into consideration the fact that, in addition to not being technologically literate, people may not have those technology devices, the Internet or the ability to get to a place where there is Internet, like a library, for example.
I think the removal of some of those person-based services really does a disservice to a much wider group than one might think upon first reflection. We just think, “Oh, you don't know how to use to a computer”. Well, they may not have access to one, they may never have had access to one and they may not have the ongoing ability to then continue that technological engagement as they continue to age and as they continue to develop sensory or mobility challenges, for example.
Maybe now it's okay that they can get themselves to a library, but two years from now they could have had a hip fracture and no longer be able to. I would say that, yes, the bare minimum of services should be able to be conducted in an in-person forum, or somehow talking to a person and not solely online, because that would really just impact a much larger swath of people than I think we might realize.
Vanessa Herrick
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Vanessa Herrick
2019-04-30 9:23
I think it requires a certain level of creativity. I was at a conference recently and I saw a really interesting presentation from a local CLSC in Quebec, and it was having difficulty with this. How do you reach these communities? How do you reach people who aren't online or who can't afford the Internet?
What they did—which I thought was really brilliant—was that they sent out messages with the Meals on Wheels people, and they had little notes saying, “Would you like us to call you with these services?”
This way it's not put on the senior to phone them. It's not onerous for them to find these people and find the information. Many of them are already benefiting from Meals on Wheels. These are people whom they know and are comfortable with. All they have to do is tick off a box, give it back to the person bringing them the meal, who is responsible for bringing it back to the CLSC, which follows up and says, “Okay, you expressed interest in these different services; what can we do for you?”
They had a really high level of success. It just takes some creativity and not always relying on the same ways we've done things.
View Irene Mathyssen Profile
NDP (ON)
How widespread is that kind of approach? You talked about it in Quebec, but does anyone know if it's something that is utilized in the other provinces and territories?
Vanessa Herrick
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Vanessa Herrick
2019-04-30 9:24
I haven't heard of it anywhere else, but I don't know. I can't speak to that for sure.
Michael Ferguson
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Michael Ferguson
2017-11-30 8:48
Thank you.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our fall 2017 report on Canada Revenue Agency's call centres. Joining me at the table is Martin Dompierre, the principal who was responsible for the audit.
Every year, taxpayers have questions about their taxes. The agency's telephone call centres are an important way for members of the public to obtain tax information, especially for those who do not have Internet access, those who are uncomfortable using computers, and those who cannot find answers on the agency's website.
Our audit looked at whether the Canada Revenue Agency's call centres provided Canadians with timely access to accurate information. We focused on calls received on three of the call centre's telephone lines—one for individuals, one for businesses, and one about benefit payments. We also examined the agency's methods of assessing and reporting on its call centres' performance.
Overall, we found that the agency did not provide timely access to accurate information.
We found that the agency blocked 29 million calls, which was more than half the calls it received. The agency monitored how long callers waited to speak with an agent. When the average wait time approached two minutes, the agency either blocked calls, usually by giving them a busy signal, or directed them to the automated self-service system.
The agency told us that callers would prefer a busy signal or an automated message to waiting more than two minutes to speak with an agent. However, the agency had not surveyed callers to verify this assumption. As a result, callers had to make an average of three or four call attempts in a week, and even after several attempts, some callers still didn't reach an agent.
Through our tests, we found that the rate of agent errors was significantly higher than what the agency estimated. Call centre agents gave us inaccurate information almost 30% of the time. This is similar to the test results of other assessors and significantly higher than the error rate estimated by the Canada Revenue Agency.
We found that the agency’s quality control system didn't test the accuracy of agents’ responses effectively or independently, so the results of its tests were unreliable. For example, in most cases, agents knew that their calls were being monitored, which may have encouraged them to change their behaviours to improve their performance.
Finally, the agency reported that about 90% of callers were able to reach either the self-service system or call centre agent. However, we found that percentage didn't account for the calls it blocked, which were more than half its total call volume.
Only 36% of all calls made to the agency's call centres reached either an agent or a self-serve system and lasted a minute or more. Furthermore, by blocking calls or redirecting them to the self-service function, the agency was able to report that it achieved its two-minute service standard for agent wait times.
We are pleased to report that the Canada Revenue Agency has agreed with all of our recommendations and has committed to taking corrective action.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Thank you.
Serge Beaudoin
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Serge Beaudoin
2017-11-02 11:00
Good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members. Thank you for inviting us here today.
I am accompanied today by Lyse Langevin, Director General of the Community Infrastructure Branch of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
I am here today to provide information on this year's wildfires affecting first nations communities, emergency management on reserve, and on-reserve fire protection. I will also talk on our department's work on partnering with first nations and supporting their efforts to advance community resiliency.
In the spirit of reconciliation, the Government of Canada is committed to partnering with indigenous people in building resilient communities. It is really through this partnership that we action our shared priority of ensuring the health and safety of first nation residents. A critical component in ensuring the achievement of our shared priorities is departmental support of indigenous communities to effectively respond to and recover from emergency events, such as the wildfires that occurred this year.
As with any community in Canada, the responsibility for emergency management on reserve starts with the first nation communities themselves as the first level of response. When an emergency event exceeds the capacity or capabilities of the communities, they seek assistance from the provincial or territorial government, and if necessary, from the federal government.
Currently, the department supports first nation communities during emergency events through the emergency assistance program. This is a program that supports the four pillars of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery.
For response to emergencies, the emergency management assistance program reimburses first nations, municipalities, provinces, and territories, as well as third party emergency management service providers, up to 100% of eligible response and recovery costs, including costs of evacuations. Eligibility is determined according to the program's terms and conditions.
In recent years, events such as wildfires and floods are increasing in frequency, severity, and magnitude. This is a global trend, but this trend is also true in Canada. These events can result and have resulted in severe social, environmental, and economic consequences for both indigenous and non-indigenous communities alike. However, due to their relative remoteness and isolation in fire-prone areas, many first nation communities are more vulnerable to emergency events and the vulnerability can be exacerbated by remoteness or access to services during emergency events.
Thus, despite making up less than 1% of Canada's total population, one-third of wildfire evacuations over the last three decades in Canada have involved on-reserve indigenous communities. This year, 2017, has seen highly significant wildfires in four provinces affecting indigenous communities, including Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. During this period, first nations experienced the largest ever number of wildfire emergencies, 49 in total, resulting in their second largest ever number of evacuees. We're looking at over 12,800 people evacuated from first nations.
Alberta saw almost 500 evacuees as a result of wildfires in the southern part of the province. Statistically, this year, British Columbia experienced the largest ever provincial state of emergency. They experienced a record-breaking burnt land mass and approximately 3,200 first nation community residents were evacuated. In Manitoba this year, close to 7,000 remote indigenous community residents were evacuated and in the case of Wasagamack First Nation, community members resorted to using locally owned boats due to the immediacy of the wildfire threat. I'd like to emphasize that this was an extremely high-risk evacuation for the residents and demonstrates how quickly an emergency event can evolve and impact communities. Finally, in northern Saskatchewan, close to 2,300 indigenous community residents were evacuated from Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.
Overall for 2017, the estimated departmental response costs to support first nations communities in emergency events have been identified at just over $34 million.
During the immediate response phase of an emergency event, communities leverage existing service delivery capabilities within first nations, municipalities, provinces, territories and third party emergency management service providers such as the Canadian Red Cross.
Access to the services beyond the first nations capacity is secured through comprehensive emergency management service agreements between the department and the provinces or territories. Five such agreements are currently in place, and where an agreement is not yet in place, historical arrangements are in place, or other mechanisms to ensure a comparable level of service to those offered elsewhere in the province or territory.
However, the service agreements formally ensure that first nation communities have access to comparable emergency assistance services to those provided to neighbouring communities and non-indigenous communities.
In the spirit of partnership, the new agreements are being negotiated with the full participation of regional indigenous organizations. In the recovery phase of an emergency event, the department supports the repair or restoration of critical infrastructure on reserve to a pre-disaster condition to allow evacuees to return home. With the increase in wild land fire activity and increasingly strained fire suppression efforts, ensuring sustainable community recovery is becoming more and more critical.
In recognition of this, the department is also focusing efforts on the mitigation and preparedness pillars of emergency management. For preparedness and mitigation efforts, the department, in partnership with first nations, invested approximately $12.5 million in non-structural emergency mitigation and preparedness projects. These first nations community-led projects enhance capacity, placing emphasis on indigenous knowledge and practices. For example, since 2015 the department has funded regional partners to a total of $6.9 million to support FireSmart projects in indigenous communities.
To support the protection of first nation communities from the threat of wildfires, the department provides $16.5 million to provinces and territories annually under the emergency management assistance program for wildfire management agreements. Services provided in these agreements range from prevention to pre-suppression to suppression costs.
In addition to wildfires, community fire protection is an essential service that can make the difference between life and death for community residents.
First nations manage fire protection services on reserve. Community officials make the decisions regarding fire protection services under the annual core capital funding they receive from the department. To this end, first nations may establish their own fire departments or contract fire protection services from nearby communities.
Since 2008-2009, the department has provided almost 27 million dollars per year for capital investments, operating and maintenance costs, as well as firefighting training.
The department also funds the Aboriginal Firefighters Association of Canada to support them in coordinating a number of fire prevention awareness and training activities, and advising on implementation of our joint first nations fire protection strategy. This strategy promotes initiatives that focus on fire prevention in order to support indigenous communities in reducing the risk of fire-related deaths and injuries, as well as losses to critical infrastructure.
The department is also committed to the creation of an indigenous fire marshal office. This would provide support to indigenous communities in their efforts to improve life safety and protection of residents, property, and environment. It would also support the development of appropriate indigenous fire services and relevant programs and services. We will continue to work in full co-operation with the Aboriginal Firefighters Association and other key partners on these and other critical elements that we know are needed to enhance fire safety for first nation communities across Canada.
The Government of Canada recognizes that a greater focus on fire prevention is absolutely critical to keeping people and communities safe from fire. This is not just about raising awareness of the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety, but also increased investments in first nation housing to help make homes on reserve meet applicable building codes and regulations.
I'll conclude by emphasizing that the department remains absolutely committed to partnering with indigenous organizations and communities in ensuring the health, safety, and resilience of their communities.
Finally, we will continue to work with them and other partners to ensure that indigenous communities receive comparable services to those of non-indigenous communities in Canada.
Thank you for your time. Merci.
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you again, Minister. Coming from the community, you and I worked with the community long before we became MPs. These are the habits we have developed over the years.
Regarding the client services, as you know, much of our money gets spent on the immigration files on a daily basis. If you talk to one client or to 50 clients, the answer is basically the same. They will probably tell you that the process is taking too long, unsatisfactory answers, dropping of phone calls, and the list goes on. What can you tell them, Minister? What have you done to improve this, and is there something coming soon?
View Ahmed Hussen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you. That's a really great question.
Client service is not just about faster processing and reducing backlogs or eliminating them. It's also about how we interact with people. It's about how the immigration system deals with the client in terms of how they feel after going through a phone call, or how they find the complexity of the forms, the website, and so on. All those things are on the table with respect to client service, so it's not just the question of processing times and backlogs.
Client service is our focus and we meet frequently about this. I get weekly updates on the progress we're making with respect to client service.
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
Minister, we have talked about the crooked consultants. We heard the horrible stories. I personally want you to watch one of the videos that I'm going to give you on how people get ripped off. They are talking about committing suicide and so on.
I think many of us believe that if the application were made easier to fill out, people could do it themselves. Because the application is a bit harder, they end up going to the crooked consultant and this is where they get ripped off. Is there any way we can shorten it? Can something be done?
View Ahmed Hussen Profile
Lib. (ON)
Doing something with respect to lessening the complexity and making it easier to use forms, the website, the phone, and the 1-800 number is absolutely part of our focus, making sure that, not only is it easier to use the various aspects of the immigration system, but also having the client, once they interact with the system, feel much better than they did coming in. That means putting them first, putting the client central to everything we do.
Does that mean faster processing times? Absolutely. Does that mean reducing wait times? It also includes the fact that some people don't mind waiting a little bit longer if they know what the status of their file is. Therefore, that may also include communicating more regularly with the client and letting them know the progress of their file.
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
From time to time—we hear this on a regular basis—people who fill out their own applications make a mistake. They're trying to save $1,000 or whatever the cost is.
We asked this question many times in the last committees. If there is a smaller issue, for example, data is filled out wrong, filled out in the wrong spot, or minor variances, why can't we call or email the client to tell them to fix it?
Robert Orr
View Robert Orr Profile
Robert Orr
2017-03-20 17:14
We're making real efforts so that we're not rejecting applications for minor issues of that nature. We're also getting better at communicating with our clients, be it by email, by phone, or face-to-face interviews, indeed.
We're also using technology more effectively. For many applications that are not electronically lodged, we now have a mechanism where people can register, and then they can submit supplementary material very rapidly. This is making the turnaround for applications much faster. It's growing, but we're seeing very positive results from that.
View Borys Wrzesnewskyj Profile
Lib. (ON)
Committee, I understand that Mr. Arnold has a commitment that he has no option but to leave for. I will allow Mr. Arnold the opportunity to quickly say a few words, and we'll then launch right into questions.
I understand you have to leave in about seven to 10 minutes.
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:29
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is David Arnold. I am the chief migration officer. I work for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection as part of the Australian government. I'm a posted officer here at our high commission, just down the road on O'Connor Street.
We thank you for the opportunity to present today and talk a little about some of the client service modernizations that my department has been undertaking over the last couple of years, and certainly what we're looking to do into the future.
My department manages millions of entries into and departures from Australia of temporary visitors and permanent migrants, as well as Australian citizens. This includes the monitoring and resolution of their status, and the promotion of values and Australian citizenship.
Our visa system plays a key role in promoting Australia's economic and social prosperity. Australia has a universal visa system—that is, every single individual who wishes to travel to Australia for temporary or permanent purposes is required to have a visa before they board their method of travel.
The department already manages a significant volume of activities through digital channels. One such example is our electronic travel authority, which I know Canadians have introduced recently; as well as our ImmiAccount, an online portal for visa applicants; and SmartGate. Like Canada, we have traditionally had front-line officers doing a passport check and an admissibility check, like a border service officer here. We've moved that to more automation through SmartGate, using e-passports and biometric capture.
ImmiAccount, in particular, has been quite a success for us in moving clients away from higher-cost channels such as face-to-face ones and by telephone. Individuals who make application to travel to Australia are required to establish an ImmiAccount. It's not dissimilar from, say, setting up an Internet banking facility with your financial institution. It acts as our front door. Since its launch in 2013, it has grown significantly. Clients are able to access 41 forms, essentially 41 visa types to travel to Australia. It generates in excess of $1.1 billion a year in revenue through visa application charges.
Last financial year, we received more applications via ImmiAccount than we did paper applications. Applications lodged via ImmiAccount are 100% electronic. We have no paper files for those applications. Approximately 18 months ago, Australia moved away from the issue of foil; we refer to it as a “visa label”. There is no longer any legislative means to issue a foil to a visa applicant or visa holder to Australia. For example, in the very limited processing that some of my staff do here in Ottawa, we don't see passports. That has enabled the department to set up a rather agile and responsive service delivery network, where we can pick up visa applications and caseloads and move them very quickly depending on the issues—for example, post-natural disasters or generally big demand, such as during Chinese New Year.
We are moving our eLodgement to our biggest caseloads in the foreseeable future, which will be Chinese nationals and Indian and Indonesian applicants. We do partner with service delivery agencies, as Canada does. Those organizations at the moment accept applications on our behalf via paper. That will soon move to digital for those particular markets, which will enable us to move our most significant caseloads around our service delivery network.
View Marwan Tabbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for being here. We apologize that we had to quickly run to the House for votes.
As you know, for all of us MPs, most of our work is dealing with a lot of immigration files, so we're looking at ways to improve the system. With the advanced technology available now, are there better ways to improve client services through more online services or with technology? I'd like to hear from a couple of you.
If anyone wants to speak first they can, but maybe we can go around and ask that question.
Chantal Desloges
View Chantal Desloges Profile
Chantal Desloges
2017-02-01 16:34
I have a couple of comments about that.
First of all, in terms of use of technology, I think there are a lot of functions within IRCC that could be automated to allow for a greater client touch without necessarily generating more work for people by having to send handwritten emails.
For example, there are very simple software solutions that allow you to send autogenerated emails to people at various periods of time. One of the biggest complaints from clients is not necessarily about how long they have to wait but that they don't know what's going on; they're not able to find out what's happening with their case. Even just an autogenerated email that we'd send to them every once in a while just to let them know and reassure them that everything is fine, that their file is with us, and that we're working on it and we'll get back to them if we need anything, I think, would be an easy solution.
The other thing is interview scheduling. A lot of time is wasted calling people for interviews that they can't make at a particular time and then they have to be rescheduled through a manual process that is very time-consuming and labour-intensive. There are simple software solutions that allow people to choose their own interview time, which are fully automated and don't require any manpower whatsoever. Those would be two really simple ways.
Finally, there is the immigration e-CAS system, through which you can go online and check your case status. There is rarely any useful information in it. That system already exists and it could be used to much greater effect if officers could simply upload the information more regularly. People could go on and check their status online and not have to bother with phoning the telecentre or emailing Immigration.
View Marwan Tabbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
That was one of my other questions. A lot of our time is wasted just getting status updates. Clients come in and ask where their application is, at what step, and then we have to fill out a consent form and so on and go through all the steps and then call and finally deliver that message to our constituents.
Thank you for sharing that.
Would anyone else like to share?
Go ahead, Mr. Green.
Stephen Green
View Stephen Green Profile
Stephen Green
2017-02-01 16:36
I'll be very brief.
I think it's important to understand that immigration is a human endeavour, so while we can push a lot of stuff to technology, please don't forget that there is a human element to this. In the old days we used to have centres that people could walk into. I would submit that if you opened up some of those centres to a restricted audience who could attend there, 50% of your inquiries would drop.
My last comment would be that the call centre is a wonderful thing. It has helped a lot of people, but the problem, unfortunately, is that there's not enough information given out. If I call on behalf of my clients, it takes about four to five minutes for me to go through a process to identify myself. If you call the bank, you give them your client ID and you're in—one, two, three. Immigration actually goes through the application: is your client's address this? Is your client's telephone number this? What is your address? What is your name? And it must do this for each file. So if I have four files, I go through this four times. It's really not efficient.
Last, you can't tell the client on the phone that their application is in process; we know that. They have to be able to give more information. If that was released, and if these call centre people had more authority to give out information, your workload would drop with respect to the basic inquiries.
Arleigh Luckett
View Arleigh Luckett Profile
Arleigh Luckett
2017-02-01 16:38
I was just going to say that I'm from a private sponsorship group, and I know that one of the concerns our groups have had regarding delays in refugees coming here when we have applied for them is that some groups are very self-conscious about asking the MP for help but others are relying heavily on the office, which is very forthcoming in offering it. However, if access to the up-front information on the website—from the minute the group comes together and wants to sponsor and even before a group applies—were better and modernized and thought through from the point of view of a group of volunteers trying to figure out how to navigate this system and what the rules were, they wouldn't be calling their MP's office so often. The information is there, but the path through it is terrible; it's very hard to find the information, and it's not all up to date.
Vance P. E. Langford
View Vance P. E. Langford Profile
Vance P. E. Langford
2017-02-01 16:39
Our brief highlights a number of technical issues that the Canadian Bar Association's immigration law section believes could help. We've put those under the larger umbrella of program improvements that could be made. I think that's what the Government of Canada would like to achieve.
Some of our recommendations are around communication. They sound simple and they sound practical. Maybe it's trite, but in terms of updating clients on delayed applications, it's that issue of how “in process” really means nothing. They include perhaps making a more robust system of where processing status is actually at, with accountability for processing times that are published, and also requesting additional information before refusing applications. As we move to a more automated system, it's about not losing the human element and not forgetting that peoples' lives are affected by the system.
The example of that is express entry, with that sort of one-touch approach that was talked about. It wasn't an official policy, but if peoples' job offers didn't have specific language in the job offers according to the ministerial instructions, they were bounced. I had highly educated people come to me after failing three times in express entry. Simply, there could have been a request for the proper documentation before refusing.
Also in our suggestions is increasing transparency on decision making by giving better written reasons. A suggestion made was to attach the GCMS printout to the rationale for the decision. That isn't really hard to do, and that would make it no longer necessary to do an access to information request to get the reasons in order to understand whether this was just not a viable application or whether it should be appealed or redone.
Those are some suggestions.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Yes, thank you.
Mr. Arnold, your country has a very organized immigration system. We know that. You have dedicated visa subclasses for skilled visa, family visa, parent visa, etc. I'm wondering if you could comment or maybe expand upon the effectiveness of implementing these specific subclasses for visas and how that has improved your client service delivery.
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:41
It would be fair to say that it has made the client journey easier, I think, to identify which particular visa they should be applying for in their particular circumstances. In saying that, though, it is an area of our business that's under continual review. About 18 months ago we undertook a fairly harsh cull of some of the subclasses that we did have. There is also another body of work around visa reform at the moment, which the government has commissioned, and that will seek a further reduction in subclasses.
 Yes, it has worked, but at the moment it would probably be fair to say that we have too many.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Could you expand upon that a bit? What are some of the experiences you've had? What is the impetus in terms of looking at condensing the number of classes as that relates to client service delivery? Where is the right balance? I would say that also having very vague characteristics makes it difficult to apply, too, so in your experience, where would you see that right mix?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:42
From an operational perspective, it's about maintaining knowledge and a centre to undertake processing of that particular visa, especially if it's not automated. If you have a particular subclass where application rates are relatively low because they were always falling into another category, having to maintain that becomes quite high cost. Rationalizing it and shrinking it down into what we term more “streams” of what activity they are undertaking under the banner of the subclass allows that concentration to occur.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Have you had to deal with instances where you perhaps have had one applicant apply through different streams writ large, even if it's for citizenship or whatnot? How has your country dealt with that?
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
For example, let's say that in Canada you're applying for citizenship and you're applying under different classes or different programs. Sometimes that gums up the amount of resources it takes to process these applications.
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:43
We have a legislative framework for instances like that. If an individual lodges an application for, say, citizenship by descent—as the individual has a parent who's an Australian citizen—but is in fact not eligible for that particular part of our citizenship program, then that application is deemed invalid. We can't do anything with it.
The money is given back to the applicants and they're invited to apply for the most appropriate stream or component of citizenship, as an example.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
My next question, just before I had it over to Mr. Tilson, is for Ms. Desloges.
In previous studies that we've had at committee, you've talked very briefly about how current immigration laws already allow officials to apply discretion in exceptional circumstances, essentially talking about section 25. I just want to give you a quick opportunity to talk about this in terms of service delivery. Because it is such a nebulous process, could you see improvements in triggering that process from a service delivery perspective?
Chantal Desloges
View Chantal Desloges Profile
Chantal Desloges
2017-02-01 16:44
Section 25 gives officers the very broad discretion and ability to waive any requirement of the act or regulation. So to the extent that certain service delivery factors are regulated—they're actually mentioned in the regulations—then I suppose section 25 could be used, but I think most procedures and most things related to service delivery are not in the regulations. These are dealt with by policies, so it wouldn't apply.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
Mr. Langford, thank you for the brief that has been prepared, and obviously we have a time problem here today.
I wonder if you could tell us the top priorities of the Canadian Bar Association for recommending improvements to client service delivery.
Vance P. E. Langford
View Vance P. E. Langford Profile
Vance P. E. Langford
2017-02-01 16:45
Thank you, Mr. Tilson.
The Canadian Bar Association's immigration law section in our brief made submissions about two types of issues that we think are really important. One is structural. We don't think that you can deal with client service delivery by improving the IRCC alone, because Canada Border Services Agency, ESDC, and Service Canada with respect to the temporary foreign worker program, are part of the overall system in Canada. Some of the problems and areas of emphasis for improvement we would like to see would be with respect to ports of entry in particular, the mindset at ports of entry in dealing with travellers, and having the resources and expertise necessary to deal with immigration issues when people are primarily focused on enforcement and goods.
One of the recommendations in our submission is that there be immigration experts embedded at major ports of entry and available by telephone or otherwise 24/7 as experts for immigration matters. You really need to look at the whole system with ESDC and the temporary foreign worker program. It's almost like that's ignored as part of the cycle, but ESDC and the issuance of LMIAs affects people's work permits and applications for permanent residence. It's very important to the whole cycle, and so if you're not talking and looking at efficiencies there, then there are problems. That's CBSA, ESDC, and we've made a number of.... Those are structural issues, and the other area is sort of programmatic issues. You can see that we've made a number of specific recommendations there.
Probably the number one recommendation with respect to program is communication and remembering that these are people.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.
I have about five questions to ask Mr. Arnold, so I'm wondering if it's possible to take time—
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:48
My colleague can run with it. They're probably not out of bed yet.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Since we have the opportunity to learn more about your system, I think it's a very valuable time for us.
Mr. Arnold, what is the approval rate and the average length of time to process, say, visitor visas?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:48
Globally, I don't have the figures to hand, but I'd happy to share those.
If I look locally here, I have a very low refusal rate. It would be in the single digits, and with our commitment under our service standard for a visitor visa—noting that the individuals my office sees here are often those who might have a health or character issue—given that Canadian citizens are eligible for eTA, we look to process about 80% of those within three weeks.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you.
One of the frustrations that constituents in my riding of Vancouver Kingsway have experienced when they've sponsored relatives to come over here to visit for a wedding or whatever, is that when they're rejected, there is no internal appeal process. The only option is either to apply again, brand new, or to ask for judicial review, which as a practical matter is simply just not done. The amount of time and money that it would take is simply not worth it in 99% of the cases.
I'm wondering if Australia has any kind of internal review process for an applicant who has been turned down for a visa?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:50
Not internally, but depending on their circumstances and the visa they've applied for, they can make application to the MRT, which is our migration refugee tribunal. They can make application to that. A good example might be an individual who is a citizen of country X who is married to an Australian but holds no permanent status. They apply for a visit visa, and the decision-maker who is not satisfied they have funds or ties to their home country may refuse that, but because they have a tie to Australia, they're eligible for that decision to be reviewed.
A visitor visa applicant, for example, who bears no ties to Australia has no right to review for their application made offshore or overseas.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Thank you. We've already heard a reference to the reasons. I've seen many of the forms that a person will receive if they're turned down for a visitor visa in Canada, and it's just a series of statements with some boxes checked off. There's immense frustration among people because the form essentially tells them nothing. That person then comes to our office. We then have to contact the member of Parliament line and can often get someone on the line to read us the reasons in the file, and we transmit those reasons to the applicant.
I'm just wondering, how does it work in Australia? Were someone to be rejected, are they told the reasons and, if so, in what kind of detail?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:50
They are, in significant detail. The decision record for refusal for a visitor application is probably on average about five to six pages. My case officers are required to put in detail the basis for their decision and how they couldn't be satisfied that the individual was a genuine temporary visitor to Australia, or whether or not we're satisfied of their character or health requirement. It is detailed, absolutely.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Thanks.
I joke with people that I don't have a constituency office, but an immigration law practice in Vancouver.
Another source of frustration for my constituents is that there's never anybody whom the applicant or the sponsor can talk to. It's very anonymous. You just get a case number. If someone has a pending application in Australia, is there anybody whom an applicant or a sponsor can actually talk to within your immigration structure to find out about the status of the case, or to discuss where it's at?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:51
Absolutely. As I said in my introduction, we're looking to push those types of inquiries to our online ImmiAccount, where clients can get an update of where their application is at. But again, if we use the region that I belong to, which is the Americas from Chile up, we offer a five-day call centre based here in Ottawa. We provide service in four languages between the hours of 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those immigration officers can access exactly the same system as the decision-maker. So an applicant who has a spouse in our pipeline can ring that number for the cost of a Canadian call, and we'll give them as much information as we can.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Excellent.
Does Australia do interviews for “permanent resident” applications to Australia—I don't know if you use that terminology—and if so, what percentage of the applicants would have to go through an interview?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:52
I don't know the exact percentage, but again, with the situation locally here, it's very, very low. The decision-maker can decide to interview an applicant if they're not satisfied, if they're missing a piece of information, or if a bit of information just doesn't make sense. They'll invite the applicant or the sponsor for an interview, but it would be a single digit figure for my office, definitely.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
One of the most troubling areas that we deal with in my Vancouver office is Chandigarh, India. Our experience is that there's over 50% refusal rate for people applying for visitor visas, and it's a source of incredible frustration to the community of Vancouver.
Is there a place like that for Australia, a place that you focus on particularly? Is there a country or a place with a particularly high rejection rate? I'm always told by the government that Chandigarh is difficult because there's a fear of a high rate of forgery or fraud. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what we're told. Does Australia have a similar experience with a particular place?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:54
There's not one specifically that I can talk to, but depending on particular risk factors with the country of origin of the applicant, then that could very well result in a higher refusal rate. Again, it depends. Instances of fraud.... From the intelligence that we have available, whether it be previous refusals or just general factors within the applicant's country, with the applicant applying, say, for a student visa to undertake English, but who may not necessarily be a genuine temporary entrant because they're just trying to get out of their own country, could result in a higher refusal rate.
View Don Davies Profile
NDP (BC)
Finally, if there is a single innovation that Australia has brought in to make its immigration system more user-friendly or efficient, what would it be? What advice would you give us?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:55
Go to full eLodgement. In my experience, getting my diplomatic visa here, it was a matter of completing a fillable PDF, with a bar code on the back. That still required printing. Move to a fully agile solution, as we have, noting that you need to do that carefully for big markets like India and China, which we're yet to do.
Also move away from a foil, the label.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 16:55
Perhaps I could beg your patience also, just because I'm so excited that you're here, Mr. Arnold, as well as all of our guests. I just want to say a huge thanks to all of you for spending an extra hour waiting for us.
I'm going to ask a few questions, Mr. Arnold. If you don't have time to respond to them, I'd be very grateful if you just give us written responses.
One question I have is this. We have the issue of a huge backlog in a number of different categories, in terms of spousal applications, in terms of parents and grandparents, in terms of visas, in terms of different places in the world. Does a similar backlog exist for different classes of applications in Australia? I'll start with that question.
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:56
Yes, absolutely. Our minister will set an immigration planning level. For example, for our partner program, I may be allocated—these are just figures for the purposes of an example—50 places. I may get 1,500 applications.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 16:56
How's that dealt with? Do you just fill the 50 you have that might have existed from years before? How is that worked through?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:56
The minister sets our immigration program yearly. Once the year is reached, which for us is 30 June, those positions will need to be filled.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 16:57
Okay.
As you know, we're a multicultural nation. I believe we only offer services in English and French. Does Australia offer immigration services in any other language for anything? If so, could you explain that?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:57
Yes, we do. It's often demand driven. For example, my catchment includes Mexico and some Central American countries, so those forms are available in Spanish. Our eLodgement system was first designed in English, but simplified Chinese will be part of our build for the introduction of eLodgement into China.
The department also offers what's called the “translating and interpreting service”. It's a 24/7 service available to any individual. We service our 911 equivalent, as an example. It takes close to one million calls a year. It's an interpreting service offered over the phone. I have four languages here that I provide service in. For an individual, say, who might speak Farsi—we don't have any Farsi speakers—they'll use an interpreter on shore at no cost to them.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 16:58
That's helpful.
You talked quite a bit about your ImmiAccount. Could you provide a bit more detail in writing, not now, on what that is? That would be helpful. You said it was set up like a bank account.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 16:58
The thing I'd love to get a little more information about is what happens when someone is checking their ImmiAccount for the status of their application, whatever it is. What type of information would you give back? Often, what we say here is that it is just “in process”, which is a source of great frustration for us. If you could maybe provide something back to us on that, I think it would be of great interest to the committee.
That's my last question for you, as I have a couple of other questions for the rest of the panellists.
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 16:59
Do you mean in response to the ImmiAccount status?
Ms. Julie Dzerowicz: Yes.
Mr. David Arnold: Clients of my department may share some frustrations that clients of the Canadian department have. That's largely to do with our IT system requiring some changes that just say “processing”. In saying that, though, government has allowed for investment to improve that. We will have more status updates introduced this year in March, including that “you require a health assessment”. But it would be fair to say that we still need to mature on what status updates we do offer.
We have noticed a significant drop in client inquiries, though, since the introduction of ImmiAccount. Clients are able to upload information, as well, in response. A case officer might say, “I need an RCMP check.” They'll send that request to ImmiAccount. It tells the client there's something there. Once they upload it, that wakes the application up for the decision-maker to say that it's there. The application actually moves quicker, and therefore the need for status updates becomes less.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 17:00
I have a couple of questions for CBA as well as TD, if I can get to them.
Thanks very much for your prepared report.
One of the ideas from our family reunification study was to have something similar to a CRA number, system having one number for an applicant for whatever processes they go through. One of the points you make is that IRCC shares client delivery service for the temporary foreign worker program with Employment and Social Development Canada. Do you have some thoughts to share on that and whether you think that would be useful.
I'm going to ask my two or three questions and if you're able to get to the answers, that's great. If not, if you can give me a written response, that would be also very much appreciated.
The second thing I want to ask you about is the removal of red flags and the procedure for that. You were talking about ports of entry. I'm curious about that. I'm also interested in this because there are red flags on a number of the people I deal with. I've no clue. Some of them, I think, were fairly applied and some, and some not. So I wouldn't mind your talking a little about the issue and maybe making a recommendation on the process to remove that, and what you think is fair.
You also mentioned ports of entry. It is common knowledge among Canadian immigration lawyers the need to avoid certain points of entry, based on a history of lengthy delays, unwarranted scrutiny, and bad decisions. Could you highlight which ports of entry those might be? It would be helpful to us in trying to figure out how to help.
My last question for you concerns program and technical issues. You suggested that if we're evolving our client service delivery system, we might want to bring in the CBA at the design stage to test it with lawyers. In that regard, do you know what percentage of applicants to our system use immigration lawyers? This may be an unfair question. It's just a question that came up, and I'm curious to hear your response.
Then to TD, if we don't have enough time, I'd love a written response on this as well.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2017-02-01 17:02
The reason we've brought you here is that we're trying to use the best practices in service delivery that you would recommend. What are the one or two recommendations for our immigration system...?
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Arnold, you talked about India, Chandigarh specifically. In my riding, that is the biggest issue for 80% of the immigrants. I have two full-time staff. They answer the confused questions. I'm not sure if it's a matter of confusion with the clients or on this side. What sort of rejection rates are there in Chandigarh? Would you know?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 17:03
I don't know much about that catchment at all. I'm sorry.
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
I thought you said your rejection was in the single digits. Is this on the North American side?
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
This question is for everybody. What can we do? For example, I got two emails this morning from dissatisfied customers. They are confused. What can be done to improve the system, the understanding between the applicants and headquarters?
Vance P. E. Langford
View Vance P. E. Langford Profile
Vance P. E. Langford
2017-02-01 17:04
One of the suggestions in our brief is that you give immigration program managers at visa offices greater resources both to handle client service and to be accountable for client service. If you have someone in that jurisdiction who doesn't understand the status of an application, they should be able to get an answer either through a 24/7 call centre or an immigration program manager, who would simply receive an email and action it through his or her office, rather than taking months to respond and then having that client or their representative have to refer to the case management branch and escalate it and do other things to preserve the person's status when it could have just been a routine inquiry.
Stephen Green
View Stephen Green Profile
Stephen Green
2017-02-01 17:05
I think you have to ask why it was refused. In many of the cases that I see, the applicants haven't been given the proper forms or they have been misinformed. I think it would be tremendously helpful if the consulate in Chandigarh reached out to the community, and the community here as well, and ask what they need to demonstrate for a visitor visa application. A lot of them are refused just because they don't understand the process, and not because the visa officer is making a wrong decision. The visa officer just doesn't have the documents because the applicant doesn't know what's needed.
Saima Malik
View Saima Malik Profile
Saima Malik
2017-02-01 17:05
At TD, we've introduced a couple of things. One of them is for our staff to access internal resources—so not just the call centre, but through internal chat. That allows them to share documents, browse documents in real time, and pull up applications and view them at the same time as the resource who is actually interacting with the customer.
In regard to being more transparent with customers, we introduced social media capabilities. Customers are allowed to ask questions of experts, and that information is then made publicly available. It goes through someone in audit or legal to make sure we can share that information publicly, but it is then posted so that information is then available to all customers who potentially have a similar question.
What's different about it from a typical FAQ or search answer is that they are questions that are very specific and unique to the customer. Other customers who are in those types of situations can then search for that information and get that response and use it at least as their first gate of information.
View Bob Saroya Profile
CPC (ON)
I've noticed many times that well-educated people make mistakes on applications, simple mistakes, and cases are rejected.
Is there any suggestion from any of you for the application to be made much simpler than what we have out there?
Chantal Desloges
View Chantal Desloges Profile
Chantal Desloges
2017-02-01 17:07
Applications are sent back for very, very minor deficiencies, something like you missed a box or your photograph was the wrong size, things that could easily be rectified.
My recommendation would be to send an email or call the applicant and tell them to replace it, instead of sending the whole thing back. Not only does that result in delay and extra expense to the client having to do it all over again, but it also sometimes leads to a loss of substantive rights. That means that somebody may fall out and lose status while that application is been sent back, and now they're here illegally. Or, you could lose the right to sponsor somebody, for example, your child ages out in terms of the date for sponsorship.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair.
Thanks to all of you. I'm sorry for all the time confusion today.
My first question is for Mr. Arnold.
In Canada, a frustration that many of my colleagues and I share is that due to cutbacks in service levels and staff by our immigration department, members of Parliament have to do a lot of immigration work. In representing a riding with a heavy immigrant population, a lot of our resources are dedicated to checking the status of the applications. The applicants are not able to do so and don't get the response or answer they need. These inquiries constitute as much, or more than, 80% of what we do: just checking the status of the applications.
Could you discuss the role of Australian parliamentarians in your immigration system? Are they faced with the same challenges, or have you been able to overcome those?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 17:08
I think it would be fair to say that they do encounter the same challenges.
Our department introduced and has had parliamentary liaison officers for a while, who are located in our states—the equivalent of your provinces. Our electoral offices have contact details for that individual, and they act as the conduit to get particular updates.
Certainly, I get them here. Often they are inquiries from individuals who are frustrated because their applications are taking too long. We do a very quick assessment by that particular officer to see if it is within the service standard. If it already is within the service standard and there's no compelling or compassionate reasons as to why the application needs to be expedited, the parliamentary liaison officer will deal with that very quickly. If it requires consultation from the post or the processing officer, it will be referred to me. Individuals also write to parliamentarians as well, and that gets referred to me to respond, normally on their behalf.
A lot of it is status updates, in particular for some of our programs where the wait is long, such as for a spouse.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
You indicated some of your processing times, and mentioned, for example, a three-week processing time for the TRVs. Are the processing times globally for different categories—TRVs, spousal applications, sponsorship of other dependent family members—about the same, or do certain regions have a higher processing time as compared to other regions?
David Arnold
View David Arnold Profile
David Arnold
2017-02-01 17:10
We publish our service standards on our website, and it's a global service standard. I will update my material to reflect a peak period to indicate that applications may be taking longer; for example, they might extend to six weeks. I'm just coming off a peak period from the Christmas period.
I'll use websites and social media to do that, but we have a global service standard.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Are you aware of any particular regions in the world where the processing time is much longer compared to certain other regions? Maybe if you don't have the information, you could get us it.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
It is possible to get that information, thanks a lot.
My next question is for Mr. Langford. I certainly recognize the important role that immigration lawyers and consultants play in our immigration system, particularly when it comes to the more complex cases. I think we would agree that for routine matters and most cases, it should be easier for applicants to complete the process successfully without third-party assistance.
What specific changes in technology and process would you recommend to make it easier for clients to successfully navigate the system without the assistance of a third party?
Vance P. E. Langford
View Vance P. E. Langford Profile
Vance P. E. Langford
2017-02-01 17:11
If you're asking me to talk lawyers out of a job, that's a difficult one for me to answer.
However, I can tell you that there is a premise made in regard to lawyers, and we've made submissions that many of the government websites are actually quite negative about representatives, and lawyers in particular. We would advocate for change in that area.
To answer your question, if you have a client who is educated or even has secondary education and is approaching doing an immigration application in Canada, the first place he or she goes is to the website. The website is improving, and I've seen acknowledgement that it needs to be improved, so that's understood. Terrific. However, it does need to be simplified.
As we migrate now to global case management and online applications, the overall recommendation would be just to use plain language, easy to follow check lists, and perhaps systems in GCMS that require the documents before you can file the application.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
Ms. Malik, one of the biggest problems for members of Parliament is the complaints that we get from constituents about service delivery, delays in processing times, and their inability to get status reports. It's an awful problem for us.
How do you deal with those things?
Saima Malik
View Saima Malik Profile
Saima Malik
2017-02-01 17:13
There are a couple of things we've introduced, including newer technologies for how we optimize our standard questions and answers.
We're going through a process right now where we help to triage customers. The goal is that there are standard questions and there should be standard answers available to all customers, but if we know it's a specific case that needs support or assistance, we're essentially guiding that customer into an assisted help function, whether it be through chat, directly through a call to the call centre, or eventually things like video calls or co-browsing.
We're really helping customers with the goal and intention of resolving their issue in one interaction, so that if they need an answer or a simple answer, we're able to provide that; but if they need to speak to a human, we make that simple and easy for them.
One recommendation to this group is that we've seen a number of our digital interactions move to mobile, and that has forced us to make our experiences, whether they be an application process or contacting the bank, much simpler and easier for things like reviews of application processes and simplifying that process. Because of the nature of mobile experiences and access via your smart phone, you really have to optimize and slim down that process.
We've also taken advantage of technologies that are available out there such as chat or click to call to understand where the customer is coming from and the experience they've had—for example, what application process they were in or what their inquiry was about.
The other thing we've taken advantage of is virtual assistance. We are looking at technologies now that take advantage of understanding and mining answers and knowledge bases to help respond to the customer in a chatbot-like fashion. When and where we feel it's the right time to have them connect with a human, we'll do that.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
The bells aren't going. Well, that's good news.
Thank you for your comments.
You are in competition. We love competition, but one of the issues of competition is improving your digital service offerings. What do you do? I'm saying there are obviously other institutions that you're in competition with. How do you keep up?
Saima Malik
View Saima Malik Profile
Saima Malik
2017-02-01 17:16
We constantly benchmark.
We have certain KPIs that evaluate the time it takes a customer to get through an application process and how quickly a customer's query is resolved. We use external agencies or organizations to help benchmark those KPIs to understand how we're competing, not only with our own FSIs but also looking globally at how other organizations in the FSI space are performing. We're constantly optimizing things like our application process and how our customers utilize some of our self-help and assisted-help capabilities. We use external organizations to help benchmark.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2016-12-13 15:31
Committee members, I call the meeting to order, please.
As you know, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), today we're studying the motion adopted by the committee on October 4 to resume the study of the modernization of client service delivery.
We have for the first hour, 3:30 to 4:30, two witnesses. The first one, from the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, is Dory Jade, the chief executive officer. We also have a presenter from the Canadian Council for Refugees, Loly Rico, president. She comes to us by video conference, and she is in Toronto today.
Welcome to our witnesses. We'll begin with Mr. Jade.
You have seven minutes to make a presentation, and then we'll move to Ms. Rico for seven minutes.
Dory Jade
View Dory Jade Profile
Dory Jade
2016-12-13 15:32
Hello. Good afternoon, Madam Chair, respected members of the committee, and ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for inviting me today to present on the modernization of client service delivery. I'm the chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, CAPIC. We are the association that represents immigration consultants in Canada. Across Canada, we have four chapters and about 1,500 members.
Thank you for inviting us to appear before the committee today.
I'm pleased to be here and to give you a presentation on the modernization of IRCC's client service and other services.
The presentation was submitted to you in English; however, it's a pleasure for me to answer your questions in French or English.
As an introduction, I would like to start by mentioning that IRCC processes millions of applications. These include temporary residency applications, PR applications, eTAs, and ATIP applications. I'm using acronyms to make things fast. I believe we are all familiar with these acronyms.
Throughout the years, we've made improvements throughout the system. However, in an era of technology, today it is time for IRCC to be on top of the technology and to offer adequate and respectful—excuse me; respectable—service to the clients.
I'll start with the communication offered by IRCC. In fact, this is split into three categories.
The first one is personalized messages. These are mainly the letters that the candidates and the immigration consultants who are their representatives receive, in the name of their client, to advise them about the status of the case, the decision, and/or other required documentation.
The second category of communication is automated messages. Under the new system and with electronic services, IRCC has been starting to send what we call massive communication to its clients, advising them about an issue, etc. The point here is that so far we have been struggling with the fact that IRCC has been sending some messages that really are not personalized. Therefore, these messages are missing the names, file numbers, and contact information of the authorized representative. This is a point that we would like to raise today.
The third category is the call centre. Here I would like to commend the move that it made. I'm not sure if you have tried the call centre recently, but the message, way, and approach are completely different. We are happy to see this kind of approach from IRCC. To give you an example, the previous message used to start by saying something like, “If you are offensive to our staff and to the people on the call, then we will take measures, and we will hang up.” The new message says something more like, “Welcome. Thanks for calling Immigration and Citizenship Canada.” This is a big change.
We also would like to recommend that our centre agents be split into categories so that some of them would be more senior. Then we would have the option that they would speak to immigration consultants who represent clients on specific files. We believe that in this way—by asking immigration officers to make changes and by sending them emails, and so on—we can save a lot down the road. We could call a specific phone line to ask for minor changes on the file.
Now I'll move to the processing times. We all know that the processing times have reached unacceptable levels.
I think Minister McCallum is to be highly commended on the final decision he has taken. We know how many resources and how much funds it would take to lower the family class processing time to 12 months. However, that is in comparison to an express entry application. For express entry, the candidate is invited to apply, and it is a process of six months or less. We are still putting our humanitarian and non-economic classes behind. These are 50% slower than the economic class.
Another aspect I would like to touch on is what is known as GCMS, the global case management system that is running the whole operation in IRCC, in CBSA, and, of course, other agencies. With this system, there is something called the APR portal, the authorized paid representatives’ portal, which allows us and authorized representatives to have access to their clients securely. It also allows us to send applications to Immigration Canada and submit applications of all types, except family class, so far.
It allows also the department to move files in crisis zones. For example, you may have a crisis in one zone, so now electronically and securely, without diplomatic bags, they can transfer complete office files to another file or retrieve them from Canadian processing centres and so on, electronically and securely.
Loly Rico
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Loly Rico
2016-12-13 15:40
Good afternoon.
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.
View Marwan Tabbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much.
Thank you to both of our witnesses for being here today as we conduct our study on modernization of client services delivery.
My first question will be to both of you, but I'll start with Mr. Jade.
Do you have any suggestions for how technology can play a better role in improving the client services experience?
Dory Jade
View Dory Jade Profile
Dory Jade
2016-12-13 15:47
Thanks for the question. In fact we have also brought a few recommendations. Most of them are based on technology.
Number one, when an officer is making a decision, the officer puts notes into the case file. When a case is represented by an authorized representative within the GCMS system and within the AR portal, it could be very securely available to get those notes, so in this way we would save time by not having to make another access to information application. This would be in the same portal through which we submit. We could have double-direction communication.
We also recommend creating additional levels of call centres. This way, with technology you would just need to go through the call centre and find a more senior agent who could answer your question if it was not a basic question but was pertaining to a specific case.
We have also some other points that we want to bring forward. Tracking is very important. More than 3,000 complaints were received last year by IRCC, and the large majority were very focused on the fact that the client didn't know where his or her file was. That's really what it was. I think having something like the tracking systems that all of the courier services have now: when you order something, you know where it is in transit, and then at the end of the day it gets to you. That would be a very good practice that IRCC could start within the AR portal. That way authorized representatives could know through tracking that the case was with a particular officer. The names of officers would not be disclosed. Most of the time officers have used their initials and they could continue doing so to respect their privacy. There is no issue with that, but at least we would know where the case was and we could follow up accordingly.
Those are some of the points we have brought forward in terms of technological access to the system.
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