Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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David Manicom
View David Manicom Profile
David Manicom
2019-01-30 15:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is David Manicom and I am the Assistant Deputy Minister for Settlement and Integration at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
I am joined by Corinne Prince, the Director General for Settlement and Immigration Policy, and by Laura Di Paolo, the Director General for the Settlement network.
We hope that our testimony will be helpful to your study.
Immigrants from every corner of the world have made significant contributions to all spheres of Canadian life, and they continue to make influential contributions to science, business, and technology.
Through new perspectives and diverse insights, immigrants also help to drive our country's intellectual and artistic capital. Many of our immigrants also bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit, creating jobs and becoming important drivers of innovation and investment.
Immigration benefits Canada's economic and demographic growth, our innovation and prosperity and our efforts at nation building. With Canada's aging population and growing labour force needs, I think we can all agree, Mr. Chair, that immigration will be vital to the continued growth and success of our country's economy and society. This statement is also supported by research.
Statistics Canada reports that the lion's share of national employment gains, 66% of gains between 2016 and 2017, was directly accounted for by immigrants.
And the most recent labour force survey for December 2018 shows that immigrants' employment rates are broadly in line with the national average.
The unemployment rate for core working-age immigrants stood at 5.7% in 2018.
This is the lowest unemployment rate for this group since at least 2006. This bodes very well for the future of immigration in Canada and suggests that our settlement program is doing a good job of helping newcomers to integrate. This is key, because ensuring that immigration remains advantageous to Canada in the future means that all newcomers are integrated and supported so they may contribute to various aspects of Canadian life.
Settlement services are a key to newcomer success, and investing in that success will be key to our nation's future prosperity and inclusiveness.
By the end of fiscal year 2019-2020, this will represent a 32% increase in settlement funding since 2015-2016.
In 2018-2019, our department has funded over 500 organizations and provided services to approximately 460,000 clients. Of these clients, more than 100,000 accessed language training services, reflecting the critical importance of English and French language skills for successful settlement in Canada.
Looking ahead, the ongoing success of our settlement programming will continue to depend critically upon our partnerships, which go well beyond the Government of Canada. This year we developed a shared national vision on settlement and integration with our partners, including the provinces, territories and stakeholders. That shared vision is that the successful settlement and integration of newcomers benefits Canada by building a more inclusive, diverse and productive nation. This is achieved through a shared effort that helps all reach their economic and social potential.
As you know, improving the delivery of settlement services is one of the commitments identified in Minister Hussen's mandate letter and is a priority that our department is intently focused on.
Our goal is to offer services that will best meet immigrants' needs and produce the best settlement outcomes possible. Our outcomes-based programming will be informed by our research, analysis, evaluation findings and the results of our new pilot projects.
To assess the effectiveness of our services, the department conducted a formal evaluation of the program, completed in May 2017. This incorporated a wide range of perspectives, including program clients, stakeholders and program officials, and comprised the largest-scale survey of newcomers ever conducted to that point, with almost 15,000 respondents. Overall, the evaluation found that our program has been effective at meeting a growing demand for settlement services. A clear majority of clients—96%—reported positive outcomes, such as improving their language ability finding employment, participating in their communities, and so forth.
We also conducted separate evaluations of the pre-arrival services and immigration to francophone minority communities.
The evaluations made several recommendations to improve our settlement program. The department has developed an action plan that is addressing those gaps. This plan will guide future program improvements, and inform the next calls for proposals with service providers, which will launch next month.
To date, improvements to our settlement program have included streamlining our pre-arrival settlement services for newcomers who are still abroad.
A number of projects are also under way to experiment with and assess potential new service delivery improvement projects. This year we will devote $32 million toward a dedicated funding stream for service delivery improvements and innovations.
One of the first of such innovative pilots is employing newcomers in stable, good-paying hotel jobs. This pilot will connect as many as 1,300 unemployed or unemployed newcomers with jobs in the hotel industry while they strengthen their language skills in the workplace.
Our program evaluation shows that combining employment and language training is effective and ultimately improves settlement and integration.
As such, the department is exploring more of these types of projects that combine workplace experience with language training and other supports. The Atlantic immigration program pilot is another example of this type of innovation.
IRCC is also launching other innovative settlement programs to target more vulnerable populations, such as refugees and women. We launched a pilot project this past December to support visible minority newcomer women in gaining access to and advancing in the labour market. Through this project, we aim to support the employment of visible minority newcomer women by increasing existing services, establishing new partnerships and testing the effectiveness of different combinations of employment services.
In addition, we are looking at improving the services that we offer to French-speaking newcomers who settle in francophone and Acadian communities outside of Quebec.
As announced in Budget 2018, and included in the official languages action plan, the department will invest more than $40 million over the next five years on a francophone integration pathway.
We are also looking at improving our settlement services for refugees, which have been especially important for Syrian refugees. This spring, IRCC will issue a major report on the 52,000 Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada. We have already compiled much data from various sources. Most notably, 57% of Syrian refugees reported that they were employed, a marked increase since our 2016 rapid evaluation findings and, I think we can say, exceeding our expectations. What a wonderful collective effort from Canadians and these newcomers.
Once our report is complete, we expect the overall findings to the positive. More importantly, this will also help guide future improvements to our settlement services for refugees.
The call for proposals process that we will launch next month also will place an increased focus on key areas, including the integration of vulnerable populations, such as youth, refugees and LGBTQ2+, a greater focus on mental health supports and further enhancing our services for francophone newcomers.
The department recognizes that we must continue to assess what is working and what must be improved, and to continuously adapt our settlement programs to the changing needs of newcomers.
Going forward, with true co-planning with the provinces and territories and close co-operation with our partners and stakeholders, we can create a clearer picture of what newcomers need and determine how to collectively meet those needs. Our aim is to maximize the social and economic contributions of all immigrants to Canada, regardless of how they arrive.
As one of our service providers said today at a meeting I was at, it's about building a better Canada one newcomer at a time. With that in mind, Mr. Chair, we look forward to the findings of the committee's study.
Thank you very much.
Richard Kurland
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Richard Kurland
2017-04-10 15:31
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's indeed an honour and a privilege to appear before the committee. I'd like to preface my remarks with a description of the decades of intervention on this particular issue.
The immigration consulting issue encompasses the protection of people desirous of becoming Canadians and desirous of visiting our country. I'll distill the issues plainly and simply. When it comes to the issue of immigration consultants, the key is who can fix this and how to motivate the institution to fix this.
I've read the submissions of other witnesses appearing before the committee. What seems clear to me is that there is only one single entity capable of handling the immigration consultant issues and that is the department, not the provincial level and not the regulatory authorities, provincial or federal. Only our public servants, working within the immigration department, can truly and practically get to the bottom of this. Why? It is only the department that has the capability of identifying who accesses our immigration operational system. It is the department that controls this access. The department has the tools and mechanisms to prevent contact with the departmental systems, and the department has the means to allow access.
The two obstacles preventing resolution of the immigration consultant issue for over 20 years are basic. The first level is unseen. Our governance in Canada, for social engineering purposes, in terms of multi-year, long-term strategy, emanates from the Privy Council Office. Within that office, there is a directive to prevent the judiciarization of Canadian society. We do not want a litigious society as it appears in our neighbour to the south. Consequently, when it comes to dealing with immigration consultants, there is a hidden unseen directive to prevent the legalization, the judiciarization, of the issue.
On the other hand, there is the desire to offload client contact from the department, where possible. What does this mean? This means that the department prefers to have a three-tier delivery system. Tier one includes members of Parliament and senators, preferred service; tier two has the regulated professions, lawyers and consultants; and tier three has unrepresented members of the public.
Here's where I'll conclude my opening remarks. The cheapest, easiest, most direct way to resolve this is to require third party representation on every application for service. In this manner, the applicants are driven to publicly regulated individuals: licensing, insurance, protection of the public. It allows the applicants to pay for service.
It should not be mandatory, but a preferred service system for represented applicants would go a long way to preventing abuse and would save the department money by using trained officials—lawyers and consultants who are regulated. It is going to be up to the department to make this decision. It can do it now. It has the artificial intelligence mechanisms in the incoming application processing system to do this.
To sum up, all you've been hearing to date have been different sides of the elephant, how it got into the room, and individual concerns and group concerns. At the heart of all this is the key, the central decision, on the part of our immigration public servants to allow access to third party representatives, and reward applications with third party representation with preferred service times, or more reliability in terms of the product that's entering the system.
I hear the self-interest bell ringing, but over 20 to 25 years I have not come up with a better solution, other than hiving off ever greater chunks of the operational delivery system onto the offices of our elected officials.
Those are my opening remarks. Thank you.
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
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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.
Robert Orr
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Robert Orr
2017-03-06 15:32
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to begin by noting that over the last number of years, the department has made significant strides in laying the groundwork for a modernized client experience that simplifies the application process while maintaining the integrity of our immigration system. Our hope is that these continuing improvements will make it easier for people to access our services without the use of a consultant.
That said, we recognize that many prospective immigrants to Canada seek the services of immigration representatives or consultants, both in Canada and overseas, for help in navigating the immigration process. Similarly, prospective citizens may enlist the help of citizenship consultants before they seek the final step of applying to obtain their Canadian citizenship.
In June of 2011 the House of Commons passed legislation designed to better protect prospective immigrants from unscrupulous or fraudulent practices by such representatives. At the heart of that legislation were changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requiring that a paid immigration representative used at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding be a lawyer or a paralegal who is a member in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society.
In addition, an immigration representative can be a notary who is a member in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec, or an immigration consultant who is a member in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, the ICCRC.
There are also provisions in the law for the government to enter into agreements with certain organizations who provide valuable services to immigrants and applicants for citizenship.
In effect, the 2011 legislation made it illegal for anyone other than those I've just listed to operate as a paid representative at any stage of an immigration or citizenship application or proceeding. At the same time as these amendments came into force, the government of the day also designated the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, or ICCRC, as the regulator of immigration consultants. In June of 2015, similar amendments were made to the Citizenship Act in regard to the laws governing citizenship consultants, and the minister at the time designated the ICCRC as the regulator for such consultants.
The ICCRC is a self-governing, not-for-profit organization that has an arm's-length relationship with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. There are currently more than 3,700 active members of the ICCRC. The organization manages members' entry-to-practice standards, including training, testing, and accreditation, as well as professional requirements such as education obligations. The ICCRC is also responsible for ensuring that an effective complaints and discipline process for members is enforced.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is always prepared to take aggressive action against unscrupulous and fraudulent activities by immigration and citizenship consultants when we become aware of or suspect improper activities. These damaging activities can include acting as a so-called ghost consultant; that is, providing, or even offering to provide, advice or representation for a fee at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding without being a member in good standing of the ICCRC.
When Government of Canada officials believe that an immigration or citizenship consultant has contravened any professional obligations, they have clear authority to share this information with the ICCRC, in a manner consistent with the Privacy Act.
Examples of information that can be shared are allegations or evidence of false promises made to an applicant, providing false information about Canada's immigration processes, failing to provide services agreed to between the representative and client, or counselling to obtain or submit false evidence.
The ICCRC has a mandate to govern such consultants by employing tools such as their code of professional ethics and code of business conduct and ethics. It also has the authority to investigate allegations of unethical or unprofessional behaviour on the part of authorized consultants. The RCMP and the CBSA are responsible for investigating both authorized consultants who engage in fraud and ghost consultants who operate outside of the law governing immigration representatives.
The ICCRC and the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants have approached our department and the CBSA about making changes to governance frameworks for the regulator of citizenship and immigration consultants. According to documents we've seen, they're interested in having the council operate similarly to law societies, with increased powers of investigation and the ability to discipline members.
To give the council these authorities would require significant legislative changes and could also impact the mandate of our security partners who are currently responsible for investigating ghost consultants and authorized consultants who engage in fraud.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada remains committed to continuing to meet regularly with representatives of the ICCRC to discuss governance issues and the council's overall effectiveness.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Robert Orr
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Robert Orr
2016-12-08 15:30
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity to address this committee.
I can say right from the start that the subject of this study is something that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada takes very seriously. Indeed, it is one where the minister is determined to make considerable headway.
Over the last number of years, the department has made significant strides in laying the groundwork for a modernized client experience that maintains the integrity of our immigration system.
To this end, we have implemented a global case management system for almost all of our major lines of business. Building on this system capacity, we've improved the flexibility of our processing network. We can now shift less complex client applications from temporarily overloaded offices to those with the available capacity to help out. Among other things, this approach has helped us deal with an enormous increase of more than 40% in applications for temporary residence over the past few years.
We have also put in place across the world a visa application centre network—132 centres in 94 countries—to support those clients who want personalized help in filling out their forms. As an example of the results, today a client in Beijing who wants to visit Canada can go to a local visa application centre and get help in Mandarin, have their information sent electronically to the operations support centre in Ottawa overnight for uploading into the global case management system, and then have their file ready for a decision-maker back in Beijing by the time the visa office opens for business the next day.
At the same time, today a client who needs an electronic travel authorization to come to Canada can quickly apply from their smart phone and, for the vast majority of applicants, get a decision right back to their phone within three minutes.
These types of client interactions are possible because of our sustained focus on and investment in a modernized processing infrastructure that supports our ability to be vigilant with respect to the integrity of our programs, which is in fact the foundation of good client service.
We recognize that while we've made significant progress in certain lines of business, there remain considerable opportunities for further improvement. IRCC offers clients over 75 services, but while temporary and economic permanent resident clients can apply online, not all of our clients currently have access to these service delivery channels, and we don't have processing times down to where we want them to be. Further rollout of online applications and reduction of processing times remain a key priority for us.
But we also know that the client experience is not just about online applications and reduced processing times. And so we are committed to listening to and learning from the clients who use our services. We do this in a number of different ways.
For example, we conduct a client satisfaction survey every two years, which gives us information about what clients like and what they want more of. In our last survey, clients told us that overall 85% of them were satisfied with their immigration and citizenship experience. But they also told us that they would like to get more information about their case status.
We also have a client service feedback web form online, and receive approximately 150 emails a week from people telling us about their service experience. These messages not only help to give us instant feedback when things aren't working, but also have helped us to identify parts of our instructions which are not clear.
We are trying new methods of gathering client insights as well. For example, this year the department experimented with using human-centred design techniques to better understand the client experience. We went out and talked directly to clients, NGOs, immigration consultants, academics, and others to better understand the whole experience from the client's perspective. This initiative was hugely worthwhile and has helped us to refocus much of our work on client service.
All of this information from surveys, direct client feedback, and design challenges has led us to establish three new client experience priorities for the department: first, innovating our processes so that they make better sense to clients; second, finding new ways to provide clients greater assurance that their cases are moving forward; and third, making sure that we are listening when clients need to talk to us.
While our work in gathering client insights remains important and continues, we've already launched a number of initiatives in these three areas. For example, just yesterday our minister announced changes to the processing of family class applications, which will go a long way in improving the ease of the process for those clients. We're also making improvements to how easy it is to upload documents and pay fees online.
To provide clients with greater assurance as to the status of their applications, IRCC rolled out “link my application” functionality earlier this year. It's an online tool that lets many clients who submitted paper applications get access to the same online account information as those who applied electronically.
We'll also be adding more case status information into the online account to give clients who are waiting more frequent and meaningful updates. In addition, we're also looking at new ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to let clients know we've received their application, and we will be experimenting with sending text messages to clients when their applications reach our mailroom. This will help to close the gap that exists for clients between mailing an application and getting an official acknowledgement of receipt letter.
Listening to clients and building trust is also a priority. We have piloted a new approach at the IRCC national call centre, enabling agents to provide clients with detailed case information even if regular processing times have not elapsed. We also log all calls right in the case management system so that if a client calls back we know right away what their concern was the last time and can follow up as necessary.
While this approach is taking more time upfront, it is significantly reducing same day repeat callers, and demonstrating that an upfront investment can reduce client anxiety without necessarily reducing productivity. In other words, good client service also adds business value.
Mr. Chair, I can assure this committee once again that innovating and improving service is at the very top of IRCC's agenda. Through incremental innovation and risk-based analysis, IRCC can achieve service excellence and meet client needs while continuing to uphold confidence in the integrity of the immigration, settlement, citizenship, and passport programs.
Thank you for the invitation to be here today.
Michelle Lattimore
View Michelle Lattimore Profile
Michelle Lattimore
2016-12-08 15:43
Thank you.
It's true that we collect information from our clients in a variety of ways. We're certainly looking to expand more in that direction, because we know that at the end of the day the clients are the real source of insight for us into where we need to be investing. We do know that clients become frustrated with us. They send us web forms, and we received about 5,000 complaints last year. We act on those. We have a group of analysts who look at that information and feed it back throughout the department so that we can ensure there's an ongoing feedback loop that helps us to inform programs moving forward.
We also collect a significant amount of data at the call centre. We look at our top complaints. We understand what people are calling us about. Generally speaking, about 50% of the calls we get at our call centre are about case status. That's really given us an indication that we need to do more work to get people case status information as quickly as we can.
Paul Armstrong
View Paul Armstrong Profile
Paul Armstrong
2016-12-08 16:16
Madam Vice-Chair, yes, we have very strict performance management criteria to which all employees have to adhere. We also regularly conduct quality assurance exercises to make sure that the decision-making is of high quality.
View Borys Wrzesnewskyj Profile
Lib. (ON)
Good morning, everyone.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on February 25, the committee will resume its study on family reunification.
This morning, we have officials from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration with us. We have Ms. Sharon Chomyn, area director, North Europe and the Gulf, by video conference from London. Thank you, Ms. Chomyn, for getting all of us up and at it early today here in Ottawa, Washington, and Mexico City. We have Mr. Mark Giralt, area director, United States and Caribbean, by video conference as well from Washington, and Mr. Olivier Jacques, area director, Latin America, and he's with us from Mexico City.
I understand that you'll be not splitting time in seven-minute slots, but you'll be using 21 minutes combined.
We'll being with Ms. Chomyn from London.
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:01
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning. My name is Sharon Chomyn, and I'm the immigration program manager at the Canadian High Commission in London, England. I'm also the area director overseeing the visa offices in London, Moscow, Warsaw, Kiev, Vienna, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Accra, and Islamabad.
With me today are my colleagues in Mexico City and Washington, who will provide brief comments on their own that focus on their own areas of responsibility.
It's my pleasure to have the opportunity to address the committee and to give the perspective of the public service employees overseas who have the responsibility for processing family reunification applications, among others, in a timely and responsible fashion. I will begin by giving you some general context about our network and the processing of family class applications.
Canada has a network of 51 processing offices overseas. These offices are responsible for assessing applications from foreign nationals to come to Canada on a temporary or permanent basis. Depending upon which office we are referring to, there are particular local challenges in addition to those commonly shared.
The cases we will focus on today are a minority of the overall applications received. The department uses its global case management system to expedite processing by sending the lowest-risk applications for processing to our centralized processing centres in Mississauga and Ottawa. Currently, these processing centres manage as much as 10% of the overseas family-class caseload. This allows our missions to better manage their caseloads and to concentrate more resources on complex cases or those that require local expertise.
The department continues to work hard to ensure that applications for legitimate, bona fide family class applicants are processed as efficiently and in as timely a manner as possible in order to reunite applicants with their sponsors in Canada.
Most simple and non-contentious applications are approved rapidly. Unlike applications in the economic categories, family class applicants need only establish their relationship to an approved sponsor and demonstrate to the officer that they are not inadmissible to Canada. In most cases, globally speaking, the genuineness of the relationship is not in question. In many countries, there are very reliable means to prove family relationships. In general, we are able to process cases from such countries confidently, given the reliability of the vital statistics documents.
As we were asked to talk about challenges we experience, we will focus our opening remarks on the various challenges we confront in processing the more complex cases.
In much of the world, documentation is extremely unreliable. State-issued documents can be improperly obtained, and registration is decentralized or essentially non-existent. These limitations require officers to use other means to determine whether applicants are in fact related to, or in a genuine relationship with, their sponsors. Ongoing training in fraudulent documents and close liaison with our risk assessment officers help immensely in the official assessment of these cases.
When no other conclusive evidence can be obtained, applicants and sponsors may be asked to submit to DNA testing in order to establish a claimed relationship. The big picture is that the goal of our officers is to approve as many applications as possible as efficiently as possible based on the documents before them. That said, they are also very well trained in the latest fraud trends, with a view to remaining vigilant to potential fraud that might undermine the integrity of our immigration system or the security of Canada.
I would like to say a few words specifically related to the reunification of spouses. We are aware that this is an issue of specific concern to the committee and that it is in the public interest to reunite spouses as quickly as possible. The vast majority of cases are genuine, and we are pleased to bring people together.
With such cases, the most common integrity concern is that of the genuineness of the relationship. Marriage fraud is a very real problem, more common in some parts of the world, but by no means absent elsewhere. This is where the local knowledge of our locally engaged staff proves to be invaluable, and our programs benefit from this contextual knowledge to aid in detecting divergences from typical cultural and/or social practices.
Awareness of the cultural norms of a particular society helps our officers facilitate the processing of the genuine cases while alerting them to situations that might not be quite right. In this regard, officers may request that applicants provide further documents or attend an interview if the relationship does not appear to be genuine or if the officers harbour doubts about the circumstances. The goal of all of these additional requests is to alleviate the concerns the officers may have and allow them to approve the application. These requests are always made after careful consideration of the information already on file, given our understanding that providing additional documentation or travelling to attend an interview may cause additional inconvenience or cost to the applicant.
Our department employs various means to mitigate the risk posed by fraud. We share intelligence with like-minded countries and, in some cases, work with the host countries. We verify information provided in applications as resources permit, and ongoing quality assurance activities serve to confirm that the level of risk being accepted is reasonable. Our goal is always to process applications efficiently and respectfully of the applicants; and to ensure, to the extent possible, that low-risk cases are processed quickly and that the more complex cases are approached systematically and equitably.
In spite of the various challenges, between 47,000 and 50,000 spouses, partners, and dependent children have been issued permanent resident visas every year since 2011. In 2016, we will admit even more, 60,000, in order to help reduce processing times. The vast majority of these cases are entirely legitimate and we are pleased to facilitate this family reunification.
Finally, as I am aware that the committee has a particular interest in the family reunification movement from certain areas of the region I oversee, I will speak briefly to the particular challenges that we deal with in my region of responsibility. The London visa office processes family class applications for residents of Pakistan, as well as more complex cases from elsewhere in our territory. I will illustrate what I mean by “complex” with examples from the area that I oversee.
A complex case from the U.K. or the Nordic countries may involve criminal convictions or custody issues. Our officers take custody issues very seriously as these cases may result in the permanent separation of a child from one parent. Accordingly, these may take longer to process than the departmental standard. For applications processed in our Abu Dhabi office, complex cases may include, among other factors, elements of proxy marriage, minor-aged spouses, polygamous relationships, or where the intention to actually reside in Canada is not clear. Another concern of which we must remain aware is the possibility that a marriage is not consensual. A small, but disturbing number of vulnerable applicants, or sponsors, are forced into a marriage and the subsequent sponsorship process. These situations pose a unique challenge, as often the individual is threatened with harm and will be hesitant to divulge the true circumstances.
For applications processed at our Accra office, complex cases could involve marriages of convenience, polygamy, children born outside of primary relationships, late registration of birth, and previous adverse immigration history on the part of the applicant. London took charge of the family reunification program from Pakistan in February 2014, primarily due to the security situation in that country. Our office has extensive experience in processing Pakistani cases in both the family class and the economic categories.
We have added resources to ensure that these applications would in fact be processed more efficiently in London than in Islamabad. I'm pleased to report that our office was successful in reducing the processing times of these cases to within the departmental standard.
Complexities inherent in this caseload include concerns related to the validity of marriages, non-consensual marriages, irregularities in the issuance of civil documentation, and security concerns. Where such concerns exist, applicants may be asked to provide further documentation or to attend an in-person interview. London-based officers travel to Islamabad four to five times per year for this purpose.
Finally, we also maintain a focus on applications from parents and grandparents, as we understand that bringing the family together in Canada can provide more stability and support for the family members already in Canada. Currently London is processing applications for parents and grandparents promptly upon receipt, and all applications sent to London from the case processing centre in Mississauga in 2016 are in active process or have been finalized.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. My colleagues will each provide their own brief remarks, following which we will be pleased to answer any questions you might have.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:13
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Mark Giralt, and I am the area director for the United States and the Caribbean, a territory that includes processing offices here in the United States as well as those in Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, and Kingston.
For our offices in Port-au-Prince, Port of Spain, and Kingston, the majority of permanent resident applications received are in the family class. Many of the temporary resident visa services at these offices involve visits with families and include super visa applications. One of the biggest challenges is being able to communicate quickly and effectively with applicants. Although these offices cover relatively small areas, the infrastructure in many countries is poor, especially outside of the major centres.
Nowhere are these challenges more pronounced than in Haiti, which lacks a functioning postal system and where many clients do not have access to email. Cellphone use is increasing, but coverage is poor. Despite this, cellphones remain the means of communication most relied upon by Haitians, so the office in Port-au-Prince uses a commercial text messaging tool to communicate with clients.
Haiti is also still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Andrew, and rebuilding from the devastating 2010 earthquake is still very slow. The challenges posed by poor communications infrastructure will be with us for the foreseeable future, but we continue to look for innovative solutions. We also have significant concern around the reliability of the civil registry documents and records that are necessary to demonstrate existing relationships. Birth registration procedures can be open to fraud and abuse, and raise critical program integrity concerns.
In Kingston we receive many late-registered birth certificates. This limits their value as reliable evidence of a historical relationship. In these cases, identification of such concerns and the offer of DNA testing as an alternative early in the process has helped to reduce processing times and address program integrity concerns.
It can also be disheartening to see the lengths that some non-eligible applicants will go to in order to obtain a visa for Canada. Every day our officers across the world uncover fraudulent documents submitted in support of applications. Some of this fraud is very crude, but we often see fraudulent documentation that is very sophisticated. There is a vibrant industry in many countries that manufactures and distributes documents whose primary purpose is to allow an applicant to fraudulently obtain a visa for another country. Canada is not alone in this respect. At our missions overseas, we regularly meet to share information and methods with our counterparts from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. While we all encounter the same types of challenges, we are also able to work together to find solutions.
Spousal applications often have other complexities. For example, Kingston has found that up to 25% of applications are from persons who have been previously deported or have criminality concerns. Up to 10% of sponsors do not meet the legislative sponsorship requirements. Marriages of convenience are also of concern, making triaging for low-risk applications challenging.
These high-risk caseloads require significant resources, as more applicants must be interviewed. This can ultimately contribute to longer processing times for genuine applications. In recent years, we have actively moved applications between offices in the area, with officers travelling from our office in Port of Spain to Kingston and Port-au-Prince to conduct interviews. This approach has helped to reduce wait times. By managing the offices regionally, effective exchange of local knowledge has helped to keep the program risk at an acceptable level.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee. I believe my colleague from Mexico City has a few remarks to make.
Olivier Jacques
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Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:17
Mr. Chair, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee. My name is Olivier Jacques and I am the area director for Latin America, which includes our visa offices in Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, Mexico, Sao Paulo and Havana. I will provide you with a summary of the family reunification movement in Latin America, and the challenges we face in managing it.
At the outset, I would like to reiterate Ms. Chomyn's comment that our officers do their best to ensure that legitimate, bona fide family class applicants are reunited with their sponsors in Canada as quickly as possible.
The members of the committee probably know that processing in the region has been increasingly centralized in our mission in Mexico. Our office has developed a solid knowledge transfer strategy. Through area trips, reporting, briefings, timely training from subject matter experts, quality assurance exercises, round table discussions, and effective communication with missions in the region, Mexico has increased processing quality and efficiency. However, as mentioned, there are some regions where we have concerns as to the genuineness of the relationship. This results in officers interviewing greater numbers of applicants. In El Salvador, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, for example, officers interview 40% of applicants on location.
In some instances, applicants and their families are known to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the opportunity to be sponsored by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, or to be fraudulently included as a dependent on an application. There is no absolutely objective test that can be applied in such cases, so officers end up balancing the evidence available to them and using that evidence to reach a decision on the application.
While never determinative on their own, a combination of factors such as age differences, lack of familiarity with one's spouse, inconsistencies in their respective narratives, and linguistic and cultural differences may all be taken into account. Visa officers have a legal responsibility under the act to undertake a thorough review of each case they assess and to ensure that applicants have demonstrated they meet the legal requirements in the category in which they have applied.
Officers are also required to follow the guidance of the Federal Court of Canada every time they make a decision on an application. Federal Court jurisprudence requires, for example, that decision-makers apply the correct standard of proof when making a decision and that they comprehensively document any finding that an application does not meet legislative requirements. For this reason, it is usually much more time consuming to refuse a case than to accept it. It is necessary first to comprehensively assess the evidence, seek more evidence if necessary, and then use all of this evidence to render a decision which is in accordance with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and which meets the decision-making standards established by the Federal Court.
In both the Dominican Republic and Cuba, we have also observed what can be described as "holiday romance" types of relationships where Canadian citizens, male or female, develop a relationship with a local resident during a one or two-week vacation. These applicants often have jobs related to tourism at the time of meeting the Canadian sponsor. In these cases, there is often a significant age gap, ranging from 10 to 50 years, typically with an older Canadian sponsor and a much younger applicant. We have seen many cases where the intent of the applicant is to take advantage of the sponsor to gain access to Canada. These cases can be difficult for us, as often the sponsor is genuinely committed to the relationship while the applicant is not.
As mentioned by Mr. GiraIt, another complexity in the processing of family reunification applications relates to admissibility concerns. Many of the applicants in this region have previously resided in Canada or the U.S. and, as part of the application process, are required to submit police certificates. These police certificates often reveal past criminal activities. The information-sharing agreement that Canada has with the U.S. also alerts us to past criminal activity by individual applicants and also reveals previous immigration violations in the US. This information is invaluable to us in ensuring the integrity of our processes, but also adds to the complexity and time required to review these applications.
I know that we have only managed to scratch the surface, but I hope that this has been a useful overview. We would be pleased to answer any questions that the committee might have.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2016-11-15 8:22
Good morning and good afternoon to everyone. Thank you for the excellent presentations. I was fearful this morning that I might not have any questions, but after the presentations, I have many. I hope I can get through them in the next seven minutes.
I'm going to start off with you, Ms. Chomyn. You had mentioned that most applications are approved rapidly. Can you define what rapidly is? What are the service standards? By extension, to Mr. Giralt and Monsieur Jacques, I would like to understand whether the service standards are the same in all three parts of the world.
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:23
The department has established service standards for the entire network, and we aim to complete 80% of family class applications within 12 months of the original application by the sponsor.
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:23
We're within departmental standards for the family reunification program that was transferred to us from Pakistan. In the early days, it took us a bit of time to gain traction and to complete the knowledge transfer that we had to put into place to make sure we understood the cases and weren't unnecessarily calling people to interview or belabouring the applicants in any way. Now we're at a point where we are within the departmental standards.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2016-11-15 8:23
Mr. Giralt and Monsieur Jacques, is that the same case for both of you, where 80% of all the family reunification cases are completed within 12 months?
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:24
My comment would be that with the increases in targets within the family class in recent years and last year, it's really given us a bit of extra room within those targets. One of the effects of that, as we finalize more cases, is that sometimes the processing times at the initial stages will extend while we dig down through some of the older cases. There's a dip, and the processing times will show improvement, and we really are improving in the offices I'm responsible for in Kingston. Port of Spain is well below that target, and Port-au-Prince is doing well. It's very helpful.
Additional resources have allowed the department to send us more temporary duty officers to help alleviate some of the decision-making burdens, and we're able to do more interviews. We've had some very successful sessions. For example, in Kingston, we've been able to finalize a lot more cases because of those additional decision-making resources either taking on those types of cases or sometimes just allowing the locally engaged officers to make those decisions.
Olivier Jacques
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Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:25
As Madam Chomyn mentioned, we applied the 12-month service standard here in Mexico, which is the same across the network. In Mexico City—and I'm talking about Mexican citizens residing in Mexico—our processing time is around 16 months. We're not quite there yet, but we are very confident that we will get there in 12 months. We're working very hard, I can assure you, to process these applications within the departmental standard of 12 months because of additional resources that have been given by the department. It allows us to receive some temporary duty officers. By reviewing our processes, and with the level space that has been given by the government, we are hopeful that we will be able to reach the 12 months quite soon.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2016-11-15 8:26
My next question is about third party providers. In the whole processing of the family reunifications, are third parties used? For example, it could be for security, or it could be for medical. The reason I ask is that in some of the cases where I'm waiting, and someone is taking five or six years, I'm being told they're waiting for a security check to be cleared, and it takes a year and a half.
If you could maybe talk a bit about third party providers, what part of the process do they cover? Are they subject to service standards, as well, and if they are, then what are they?
Maybe we'll start with you, Ms. Chomyn.
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:27
We aren't able to comment on specific cases. There may be a unique set of circumstances in the case you're referring to that caused the case to have taken longer than normal. When it comes to matters of security screening, we work together with our colleagues at the Canada Border Services Agency to complete the assessments that have to be done under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
If you're talking about service providers in general, I wonder if you may be referring to, for example, language testing organizations that were used in economic cases. Perhaps I'm going off on a tangent, and you're interested more specifically in the family class.
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Julie Dzerowicz Profile
2016-11-15 8:27
We're talking about family class reunification. To me it's the whole process that allows a spouse, a child, or another family member like a grandparent to be accepted. Are there any third parties that we use as part of that process for approval, and if so, are they subject to service standards?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:28
I'll start off, and I'll invite my colleagues to weigh in. As I mentioned, we work with the Canada Border Services Agency. We use panel physicians to complete the medical processing that's required for all of these sponsored cases. They are subject to service standards as well. That process is administered by a different part of the department than I am responsible for.
I should note that the RCMP is another agency that we engage as part of the screening process for adults.
I'll ask my colleagues now if they can suggest any others.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:28
I'll take up the topic. Something I have been thinking quite a bit about is our processing of adoptions, both for permanent residents and for citizenship. Often, in many countries, especially those that are signatories to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, the local adoption process generally happens within our processing time, so sponsors in Canada, especially if they have an unnamed child for adoption, will start the sponsorship process before they have actually identified a client.
We have fewer that two dozen adoption cases in Port-au-Prince right now, and about four or five of them are unnamed, so there's no actual individual attached to them. Those cases are waiting for the adoption process to take place within that window of processing time. That's something we don't control.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
We've been talking about processes, and some of the witnesses who have come to the committee thus far have said that the application system that Canada has is flawed. An applicant must submit their information multiple times, essentially opening a new file as they approach the department, be it as a visitor or for a visa, sponsorship, or residency. It has also been suggested that a better model could be used by the CRA.
Starting with Monsieur Jacques, because you did get into the topic of centralization, can you suggest a model that could be used and would be better than what we have?
Olivier Jacques
View Olivier Jacques Profile
Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:30
I believe that the model that we have is a solid model at this point. What we've done here in Mexico is to centralize some of our operations from the region in order to gain efficiencies.
A few years ago we started to process all the applications from the Dominican Republic, as well as from Venezuela, and Central America. By having a significant team here in Mexico we have an economy of scale in reviewing these applications, and I believe we can eventually provide a faster processing time.
If possible, we try to avoid delaying the application, and we waive the requirement for an interview if the applicant provides sufficient documentation that satisfies us as visa officers in proving that the relationship is genuine.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
Mr. Jacques, may I interrupt just for a second? The reason these comments have been made is because the big concern that has come before the committee is that the delays are unreasonable. That's what a number of witnesses have told us. We're trying to figure out what we can recommend to the government and how these delays can be shortened.
One suggestion was that there be a new model. You're saying that the model is adequate. Is that what you're saying?
Olivier Jacques
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Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:32
It's a complex process in the sense that there are several steps in the process. We have to make sure that we comply with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and we have to follow the proper procedure.
Sometimes, in order to get the documentation we need, such as a police certificate, such as proof or evidence of relationship, it does take time. As Mr. Giralt mentioned, communicating with the clients also takes time. Sometimes it's very difficult to reach the person, and because of that, there are some delays.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
Monsieur Jacques, can you make recommendations to the government as to how the regulations could be changed to reduce the delays?
Olivier Jacques
View Olivier Jacques Profile
Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:33
I am afraid it is not my position at this point to make a recommendation to the government on this. I believe that the act and the regulations that we have in place are, indeed, solid. We are working very hard to speed up the processing so that we can eliminate these delays and process people in a reasonable time.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
All right.
It's been suggested by some witnesses that a cap on applications for parents and grandparents be raised to 20,000 or 30,000 per year, or that the cap be removed entirely.
Perhaps we can start with Ms. Chomyn.
What would be the impact of such a move on the operations that we have? Specifically, what would be the impact on staffing, wait times, backlogs, etc.?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:34
The department is currently resourced to deliver annual levels in the range of 300,000 each year. The exact composition is less relevant than the actual number, although some cases do take longer to process than others.
Any increase in one category would have to be offset by a decrease in another category, unless the larger levels number were to grow.
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:34
I guess we would have to take a look at our operations to see if there are any additional efficiencies that we could implement to try to deal with an increased number.
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:35
The calculation of how much work is involved with individual cases is actually quite complex. The straightforward cases can be processed with fewer resources than the more complex ones.
We also have something that is uncontrollable that we have to factor into our workloads every year: the number of temporary resident applications that we receive.
So, it's really not possible for me to give you a projection. If you do wish to have that sort of projection, I would suggest that perhaps our colleagues at headquarters would be better placed than we to provide you with a more probable number.
View David Tilson Profile
CPC (ON)
You're responsible for Pakistan. Due to the security in Pakistan, applications from Pakistan are processed by London-based visa officers who travel to Islamabad to conduct interviews, often requiring interpreters for several different languages. How many officers in London process the workload from Pakistan?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:36
I'll speak about the family reunification work because I think that's of greatest concern to you.
When we first took over the Pakistan family program, we had a unit made up of seven people—one decision-maker and the rest were administrative support. The unit now is at 17 people, and that includes nine decision-makers, one of them being a unit manager. It's been quite a substantial growth.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2016-11-15 8:36
Just to build on that answer, when you say that your staff has grown from seven to 17 people, when did that take place? When did the 17 staff come on stream?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:37
They would have come on since we took over the caseload in 2014. It would have been a gradual increase.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2016-11-15 8:37
Okay.
I think I heard from the other officers, as well, in terms of the resource increase. Could I get the numbers in terms of the resource increase and when that took place?
I'll go to Mr. Giralt, please.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:37
The budgetary amount to assist us was about $25 million in 2016, so this is part of the testimony that you heard from our assistant deputy minister, Mr. Bob Orr, when he came.
The funding has been used in a number of different ways. The one that—
View Jenny Kwan Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2016-11-15 8:37
I'm interested in how many staff you have at the moment to process applications for both streams, for spousal and for parents and grandparents.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:38
In terms of permanent increases in the offices I'm responsible for, we haven't seen any permanent increases because of the particularities of the caseload. I'm talking about Port-au-Prince, Kingston, and Port of Spain. What we have seen is a significant increase in the number of temporary duty officers who have come to provide support to the local offices, and that help is invaluable. It helps us to deal with fluctuations in demand in the summer when we're dealing with temporary visas.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:38
No, it depends on the nature of the caseload, but in some cases they will come in and do family class interviews. We've had a couple of officers who went into Kingston, and they completed about 200 interviews covering about 300-and-some people over the course of the summer.
At other times, they'll come in and they'll backfill.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:39
Okay, in Kingston we have three Canada based and three locally engaged officers. In Port-au-Prince we have two Canada based decision-makers, and in Port of Spain we have three Canada based and we have three locally engaged officers as well.
Olivier Jacques
View Olivier Jacques Profile
Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:39
We have not had any permanent increase to our offices in Latin America. What we have is what Mr. Giralt mentioned. We have temporary duty officers who were sent to various missions in Latin America in order to speed up the family class category.
I know that a number of temporary duty officers were sent to Bogotá and to Havana in order to speed up the processing.
View Jenny Kwan Profile
NDP (BC)
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2016-11-15 8:40
Sure, I would appreciate it if I could get a breakdown then from each of the offices. How many applications do you have that are in process, and what year did they come in? I'm asking for all the ones that have not been approved so far that are still outstanding.
Then, of those categories, I'd like to get a breakdown as well of how many of them you would consider to be easy-to-process applications or something that is not particularly unusual or has issues.
Then there are the ones that you have issues with. I understand the issue about confidentiality, so we don't want to breach that, but rather have them in categories. Let's say 10% and 60 of them—or whatever the number might be—are issues related to criminality, another 35 are to do with issues of potential marriage fraud, and others have custody issues or whatever the case may be. If I could get that breakdown, that would be very useful and helpful.
I would also like the breakdown of the staffing resources and how that has evolved. Ms. Chomyn, you mentioned that in 2014 your staff went up to 17. I'm not sure if all of those are permanent or if those are temporary officers, as the other offices have been, and what have they been doing? Are they for temporary visa applications, parents, grandparents, or whatever?
I would like to get that breakdown just so that we get a fuller sense of how the operation is resourced to do its work because I think delays have to do with resources, and if you had more resources, you'd be able to process these applications more rapidly.
In terms of understanding your operation as well, I'll ask about interviews. How often are interviews arranged? Is it 10% of the cases or maybe 20% of the cases that are an issue? Are all of those 20% then interviewed, and how many officers do you have doing interviews? How often do they take place in terms of the interviews as well? That would be useful and helpful for us to have later if you're not able to provide that information to us at this moment.
Olivier Jacques
View Olivier Jacques Profile
Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:43
It varies quite a bit from one office to the other about the percentage of cases that are interviewed. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, in the Dominican Republic, in Cuba, and in El Salvador, close to 40% of all our clients are interviewed.
We organized and have a pool of about six or seven officers who go on area trips to visit these countries to perform these interviews, and we go on a regular basis. Four or five times a year we go to the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, and we have an office in Cuba that deals with these interviews.
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
2016-11-15 8:44
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Chomyn, I'd like to ask you a few questions. To go back to Pakistan, you're saying that security concerns and civil unrest were challenges that did arise, and as a result of those it has moved to London. Has there been any attempt, on the department's part, to use technology such as video conferencing to ease some of the challenges that do arise?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:44
We haven't used that technique in the case of our Islamabad office. We find that, although technology works well in some locations in the world, it doesn't work well equally. We've just found it more effective to conduct interviews in person.
As I mentioned, we send officers four to five times a year, depending on the number of cases that we feel we wish to call to interview. There's no quota. There's no magic number. It's all based on a case-by-case assessment and the complexities that we find in the caseload.
Sometimes, too, there are sensitive things that need to be discussed, and for the client's benefit, we appreciate that they'd prefer to have these conversations in person rather than remotely.
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
2016-11-15 8:45
Just out of curiosity, for the Pakistan office, for example, what is the percentage of people who are interviewed?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:45
That's in our family class priority categories. In the case of parents and grandparents, for example, we rarely, if ever, interview.
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
2016-11-15 8:45
Thanks.
I was reading something else in your testimony where you were talking about how, in many instances, we are actually co-operating with host countries on gathering intelligence. What happens if the host country does not assist us? For example, just to explain to you what my problem is, I have a lot of Iranians in my riding. We have no diplomatic representation there. The host country, obviously, is not co-operating with us on intelligence matters, to verify documentation that's been provided. What happens in those instances?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:46
Mr. Chair, you'll appreciate that I can't comment on a situation that is occurring with a caseload that I'm not involved in. I can tell you that in the case of Pakistan, we know there are some challenges in working with host country officials. We do our best to do verifications as we can. We liaise with colleagues from friendly missions to inquire about their experiences. At the end of the day, we have to make our best decision based on the information in front of us. Then, if the client feels that the decision has been incorrect, there are appeal mechanisms that are open to them.
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
2016-11-15 8:47
Okay. Absolutely.
One witness who appeared before our committee, Ms. Go, recommended that regulation 4(a) of the IRPR should be amended so that immigration officers must prove a marriage is both not genuine and was entered into for the purposes of immigration. Do you think this recommendation would be helpful?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:48
I would comment that our officers are well trained to interpret and apply the act and regulations as they're written. As far as making changes goes, I personally don't have any recommendations to make. I am aware that, back in 2010, a change was made to simplify that regulation and to make the test a double-headed test, but I really don't have any comment on whether it should be changed or left as is. Officers applied that regulation very effectively beforehand, and they've applied it as effectively since it's been changed.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:49
I would second that. Clearly, officers need clarity in terms of the decisions that they're making. In either circumstance, officers will make a decision based on the legislation as it stands. They're quite adept at doing that, and it is helpful to have that clarity.
Again, that would be the extent of my comments.
Olivier Jacques
View Olivier Jacques Profile
Olivier Jacques
2016-11-15 8:49
Indeed, I would second the comments made. We are trained and we do apply and interpret the act and regulations. I believe we have the tools right now to make such an assessment.
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ali Ehsassi Profile
2016-11-15 8:49
Thank you.
Perhaps I will go back to the first area I was talking about, which was technology, Mr. Jacques was explaining to us some of the challenges in Haiti, and how you communicate with applicants through cellphones. I would like to ask all of you about the role of technology, and whether it would be possible for us to rely more extensively on technology and other types of infrastructure.
Mark Giralt
View Mark Giralt Profile
Mark Giralt
2016-11-15 8:50
My comments on text messaging in Haiti were really an attempt to illustrate some of the things that we take for granted in Canada, the U.S., and in other markets, that are just not happening in other markets. One of the other attempts that we've made in Haiti, in particular, is we've added an online capacity for people to set up an online account to link into a paper-based application, and we've done an email out.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Hello, Mr. Jacques.
It's my pleasure to ask you some questions this morning.
We all watched the American election with great interest last week. We heard reports after the election that there were high-level meetings that took place with officials at IRCC and in other departments looking at the potential surge in Mexican migrants coming to Canada as a result of these meetings. This was reported on CBC. I'm just wondering if you wanted to comment on that at all, if those meetings did in fact take place, and if you are concerned about the ability for your unit to process applications looking at the context of a potential surge in migrants.
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
Would you be able to provide for the committee any broad strokes on what those risks might be and why they were ignored by the government in lifting the visa requirement?
View Michelle Rempel Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you.
Are you aware of any measures that have been put in place by the Mexican government to educate its population on why they shouldn't be making false asylum claims to Canada?
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thanks to all our witnesses.
My first question is for Sharon Chomyn.
I've heard a lot from my constituents about the wide variances and processing times across different regions. I'm sure you see those variances across different offices under your responsibility. Could you discuss the factors that contribute to longer processing times in some regions? Are the applications from some regions more complex, or are there efficiencies employed in some countries or regions that we can apply elsewhere?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:56
It's difficult to answer a question like this, because there are so many variables involved. It may be that there are variations in the population that affect processing times in one region as opposed to another. There may be variations in our ability to use technology, because we do use an electronic processing platform, and in some locations the infrastructure is better than in others. Mr. Giralt made some comment about that in reference to Haiti. There may be climatic issues that make it challenging to do work. Political factors can have an influence. The security situation in a country or the general state of health in a country can make a difference. There is really a wide range of factors.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
You mentioned today that 80% of the cases are done for the spousal visa in 12 months, but I get a lot of cases in my office from Islamabad, and it takes even more than two years for the spousal visas. Is there any specific reason for that?
Sharon Chomyn
View Sharon Chomyn Profile
Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:58
Thank you for the opportunity to address that issue.
When the spousal cases were transferred to London back in 2014, some of those cases were already quite old in terms of the time they had sat in inventory. They weren't left behind; it simply was difficult for us to process them in Islamabad because of the circumstances there. As we brought them to London and we began processing them, already some of them had been waiting for some time, so that by the time we issued those visas, waiting times appeared to be very long. As we worked our way through that caseload, those who followed also had to wait.
Now that we've worked our way into a situation where we're almost able to begin processing files as soon as they arrive in the office, most clients will notice quite an improvement in processing times over those clients who applied two or four years ago. That said, there are complexities inherent in these applications that make some of them go more slowly than we would like them to go.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
You mentioned that the rate of interview in Pakistan is about 15%. How is it in comparison to the other regions? What would it be in London, for example, which is also under your responsibility?
Sharon Chomyn
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Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 8:59
In the case of the London files, we actually don't interview that often. We may, if there is a complex legal case or a legal element that has to be addressed or if there are issues surrounding the guardianship of children, but we don't interview often with respect to questions related to the genuineness of the relationship, because those files are all processed in Canada and they are considered to be of lower risk in triage. They're part of that 10% that are done in Canada.
Sharon Chomyn
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Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 9:00
Yes, we interview when we can't satisfy ourselves, without an interview, that a relationship is genuine, that there are no admissibility concerns in the applicant's background, or that there are other factors that would not make them inadmissible under Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Sorry for cutting you off, but I have less time.
I have heard a lot from my constituents about the lack of cultural sensitivity and knowledge of marriage validation in making the process very stressful. It is leading to false evaluations of marriages because now people from London—who don't know the cultural norms of that region—are going to Islamabad to interview the people. Are there any training processes that you provide to your staff before they go to conduct interviews?
Sharon Chomyn
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Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 9:01
The short answer to your question is yes, we have quite a comprehensive training program. We also have officers on staff, who have had previous experience on assignment in Pakistan. We have London-based locally engaged staff, who are of an ethnic or religious origin that would be typical of cases found in Pakistan. We have regular training programs for new officers who have joined. We do case conferences, so that officers can sit together to look through applications to make sure that they are approached in a common way.
View Borys Wrzesnewskyj Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
Just before we conclude this session, Ms. Chomyn, I have a quick question for you.
I represent the riding of Etobicoke Centre. In the last year, we've opened 515 case files. Of those files, the largest number, approximately 15%, are from Ukraine. When I look at that segment, the largest number is for family reunification and the most significant number, or subgroup, within family reunification is parents and grandparents. My question is—with a quick response if possible, in two parts—based on the department standards of 80% within 12 months, what are the numbers for Kiev and for Ukraine at the present time? Also, does that standard apply generally or is there a different standard for spouses, children, and specifically, parents and grandparents?
Sharon Chomyn
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Sharon Chomyn
2016-11-15 9:03
Mr. Chair, I'm sorry. I don't have that information at hand, but will undertake to provide that to you as soon as possible.
Elizabeth Snow
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Elizabeth Snow
2016-11-15 9:10
My name is Elizabeth Snow and I am the immigration program manager in Hong Kong and the acting area director for North Asia.
I would like to introduce to you my colleagues Shannon Fraser, area director for South and East Asia, and Alexandra Hiles, area director for Sub-Saharan Africa.
The North Asia region includes the offices located in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Manila, Sydney, Tokyo, and Seoul, as well as a liaison officer located in Canberra.
In this region there continues to be great interest in both temporary and permanent residence in Canada. In particular, for China there has been significant growth year over year in temporary resident programs with, on average, 20% growth each year. We expect to finalize close to a half million Chinese temporary resident applications this year. The continued increase in temporary resident applications creates significant pressure on the management of our human and physical resources and means we constantly work to balance and reallocate resources to deliver programs.
For the purpose of the discussion today, I will speak about the work done by our region's largest full service offices, Hong Kong and Manila. I will also speak briefly to the legal framework and how the provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and regulations support the integrity of our immigration programs and allow the department to focus its resources on production while continuing to manage application complexities and fraud. Hong Kong and Manila both deliver large permanent resident programs.
The responsibility for the vast majority of permanent resident processing for persons resident in China was transferred to Hong Kong in 2014. Beijing continues to process Chinese adoption cases.
In 2016, Hong Kong will finalize nearly 17,500 permanent resident applications, including 6,300 in the family class. There is also a significant economic class movement in Hong Kong, including over 5,000 provincial nominees and 3,700 applicants destined for the province of Quebec. Manila will finalize 12,500 cases, including just under 6,000 family class applications and just over 4,000 provincial nominees.
For Hong Kong, 81% of our family class priority applications are finalized within 13 months of the date of receipt of the sponsorship. For Manila, 78% were finalized in 12 months or less.
There are volumes of applications that are able to move forward with ease. However, there continues to be a considerable number of applications that are complex. They have complicated immigration histories with Canada or with other countries, complex relationships, or complex background issues, such as serious criminality. These require an additional investment of time and effort in order to finalize, and have an impact on processing times in both offices.
Historically, marriages of conveniences have been found throughout applications from China. In some of these fraudulent relationships, both parties may be aware the relationship is for immigration purposes. In others, the sponsor may believe the relationship to be genuine, while the sponsored foreign national intends to dissolve the relationship after being granted permanent residence.
To ensure the integrity of Canada's immigration program, we use a multi-faceted risk assessment and quality assurance approach. In Hong Kong we benefit from our experienced case analysis unit, which is skilled in document verification and localized research. Their efforts help us through lower-risk files to allow them to move more quickly through our processes.
We also work closely with risk assessment colleagues in Hong Kong and China. We have good working relationships with authorities, and these strong connections help facilitate the verification and the validation of the authenticity of supporting documents, allowing us to move forward more quickly with individual files.
We also profit from beneficial relationships with like-minded countries and this helps us stay current on trends or issues, which helps to better inform our work. Site visits are conducted as appropriate, however the vast majority of complex cases are resolved through in-person interviews with our officers.
In Hong Kong, we're happy to report that we've seen the volume of cases requiring interview drop from a previous high of 50% to 60% of our family class cases to 25% of these cases. This positive change gives our officers more time to assess other cases and reduces the need and associated hardship on applicants who must travel for interviews, something of which we are keenly aware.
This drop in cases requiring interview is attributable to the strengthening of our legislation. In particular, we attribute this change to the introduction of regulation 130(3), which put into place a five-year limitation on filing sequential sponsorships. By reducing what was a growing number of “marriage of convenience” cases, we've been better able to manage our inventory. As the risks decrease, we're better able to focus our resources on reducing processing time.
As I know it's of concern to the committee and to many of the witnesses who have appeared to date, I also wanted to briefly speak about subsection 117(9)(d) of the IRPA regulations. This provision, which was put into place in 2002, prevents a sponsor from sponsoring family members who were not previously declared by their sponsor or examined by the department. In our experience in Hong Kong, rarely has the omission of a family member been one of happenstance or poor advice. Rather, the omission appears to have been purposeful and undertaken with intent. Looking at the application process, there are approximately seven different opportunities in which to disclose dependants to the department, including prior to visa issuance and prior to landing in Canada. It's challenging to objectively see such omissions as inadvertent.
I believe the committee is aware, however, that 117(9)(d) can also be overcome where merited. To give a few examples, the sponsor may have been legitimately unaware of the whereabouts or existence of a family member at the time of application, or the existence of a child was not disclosed because the child was born out of wedlock. We also see instances where, in the case of marital breakdown, the sponsor was prevented, by the child's other parent, from having the child examined.
For all applications where a foreign national has been excluded as a member of the family class, the sponsor can request humanitarian and compassionate consideration under section 25 of the act. Officers have the authority, under section 25, to consider the reasons for non-disclosure and determine whether an exemption from the provision is merited. In reaching their decisions, officers consider the complex relationships and circumstances of the sponsor and the applicant, and they take into account the best interests of any children affected by such a decision. In this way, the integrity of the program is safeguarded, and exceptions can be made where merited.
Our staff work diligently to ensure that they make a balanced assessment of the applicant's relationships and to ensure that the applicant has entered into the marriage in good faith. Our teams strive to balance the complexities of law, jurisprudence, and the intricacies that people's circumstances bring. We have worked extremely hard over the past few years to modernize our processes and to increase our processing capacity and speed. We're committed to continuing our efforts into the future.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.
I will now turn to my colleague, Shannon Fraser, who is here with me in Colombo, to deliver her remarks.
Shannon Fraser
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Shannon Fraser
2016-11-15 9:18
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Shannon Fraser, and I'm the area director for south and east Asia. I cover a very large and diverse territory that includes our offices in Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Colombo, New Delhi, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, and Singapore.
The countries in my area of responsibility include many of the top source countries for our family class applicants.
I am here to provide an overview of what we do and to answer any questions you may have.
The ability of our offices to deal with quantity is a key factor in delivering our program. New Delhi has the largest family class caseload in the network. We expect to make 12,000 decisions this year in that category, representing 17% of the total family class applications for spouses, dependent children, parents, and grandparents that are processed overseas. We also have the second-largest temporary resident program in the network, at close to 250,000 applications per year, with substantial application increases year over year, particularly with students.
We also process an increasing proportion of factually complex cases, which may involve surrogacy, adoptions, refugees, and public policy cases. While the numbers may be small, they require extensive analysis, expertise, sensitivity, and focus.
In India, arranged marriages and joint families are a cultural norm with various traditions and social practices. Modern relationships, similar to the ones in North America, are becoming increasingly common, although still a small minority of our caseload. India has an incredibly diverse changing society that we must understand and assess in order to make decisions.
Marriage fraud is a very real problem and falls into three main categories: victimization, collusion, and agents. The top three countries for marriage fraud are generally understood to be India, China, and Vietnam.
Victimization, or human trafficking, includes exploitation and forced marriages.
Immigration to countries like Canada can allow people to realize their aspirations, resulting in collusion fraud. Families may make mutually beneficial arrangements of sponsorship or may include children who are not theirs in their applications. While this type of fraud may appear to be of a lesser risk, fraud like this chips away at the integrity of our program. We know that when a fraud path works, it will be repeated.
Last, hidden and dishonest agents or smugglers thrive. Canada is a destination of choice, and facilitating entry to Canada is big business. These agents counsel applicants and engage in various forms of fraud, including false documents. While many individuals wishing to immigrate to Canada engage third parties to facilitate their entry to Canada, these shadowy practices can leave the most vulnerable open to extortion and abuse.
Visa officers recognize that most of the family class applications we process are genuine. In fact, in India our acceptance rate in the spousal category is high, around 86% historically. For Vietnam, however, where human smuggling and marriage fraud concerns are higher, the approval rate for applicants is lower, at 65%. The existence of victimization and marriage fraud in our family class caseload means that we must be vigilant and carefully review applications. How do we do this?
One way is to interview applicants. Our interview rate in New Delhi has been quite stable over the last five years at around 25%. In Singapore, which is responsible for Vietnam, the rate is higher.
While our overall acceptance rate may suggest that the caseload is not complex, we often still need to undertake interviews or document verification to resolve ambiguities in order to approve an application, while refusing an application requires an even more time-consuming and comprehensive assessment. We also know that fraud schemes move and change as they are uncovered. We remain vigilant and are aware that something that was not a concern yesterday may be one today or tomorrow.
We continually test our assumptions while pushing hard to triage cases effectively and allow for more applications to be processed in less time.
We aim to find the ideal balance between facilitation and enforcement, a very challenging task. Some concrete measures that we have undertaken include the introduction of a more thorough method of triaging applications in order to ensure that cases are referred to officers with a particular expertise. As a result, we have increased processing efficiencies resulting in a decrease in processing times for most cases. We are identifying files based on the application date and, for example, based on medical results, to minimize the number of applicants who will need to repeat their medical examinations or obtain new passports. We have conducted several quality assurance exercises in the last year to identify areas to improve processing, and have adapted our training of officers and support staff to ensure we are making constant improvements in processing efficiency while maintaining the integrity of Canada's immigration programs.
Officers have the responsibility to ensure that all applicants have demonstrated that they are eligible in the category in which they have applied. Officers are trained to make informed, timely, and fair decisions, and have a strong dedication to client service and program integrity. The local knowledge of our officers and that of our locally engaged staff prove to be invaluable, as knowing the cultural norms of a particular society helps our officers to facilitate the processing of legitimate cases quickly and efficiently. To cope with the complexity of caseload and risks, we have a strong cadre of locally engaged case analysts with extensive local knowledge to support decision-makers and to help Canadian officers in their understanding of cultural traditions throughout our region.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.
I will now turn to my colleague, Alexandra Hiles, to deliver her remarks.
Thank you.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thanks to all the witnesses.
My first question is for Ms. Fraser. One of the biggest frustrations I hear about from the constituents in my riding of Scarborough Centre—and it was also borne out during this study—is inconsistent standards for acceptance between different offices and different regions.
For example, I know of some cases where an identical application, after being rejected in Chandigarh, was accepted in Delhi. In fact, Chandigarh has a reputation for an abnormally high refusal rate, to the point where some people have started avoiding it.
Why does there seem to be an uneven application of what should be consistent standards? Are there any measures you are taking to address this situation?
Shannon Fraser
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Shannon Fraser
2016-11-15 9:32
In terms of the Chandigarh visa office, in fact, Minister McCallum just paid a visit to that office and to New Delhi last week. He was in India. There is a very high incidence of fraudulent applications submitted by agents to that office, which does impact the approval and refusal rates.
We have also initiated workload-sharing within the India network. We have the ability to shift the work around and send officers back and forth between the offices. It's a matter of sharing the information and increasing awareness of the local documentation and what is required. We also get temporary duty resources to that office and across the India network, and we make every effort to make sure people are aware of what documentation is required and to raise awareness. You will see some additional steps in terms of the work we will continue to do across the India network.
Shannon Fraser
View Shannon Fraser Profile
Shannon Fraser
2016-11-15 9:33
I'm sure you can appreciate that every application, just like every person, is different. Their family circumstances, their work situation, and the assets and savings they have would be according to the individuals. Certainly, we are constantly working with all the officers, as we do with any new officers, in terms of providing information.
Recently, with the occurrence of the demonetization of the rupee in India, we are certainly taking that into account as to what possible impacts there could be on our clientele, for example, or on the documentation—again, just keeping that evergreen and providing that training and information to our staff.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
My next question is for Ms. Snow in regards to the family processing applications going through Manila. I represent a riding with a large Filipino population. Many of them come under the caregiver category, so the family reunification application under that category is taking a longer than many other family reunification categories. Is there anything specific to that you would like to add?
Elizabeth Snow
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Elizabeth Snow
2016-11-15 9:37
Regarding our office in Manila, they work very diligently with our colleagues in a centralized network in order to coordinate the processing of live-in caregiver and their dependant applications. I would like to highlight that Manila consistently meets their levels, as determined by the department, so they are processing very diligently and working very hard to coordinate. As you're likely aware, the head of family has to land first and then the dependants are issued and that requires a degree of coordination.
View Salma Zahid Profile
Lib. (ON)
What is the average time it is taking now for the processing of the family reunification of the dependants for the people coming in under the caregiver program?
Elizabeth Snow
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Elizabeth Snow
2016-11-15 9:37
I would suggest that we would come back to the committee with precise information on the length of time for live-in caregiver and their dependant processing applications.
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