IRCC to improve access to information following information watchdog investigation

The Information Commissioner of Canada published results of an investigation into systemic issues in IRCC’s handling of access to information requests.

Canada’s information commissioner is calling on the immigration department to improve communication with clients.

As it is, the only way to see the status of your application or understand why your application for permanent residence was denied is to file an access to information request, more commonly known as an ATIP. This can be a lengthy process that is not available to people living outside of Canada, who consequently have to get a representative to file on their behalf.

Canada’s access to information watchdog, Caroline Maynard, found that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received 116,928 ATIP requests in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, an increase of 42 per cent compared to the previous fiscal year.

The increase in requests resulted in 670 per cent more complaints to the commissioner’s office in the fiscal year starting in 2019, as compared to 2018. On any given year, IRCC has more ATIP requests than any other department, which typically means there is already a high number of complaints. However, the stark increase spurred the commissioner to launch an investigation.

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The Information Commissioner of Canada published its findings in a special report released May 25. It confirmed that the high volume of ATIP requests are a function of IRCC not providing the information through other means. Furthermore, the ATIP system is not the most efficient way for immigration candidates to get the information they need.

The report details the areas of concern regarding IRCC’s ability to respond to ATIP requests in a timely manner, and offers recommendations to address the issues. IRCC in turn responded to these concerns, both in the report and through a press release from the immigration minister’s office.

At the top of the list of priorities, the commissioner recommended IRCC should decrease the need for people to fill out ATIP requests. In other words, make the information that clients are seeking more easy to access. IRCC says changes related to this recommendation could be coming as early as Q3 2021.

“The transformation includes improving the MyAccount portal, introducing push notifications and enhancing generic content on IRCC’s website,” the report says.

IRCC is also considering implementing a new Temporary Resident Refusal letter in the coming months. The letters would include more details about why applications were refused. The goal would be to reduce the need for clients to submit ATIP requests to learn why their application was refused.

However, the department says it does not plan to include direct excerpts of IRCC officer notes, which clients frequently request.

The commissioner also called on IRCC to stop automatically requesting 60- to 90-day extensions in response to people who made more than one ATIP request. The department reports it has ended this practice as of March 1, 2021.

IRCC strategies

The report summarizes IRCC’s strategies to improve client service. The immigration department has already started implementing short-term workflow solutions to address the situation while permanent measures are still being developed.

Some lines of business are being automated to improve processing times by five to seven minutes per application, which can add up over time.

Furthermore improvements to the online request form have reduced the number of errors in submissions from 30 per cent of requests to between 10 and 15 per cent.

IRCC has also set up an ATIP Modernization team to find solutions to the growing number of access to information requests.

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