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Canadian Politicians Express Strong Concerns About The Perceived Inefficiencies In the IRCC’s Client Service

The Perceived Inefficiencies

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The Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) are modernizing and digitizing their application processing system. This initiative aims to enhance accessibility for applicants who want to keep tabs on the progress of their applications.

To facilitate client inquiries, the IRCC has established various specialized service lines within its Client Services Centre (CSC), tailored to different queries. Among these services is one designed to assist Members of Parliament and Senators (MCMPS) working for constituents seeking information about their applications.

The MCMPS pilot program was introduced in October 2022, taking over the responsibilities previously handled by the Ministerial Inquiry Line. Now, Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators can schedule appointments online in advance to seek assistance. In the 2021/2022 fiscal year, the IRCC received 272,000 MCMPS requests through the MCMPS Liaison Service.

In a November 2022 update on CIMM Client Services and Support, it was reported that the changes implemented by IRCC have effectively reduced the extended wait times that MP and Senator offices had previously experienced when trying to contact the MCMPS earlier in 2022. Remarkably, these changes have been made without compromising the level of support provided.

An Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request revealed that IRCC acknowledged, in a memorandum to the Minister last November, the growing backlog of applications and the emergence of humanitarian crises, both of which have increased demands on the Client Services Centre (CSC). 

Consequently, more clients have been turning to their Members of Parliament for assistance, resulting in a heightened demand for MCMPS services.

To gain insights into the functioning of this service and address any pressing issues and potential solutions, CIC News reached out to Members of Parliament from all three of Canada’s major political parties and directly contacted IRCC. Unfortunately, there was no response from Liberal MPs or IRCC to our inquiries.

What’s the Issue?

The recent appointment system changes have introduced a requirement for Members of Parliament (MPs) to schedule appointments two weeks in advance. 

While this alteration aims to streamline processes, it presents challenges when addressing pressing matters promptly.

Brad Redekopp, who serves as the Conservative MP for Saskatoon West and holds the position of Vice-Chair for the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship (CIMM), shared his perspective. 

He revealed that his office routinely pre-books appointments well in advance to secure the necessary time slots. Although booking appointments provides a sense of readiness, the drawback is that callers seeking assistance might have to wait two weeks before receiving a response.

Under the revised system, MPs are limited to discussing one urgent case at a time. This restriction can lead to delays, especially when MPs are simultaneously confronted with multiple urgent cases. 

As a result, they often find themselves having to prioritize the most pressing cases. Redekopp also noted that before the MCMPS system’s implementation, MPs could contact the Ministerial Inquiry line for urgent or complex cases and discuss multiple cases in a single interaction.

MCMPS Working Process

Jenny Kwan, who serves as the NDP MP for Vancouver East and holds the official position of Immigration Critic for the NDP, explains that the system offers MPs the flexibility to choose from 15, 30, 45, or 60-minute appointment slots, with these time windows becoming available daily and being bookable up to two weeks in advance. 

Importantly, MPs must obtain written consent from their constituents to access their files. Once the MP provides the necessary information, the MCMPS agent typically transmits the request to the IRCC processing center. In this process, non-urgent requests are expected to be addressed within 10 business days, while urgent requests receive attention and a response within 48 hours. 

This ensures that MPs can furnish their constituents with timely updates on the status of their applications.

However, Kwan emphasizes that while this is the intended operational model in theory, the practical application of the system may only sometimes align with these prescribed timelines and procedures.

Urgent Cases & Reach Out To Agents

Kwan has expressed several concerns regarding the MCMPS service, with her primary worry centering on the inconsistency in categorizing requests as urgent.

She highlights that files meeting the criteria for urgency or complexity often involve:

  • Rectifying departmental errors.
  • Addressing life-threatening situations.
  • Dealing with enforcement matters.
  • Navigating appeal processes.
  • Handling protracted refugee claims. 

When an IRCC agent acknowledges a file as urgent, it is expedited with a high-priority message sent to the processing office.

However, Kwan frequently encounters situations where her urgent requests are declined. Even if the agent initially identifies it as a critical case, the local processing office can only accept the request after explaining. 

In these instances, Kwan receives a notice stating, “Did not meet the criteria for urgent or complex cases.” Kwan asserts that the criteria for defining urgent cases could be more flexible, and she believes that many of her constituents are facing genuinely urgent situations. 

However, IRCC maintains a different perspective, arguing that the existing criteria are appropriate. “It ultimately boils down to the discretion of the agent, and frankly, the way they handle these applications is not always consistent,” Kwan remarks.

Redekopp concurs that the new system presents challenges when dealing with urgent cases. He notes that once an appointment is scheduled and MPs can converse with an agent, the MCMPS agent is often limited to offering assistance.

Both Kwan and Redekopp underscore the rarity of agents being able to provide genuinely helpful information since they tend to possess minimal knowledge about the specific file. 

According to Kwan, when responses arrive from the processing center, they typically confirm that the application is in the processing phase. Unfortunately, this communication rarely includes additional details regarding the reasons for the delay, and MPs are generally not authorized to submit a second request seeking further information.

IRCC Trackers

IRCC offers application status trackers for family class applicants and those with permanent residency applications through Express Entry or the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). 

However, according to Kwan, the recently introduced status trackers could be performing more effectively. Redekopp adds that the new digitalization efforts excel at receiving information but fall short in providing applicants with the information they need. 

He suggests that IRCC should enable applicants to monitor the progress of their applications, like how Amazon allows customers to track their packages. Redekopp emphasizes a noticeable need for more transparency in the IRCC process, which results in unnecessary additional work.

“You should be able to log in with a password, view your file, review the individuals who have worked on it, access their comments, and if there’s an issue, it should be flagged,” he asserts. “This situation is placing a considerable burden on MP offices and immigration consultants and lawyers. 

People become frustrated and seek assistance because they don’t know what steps to take. This leads to frustration from a time perspective and places financial strain on newcomers, who spend money on consultants when they shouldn’t have to. It’s not just about time; it’s about the economic impact.”

Kwan echoes these concerns about client information access. She recounts a recent case where one of her constituents was unaware of the requirement to have a police check translated into an official language. 

IRCC failed to specify the problem and consequently closed the application. The applicant is now compelled to initiate the application process anew.

IRCC’s Strategy For Tackling The Rising Demand For Client Services

A recent disclosure through an Access to Information Request obtained by CIC News revealed a significant surge in requests handled by the IRCC Client Services Centre. 

Compared to the 2017/2018 fiscal year, when the center managed a certain number of requests, the 2021/2022 budgetary year witnessed an astonishing increase, with IRCC handling more than eight million requests.

Furthermore, an October 2022 report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) highlighted that IRCC had implemented numerous recommendations, leading to improvements in response times since 2019, even amid a surge in service demand. 

Notably, this improvement was achieved despite a decrease in the number of calls answered and longer email response times.

The OAG report also noted that IRCC had utilized budget funding since 2019 to employ 237 full-time CSC employees, many of whom initially held two or three-year contracts and have now transitioned into permanent roles. 

Additionally, IRCC is set to recruit an additional 107 full-time employees, supported by funding allocated in Budget 2022.

Budget 2022 pledged substantial funding, amounting to $136.5 million over five years, commencing in 2022-23, with an ongoing commitment of $37.2 million. This funding explicitly addresses the heightened demand for client support services.
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