The mountain of permanent and temporary residency and citizenship applications facing immigration officials in Canada is slowly being whittled down to size, falling to a little more than 2.2 million applications at the end of December last year from almost 2.4 million in late June the previous year.

That’s a roughly seven per cent drop in the number of applications in the immigration department’s inventory over a 1.5-year period.

“To meet our annual immigration targets and help us increase processing capacity and efficiency, it’s important to have an inventory of applications for our programs,” states the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.

“An inventory contains all applications received for a program that has not yet been finalized. This includes those that are processed within our service standards, as well as a backlog of applications that have been in our inventories longer than our service standards.

“At any given time, IRCC is managing over one million applications from our inventories. In 2023, we finalized more than 7.3 million decisions across our lines of business.”

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IRCC officials were starting down a pile of 2,221,100 applications in the system as of Dec. 31 last year. Of those, 949,500 of them were what is considered to be the backlog, those applications that had not been processed within the immigration department’s own service standards. 

That backlog included at that time 47 per cent of the 1,257,000 applications for temporary residence, or 590,790 temporary residence applications. The backlog also included 308,880 permanent residence applications, or 44 per cent of the total 702,000 permanent residence applications in the system.

As the year came to a close, the IRCC was doing a much better job of staying on top of citizenship applications, with only 19 per cent of the total 262,100 such applications, or 49,799, being in the backlog.

“We’re taking action to reduce the backlogs of applications within our inventories,” notes the IRCC. 

“Our goal is to process 80 per cent of applications within our service standards. This allows for expected delays in some very complex cases or when we need more information from our clients before we can finalize their files.”

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Despite the improvements made by the immigration department to clear its backlog, a standing committee of the House of Commons insisted in December last year the IRCC set a deadline to clear its backlog of applications and put in place accountability measures to make sure that deadline is met.

In his report In Demand Yet Unprocessed: Endemic Immigration Backlogs, Sukh Dhaliwal, chair of the standing committee on citizenship and immigration, went so far as to call for the establishment of a special task to tackle the challenge.

“Unfortunately, the number of applications has far outpaced processing capacity, while the transition to a digital processing environment has faced major challenges, forming a seemingly insurmountable backlog,” Dhaliwal writes in that report.

The standing committee decided to study application backlogs and processing times in February 2022 and started holding meetings on May 5 of that year. By the end of November, it had heard from 44 witnesses, including lawyers and consultants, settlement workers, industry advocates and refugee organizations.

Backlog Of Immigration Applications Is Hurting Canada’s Reputation

In addition to the trouble these backlogs pose to foreign nationals applying for permanent residence, temporary foreign workers seeking work permits to fill jobs in Canada, and international students whose studies can be adversely affected by application processing delays, the standing committee also heard from business organizations who noted Canada’s reputation suffers when business people cannot come here in time to attend conferences.

“Canada’s reputation abroad has been tarnished at some international conferences and events when participants were not able to attend as they couldn’t get a visa,” Claire Launay, president of the advocacy group Le Québec C’est Nous Aussi, reportedly told the standing committee.

Tour operators have also faced challenges in getting international groups into Canada, reportedly said Beth Potter, president and chief executive officer of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

On Dec. 14, 2023, the standing committee released its report. It contained a list of 40 recommendations to the House of Commons to wrestle the backlogs down and improve processing of immigration applications.

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