Canada-India diplomatic tensions: impact on processing, solutions and next steps (as per IRCC)

This blog post delves into the impact of diplomatic tensions, their repercussions for Indian applicants and IRCC's solution.

Last updated on
December 8, 2023

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How are diplomatic tensions between Canada and India influencing immigration procedures as of October 2023? What implications could this hold for the utilization of technology, communication, and the presence of IRCC staff in foreign countries? This blog sheds light on the recent changes in application processing in India, the ambitious steps taken by IRCC to tackle these challenges, and the potential ripple effects on immigration offices worldwide.

In a recent meeting with the Canadian Bar Association, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) on Friday October 20, 2023, Canada provided an update on immigration services in India and their solutions.

This update follows strained ties between Canada and India, and the removal of 41 Canadian diplomats in India.

Reduced visa services in the short term

The main impact on the reduction of Canadian diplomatic staff in India are visa services. Canadian immigration authorities are faced with the task of managing visa applications, an array of permits, and requests from Indian nationals looking to enter Canada for various purposes with a heavily reduced staff. The immediate effect is a slowing down of processing times.

Focus on urgent cases

In an attempt to mitigate the impact of reduced visa services, immigration officials have adopted a strategic approach focusing on urgent immigration cases. Deputy Minister Christiane Fox elaborated that a select group of five Canadian diplomats will give primary attention to this urgent case.

The term "urgent" was explicitly defined during the meeting, signifying cases where individuals have immediate and compelling needs. For instance, individuals needing to attend a funeral in Canada could qualify under this category. Importantly, the determination of what constitutes an "urgent" case will be assessed on an individual basis, thereby ensuring that cases do not get overlooked.

Although this particular issue is not the central focus of our discussion in this meeting or this blog, it is important to acknowledge a long-standing concern shared by applicants and Canadian immigration lawyers alike. This concern pertains to the often-ineffective means of communication with IRCC, program managers and immigration officials.

Over time, both the Canadian Bar Association (Immigration Section) and the Canadian Immigration Lawyer Association have criticized the effectiveness of communication channels, especially after the introduction of webforms. Earlier this year, I participated in a working group with the Canadian Bar Association to address the issue of program managers at IRCC refusing to handle urgent cases or unjust refusals. Some program managers believed that this was a conflict of interest and refuse to address the issue, even though IRCC policies encourage applicants to contact program managers in certain scenarios. This discrepancy raises concerns for immigration professionals and applicants alike.

The ability to effectively triage and flag urgent cases for expedited processing remains a critical aspect to monitor. While it may not be the primary subject of our discussion here, this issue intersects with the broader challenges faced in the current immigration landscape. Clarity in communication and efficient processing of urgent cases are essential to maintaining trust and transparency in the immigration process, especially in these times of transition and adaptation.

The reduction of staff will impact processing for IRCC

The reduction in visa services and the complexities of strained diplomatic relations are particularly concerning for Indian nationals who constitute a significant portion of Canadian immigration applicants. Indian nationals are notably prominent in various application categories, such as Work Permits (22%), Study Permits (49%), and Permanent Residence applications. This demographic composition emphasizes the significance of Indian applicants in the Canadian immigration landscape.

The apprehension among many Indian applicants is whether these changes will result in extensive delays in processing times, thus affecting their immediate plans to work, study, or reside in Canada. While Deputy Minister Fox expressed hope that the IRCC could minimize the impact, particularly for students and workers intending to arrive in Canada in January 2024, it is imperative for applicants and immigration professionals to prepare for potential disruptions and delays. It remains to be seen how businesses and universities who rely on foreign nationals will be impacted but processing delays.

Increasing digitization and the use of technology

The meeting also underlined the significance of adapting to the post-COVID context, where digital solutions play a pivotal role. The ongoing global pandemic has hastened the adoption of digital solutions in various sectors, including immigration services. Deputy Minister Fox emphasized that the IRCC is actively embracing digital solutions, offering more flexibility in risk assessment, interviews, and in-person diplomacy.

With the Digital Platform Modernization in progress, the IRCC aims to be better positioned to pivot and adapt to the changing immigration landscape. This digital transformation holds the promise of streamlining processes, enhancing communication with applicants, and providing a more efficient and seamless experience, which is particularly crucial in times of reduced staffing capacity.

However, concerns exist about the use of technology in decision-making, as the focus appears to be primarily on simpler cases, while the approach to more complex applications remains uncertain. Most publicly known cases involve straightforward matters like visitor record extensions and study permit renewals.

Furthermore, will this set a precedent for missions worldwide to downsize immigration staff abroad, previously reliant on paper applications, and expedite the shift toward processing applications within Canada? This transition is already underway, with numerous applications originating from outside Canada but processed domestically.

Communication and Digital Visas: Enhancing the Experience

Effective communication is central to managing the concerns and expectations of applicants during this challenging period. Clear and timely communication about the status of applications is vital for maintaining trust and transparency. During the meeting, the IRCC assured that it would connect with the IRCC Call Centre to enhance communication resources. This is a step towards ensuring that applicants receive timely updates and essential information regarding their immigration processes.

In theory, this is a promising concept. However, in practice, IRCC grappled with over 200,000 access to information requests in the previous year, as reported by the recent Auditor General's report. Insufficient communication has been a persistent issue within IRCC for years. While this represents a positive step, providing applicants with proactive, precise, and timely updates on visa application processing could effectively manage expectations and potentially reduce the number of access to information requests.

The potential introduction of digital visas is also under consideration. While no specific timeline was provided during the meeting, this development has the potential to streamline the application process and offer more convenience to applicants.

Conclusion

The diplomatic tensions and subsequent reduction in visa services have had a profound impact on Canadian visa processing services in India. The challenges are significant. In my view, it remains a largely ambitious project for IRCC to simultaneously increase outside country origin processing, flag and respond to urgent cases, improve digitalization and then return to normal processing times for India. However, it could serve as a push in the right direction and implement of practices in offices all around the world. It will all come down to the implementation, which may be challenging in a high volume country with limited staff.


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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is general informational purposes and it is not legal advice. The information not a substitute for professional legal advice, and it may not be appropriate for you. Do not rely exclusively on this blog. Always conduct your own research and due diligence. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, immigration laws and regulations can vary and change over time. It is important to consult with a qualified immigration lawyer if you are unsure how to proceed.

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