As a result of the government’s increased use of an automated triage system for IRCC processing, more and more prospective immigrants to Canada may soon find themselves in the fast lane or witness others drive past them.
The practice will spread more widely as Canada transitions, starting this Friday, to 100%” digital applications for most permanent residence programs, from family reunification to skilled immigration. It means applicants can only submit an online application unless they have accessibility issues.
Most of the time, Canadian immigration officials processed applications according to the order in which they were received. However, occasionally, applicants have complained that others have bumped their files because complex cases take longer to process, and some visas have a higher backlog than others.
However, one more factor now determines whether permanent immigration applicants may experience a simpler and faster journey.
Experts say it all boils down to whether applications are sorted initially into a “Green Bin” or “Standard Bin” for processing.
According to immigration attorney Andrew Koltun, “that means you have no control over whether you are left in a multi-year limbo or if your application supercharges through the application processing stream.”
Further, Koltun explained anyone who has been waiting for years could keep waiting for years, but fresh candidates can advance them.
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Nevertheless, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada have been processing applications using an automated system for temporary residence visas for students and visitors from China and India since 2018.
Previously, applications that were mailed in or submitted on paper could not be processed automatically. However, many applications will enter the automatic sorting system due to the transition to nearly entirely online processing.
Since “routine files” can be evaluated using the technology 87 percent faster, officials decided to expand its use at visa offices worldwide in January.
But it turns out that the automatic triage system has now quietly launched for the first time for a permanent immigration program.
How does the triage system work?
Koltun discovered through an access-to-information request that the government gave the system its mark of approval in April 2021 for use in handling sponsorship applications for foreign spouses residing in Canada.
According to an internal memo, this is how it functions:
- The automated method recognizes the low-complexity cases that would have a high probability of being authorized without officer review based on “evidence-based, data-driven rules” from past applications and decisions;
- Officers will continue to conduct medical, criminal, and security checks to ensure the sponsored spouse is eligible for admission to Canada once these cases are placed in what is known as the “Green Bin.”
- The remaining applications are referred to the Standard Bin, where officers evaluate them for eligibility and admissibility per established protocols.
According to the memo, the model was constructed and tested using 40,000 inland spousal applications, which were processed in 2018 and 2019. It is anticipated that 50% of all new applications will be placed in the Green Bin for faster processing.
In addition, the notes mentioned “seven criteria” that were coded in the automated screening procedure, but they redacted those criteria.
The automated approach proved effective and efficient in identifying routine and simple cases for expedited processing, according to Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for the Immigration Department.
The trial program began in April 2021 and has been permanently utilized to process inland spousal application requests since June.
Further, he explained that the automated system never recommends or refuses an application. Instead, when there is a refusal, the officer decides based on a manual application review.
Moreover, experts believe that the triage system will eventually be implemented throughout the immigration system.
The trial project comes with increased efforts by Canada to “modernize” the outdated immigration system to deal with the increasing immigration backlogs. Within these, applications have surpassed two million across temporary and permanent streams.
About 25,000 applications have been triaged in the Green Bin since the project’s launch. While 24,620 have been sent to the Standard Bin. The automated approach is credited with bringing the total processing time for these applications back to the 12-month pre-pandemic standard.
Expert opinion of automated IRCC processing
According to Larivière, the system employs a combination of rules created by staff and rules produced by machine learning that have been evaluated, updated, and reviewed.
Lawyers, privacy specialists, policy analysts, and experienced immigration officials review the data and machine learning rules. In addition, the system is kept under observation to identify and address potential problems with bias, procedural fairness, privacy, and accountability.
Nevertheless, Koltun worries that because of the machine pre-screening, applications in the Green Bin would be less carefully examined and more likely to receive a favourable verdict by officers during the admissibility review.
He explains that it can result in unconscious bias, where someone could find the applicant more trustworthy if they already have been approved for eligibility.
Applications for permanent residence undergo significantly more scrutiny than those for a temporary visa. Hence the processing time is substantially longer. For instance, the federal skilled worker program typically takes 26 months to process, whereas a study permit only takes approximately 12 weeks.
Koltun explained, now that all applications are triaged if one don’t fulfill the requirements, it’ll go into a slower processing line. However, if another appplication meet the requirements, it will pass your application. This effect is less noticeable in a less complicated temporary resident visa application.
Being put in this Green Bin against the Standard Bin can mean the difference between years in spousal sponsorship, where processing durations can range up to 24 months. Additionally, it explains why applicants are frustrated and confused by the procedure because they observe that others who submitted before them have received approvals while they have been delayed.
Lou Janssen Dangzalan, a critic, suggested that the immigration department should inform the public that the automated triage process has taken the place of the first-come, first-served tenet that the immigration system formerly used.
Dangzalan, also a founding member of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association, says that IRCC still perpetuates the notion that submitting your application early would make it process first or faster.
According to experts, the immigration system must be digitally transformed, but officials must be more transparent about using analytics and artificial intelligence when processing applications.
For example, the department’s advanced analytics program and another technology called Chinook software designed to expedite the processing of study permits were both examined by the parliamentary immigration committee earlier this year.
The committee suggested that government should publish information about all artificial intelligence software systems. In addition, conduct appropriate public consultations on new technologies, and appoint independent management to monitor the use of artificial intelligence.
Larivière confirmed that so far, it is only the spousal sponsorship program that uses advanced analytics for triage. If it would be used for a permanent stream in future remains uncertain.
Source: Welland Tribune
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