Feeling Good Again About Practicing Canadian Immigration Law, But For Having To Work with the IRCC On-Line System

Spring has finally arrived in the nation’s capital. The Global Talent Stream has been launched. Short-term foreign workers will be exempt having to get permits where the impact on the labour market is next to nil. High growth companies will be given a dedicated service line to facilitate entry for foreign workers. ESDC has a new program to assess the labour market benefits of hiring a foreign worker.  The government has finally recognized that some occupations are in critical demand in Canada and Canadian employers will be given some latitude in the recruitment process.

I am most relieved that IRCC has adopted a client-centered approach to their lines of business.

The Ontario Provincial Nomination Program appears to be somewhat of a viable option once again.

The eTA system has been expanded to citizens of more countries, making it easier for genuine visitors and business people to get to Canada.

Overall, it is becoming pleasant to practice immigration law again. However, as IRCC has transitioned to an on-line system for most applications, clients and employers are at the mercy of the Government of Canada’s under-performing technology to complete time sensitive applications. It is common knowledge that the former government bit off more than they could chew in terms of moving to uniform electronic platforms for their email and pay systems. The same assessment can be made vis-à-vis IRCC’s adoption of electronic platforms to deliver their services. Funnily enough, the government of Canada hired American Consultants, Gartner Inc. to conduct a review of shared services and its projects, their January 12, 2017 report included the following scathing comments:

Ottawa is in way over its head by attempting a massive transformation of its information-technology (IT) systems under Shared Services Canada.

[The government of Canada] has vastly underestimated the size, scale and complexity of this effort. … They are attempting the largest and most complex public-sector shared-service implementation ever considered.

We … lack confidence in the ability of SSC (Shared Services Canada) and the GC (Government of Canada) to successfully execute the plan.

It has also been reported that the previous government failed to allocate sufficient funds to expanding the hardware required to move their services to on-line platforms. Based on their insufficient technology, we can understand why IRCC’s on-line systems are a mess, frequently crash, and require ongoing maintenance, often during business hours, thereby frustrating the ability of clients to access their services.

Last week IRCC’s online platforms were down for three (3) straight business days. Continued difficulties with the online platforms prevailed for several more days and the system is still experiencing issues as is evidenced by IRCC’s continued messaging on twitter thanking us for our patience. The failure of the online system last week resulted in employers being unable to file Offers of Employment to foreign nationals; individuals being unable to file sometimes time-limited applications online or respond to IRCC’s time limited requests for additional supporting documentation; and individuals being stranded overseas or at Canadian borders unable to file eTAs or have their Offer of Employment reviewed by CBSA. The online platform failure had and will have significant consequences for Canadian employers and foreign nationals, including potential compliance issues.

In IRCC’s almost total transition to an online platform, they have offered few alternatives for clients when the online platform fails. These online system failures result in clients being unable to to comply with the law, policies and IRCC’s own application deadlines. Three (3) days of the online platform failure without well communicated alternatives or facilitative exemptions is unacceptable in Canada. Especially when both IRCC and Service Canada place such emphasis on strict compliance. 

For example, the process to seek an exemption from the electronic submission of an Offer of Employment is cumbersome and time consuming. The employer must first seek written permission from IRCC. Written permission will only be granted after the “technical issue is evaluated.” Often the evaluation of the technical issue requires multiple emails to IRCC providing screenshots to prove that the online platform is completely unresponsive or experiencing a substantial technical glitch. The evaluation of technical issues can take up to two weeks, though IRCC promises a response within 5 business days. Only once the employer has proven to IRCC that their online platform is nonfunctional, can they be granted permission to submit a paper copy of the Offer of Employment via email. This is unacceptable and not feasible in the world of frequent business travel. The inability to submit the Offer of Employment causes business persons to be stranded outside of Canada, unable to apply for work permits online or at ports of entry. Ultimately it hurts the Canadian economy.

It should not be necessary to have to prove the failings of the government’s own online platform in order to seek a work around. In the event of widely known technical failures, IRCC should immediately and actively communicate work arounds to allow for the ongoing provision of services. In the most recent online platform failure, IRCC took to social media (Facebook and Twitter) to publically confirm the system breakdown. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, apologized to the bar for the failure in client service at the annual Canadian Bar Association Immigration Conference last week in Toronto. IRCC’s limited response to the failure is that clients will not be penalized for the system outage and to request the public’s patience as they work to resolve the issues. To date, no concrete advice as to what clients who were affected by the outage should do has been provided.

While IRCC has notified the public of the system breakdown and sought our indulgence, after two weeks of spotty service, our patience has been exhausted. People and businesses need to “get it done”. If the government of Canada cannot reliably deliver online services, they must immediately offer the public a viable paper-based alternative whereby government imposed deadlines can be met and services can be delivered without unreasonable delay. As a result of this technology breakdown, lawyers and their staff will lose valuable working time attempting to file applications caught in their “bad gateway”. Clients will have to spend time and money requesting an extension of deadlines and expedited service due to this government technology breakdown. With resources already stretched, surely the government could make a public announcement alleviating the concerns of clients, who should not have to bear the brunt of yet another technology blunder. Going online is great, but old-fashioned paper based applications should be permitted until such time as the Government of Canada can provide them online in a reliable manner.

As service providers, we do our best to get applications ready and filed in a timely manner. Documentation and information are often relayed to us at the last minute, thereby pushing the limits of IRCC deadlines. IRCC’s recent three-day online platform failure proves that we just cannot risk leaving things to the 11th hour. Clients must be forewarned, a delay in providing documentation and information carries great risk.

We understand that the Department and the Government of Canada as whole is working with a compromised system. For the sake of client service and client experience, it’s time to “get on with the program” and allow alternate means to complete applications until the systems are fixed once and for all.