The extensive use of paper applications caused significant backlogs in the processing of Quebec immigration applications at the start of the COVID-19, according to Ottawa.
A skilled worker who has already been pre-selected by that province must still wait an average of 31 months to obtain permanent residency in Quebec, compared to the current average of 27 months for processing similar applications in other Canadian provinces.
A federal court document obtained by Radio-Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s French-language network, and dated April 19, discloses the reasons of the long delay time in Quebec. Although other Canadian provinces’ application processes had already been digitised and moved online at the start of the pandemic, Quebec’s still relied on paper files. Given the sensitive nature of the information in those files, the government determined that immigration caseworkers could not take them home when the pandemic struck.
Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) admits in a court document obtained by the broadcaster that there are currently 29,000 applications from skilled workers for permanent residence in Quebec awaiting processing. Approximately 10,000 of those applications date back to 2020 and have been postponed in part due to concerns about criminal disqualification or problems contacting the candidate.
However, it’s the pandemic’s unexpected incursion that’s being blamed the most by IRCC for delays in processing permanent residency applications for skilled workers in Quebec, which was still using a paper-based application process at the time.
When the pandemic struck, IRCC officials began digitising paper-based applications in the summer of 2020 and continued until March of last year, so caseworkers could access them on a secure computer network. That functioned to give immigration officers some access to the files, but it was still arduous work. Applications were being processed at a much slower rate than usual. A year after the pandemic began, then-Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino authorised the IRCC to contract out file digitization to the private sector in order to expedite the process. To work on these files, immigration officers were given larger computer screens and, where necessary, second computer screens.
During the peak of the pandemic, IRCC officials increased the priority level for temporary foreign workers already in Quebec, which shortened processing times. However, in January of this year, the IRCC resumed its usual practise of processing applications in the order in which they were received. However, not everyone believes Ottawa’s explanation for the delays in processing applications in Quebec. The Association Québécoise Des Avocats Et Avocates En Droit De L’immigration (AQAADI), a group of Quebec lawyers, is disputing the federal government’s clarification of the backlogs.
“If IRCC thinks security considerations played a part in respect to these thousands of files, which is speculation, then it could and certainly should concentrate its efforts on this but these applications are still awaiting a response, in some cases since 2009,” Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, the AQAADI’s lawyer, reportedly noted in French in the association’s response deposed in federal court.
“No security considerations should excuse the failure to render a decision, whether positive or negative, over a processing period of 13 years,” reportedly notes the AQAADI’s response. “IRCC cannot justify its own inaction as a consequence of the complexity of a file when it has been in processing for more than a decade.”
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