Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system
2017/04/13 Leave a comment
Recommendations do not appear very surprising in their focus on service and service standards.
But I am surprised in their recommendation number 16 on service standards that they did not include regular performance reporting on meeting those standards, basic to accountability:
The Immigration Department’s most recent clients’ survey in 2015 found 85 per cent of clients were satisfied with the service, with the rest complaining about a range of issues from the inability to access case status information to errors in applications.
In 2016, the department received 5,000 complaints and the top three concerns related to processing times, the call centre and the operation of the applicants’ online accounts.
The report’s number one recommendation was to train staff at the call centre on client service and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French, as well as setting a 15-minute waiting time standard for clients to talk to a live agent for inquires.
The report recommends the department consider having agents specialize in particular programs or application types such as temporary residence, permanent residence, refugees, citizenship and passports.
“The call centre may be used to check the status of an application that is beyond the normal processing time and report changes regarding an application that is in process,” suggested Toronto immigration lawyer Stephen Green.
“While the idea of the call centre is commendable, unfortunately the limits placed on call centre agents in terms of the information that they are permitted to disclose often results in the applicant being unable to ascertain the information required.”
The report said immigration officials should establish service standards and processing times for all programs and publish the information on its website. It said the department should simplify its forms and evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on its applications.
“If you talk to any MP, 80 to 85 per cent of our caseload involves immigration files. The long delays and lack of information are frustrating people,” said MP Jenny Kwan, immigration critic for the opposition NDP, who sits on the immigration standing committee.
“All we are saying is these are simple fixes that make an inordinate amount of sense.”
Bernie Derible, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said the department has made tremendous strides in speeding up processing times and simplifying processes, particularly for family sponsorship applications.
“We are reviewing the recommendations and have been improving many areas already under our government . . . Client experience is a key focus of Minister Hussen’s mandate,” said Derible, adding that the government has designated a director general responsible for improving client services.
The Conclusions and Recommendations from the report:
The Committee recognizes that IRCC has made a priority of modernizing client service delivery. Testimony heard in the course of this study confirms both the necessity and the complexity of this endeavour. Immigration is a life-changing journey for individuals who should not be frustrated by processes and bureaucracy. As such, the Committee makes the following recommendations to build on the department’s efforts already under way.
The Committee was pleased to hear about the changes IRCC has implemented to the Call Centre for family class applications. These changes address concerns raised by witnesses and improve operational efficiency, as evidenced by the reduction in the number of same-day calls. The Committee encourages the department to implement similar changes in other lines of business and looks forward to hearing progress reports on further Call Centre improvements.
As IRCC moves forward with reforming the Call Centre, the Committee wishes to draw attention to several issues. The Committee heard that Call Centre agents do not communicate their knowledge in simple-to-understand terms for those who may be new to English or French; nor do they facilitate calls when interpreters are involved. The Committee also heard that callers often wait for long periods before being connected to a live agent. Finally, witnesses suggested that Call Centre agents could be assigned to a certain type of immigration application so that they could develop greater subject-matter expertise as a means of improving service. In light of this testimony and the important role that the Call Centre plays in conveying IRCC’s information to clients, the Committee recommends the following:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada train all Call Centre agents on client service excellence and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French speaking abilities.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide a standard process to facilitate calls between a client and a Call Centre agent when an interpreter is used.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have a 15-minute standard for clients to be connected with an advisor or agent for all Call Centre operations.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider including specializations and subject-matter experts for Call Centre advisors and agents based on application type, including (1) temporary residence, (2) permanent residence, (3) refugees, including protected persons, (4) citizenship and (5) passports.
The IRCC website is also an important client service interface. Witnesses drew the Committee’s attention to certain problems with the website in its current form and also provided concrete suggestions for improvement. In light of what we heard concerning the IRCC website, the Committee recommends the following:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider, as part of the redesign of its website, using (1) client-centric design principles to produce digital channels for each business line, (2) plain language, (3) languages other than French and English, similar to what the Government of British Columbia is doing, and (4) virtual assistance.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada make improvements to “My Account” to allow clients to view and print applications before filing and during processing, and allow applicants to maintain a complete record of every application filed.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada improve the ability for applicants and their representatives to link paper applications with online accounts.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide alternative payment methods for individuals without access to online payment services and credit cards, such as returning to the previous policy of accepting proof of payment at a bank.
Providing more frequent and useful information
Another important issue also raised in the course of this study is the need to obtain more frequent and useful case information from IRCC. Witnesses made a number of suggestions in this regard, including making GCMS notes available online and providing more detailed status updates through a client’s online accounts. With respect to the private sponsorship program, witnesses suggested that the government establish standards for frequency of communication with sponsoring groups so that their resources can be used effectively and they can maintain support for the sponsorship.
The Committee heard from the department that providing clients with greater assurance that their application is moving forward is one of their current priorities for client service. We fully support this priority and make the following recommendations:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada contact clients via email or other channels when (1) processing exceeds times provided at the time of application (2) an incorrect payment is made (3) common or simple errors are made on the application.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada implement an online portal for clients and authorized representatives to track application progress, including but not limited to: (1) current status of the application, (2) any reasons for delays, (3) an estimated time for decision and (4) any missing information or complications with the application.
The Committee also feels that the department could consider providing more useful information on refusals, particularly for temporary resident visa applicants and humanitarian and compassionate applications. The example from Australia suggests that it is possible to provide failed applicants with a more fulsome explanation while maintaining fast processing. Further, as indicated by witnesses, proactive disclosure of reasons for refusal may lower the volume of Access to Information requests made to the department. In light of these observations, the Committee recommends the following in relation to providing clients with more useful information:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada provide more information and details to clients on the reasons for negative decisions.
Finally, in the area of providing more frequent and useful information, the Committee recommends as follows:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada examine ways, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, to increase the number of pre-arrival service sessions available, including attendance, in Foreign Service locations.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure Members of Parliament and Senators continue to have access to the Ministerial Enquiries Division.
The Committee would also like to address the issue of application forms. We understand that the department plans to draw on its experience with revamping the spousal sponsorship application kit to make changes to other programs. The Committee supports regular review of application forms so that they can be as client-friendly as possible. The Committee would also like to address the issue, as raised by some witnesses, of clients being penalized by form changes that occurred after their application was submitted. On the matter of application forms, the Committee recommends as follows:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada regularly review all application forms to (1) simplify the form, (2) improve the client experience, and (3) evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on applications.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada establish a process for notifying applicants when forms are changed and establish a mechanism to ensure that completed applications submitted with once-current forms are not rejected due to form changes.
Processing times and service standards were also identified as important client service issues by witnesses, who noted that not all IRCC lines of business are subject to service standards. Witnesses also noted that, for certain applicants working temporarily as they await a final decision that would allow them to remain in Canada, the validity period of the work permit does not correspond with the waiting period for the decision. To address these concerns, the Committee recommends as follows:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider establishing service standards and processing times for all business lines and publish the standards on the website.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada extend the validity period of work permits from six months to one year to take into account processing times at the department.
Performance Measurement and Client Feedback
The Committee heard that IRCC has mechanisms in place for soliciting client feedback and some performance indicators for client service. The Committee encourages the department to continue work in this area and recommends as follows:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada offer automatic client service feedback forms for applications to the department.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada review key performance indicators for all client service channels and review best practices from other immigration systems around the world, such as those of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The Committee heard that errors in processing applications that could easily be rectified sometimes end up in court because there is no other way to address them. The Committee is of the opinion that it would be in everyone’s interest to avoid this costly route, and we make the following recommendation accordingly:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada create a “Reconsideration Committee” to deal with reconsideration requests within applicants’ 15-day deadline.
Continuous Improvement in Customer Service
In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Committee feels that IRCC should conduct more outreach, including targeted efforts for employers and refugees. We also encourage the Department to examine the possibility of providing customer service in person, which is not currently possible. Specifically, the Committee recommends the following:
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct “client service and delivery” consultations with customer and client service experts, the private sector, former and current clients of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and all Canadians on how the department can better provide service.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consult with refugees to determine their issues with client service and take steps to address them; the review would include (but would not be limited to) the website, Call Centre, languages used, access to technology and payments.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada work to better serve Canadian businesses and employers by studying the possible benefits of the department creating a trusted employer program to offer employers an expedited service for assessments (subject to a fee); that this study include input from Canadian businesses and employers; and that IRCC make its findings available to the Committee.
That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada conduct a cost‑benefit analysis on having regional immigration offices to deliver in‑person service similar to Passport Canada and Service Canada locations.
For many Members of Parliament, a large percentage of their constituency work is related to immigration and citizenship applications filed with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The Committee recognizes that the department handles many applications on a daily basis and generally delivers timely and professional service. It is our hope that the recommendations in this report will assist IRCC in its continued efforts to modernize its approach to client service and at the same time reduce the need for intervention from Members of Parliament.