IRCC struggles to keep up as inquiries have more than doubled in the last five years

Posted on June 17, 2023 at 08:30 am EDT

The increased demand has made it difficult for the IRCC to keep up with inquiries.

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) received more than eight million inquiries through its Customer Service Center (CSC) in fiscal year 2021/2022. This is more than double the 4.07 million queries in 2017/2018.

The information was made available as part of an update to an Office of the Auditor General (OAG) report that was originally produced in 2019. CIC News obtained an internal IRCC report containing the information through an Access Request to information (ATIP).

In addition, another report published by the Secretariat of the Treasury Board of Canada found that the IRCC is not keeping pace with the number of ATIP applications it receives. The last time IRCC closed more ATIP applications than it received was in fiscal year 2012/2013.

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The OAG report update showed that the original report in 2019 made recommendations to the IRCC, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Veterans Affairs on how to improve customer service. Two recommendations were mentioned.

The first stated that ESDC and IRCC should review how incoming calls were handled to improve access to agents, and that both agencies should consider allowing callers to decide whether they prefer to wait, use self-service options, or have the call center calls call them back.

The second recommendation stated that ESDC, IRCC and Veterans Affairs should:

  • Establish call center service standards that are relevant to customers and consider customer feedback in accordance with the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada Guidelines on Service Standards; and
  • Publish call center service standards and performance results in a transparent and consistent manner, and verify results to confirm accuracy.

Changes in customer services since 2019

Not long after the initial audit, the COVID-19 pandemic and other global crises led to increased demand for personalized support from IRCC’s Customer Support Center (CSC). The updated report found that the number of calls successfully reaching an agent had decreased since the original audit, but also that the volume of incoming calls and inquiries across all channels had increased by 100% from 2017-2018.

The OAG report update found that despite fewer returned calls and longer delays in email responses, the IRCC successfully followed the recommendations and implemented measures to improve customer service.

For example, in 2017/2018, IRCC received 3.25 million calls requesting an agent and 5.42 million in 2021/2022. The number of emails more than tripled during the same period from 632,000 to 1.92 million.

In response to increased demand due to political unrest, in 2021 IRCC introduced hotlines to offer dedicated support to people affected by the crisis in Afghanistan, and another one was introduced due to the Ukraine crisis in 2022.

These numbers significantly increased the total number of inquiries seen in fiscal year 2021/2022. There were 450,000 inquiries to the dedicated Afghanistan channel, 377,000 of which were emails.

There were also 64,000 inquiries to the dedicated Ukrainian channel in the same fiscal year. Since the fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 31, this means that all these inquiries were made in just two months, from February to the end of March 2022.

Support from the CSC to deputies and senators

In addition to general applicant inquiries, IRCC offers dedicated support to Members of Parliament and Senators by phone and email through the Ministerial Center for Members of Parliament and Senators (MCMPS), which accounted for a total of 272,000 inquiries across 2022.

An IRCC report released in November 2022 showed that MCMPS was providing approximately 1,000 hours of support weekly to MP/Senator offices. The report says this support allows parliamentarians, senators and their staffs to have more consistent, predictable and reliable support from IRCC, helping them to better serve their constituents.

In addition, he said that IRCC has been modernizing MCMPS services to include an online appointment-based system for the offices of representatives and senators. The online appointment system was implemented in October 2022 and, at the time of reporting, offered 200 available appointment hours per day.

Afghanistan and Ukraine dedicated crisis support

The November report showed that the CSC’s dedicated crisis support channels for Afghanistan and Ukraine between April and October 2022 had a high rate of return, including:

  • 172,000 telephone inquiries and 123,000 email inquiries; and so?
  • Their throughput (or call response rates) for both crisis lines was 66% (Afghanistan) and 77% (Ukraine).

The report predicts that in 2022/2023, the CSC will receive 11.5 million inquiries with a call response rate of more than 20%. It does not contain predictions for how long it will take to respond to email inquiries, but shows that the average response time for emails between April and October 2022 was 22.8 days, a dramatic drop from the response time of 4 days in 2019/2020.

IRCC overwhelmed with access to information requests

The Statistical Report on Access to Information and Privacy for 2021-2022 shows that IRCC received 79.7% of all access to information requests received in 2021/2022. IRCC also received a significant number of requests for personal information in 2021/2022. This is a notable increase from the 2012/2013 data which showed that IRCC received only 45.4% of applications.

FOI requests have a service standard of 30 days to disclose the requested information to clients. In 2021/2022, more than 109,000 of all ATIP applications were closed beyond the statutory deadlines. Of these, IRCC accounted for 89.1%, citing “workload” as the main reason for closing applications beyond statutory deadlines.

The report says that IRCC has not kept pace with the number of applications received. For example, the number of ATIP applications submitted to IRCC increased from over 107,000 in 2020/2021 to 177,473 in 2021/2022 and IRCC transferred 49,392 applications to 2022/2023.

Ways IRCC is working to improve customer service

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the benefits of modernizing and digitizing Canada’s immigration system. For example, to reduce pressure on the CSC, IRCC introduced a new permanent residence application status tracker for family class, common law spouses, and dependent clients in February 2022. It later did the same for Express Entry applicants. . These trackers allow applicants to track the status of their application without contacting an IRCC representative.

The November report also says that IRCC has been using budget funds since 2019 to hire 237 full-time employees, many of whom were originally on two- or three-year contracts and are now permanent. It also says that IRCC will use Budget 2022 funds to hire an additional 107 full-time employees.

In addition, the 2022 Budget promised funding of $136.5 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, and $37.2 million ongoing, to address increased demand for customer service.

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