In the course of the recent Canadian election campaign Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau promised a variety of measures to improve Canada’s immigration system. For example, he proposed to adopt policies that would better facilitate family reunification by speeding up processing times and doubling the budget for that purpose. He promised to eliminate the two year wait time to get permanent residence for spouses of Canadians in the country and to double the yearly number of parents and grandparents who would be able to immigrate to Canada from 5000 to 10,000. He promised to provide extra points for siblings applying under Express Entry and to raise the age of dependents back to 22 from 19 years of age.
He made promises in other areas of immigration as well, but probably the area that will have the best chance of success is the promise to double the budget for processing immigration applications, particularly if it helps to eliminate the two-year waiting period for foreign spouses to be processed in Canada. However, even here not everything is that easy. The two year current wait time for internal spousal sponsorship cases involves police clearances, medicals and security checks – items that no doubt can be speeded up, but not eliminated. A related problem is overseas processing of spousal cases that for the most part is taking a year and therefore also merits expediting. Because of the medical and police matters, it may be wiser in both these instances to grant the foreign spouses temporary resident visas with permission to work if they can produce a credible marriage certificate or other evidence of a subsisting relationship. This would at least keep the couples together and remove the financial hardships they face until the necessary checks can be completed, hopefully on a more expedited basis given the increased funding.
Trudeau’s promise to help parents and grandparents is a more daunting challenge. Today if your parent is lucky enough to be accepted at the beginning of the year as one of the 5000 maximum annual applications accepted, the current processing time to get that applicant to Canada can be as long as nine years. Even if the number to be accepted is increased to 10,000 that does not solve the processing part of the problem although, hopefully, doubling the budget will help.
These examples reveal the underlying problem with processing – the problem of a lack of a systematic approach like, for example, “The Toyota Way” or the way FEDEX or Amazon handle their processing problems. If Trudeau really wants to improve processing times in these and other areas of immigration, he should invite practical advisors, including ones from these firms, to advise the government on how to improve Canada’s immigration system.
Among the reforms such experts would likely recommend that Canada should introduce would be:
1. Providing advance notice to the immigration community of a change in forms to be used in immigration cases to avoid delays because of the use of old forms.
2. Using a system of ‘requests for further evidence’ and common sense measures like calling the applicant to get something missing, to facilitate processing rather than the current policy of returning all incomplete submissions.
3. Consolidating the splintered fee payment procedure currently used. Why should each government office have a different payment policy?
4. Improving the function of the national call centers. No more 90 minute waits to talk to someone and then getting cut off, or worse yet, simply not taking calls on that day.
5. Introducing clear one-address contacts for all immigration processing offices, including overseas consulates and visa application centers, for mailing, couriers and personal visits and disclosing them. There is nothing as frustrating as receiving a letter of denial from an office with no return address, phone number or email contact.
6. Adopting a one-file-number-only system for each client to eliminate confusion and duplication of filing. Why use multiple file numbers to track a file?
7. Implementing checklists for all applications with documents identified by name and number. Providing a list of all such documents on line by searchable name would help to minimize frustration in the search for what is required.
8. Respecting the right to counsel as represented by the use of representative forms. Even where legally the right to counsel is not available, honoring counsel by copying them on contacts with clients would help a lot.
9. Introducing a simple administrative appeal system, such as a motion to reopen, in which clients who have been refused an immigration benefit can quickly have their matters reviewed by a superior within a short time frame to correct mistakes or problems.
10. Teaching government officials to employ more common sense ‘substance over form’ mentality.
If Trudeau did nothing more than this, Canada’s immigration system would be immeasurably improved.
Let us hope that he makes a point of following up on such matters.