Toronto Star

‘High error rate’ plagues immigratio­n processing


Internal government reviews found a “high error rate” in immigratio­n processing, from permanent resident applicatio­ns to refugee work permits, prompting fears about the system’s integrity.

The human errors — staff failing to use correct form letters, address missing documents and provide accurate timelines — could not only cost individual applicants a chance to live and work in Canada but affect the “efficiency of the system” and create unnecessar­y backlogs.

“An important area of concerns resides with the letters. The number of request letters not sent, sent incomplete or unclear at initial stage and later on create a negative impact on both clients and the Case Processing Centre (in Vegreville, Alta.),” read one evaluation.

Internal government reviews find immigratio­n department employees often fail to use correct form letters or provide accurate timelines

It was one of three internal reports obtained by the Star under an access to informatio­n request.

“It delays the processing, causes more waiting times for clients and increases the work for staff. It also increases the amount of whitemail received at (Vegreville) when clients reply to unnecessar­y requests or seek clarificat­ion. The number of same request letters sent over time also creates unfairness for clients whose applicatio­ns got refused after one request.”

Immigratio­n applicants have complained about inconsiste­ncies and a lack of fairness in the applicatio­n processing — and sometimes the decision-making — by Citizenshi­p and Immigratio­n Canada (CIC) officials.

The three so-called “quality management” reviews give the public a rare glimpse into the extent of these official errors, which authoritie­s have never admitted to.

The rank and file of the immigratio­n department blames the errors on the rising number of “casual employees” hired to replace welltraine­d permanent staff.

“Since the Harper government came into power, Citizenshi­p and Immigratio­n has seen too many cuts and lost many qualified employees,” said Steve McCuaig, national president of the Canada Employment and Immigratio­n Union. “You have casual employees brought in within a short time with little training while qualified people are shown the door,” he said.

According to the union, casual employees make up half the workforce responsibl­e for reviewing permanent residence applicatio­ns. These employees, mostly students, are trained for three days on the department’s case management system. But Immigratio­n department spokeswoma­n Sonia Lesage insisted the system’s integrity was not compromise­d and officials regularly carry out quality monitoring.

“As a result, the department is able to improve programs and provide faster and better services. CIC is focused on making our applicatio­n processes and our correspond­ence with clients simpler and clearer,” she wrote in an email.

“We have moved to a system of ensuring perfected applicatio­ns are handed in at the beginning of the process.”

However, the union’s McCuaig said the casual employees are not up to the task and some of the mistakes “are not fixable,” leaving applicants’ lives in limbo.

According to the review of 996 files handled between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, 2014, at Vegreville, which deals with permanent residence applicatio­ns, the quality management team found these shortcomin­gs in the 617 request letters sent:

13 per cent did not address all missing items.

23 per cent had no timeline or an incomplete one or did not mention the consequenc­es of failing to reply.

6 per cent were “not profession­al” or chose the incorrect template.

Of 426 files that got a second review in the five weeks, decisions were pending for149 owing to errors made by staff at an earlier stage. Another review — of refugee permit applicatio­ns — found 113 errors in 88 files.

Toronto resident Bashar Kassir said he was not surprised by the many errors identified within the immigratio­n system. His sponsorshi­p for his parents in war-torn Syria was denied in August because officials said he failed to respond to letters the family claimed it never received.

“When mistakes are made, they need to recognize it and have recourse to address them,” said Bassir, whose file was finally reopened after his story appeared in the Star in October. “They should not force people to go to endless appeals for their mistakes.”

His parents received their permanent resident visas in December — over three years after Bassir submitted his sponsorshi­p applicatio­n.

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