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Canadian politicians critical of “inefficient” IRCC client service

Edit by Edana Robitaille from CIC News on Aug 28, 2023

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is working toward modernizing and digitizing its processing system to improve access for applicants wishing to track the status of their application.

To help clients get information, IRCC has several dedicated service lines through its Client Services Centre (CSC), depending on the type of inquiry. This includes a service to facilitate inquiries from Members of Parliament and Senators (MCMPS) working on behalf of constituents who are seeking information about their applications.

The MCMPS pilot program was launched in October of 2022, replacing the Ministerial Inquiry Line. Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators now book appointments online in advance. Through the MCMPS Liaison Service IRCC received 272,000 MCMPS requests in 2021/2022.

A CIMM Client Services and Support update from November 2022 says the IRCC changes eliminate the lengthy wait times MP and Senator offices spent on the phone earlier in 2022 trying to reach the MCMPS while still offering the same level of support.

An ATIP obtained by CIC News shows that in a Memorandum to the Minister last November, IRCC recognizes that an increased backlog of applications, as well as humanitarian crises, have led to more demand on the CSC and more clients are turning their MPs for help, thus increasing the demand for MCMPS services.

CIC News reached out to MPs from all three of Canada’s major political parties as well as directly to IRCC to find out how the service works as well as any pressing issues and their solutions. There was no response from Liberal MPs or IRCC.

How does the MCMPS work?

Jenny Kwan, the NDP MP for Vancouver East, as well as the official Immigration Critic for the NDP, says the system is designed to offer MPs the option of 15, 30, 45 or 60-minute appointments with windows opening daily, two weeks in advance. MPs must have written consent from their constituent to access their file.

The MCMPS agent will then take the information the MP provides and typically forwards the request to the IRCC processing centre. Non-urgent requests will be processed within 10 business days and urgent requests will be processed within 48 hours. This means the MP will have an answer for their constituent on their application status.

Kwan then clarified that while this is how the system works in theory, it does not necessarily work this way “practically.”

Difficult to get appointments

The new appointment system means that MPs must book appointments two weeks in advance, making it more difficult to address urgent cases.

Brad Redekopp, Conservative MP for Saskatoon West and Vice-Chair for the Standing Committee and Immigration and Citizenship (CIMM) also spoke with CIC News. He says his office consistently books appointments in advance just to ensure that his office has the time set aside. He says it’s good to know an appointment has been booked but when someone calls asking for help, it is going to be two weeks before they can get an answer.

Under the new system, MPs are only allowed to discuss one urgent case at a time, and this often causes delays when MPs have several urgent cases. Kwan says they are often forced to “triage” the most urgent cases.

Redekopp says before the MCMPS system, MPs could call the Ministerial Inquiry line for urgent or complex cases and discuss more than one case.

Urgent cases

Kwan has several concerns about the MCMPS service but cites her biggest concern as a lack of consistency involved in deeming requests to be urgent.

She says the files that meet the urgent or complex criteria are often chasing departmental errors, life or death situations, enforcement, appeal processes and lengthy refugee claims. If the IRCC agent accepts that a file is urgent, it is escalated with an urgent message to the processing office.

However, she often finds that her urgent requests are rejected. Kwan says that even if the agent determines it is an urgent case, the local processing office can still deny the request without explanation. She says in those instances, she gets a note that says, "Did not meet the criteria for urgent or complex cases.”

Kwan says the criteria for urgent cases are too rigid and that many of her constituents are in urgent situations, but IRCC disagrees.

“It's really up to the discretion of the agent and frankly it's not always consistent either how they process those applications.”

Agents can’t always help

Redekopp agrees that the new system creates obstacles for pressing cases. Once an appointment is booked and MPs can speak with an agent, he says there is often very little the MCMPS agent can assist with.

Both Kwan and Redekopp say it is rare for an agent to be able to provide helpful information because they just don’t know anything about the file. Kwan says that when they later receive an answer from the processing centre it is generally to confirm that the application is being processed but there is no additional information about what is causing the delay and MPs are not permitted to make a second request for more information.

Hard for clients to get information

While it can be difficult for MPs to get information on a case or file, both MPs agree that getting information as an individual seeking information on an application can be next to impossible.

Kwan says it is a nightmare for most people to try and get an update, or more information on their application. She says they go to their MPs because they have nowhere else to go.

“I don't know why IRCC does not set up a system similar to that of the CRA [Canada Revenue Agency] where you can just go on to a personalized portal with authentication of your identity and so forth to get updates on your file. I don't know why IRCC also doesn't just put the information forward so that people can see the information and see where it is at and know where the processing is”

IRCC status trackers

IRCC does have application status trackers for family class applicants as well as those with applications for permanent residency through Express Entry or the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), but Kwan says the recently implemented status trackers are not working as well as they could.

Redekopp says the new efforts at digitization are very good at taking in information but not at giving it back to clients. He says IRCC should allow applicants to keep track of their applications the same way Amazon lets people track packages. He says there is a lack of transparency in the IRCC process that causes more work than necessary.

“You should be able to go in with a password, see your file, see who touched it, what their comments were and if there’s an issue, they should flag it,” he says. “A lot of work is downloaded to MP offices on this. Not just MP offices but also immigration consultants and lawyers. People get frustrated and they don’t know what to do so they look for help. It’s just creating a lot of work. Newcomers are spending money on consultants they shouldn’t have to spend. It's not just frustration from a time perspective but also from a pocketbook perspective”

Kwan has the same concern regarding access to information for clients. She spoke of a recent case where one of her constituents was unaware that they needed to have a police check translated into an official language. IRCC did not specify what the problem was and closed the application. The applicant must now start their application from scratch.

IRCC’s plan to address increased demand on Client Services

A recently released Access to Information Request obtained by CIC News showed that the IRCC Client Services Centre is handling more than double the overall number of requests that it received in the 2017/2018 fiscal year. In the 2021/2022 fiscal year, IRCC fielded more than eight million requests.

Additionally, a report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) from October 2022 showed that IRCC had addressed several recommendations and response times had improved since 2019, accounting for an increase in traffic. This is despite the lower number of calls answered and lengthier delays in email responses

The OAG report also says IRCC has been using budget funding since 2019 to hire 237 full-time CSC employees, many of whom were originally on two or three-year contracts and are now permanent. Further, IRCC will use funding from Budget 2022 to hire 107 more incremental full-time employees.

Budget 2022 promised funding of $136.5 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $37.2 million ongoing, to address higher demand for client support services.

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