An immigration ombudsman is needed to keep tabs on the decisions made by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officials, according to a new report.
During the eight months that ended in May this year, the House of Commons’ standing committee on citizenship and immigration studied Ottawa’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on immigration to Canada.
The standing committee heard from witnesses and experts, looked at the backlog of applications and processing delays, and then reported on the progress IRCC made during the pandemic – and where it still needed to improve.
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“When the pandemic hit in March 2020, IRCC was forced to adapt. As for many organizations, its measures to limit the effects of the pandemic on its immigration processes have depended on the increased use of information technology (IT),” noted the authors of the standing committee report.
“IRCC quickly trained and equipped staff – including operations staff – to work from home. It created an electronic signature tool to allow employees to continue to work with settlement services and newcomers,” they noted.
“It simplified application streams and digitized many files to make processing easier. It also moved to virtual platforms for citizenship ceremonies, citizenship tests, and landing processes for permanent residence applicants already in Canada.
Canada’s immigration department even changed its policy to allow landing and asylum claims via e-mail and to permit international students to start their studies remotely while in Canada. Ottawa also moved to allow remote hearings and appeals.
Canada Needs Immigration Ombudsman
Despite all those improvements, those who appeared before the standing committee described a system that is still unwieldy for those applicants trying to get details of the decisions made by IRCC officials and even more cumbersome when it comes to appealing decisions.
Their bottom line: Create an Office of the Immigration Ombudsman.
“Witnesses emphasized that such an office could address status checks, disputes or errors in visa officer decisions, persistent processing errors and delays in certain classes of applications and overall oversight of IRCC and Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) issues,” wrote the authors of the report.
The idea is to save applicants the cost of having to go to court.
Other people who appeared before the standing committee suggested Ottawa should also develop a high-tech way for immigration lawyers to more easily communicate with visa officers, allowing full details of decisions to be communicated.