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Minister Sean Fraser On Clearing Canada’s Immigration Backlog

Blog posted on by Evelyn Ackah

Minister Sean Fraser On Clearing Canada’s Immigration Backlog

On February 14, 21 legal firms in Canada signed an open letter asking the government to speed up the immigration process. On The Current with Matt Galloway on February 15, Matt spoke with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser on clearing Canada’s immigration backlog and helping people left in limbo. Their conversation included Canada’s new immigration targets and how to clear a backlog that has left some would-be immigrants in limbo for years.

Here are some takeaways from their conversation on clearing Canada's immigration backlog:

  • the Immigration Levels Plan introduced by Minister Fraser on February 14 is making space to welcome more permanent residents and to resettle the largest number of newcomers in Canada's history with 432,000 this year.
  • IRCC has hired more than 500 staff within the department
  • IRCC has made investments of $85 million to target five key areas where they found bottlenecks in the immigration system.
  • A new, personal case tracker for family reunification cases. allows users to log into their own file through a new functionality of the IRCC digital system to get a real-time update about their case.
  • IRCC is working right now to build that functionality into the other immigration streams.
  • For family reunification, it's reasonable to expect the application should be processed within a year.
  • Hundreds of Afghan refugees have resettled in Canada, and more flights arrive virtually every week.

--> Listen To the Full Broadcast Here: https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live...

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Transcript: Sean Fraser Addresses Clearing Canada’s Immigration Backlog on The Current

Matt Galloway:
Yesterday on this program, I spoke with Arian Ghobadi. He is one of nearly two million applicants stuck in the Canadian immigration backlog. It's been three years and the wait, the stress and the uncertainty have taken its toll.


Arian Ghobadi:
The living and all the conditions of life in Canada is really great. But the amount of energy and the money I have put for the immigration process, I could have put it in some other way, right? So I maybe could put it for applying to immigrate to another country. Sometimes I regret my decisions.

Matt Galloway:
Yesterday, Sean Fraser, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, tabled new plans for Canada's immigration system, and he joins me now from Ottawa. Minister Fraser, good morning.

Minister Sean Fraser:
It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Matt Galloway:
It's great to have you here. You heard Arian Ghobadi talk about how the law and immigration process is making him reconsider his application to Canada. He's wanted to come to this country. He now wonders whether he made a mistake. How concerned are you when you hear those sorts of stories?

Minister Sean Fraser:
Er, look I'm always, er, concerned when I hear anybody with a, with a perspective informed by that experience. Because from my perspective, er, we need to be welcoming as many people, to Canada, to qualify for our various immigration strings as possible. And that's why yesterday when I tabled this year's immigration levels plan in the House of Commons, it included a plan to, to resettle the largest number of newcomers in, in Canada's history with 432,000 this year.

Minister Sean Fraser:
Er, the reality is if we're going to solve the labour shortage in Canada, if we're going to solve some of the demographic trends that have me concerned with our aging population.

Matt Galloway:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Minister Sean Fraser:
And we're going to give our community the chance to bounce back from this pandemic in a stronger, more resilient way than before, then we need to embrace immigration. There are certainly challenges with the process and I'm working very hard every day to, er, to make that program, to make those programs and the experience for our, our system's users, er, an easier one to deal with.

Matt Galloway:
Well, let me ask you about that. There is a backlog of 1.8 million applications to come to this country. What specifically is the government doing to clear that backlog?

Minister Sean Fraser:
So before, before I tell you what we're doing to clear it, I think it's important that we understand where that challenge comes from. So over the course of the pandemic, because our borders were closed to protect the public against the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, we made a decision as a government to pivot our strategy by resettling more Canadians, er, more permanent residents rather, who were already in Canada.

Minister Sean Fraser:
This created a challenge for those who were making applications that were currently overseas, and at the same time, we had an enormous number of people applying to come to Canada from overseas, which, er, compounded the challenge for, for the numbers of people who were coming, er, from abroad.

Minister Sean Fraser:
As well, with some of our processing facilities around the world who were hit very hard by the pandemic, they couldn't offer the services that they normally do. So we had both more demand, and in some ways, less supply as a direct result of the virus attacking our operations.

Matt Galloway:
Right.

Minister Sean Fraser:
So what are we doing to actually, deal with that? First, the levels plan that I tabled yesterday is making space to welcome more permanent residents, which will help us get through those numbers more quickly. But in addition, we've hired more than 500 staff within our department, and we've made investments of $85 million to target five key areas where we found bottlenecks in the immigration system.

Minister Sean Fraser:
But the long term solution which is starting to take hold now, involves a modernization, er, and digitization of Canada's immigration system. There's new functionalities coming on, er, presently, and I'm really excited about the difference it's going to make to allow us to process people more effectively and boost the productivity of our department.

Matt Galloway:
In the meantime, there are nearly two million applications that are waiting to be processed. Immigration lawyers in this country have asked for a freeze on newcomers until the backlog is dealt with, and experts are saying that this could take upwards of three years to clear that backlog. If you are increasing immigration targets, is that not simply just going to add to the backlog?

Minister Sean Fraser:
Actually, it will have the opposite effect. By increasing the number of people that we resettle in, in Canada, we're actually going to be having more of those people who are currently in the system, be welcomed as permanent residents. If we had a smaller number, er, of newcomers that we were, were willing to welcome in the levels plan that I tabled yesterday, then that would be fewer spaces that we can allocate to those people who are currently waiting to come to Canada.

Minister Sean Fraser:
So it's really important that the, that we understand the solution to getting through this, this large inventory of cases is not to offer fewer newcomers, particularly at a time when our communities need more people to fill the jobs that are currently available. The solution is to welcome more newcomers, but to match the increase in those levels with the resources necessary to process them in an effective way.

Matt Galloway:
What sort of wait do you think is reasonable when it comes to somebody who has applied to come to this, to this country?

Minister Sean Fraser:
So we have different service standards for different program strings. For family reunification for example, we have a 12 month service standard, and people who apply today to come through a family reunification string, should expect that they should meet that service standard.

Minister Sean Fraser:
If we're dealing with, shorter term temporary programs with businesses who need workers now, then we need to process people much more quickly, and we do have certain programs that in a matter of weeks that can actually get, workers here. But there's different immigration strings that have been impacted severely by the pandemic. These, these numbers by the way in the inventory are coming down over the last number of months. But for some people, there are challenges with their file which causes them to wait, in some instances a few years, and there may always be for factors specific to their case. But the service standards depend largely on the string that we're talking about.

Minister Sean Fraser:
But I think for a family reunification string for example, it's, it's reasonable to expect your application should be processed within a year if you're making that out now.

Matt Galloway:
Why do people have to file for access to information requests to try to figure out what the status of their application is? This is something that we heard from Arian yesterday, and we heard from a number of listeners about this as well. They have no idea where they are in the system, and the only way for them to get any information, is to file an access to information request.

Minister Sean Fraser:
I, this is something that we need to change and in fact, we recently made a change to, I'm very excited about this. This is not just an issue about the fairness to the, to the applicant. It's also something that adds to the systemic pressures on Canada's immigration system. When somebody has to call the department, call their MP's office. File an access to information request. It would be far easier for the system to provide that information to them proactively.

Minister Sean Fraser:
One of the features that just came online as part of the modernization effort that I, I mentioned, is a new, personal case tracker for family reunification cases. So today, if you are applying to come to reunite with your spouse in Canada for example, you can actually log into your own file through a new functionality of our digital system to get a real time update about your case.

Minister Sean Fraser:
We're working right now to build that functionality into the other immigration strings, because I think this is a very fair point that you've made. We need to provide that information in an effort to increase transparency to the user of the system, but it's also going to have the associated benefit of reducing pressures across the system by allowing people to tap into their own information, rather than having a series of staff in the department be spending their time providing updates on cases, when they could be spending that time processing more applications.

Matt Galloway:
Just finally, the other element of this is the promise that this government made to bring 40,000 Afghans to this country. This was a big election promise. It got attention around the world. It has been, I think it's fair to say, slow and is, in the time that this has been unfolding, people's lives are in jeopardy. People are hiding, fleeing for their lives, worried about what's going to happen in the time it's going to take for their applications to be processed, and for them to be brought here.

Speaker 1:
Yesterday, there were 21 legal firms in this country that signed an open letter asking your government to speed up the process. What are you specifically doing to do that? To ensure that this happens in a reasonable timeframe?

Minister Sean Fraser:
So look, the challenges that you've outlined in Afghanistan are precisely why we've made one of the most substantial commitments globally to resettle Afghan refugees. This has been the file that I have personally spent more of my time on than any other.

Minister Sean Fraser:
When you ask about the specific measures that we're working on, er, to expedite the process, it, it, the measures are different depending on which group that you're chatting, that you're talking about.

Matt Galloway:
Well, one of the things that the, that the letter specifically asked for, was for the country to, to tailor its resettlement policies and programs to the circumstances of the Afghan, Afghan refugee crisis. That this is the thing that needs to take priority. Because we've made this promise to these 40,000 people, many of whom helped out Canada at great risk to themselves.

Minister Sean Fraser:
You're absolutely right, and we will not waver in our commitment. So, I would point out as well that there are people now moving and arriving with a regular pace. We've seen over the past few weeks, hundreds of Afghan refugees resettled, and we have more flights arriving virtually every week. So for the groups that are currently outside Afghanistan, we're working very hard with our referral partners in the area to get those folks into our program who qualify on the basis of these humanitarian strings.

Minister Sean Fraser:
There are unique challenges for people who are still inside Afghanistan because as you can appreciate, when we don't have a military presence inside the country, and the Taliban has seized control, security and safe passage of people from inside Afghanistan through the country, and ultimately onto a third country where they can be processed for, to send to Canada, poses unique challenges.

Minister Sean Fraser:
The Taliban is not in the mood to help the government of Canada, and frankly if they were, I don't think they would be very good at it. They are people that do not know how to operate an airport and they are people, who for reasons that I'm sure you can appreciate, are not inclined to do favours for the government of Canada, or the people that have helped the government of Canada during our mission in Afghanistan.

Minister Sean Fraser:
But we are working with our international partners, with international organizations, to secure safe passage, to facilitate the opportunity to establish a, er, facility where we can process people for onward travel to Canada. This matter has my full attention and we will not waiver in our commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees. I'm very proud of that commitment and I look forward to being the minister who makes good on that commitment.

Matt Galloway:
I hope we have the chance to talk further about that again in future. In the meantime, it's good to have you on the program this morning. Thank you very much.

Minister Sean Fraser:
Of course. Thank you so much for the opportunity to chat.

Matt Galloway:
Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. He was in Ottawa.


Evelyn L. Ackah, BA, LL.B.

Founder/Managing Lawyer

Ms. Ackah is passionate about immigration law because it focuses on people and relationships, which are at the core of her personal values. Starting her legal career as a corporate/commercial ...

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