New Zealand PM Bill English hits out at ‘disappointing’ Australian citizenship changes

Collateral damage?

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English has criticised the Turnbull government’s newly unveiled citizenship changes, expressing concern that tens of thousands of New Zealanders would now have to wait years longer to become Australian citizens.

The “special relationship” between the two countries needed to be maintained, Mr English said, adding that government officials were seeking to understand the impact of the changes on a streamlined pathway to citizenship unveiled last year for New Zealanders living in Australia.

There is concern among Kiwis that the changed citizenship conditions – specifically the longer, four-year waiting period before being eligible – undermine the pathway finalised last year by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former prime minister John Key.

“I wouldn’t agree it completely undermines it just because the deal was put in place and there is a path to citizenship and that wasn’t there before Prime Minister Turnbull agreed to put it in place, but it is disappointing for them – for the Kiwis [in Australia] and for ourselves – that it looks like it will take longer,” Mr English said in a press conference on Monday.

“We understand that Australia has a strong focus on its border control and citizenship. New Zealanders are caught up in that and we want to make sure we can maintain the ongoing special relationship and improved conditions and better deals for Kiwis who are in Australia.”

The pathway arrangement announced in February 2016 and coming into effect in July 2017 allows New Zealanders holding special category visas to secure permanent residency after five years in Australia earning $53,000 annually. They would have been able to attain citizenship a year later.

Source: New Zealand PM Bill English hits out at ‘disappointing’ Australian citizenship changes

There is one silver lining for Indians in Australia’s tough new citizenship rules: English skills — Quartz

One of the better analysis of the planned changes to Australia’s citizenship regime by Alex Reilly, of Adelaide Law School:

Australia already assesses who to allow in—and to whom to grant residency—before any issue of citizenship arises.

Permanent residents in Australia enjoy almost the full range of civil and political rights as citizens. They have access to the welfare system (after initial waiting periods), Medicare, and education. Citizens alone are able to vote, and they have a greater security of residence.

Citizenship is the last step on the path to full membership. By the time someone is applying for citizenship, they have already been in Australia for a minimum of four years, and have made a life here.

We should be encouraging permanent residents to take up citizenship and to commit fully to Australia. Citizenship, in this sense, is a positive mechanism for inclusion. The government’s focus on citizenship as a mechanism for exclusion in its rhetoric and some of the proposed changes is, therefore, counterproductive.

Source: There is one silver lining for Indians in Australia’s tough new citizenship rules: English skills — Quartz

Terrorism concerns lead to changes at passport offices in bid to boost security

Prudent. But odd that focus is with respect to the receiving agent function at Service Canada centres, rather than the full service offices of Passport Canada, the responsibility of IRCC (but ATIP documents were from ESDC, not IRCC):

The federal government has been quietly making changes to passport offices in a bid to improve security and address concerns that the facilities could be easy targets for a terrorist attack.

Civil servants in passport and other government offices have for years faced bomb threats, and hostility from individuals who are disgruntled, drunk or suffering mental illnesses.

Internal government documents show that senior officials have more recently worried that someone with extremist views might see a passport office as prime target for an attack, particularly if the federal government revoked their passport privileges because they wanted to go abroad to join a terrorist group.

The briefing note to senior officials at Employment and Social Development Canada says the offices could now more easily become targets, or be collateral damage.

“ESDC Passport offices may be considered targets of symbolic value in future attacks,” reads part of the 2015 briefing note marked, “Canadian Eyes Only.”

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the documents under the Access to Information Act.

Those concerns were stoked after two separate domestic terrorist attacks in October 2014.

In the first case, Martin Couture-Rouleau hit two soldiers with his car at a strip mall just outside St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53. Officials seized his passport that July after police prevented him from flying to Turkey.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial in Ottawa before storming Parliament Hill. He had come to Ottawa from Vancouver after he ran into problems getting a Canadian passport so he could travel to Libya.

Both attackers were subsequently killed.

The second incident prompted ESDC officials to call in the Mounties to review threats for every passport office in the country. Assessments were also carried out to see what could be done to the physical configuration of spaces, or the layout of services, to better protect the workers inside the office.

The RCMP report from April 2015 concluded that the offices face terrorist and criminal threats, although nothing direct or immediate.

A spokesman for ESDC, which oversees the 151 Service Canada offices that issue passports, said the department has and continues to make changes at existing and soon-to-be-opened facilities in response to the assessments.

Along with physical changes to the offices to increase security there have been operational changes that federal officials hope will lower the risk of an attack. Among the measures was extending the passport renewal period to 10 years from five years and letting Canadians renew their passports online to reduce the number of people who had to go to an office.

Source: Terrorism concerns lead to changes at passport offices in bid to boost security – The Globe and Mail

IRCC Departmental Plan 2017-18 – Citizenship section ignores the main issue of declining naturalization

I have been holding off these comments on the IRCC Departmental Plan until the final 2016 citizenship statistics were released. The above chart now includes these showing a steady decline in applications:  198,000 in 2014 (about the historical norm), 130,000 in 2015 and 92,000 in 2016. The number of new citizens, reflecting the additional funding to clear up the backlog of some 300,000 applications, rose to 263,000 in 2014, then dropped somewhat to 235,000 in 2015, with a sharper drop to 148,000 in 2016.

With the number of permanent residents close to 300,000, over time this will mean fewer immigrants taking up citizenship, a major break with the immigrant-to-citizen model.

This “elephant in the room” is mentioned nowhere in the IRCC Departmental Plan (or Performance Report), nor is there any discussion of the societal risks of fewer immigrants taking up Canadian citizenship.

IRCC maintains a meaningless performance management standard: IRCC uses the benchmark of  the overall naturalization rate of all immigrants, no matter how long ago they came to Canada, rather than the more relevant number who have become citizens in the last 6 to 8 years.

Planned spending is $62 million, projected to remain flat for the next three years (three percent of departmental spending).

Priority: Diversity and attachment

The Department provides newcomers with access to Canadian citizenship and promotes the rights and responsibilities associated with Canadian citizenship, thus fostering a sense of belonging for newcomers and Canadians.

  • Provide support for proposed legislative changes to the Citizenship Act (Bill C-6) which seek modifications to provisions such as revocation as well as residency and language requirements for citizenship applicants.
  • Continue to promote citizenship awareness, including through Canada 150 celebrations, and update the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship to be more reflective of Canada’s diversity.

Priority: Efficient processing

The Department aims to ensure that its screening processes are faster for clients and more effective for Canadians.

  • Expand the eligibility for the new Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) with proposed expansion for certain travellers from Brazil, Bulgaria and Romania. As well, explore further opportunities to facilitate travel to Canada by lower-risk foreign nationals, such as the increased use of automation to make visitor screening faster, more secure and effective for both travellers and Canadians.
  • Implement innovative approaches to increase efficiencies and reduce processing times, including reducing the processing time for spousal applications by half, to 12 months. Improve the citizenship application process, enabling qualified permanent residents to obtain citizenship more quickly. The Department will also target citizenship application backlogs and develop tools to improve how work is distributed and handled across its service delivery network.

Program 3.2: Citizenship for Newcomers and All Canadians

The purpose of the Citizenship Program is to administer citizenship legislation and promote the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship. IRCC administers the acquisition of Canadian citizenship by developing, implementing and applying legislation, regulations and policies that protect the integrity of Canadian citizenship and allow eligible applicants to be granted citizenship or be provided with a proof of citizenship. In addition, the program promotes citizenship, to both newcomers and the Canadian-born, through various events, materials and projects. Promotional activities focus on enhancing knowledge of Canada’s history, institutions and values, as well as fostering an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship.

Planning highlights

  • Implement changes to the Citizenship Act following Royal Assent of Bill C-6, including corresponding updates to the Citizenship Regulations.
  • Update the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, in support of Canada 150 celebrations.
  • Continue to collaborate with federal partners and national Indigenous organizations to explore options to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations.

2017–2018 Departmental Plan

The 2015-16 IRCC Departmental Performance Report does not provide any meaningful reporting on citizenship but states:

The Department, through its regular performance reporting processes, has developed specific performance indicators to cover the Citizenship Program’s key outcome areas, including awareness of the responsibilities and privileges associated with Canadian citizenship; desire and successful uptake of Canadian citizenship by newcomers; the integrity of the Citizenship Program; and the value attached to Canadian citizenship. As data are not available at this time, results will be reported in the future.

Britons abroad for longer than 15 years denied vote in general election | The Guardian

While as I and Rob Vineberg have argued against indefinite voting rights (Canadian expats shouldn’t have unlimited voting rights), it is nevertheless somewhat amusing that the May government made this commitment, tabled legislation, and then failed to implement, perhaps fearing that most non-resident Britons, particularly those resident in the EU, oppose Brexit and thus likely may be less likely to vote Conservative:

Campaign groups accuse Tories of breaking promise made in October to scrap time limit

Up to 3 million Britons living overseas are to be denied a vote in the general election, the Cabinet Office has confirmed.

In a letter sent to the New Europeans campaign group on Friday, the Cabinet Office said that “unfortunately” British citizens who had lived abroad for longer than 15 years would not be entitled to vote on 8 June.

The letter has prompted a furious reaction from Britons living abroad, and in Europe in particular, with campaign groups accusing the Conservatives of breaking yet another promise.

Nathan Lappin of the constitution group in the Cabinet Office told New Europeans that “there is no sufficient time to change the relevant primary and secondary legislation to enfranchise all British expats, scrapping the 15-year time limit, ahead of the dissolution of parliament before the general election”.

“The people most affected by the referendum were not allowed to vote in it, simply because they exercised their right to live in another country,” said Dave Spokes, one of the founders of the support group Expat Citizen Rights in EU. “Now it seems they will miss out again as their government has repeatedly failed to honour repeated promises to repeal this unjust and unfair rule.

“These people spent their lives working in the UK and many still pay taxes there. It is quite disgraceful that any government can so disregard so many of its citizens.”

Jane Golding, a British lawyer living in Berlin and campaigner for the rights of Britons abroad, said the promise has been broken twice as it was in the Conservative manifesto in the 2015 general election and the Queen’s speech that followed.

“So that is twice we have been denied the right to vote and to participate in the democratic process when this had been promised on an issue, leaving the EU, that directly affects our personal and professional status,” she said.

Last October the government promised to scrap the current 15-year time limit as part of a bid to strengthen ties with emigrants following the decision to leave the EU.

The plans followed a court battle spearheaded by the second world war veteran Harry Shindler, who fought in the Battle of Anzio in Italy in 1944. The 95-year-old, who moved to Italy to be near his grandson in 1982, has been unable to vote in the UK since 1997 but cannot vote in Italy either.

As recently as February, the constitution minister Chris Skidmore assured Shindler and others the government was on track, telling them “their stake in our country must be respected”.

In a written answer on the topic to the New Europeans founder Roger Casale, Skidmore promised “this government will not deny them the opportunity to have their say in how the country is governed”. He also revealed that the government estimated “a further 3 million British citizens resident overseas will be enfranchised”.

Samia Badani, director of New Europeans, said the decision not to expedite legislation was devastating for Britons desperate to have a say on their own futures in Europe but it was not too late to get them on the electoral register. “The time for legislation is now. When there is a will, there is a way,” she said.

Badani said: “We are very disappointed – this is another broken promise. We have been campaigning for the removal of the 15-year rule – which is very arbitrary – for years. We were promised that at the next general election all UK citizens could vote, but it now looks like a double-whammy: they couldn’t vote in the referendum and now can’t vote in the next general election.”

Source: Britons abroad for longer than 15 years denied vote in general election | Politics | The Guardian

New ‘Australian values’ test planned for citizenship and related commentary

Clearly responding to concerns of the right, and a reflection that immigrant voters play a less important role than in Canadian elections, with the result of fewer immigrant and visible minority MPs:

Australia plans to raise the bar for handing out citizenships by lengthening the waiting period, adding a new “Australian values” test and raising the standard for English language as part of a shake up of its immigration program.

The move comes in a week when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced axing a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replacing it with a tougher program in a bid to put “Australia First”.

Australia has seen the rise of nationalist, anti-immigration politics with far-right wing parties such as One Nation garnering strong public support, while the popularity of Turnbull’s ruling center-right government has been languishing.

The new citizenship requirements are expected to be passed by parliament with the backing of right-wing Senators.

On Thursday, Turnbull said basic English would no longer be sufficient to become an Australian citizen under the new test.

Applicants need a minimum level 6.0 equivalent of the International English Language Testing System, and a person will only become eligible for citizenship after four years as a permanent resident, up from one year.

“What we are doing is strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our values,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. “Australian citizenship should be honored, cherished. It’s a privilege.”

“I reckon if we went out today and said to Australians, “Do you think you could become an Australian citizen without being able to speak English?” They’d say, “You’re kidding. Surely you’d have to be able to speak English.”

Turnbull said the current immigration process was mainly “administrative” while the citizenship test largely a “civics test.”

The current citizenship multiple-choice questionnaire tests a person’s knowledge of Australian laws, national symbols and colors of the Aboriginal flag. But Turnbull said it was not adequate to judge whether a person would accept “Australian values.”

“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence…is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen? Why should the test simply be a checklist of civic questions?”

The new citizenship test will include questions about whether applicants have sent their kids to school, whether they go to work – if they are of working age – and whether becoming part of unruly gangs in cities were Australian values.

“We’re standing up for Australian values and the parliament should do so too,” Turnbull said.

Source: New ‘Australian values’ test planned for citizenship | Reuters

And predictable expressions of concerns (valid) from groups who work with refugees and other vulnerable groups:

Refugees would be hit hardest by changes to Australia’s citizenship test, the refugee council says, with people deterred from applying for citizenship or potentially failing the test under new English language requirements.

The Refugee Council of Australia argues older refugees, and those who’ve arrived from conflict zones with disrupted educations, would find the strengthened English requirement hardest.

“While the overwhelming majority of refugee and humanitarian entrants are children and young people who typically learn English quickly, those brought to Australia as refugees include some older adults, torture survivors and people with disabilities who struggle to master English. These are the people who are most likely to miss out on citizenship under the changes being planned by the government,” the RCOA chief executive, Paul Power, said.

“The sad irony is that people who have come to Australia as refugees value the freedom and security associated with Australian citizenship more highly than any other group in the nation.”

Power said the proposed changes to the citizenship test would not achieve what the government has said it is aiming to do.

“No extremist or terrorist is going to be unearthed by a few questions about values. But the person who will struggle will be the 45-year-old Sudanese mother, who has come to Australia as a refugee, who has had a disrupted, if any, formal education, and is struggling in adulthood to learn a fourth language.”

Department of Immigration and Border Protection statistics reveal refugees apply for citizenship at a higher rate than any other migrant group. But they also fail the test at a far higher rate – refugees have a failure rate of about 8.8% , six times the rate of 1.4% for other categories of migrants. On average, a refugee needs to attempt the citizenship test 2.4 times, double the average for all migrants of 1.2 times.

…Citizenship already has a “basic” English test requirement, that will be strengthened to a “competent” level assessed by an independent, accredited organisation.

Henry Sherrell, researcher at the ANU’s Crawford School of Public Policy, said the proposed new English language requirement would be a serious barrier to citizenship, particularly for refugees and people in Australia on family visas or the spouses of skilled migrants.

He said the proposed new English level, the equivalent English proficiency of some university entrance requirements, was too high.

“Migrants want to learn English. They want to work. However, not every single newcomer to Australia is in the position to achieve this level of English. This represents a fundamental change to citizenship in Australia with enormous consequences.”

In 2008, one of Australia’s most senior diplomats, Richard Woolcott, reviewed the citizenship test, which had only been introduced the year before. He found it was “flawed, intimidating to some, and discriminatory” and needed significant reform.

“Alternative and improved education pathways to acquire citizenship need to be established for different categories of people seeking citizenship.

“The special situations of refugee and humanitarian entrants and other disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking citizenship must be addressed.”

The test underwent minor changes in 2009. The citizenship test currently has exemptions for people aged over 60 or with significant disabilities. A government discussion paper on the proposed citizenship test changes, released on Thursday, mentions these exemptions and indicates that they will continue.

Refugees already in the country face substantial – in some cases illegal – barriers to becoming citizens.

More than 10,000 potential citizens who have completed all the requirements for citizenship, including passing the test, and are awaiting only a ceremony to confer citizenship.

The government revealed in court there were 10,231 people who had qualified for citizenship who were living in limbo unsure, when, if ever they would be granted citizenship. Some had been invited to ceremonies only to be told by text message the night before that they would not be made citizens.

Source: Refugees will be hardest hit by changes to Australia’s citizenship test, experts say

And from those from English speaking countries (valid, but more than a touch of superiority):

Ian Sinkins, a British electrical engineer in Australia on a temporary skilled class 457 visa, has a serious beef with Australia’s proposed new citizenship requirements.

The changes, announced by the Turnbull government on Thursday, would require aspiring citizens to sit an English-language test, prove a commitment to Australian values and live in the country for four years as a permanent resident, instead of one.

“We’re being tarred with the same brush … [the plan] doesn’t differentiate where people have come from,” Sinkins told Guardian Australia. “We’re from a Christian background, we speak English, and there’s the shared heritage between Australia and England. And yet we have to take an English-language test, to prove certain things that are kind of obvious. It’s unsettling.”

On ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday, Malcolm Turnbull explained that the longer residency requirement “means there is more time to integrate, to be part of the Australian community”.

Turnbull said it was “in [migrants’] interests” to learn English, adding “they can maybe take longer before they make their application to be an Australian citizen”.

On Friday the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, said speaking English was desirable “because it makes it easier for people to find work … to speak to their neighbours, to turn up to the local footy club or be involved in their church or mosque or whatever”.

But Sinkins, his wife Lisa and two children, who arrived in Australia two and a half years ago, have experienced no such difficulty. He said they have easily settled into their new life, love Australia’s culture, its work ethic and people.

Lisa Sinkins’ uncle and aunt came to Australia more than 50 years ago as “10 pound Poms” and she has first and second generation Australian cousins. “There is no recognition of such background history in the existing or planned changes to the visa and citizenship regulations,” she said.

Lisa is a head practice nurse in a Melbourne clinic, while Ian works at a German renewable company specialising in energy storage and has set up a local company which is growing to the point it will soon employ local engineers.

But with the planned changes, the family face an uncertain future as it will now take a total of eight years – four on the temporary work visa and a further four as permanent residents – to become citizens.

“We question the wisdom of extending the time on permanent residency from one to four years … for citizens from countries such as the UK that clearly have shared values,” he said.

And Sinkins and his family aren’t alone. Of the 95,758 people in Australia on a 457 visa, 19.5% are from the UK, behind India on 24.6%, to mention just one visa class among many that provide a pathway to citizenship.

Sinkins said Australia could be missing out on skilled and motivated people and families, who may rethink their current aspiration to become Australians and make the nation stronger.

“We are now wondering if we are really welcome in Australia with so many obstacles and changing goalposts … we are even now considering whether we should return to the UK,” he said.

Source: ‘Obviously we speak English’: Brits complain about Australia’s new citizenship crackdown

Integration Presentations in Denmark and Sweden

No blogging this week as speaking on the Canadian approach to integration at a seminar organized by the Canadian Embassy and the Centre for Migration Studies, University of Copenhagen Wednesday and the Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare Friday.

It has been fun to put together this deck, updated with 2016 citizenship data, which tries to show how the various elements – immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism – work together to facilitate integration.

Given some difficulties I had reconciling data sets, Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program data is only up to 2015.

The pdf version can be found here: Integration – Copenhagen April 2017.

C-6 Citizenship Senate Debates – Amendments update

As somewhat expected, the amendment allowing minors to submit citizenship applications independently, passed 47 to 24 votes (a similar amendment had been defeated during the House’s review of C-6).

As also expected, the Conservative amendment to “repeal the repeal” of the residency requirements was defeated, 51 to 28 votes.

No one argued about the intent of the amendment to allow minors to submit applications independently.

The main arguments used against this amendment were thus less substantive and more process. Senator Harder noted that the waiver provision of 5(3) had been used for 14 cases since January 2015 (always refreshing to have actual numbers rather than only individual cases cited). The “success” rate was 97 percent (not sure how this number was arrived as 13/14 is 93 percent), with applications processed in a “timely manner.”

Other points made by Senator Harder and other independent senators were around the point whether this amendment would be more appropriately considered in a broader review of the Citizenship Act rather than the more narrow focus of C-6.

In response, Senator Jaffer, the co-sponsor of the Bill, provided a number of examples that the amendment would cover. She noted that compassionate grounds cases can take many years and had largely been used for the “most extreme” cases and had largely been used for medical reasons. She had been “promised’ many times  that “We will deal with it in a few years,” with no follow-up and thus was skeptical of such assurances.

So far, the full Senate has approved three amendments:

  1. Restoration of procedural protections in cases of fraud and misrepresentation (Senator McCoy, see Senate amends Liberal citizenship bill to allow court hearings in fraud casesThe Senate has voted to amend the citizenship law to allow Canadians the right to a court hearing before their citizenship is stripped for fraud or misrepresentation);
  2. Raising the language and knowledge exemption age to 60 from 55 (Senator Griffin); and,
  3. Providing minors the right to submit an application on their own (Senators Oh and Jaffer)

The fourth amendment, sponsored by Senators From and Stewart-Olsen, would have “repealed the repeal” of the four years out of six physical presence, along with the minimum number of days required. This prompted a point of order by Senator Lankin asking that the Speaker rule the proposed amendment out of order as it negated the relevant provisions of Bill C-6. In the end, the Speaker allowed the amendment which was defeated 51 to 28.

Source: Debates 11 AprilDebates 12 April

Liberal bill would automatically increase user fees for federal services by rate of inflation

This kind of fundamental legislation should not be part of an omnibus bill but needs to be debated separately. As I have written before (The impact of citizenship fees on naturalization – Policy Options), CIC/IRCC obtained an exemption from the User Fees Act for citizenship fees in Budget 2013.

This allowed the department to raise fees twice in one year with minimal consultation and arguably misleading Parliament both with respect to the impact of the exemption (i.e., fee increases would not lead to a decline in applications) and that the second increase (from $300 to $530) was not mentioned during the C-24 hearings in either the House or Senate:

The Liberal government has introduced a bill that would significantly increase the fees that Canadians pay for a variety of federal services, such as campsites, fishing licences and passports.

In an omnibus budget bill brought forward Tuesday, the government proposes a new Service Fees Act that would automatically hike hundreds of fees by the level of inflation each year.

The move would also make it much easier for departments to apply for fee increases to better match the cost of providing services to individual Canadians and businesses. The proposed law is slated to come into effect April 1 next year.

The federal government collected about $2 billion in various fees in 2014-15, the latest year for which figures are available, but estimates it cost $3.4 billion to provide those services — resulting in a massive shortfall of $1.4 billion.

FedBudget 20170322

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s last budget only hinted at the significant changes in user fees being contemplated. Over the four years, starting April 1, 2018, the government expects to collect $364 million in additional fees. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The measure was briefly mentioned in last month’s budget document, which estimated aggregate fee revenues would increase by $36 million in 2018-2019, and by $147 million in extra revenues by 2021-2022.

The measure does not target specific fees. Rather, it replaces 13-year-old legislation that effectively froze fees by making it too onerous for departments to apply for increases as costs rose.

Federal officials estimate only about 20 per cent of all federal fees are captured by the User Fees Act of 2004. But the new legislation would capture almost all fees, and would require government to report in detail to Parliament each year on the amounts collected versus the cost of providing services.

Opposition critics have called the measure a tax grab, which can especially hurt low-income Canadians.

But a spokesman for Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who is shepherding the new user-fee regime, says the bill would relieve taxpayers of the unfair burden of paying for services enjoyed by individuals and corporations, while it also increases transparency.

Exempts some fees

“The government is always looking for ways to minimize costs for taxpayers and making the fee system transparent,” said Bruce Cheadle.

“We want to give everyone equal access to high-quality government services and we’re going to ensure middle-class Canadians aren’t disproportionately footing the bill for this.”

The new bill exempts some fees from the new regime, including fees under the Food and Drugs Act and some fees considered too small to be material.

The government also suggests that some costs, such as those related to food safety, will not always be fully charged back to users because there is a public good also attached to some government services.

CBC News first reported on the government’s plans in February, citing an internal briefing note for Brison that argued fees have been largely frozen since 2004 as departments shied away from the complex regulatory process of arguing for increases.

The briefing note from August 2016 said 84 per cent of existing user fees have not changed in 13 years, and cover a diminishing fraction of the actual cost of delivering the services.

Despite the fresh measures to increase fees, Brison last year eliminated all retrieval, processing and reproduction fees under the Access to Information Act. And this year, Parks Canada is waiving entry fees for its national parks and historic site to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Source: Liberal bill would automatically increase user fees for federal services by rate of inflation – Politics – CBC News

Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system

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.

Source: Parliamentary report offers fixes for ‘frustrating’ immigration system | Toronto Star

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.

Call Centre

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:

RECOMMENDATION 1

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.

RECOMMENDATION 2

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.

RECOMMENDATION 3

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.

RECOMMENDATION 4

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.

Website

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:

RECOMMENDATION 5

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.

RECOMMENDATION 6

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.

RECOMMENDATION 7

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada improve the ability for applicants and their representatives to link paper applications with online accounts.

RECOMMENDATION 8

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:

RECOMMENDATION 9

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.

RECOMMENDATION 10

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:

RECOMMENDATION 11

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:

RECOMMENDATION 12

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.

RECOMMENDATION 13

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada ensure Members of Parliament and Senators continue to have access to the Ministerial Enquiries Division.

Application forms

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:

RECOMMENDATION 14

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.

RECOMMENDATION 15

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

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:

RECOMMENDATION 16

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider establishing service standards and processing times for all business lines and publish the standards on the website.

RECOMMENDATION 17

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:

RECOMMENDATION 18

That Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada offer automatic client service feedback forms for applications to the department.

RECOMMENDATION 19

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.

Reconsideration

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:

RECOMMENDATION 20

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:

RECOMMENDATION 21

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.

RECOMMENDATION 22

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.

RECOMMENDATION 23

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.

RECOMMENDATION 24

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.

Full text: Report 9: Modernization of Client Service Delivery Presented to the House: March 23, 2017