Last week, substantial modifications were introduced by Canada’s immigration department, influenced by a recent study it commissioned.
The objective behind these changes is the enhancement of IRCC’s operations.
Earlier in the year, IRCC received a report from Neil Yeates, one of its Deputy Ministers, focusing on how IRCC can achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.
The purpose of commissioning Yeates’ report was to assess whether the current structure of Canada’s immigration department facilitates the fulfillment of its mandate.
The Deputy Minister holds the highest-ranking position among civil servants in the department and operates in a non-political capacity. Their responsibilities often encompass overseeing the department’s management, including implementing policies and strategies and managing personnel and budgets.
The present Deputy Minister of IRCC, Christiane Fox, collaborates with the department’s minister, Marc Miller. Marc Miller’s role involves executing the government’s elected mandate.
IRCC’s Organizational Model Is Broken
In a report, Yeates contends that the current organizational model of Canada’s immigration department is dysfunctional. Nonetheless, the tenacity and commitment of the staff are currently keeping it intact.
He advocates for specific measures to realign the organizational structure, revamp the governance system, foster a culture that supports IRCC’s goals and objectives, and institute more robust management systems.
Furthermore, Yeates elucidates the reasons why the present model of IRCC is in disarray. Two major factors contribute to this: a challenging operating environment in Canada and globally.
Additionally, IRCC has experienced substantial growth since the inception of its current organizational structure over two decades ago. To underscore this, Yeates points out that IRCC’s total workforce has expanded from 5,352 employees to 12,949 employees.
Canada’s Immigration Department ‘Felt Like Crisis’
In an interview, Fox emphasized that Yeates’ report would shape the substantial changes the department intends to undertake. Upon taking on her role at IRCC in July 2022, Fox elaborated that her colleagues were experiencing stress and fatigue.
She emphasized the significance of departmental changes, expressing a desire not to implement them immediately but also acknowledging the impracticality of waiting for two years.
Nevertheless, by June 2023, Fox formulated a course of action following receiving the Yeates report and consultations with various public stakeholders, including IRCC candidates. Since then, she has been methodically introducing and implementing the planned changes.
Among the changes implemented last week, the department underwent a restructuring across various sectors:
- Citizenship & Passport
- Chief Financial Officer
- Asylum & Refugee Resettlement
- Chief Information Officer
- Client Service, Chief Digital Officer, & Innovation
- Corporate Services
- Migration Integrity
- Service Delivery
- Economic, Social, & Family Migration
- Settlement Integration & Francophone Affairs
- Strategic Policy
- International Affairs & Crisis Response
Fox explains that, following Yeates’ recommendations, Canada’s immigration department is now organized based on lines of business. IRCC employees will be distributed across multiple clients and organized to respond effectively to global changes.
For instance, IRCC has introduced a new International Affairs & Crisis Response Sector to assist IRCC in planning for humanitarian crises and devising strategic responses. IRCC routinely deals with such situations, as seen in the case of Ukraine last year and recent initiatives for resettling refugees from Syria and Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Fox underscores the importance of IRCC adopting a more client-focused approach in the future. This involves more prominently incorporating the applicant’s experiences into the department’s decision-making process.
Yeates provides detailed insights into several forces affecting IRCC, with the major ones being:
- Hybrid Work Environment & Pandemic: The nature of work is changing permanently due to the pandemic. Many workers, including IRCC employees, are adopting a hybrid model, working remotely with a directive to return to the office 2-3 days per week. While remote work has proven effective, the lasting impact on IRCC’s organizational culture is yet to be determined.
- Demand For IRCC Services: The need for IRCC’s programs often surpasses the department’s processing capacity, as indicated by its service standards. Despite tools and resources to manage inventory, such as program-specific caps, inventories can accumulate when demand exceeds processing capacity.
- IRCC’s Growth: The significant increase in demand for IRCC’s programs has led to a substantial growth in its workforce. In 2013, Yeates characterized the force as ‘medium-sized’ with over 5,217 non-executive staff, projected to double to 12,721 by 2023. Executives in the department have also increased from 135 employees in 2023 to the current count of 227. Despite this growth, the organizational structure, designed for smaller departments, has largely remained unchanged.
- Immigration Policy Review: The prevailing immigration narrative in Canada has not been rigorously challenged, and the true impact of immigration remains insufficiently documented. Therefore, an immigration policy review at IRCC could prove beneficial in shaping the department’s future direction.
- Digital Transformation: IRCC has secured substantial funding for its Digital Platform Modernization. Despite the inherent challenges, particularly for a department with significant responsibilities, there is a consensus that IRCC must undergo a digital transformation.
- Global Uncertainty: Increasing global armed conflicts, threats to democracy, and various factors such as climate change are influencing global migration patterns. These global uncertainties will continue to impact IRCC significantly.
IRCC’s Department Culture Is ‘Committed’
Upon closely examining the report’s objectives, Yeates notes that IRCC needs more comprehensive department-wide planning and a multi-year strategic plan and needs to be more consistent across the department. These factors give rise to various challenges, such as hindering the department’s goals and a lack of accountability among staff members.
Despite these challenges, IRCC staff characterizes the departmental culture as ‘collaborative, committed, and supportive,’ which has helped overcome deficiencies in the organizational structure, management system, and governance.
Furthermore, Yeates identifies a tension within the department between the ‘IRPA School’ and ‘Client Service Schools.’ The introduction of IRPA in 2010 established a framework for candidate exclusion, listing numerous reasons for potential denial. Although immigration officers are trained to enforce IRPA, little attention has been given to realizing the potential impact of these officers on decision-making.
In contrast, some candidates align with the ‘Client Service School’ ethos, displaying a willingness to waive requirements and a greater openness to compromise to enhance the service received by IRCC clients.
Yeates provides recommendations spanning four key areas: governance, organizational structure, culture, and management systems. Here are the key points of his suggestions:
Organizational Structure Suggestions:
- IRCC should transition to a business-line organization.
- Develop emergency and crisis management protocols, recognizing Assistant Deputy Minister leads in various scenarios.
- The executive community should take responsibility for finance and corporate services, absorbing the functions of the Corporate Finance Committee.
- Establish a new Operations Committee, chaired by the Deputy Minister’s office, absorbing the functions of the Issues Management Committee.
- Review the split responsibilities between CBSA and IRCC under IRPA to rationalize and streamline roles and accountability.
- Reconsider the membership of these committees as part of the reorganization process.
Management System Suggestions:
- The Deputy Minister should lead a new planning and reporting regime.
- Develop a 3-5 year strategic plan.
- Undertake an annual planning cycle across all department areas, including HR, IT, Financial, and Program Plans.
- Implement a quarterly reporting regime.
- Ensure linkages with the department’s performance management work.
- Conduct an IRPA review to make amendments supporting better outcomes.
- Review the training provided to staff involved in IRPA administration to align with the desired philosophy and approach of the department.
- Integrate the voices of IRCC’s diverse communities into the governance regime.
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