Growing backlogs at IRCC: What 2022 will bring for Canadian immigration

January 28, 2022

By Canadian Immigrant Magazine |

In 2021 Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) met its incredibly ambitious target of admitting 401,000 immigrants, a record.  Yet, the achievement appeared to be overshadowed by mounting frustration over processing delays, a perception that client service was decreasing, the year-long pause of invitations to apply in the Federal Skilled Worker Class and Federal Skilled Trades Class, the pause of invitations to apply to the Canadian Experience Class since September 2021, and reports of huge application backlogs.

In order to understand the options that IRCC has in 2022 it is important to understand that the government has no choice but to do one of the following three things to deal with the current backlog. These are:

  • Dramatically increasing immigration targets (to reduce processing backlog and allow new people to apply)
  • Allowing processing times to continue to increase
  • Reducing the number of permanent residence applications that the Department receives (so they can process the existing applications without dramatically increasing targets)

Difficult decisions

Many immigration stakeholders will say that Canada should increase the number of permanent residents that it admits each year.  This is especially the case as there are no caps on the number of temporary residents admitted each year, and it seems odd to restrict the ability of people who already study and work here to remain permanently.

However, a decision to dramatically increase immigration levels may be a politically difficult one given likely concerns that doing so will lead to increased social services costs and a shortage of housing. However, immigration stakeholders would be prudent to plan for the possibility of either increased processing times or reduced application intake.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic Express Entry had predictable processing times of under six months. By the end of 2021 the processing times had ballooned to around to around seven months for Canadian Experience Class applications (although some are processed in 1-3 months) and 2+ years for the Federal Skilled Worker Class and Federal Skilled Trades Class. During the pandemic there also appears to have been very little movement in the processing of Self-Employed Class, Start-Up Visa Program and Caregiver applications.

Many applicants to the Temporary to Permanent Residence Pathway that the government launched in May 2021 have yet to receive acknowledgements of receipt. If the government decides to let processing times in certain applications continue to increase in order to keep intake high, then the current frustrations will likely continue to grow. There will also continue to be an increase in people submitting mandamus applications to the Federal Court of Canada to compel IRCC to process their applications.

Alternatively, if IRCC decides to prioritize reducing the existing backlogs and instead reduce application intake, then there could be devastating consequences for foreign workers inside Canada. The lack of any invitations to apply to the Canadian Experience Class is starting to have consequences for foreign workers in Canada whose work permits are expiring. The longer this continues the more media stories will shift from application backlogs and processing delays to foreign workers in Canada having to quit their jobs, pack up their bags and return home.

Creative solutions

The solution to many of the current frustrations may be an increase in the issuance of open work permits, their duration and the speed in which they are issued.  Currently, many economic class applicants can obtain one-year open bridging work permit applications while IRCC processes their permanent resident applications.  Maybe IRCC should make these work permits valid for three-five years and issue them automatically as part of the acknowledgement of receipt for a permanent residence application.  Foreign workers in Canada who are unable to apply for permanent residence simply because of an IRCC determined temporary need to reduce intake should perhaps also be able to apply for open work permits. Alternatively, IRCC may wish to consider automatically extending all existing work permits and making them open once their current validity periods end.

Whether it is the above policy suggestion or something else, 2022 will hopefully be a year of creative ideas at IRCC to mitigate the negative consequences of difficult decisions. At the start of 2020 few would have predicted that a global pandemic would have wreaked havoc on many Canadian immigration programs or that Canada would seek to resettle tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. Who knows what 2022 will bring in terms of new COVID-19 waves, global conflict or environmental catastrophes that may impact an already strained Canadian immigration system?  The decisions may continue to become more difficult, and the creativity of the solutions more imperative.

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