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Overwhelming backlog of Canadian immigration applications prompts new government action

By Kathleen Leighton

Last year, Canada boasted record admissions of permanent residents, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and has an even more ambitious target for 2022 – namely, to welcome 431,000 permanent residents to the country. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) has also worked through more work permit and study permit applications so far this year than in the same period during the past couple of years.

Despite these high approval numbers, the Canadian immigration system is nevertheless facing strain resulting in severe processing backlogs. The pandemic illuminated inefficiencies in the system, particularly the aging technology relied on by the Canadian government. This, coupled with humanitarian crises and a building interest in Canada, has caused applications to pile up (sometimes literally) in IRCC processing offices.

Current inventory and backlog projections

Typical service standards for all application types (temporary resident and permanent residency applications) have been significantly impacted such that, at the end of July 2022, over 50% of applications in IRCC’s inventory were considered to be backlogged. More specifically, there are 2.4 million total applications in all IRCC inventories, with 1.3 million exceeding service standards.

Canada’s government has set a 20% backlog target. In other words, they hope to return to processing 80% of applications within service standards. This target is projected to be met with varying levels of success across application types by year end:

  • It is projected this target will be reached or exceeded for permanent residence applications (including Federal High Skilled, Provincial Nominee Program, and spouses, partners and children applications).
  • In particular, Federal high Skilled applications are anticipated to see the largest improvement with a backlog decrease of 79% between now and year end.
  • Citizenship applications are projected to fall just shy of the target at a 25% backlog by December 2022.
  • Temporary resident applications will continue to experience the highest level of backlogs by year end.
  • Work permits in particular will face even more severe backlogs by year end. Namely, the projected backlog for these applications is listed at 60% by December 2022, which is over a 30% increase from current levels.
  • Study permit and temporary resident visa applications are projected to remain fairly constant at 33% and 66% by year end respectively.

It is noteworthy that about 20% of temporary resident visa applications and 70% of work permit applications currently in inventory are related to the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel. This is a unique scenario adding pressure on existing resources, and it may explain in part why temporary resident applications will continue to be most negatively impacted.

A popular and successful permanent residency option for many foreign nations has been the Express Entry system, which includes several “streams” for permanent residency. However, the Express Entry system has been experiencing severe impacts since the beginning of the pandemic, brining some steams to a complete standstill for months. Express Entry draws for both the Federal Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience Class were paused from December 2022 until early July 2022 in response to the pandemic. Therefore, only Provincial Nominee Program candidates in the Express Entry pool were able to move through the system during this time.

Backlog reduction efforts

On August 24, 2022, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship announced efforts to reduce the severe backlogs currently faced by the Canadian immigration system. Existing and anticipated efforts include the following:

  • By the end of fall 2022, IRCC plans to hire up to 1,250 new employees to boost processing capacity.
  • IRCC has prioritized workers in certain essential occupations (health care, agriculture and transportation) to ensure ongoing food supply and protection of Canadians.
  • Work permit extensions are being granted for certain individuals, including applicants under the temporary resident to permanent resident pathway and those with expired or soon-to-expire post-graduation work permits.
  • The Student Direct Stream has been expanded to allow for faster processing of certain study permit applications.
  • IRCC processes are being reviewed and improved to eliminate unnecessary steps and leverage technology for more efficient processing. IRCC has already worked to digitize applications and introduce some new technological solutions.
  • Permanent resident targets are being increased each year to facilitate greater processing capacity.
  • An online portal has been launched to allow certain permanent residence applicants to finalize their application and obtain their PR Card without any in-person visit.
  • As mentioned, all-program Express Entry draws were resumed, and new applicants can expect their applications to be processed in the original pre-pandemic 6-month processing time.
  • A new platform was launched to allow citizenship applicants to complete their citizenship test online. Virtual citizenship ceremonies were also introduced.

Going forward

IRCC plans to publish monthly data on their website to keep Canadians updated on the government’s progress with addressing these backlogs. The website is presently current to July 31, 2022. Those interested can follow along to see whether the government’s projections and goals ultimately come to fruition. Addressing these backlogs will be crucial to allow Canada to continue to attract top talent, fill labour shortages, address our aging population, and successfully assist those seeking refuge in our country in a timely manner.

This update is intended for general information only. If you have further questions about these programs or are an employer seeking to support your workers, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.

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