Improving immigration pathways
There are better ways to process immigrant visas for many applicants including essential workers.
The Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association sees benefits in having more digital options for applications to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, or IRCC. But it suggests improvements that should be made to the new Temporary Resident to Permanent Resident pathway.
In a letter to IRCC, the CBA Section offers constructive feedback, based on the experience of its members, to make the program better at processing immigrant visas for many applicants including essential workers. Below is a summary of the main recommendations.
Problems with the roll-out
The Section is concerned that the program was released without timely information on how to access it. It notes that the application guide was released only 24 hours before the intake portal was open, lacking sufficient transparency on what documents were necessary for each stream. Applicants who did not have the necessary supporting documents, “such as a valid language test, medical examination, police certificates and formal document translations were at a significant disadvantage,” it writes.
Further, CBA Section members report that “many eligible candidates were unable to apply because they could not get the time off work to prepare and submit their applications.” And because representatives were not allowed to submit an application on their clients’ behalf, this led to missed opportunities given that the Canadian graduates stream closed less than 24 hours after it opened.
The Section therefore recommends that when it prepares to roll-out future program, IRCC release application packages with sufficient time in advance of the program opening, and provide clear and consistent instructions in a centralized manner.
Allowing counsel to act on behalf of clients
Immigration applications are important legal documents. Applicants should not be denied the benefit of legal advice, which could result in significantly flawed applications. Representatives should be able, through their own dedicated portal, to submit their client’s application electronically and to receive all correspondence about their client directly from IRCC.
Not having dedicated access for legal representatives puts applicants at a disadvantage, especially those who are elderly or located in remote areas with limited access to technology. “Digital platforms were designed to reduce processing times and create efficiencies. However, applicants are forced to choose between the complete services provided by a representative, with inevitably slower processing of a paper application, or using an online process designed for self-represented applicants,” the Section writes. This is procedurally unfair and can lead to a breach of the right of individuals to counsel, which can have significant long-term implications.
It typically takes several months before an application is checked for completeness. “Should an application be returned as incomplete after that time,” the letter reads, “the applicant who must resubmit the application has lost valuable time and another eligible applicant who could have applied with a complete application experiences a lost or delayed opportunity to obtain permanent residence.”
The Section urges IRCC to undertake completeness checks promptly after receiving an application, perhaps by using a two-person system whereby one officer does a rapid preliminary review before passing on the file to a second officer for a more thorough check. This would allow IRCC to return incomplete applications quickly. A similar process is already used by Employment and Social Development Canada when reviewing Labour Market Impact Assessment applications.
Bridging open work permits
Bridging open work permits are used by many applicants to support themselves and their families while waiting for their permanent resident applications to be processed. The Section notes that other types of economic streams allow applicants to apply for a bridging work permit and recommends allowing it for all applicants to the Temporary Resident to Permanent Resident pathway who pass the initial review for application completeness.
Family reunification and processing for legal dependents located overseas
COVID-19 restrictions have eased significantly since June 2021, and the CBA Section believes permanent resident applications for overseas dependents should no longer be placed on hold. Given that family reunification is an objective of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the letter says, “the program should recognize the importance of concurrent processing of all family members, including overseas family members.”