Minister Fraser clarifies how IRCC uses AI in application processing

Posted on May 31, 2023 at 07:00 am EDT

Minister Fraser says that AI has boosted IRCC's productivity by optimizing applications.

At a recent press conference in Vancouver, Canada Immigration Minister Sean Fraser He told reporters that “by increasing our use of technology, advanced analytics and optimizing our processing, we’ve done a couple of very important things in the last few months.”

Fraser was speaking about Temporary Residency (TRV) applications for those hoping for permanent residency under family class sponsorship programs. However, the increased use of technology and advanced analytics has had an impact on all lines of business in the processing of applications by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

In the next few years, Canada is on its way to welcome the largest number of newcomers ever. In 2022, IRCC made more than five million final decisions on applications across all lines of business, twice as many decisions in 2021.

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IRCC has moved rapidly toward digitizing and “modernizing” Canada’s immigration system, including increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics to speed up application processing time. For example, Fraser said that this simplification has helped process 98% of spousal TRV applications and new applicants can now expect a processing time of just 30 days.

IRCC says the digitization of the system and services will better meet the needs of customers and Canada, bolstered by new technology capabilities. Additionally, the department says that by leveraging technology, it can process requests more efficiently and free up officers to focus more on complex requests.

IRCC uses artificial intelligence (information technology that performs tasks that would normally require a human to perform) in some aspects of processing, including:

  • Automation of positive eligibility determinations
  • Distribute requests among officials based on the characteristics of the application
  • Identification of applications that may require additional verification
  • Workload distribution
  • Creation of “notes” that summarize basic information for each client to reduce officer searches in our Global Case Management System
  • Classify customer emails to enable faster responses and respond to customer inquiries by providing publicly available information
  • evaluating biometrics

There are no algorithms in any of the tools that IRCC uses that will accept or reject an applicant. Candidates are not approved or denied a visa or permit based solely on a computer generated decision.

What are the concerns?

Many are concerned that IRCC’s use of AI will lead to bias and a general lack of explanation of how decisions are made in application processing.

For example, the Treasury Board Directive on Automated Decision Making, a whole-of-government policy directive, says that basing an algorithm on historical data can amplify race, class, gender, and other inequalities. He cites that some facial recognition programs don’t work equally well for all skin colors or genders.

Relying too much on AI can also lead to a lack of clarity in decision making. The directive says that the federal government must be able to explain how administrative decisions are made. In addition, people who are denied services or benefits are entitled to a reasonable and understandable explanation from the government, which must go beyond indicating that it was a decision made by a computer.

Concerns have also been raised about the use of “Chinook,” which IRCC describes as a Microsoft Excel-based tool to simplify the visual representation of a customer’s information. It is used by IRCC officers to assess temporary resident visas, study permits and work permit The department says that Chinook does not use artificial intelligence (AI) or advanced analytics for decision making, and there are no built-in decision-making algorithms.

How does IRCC develop algorithms?

In response to concerns, IRCC says it follows a Directive in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to ensure equal rights and avoid discrimination. It says that it follows the principles of transparency, responsibility, legality and procedural fairness to define how decisions should be made and what explanations should be provided to those affected.

Every time a new algorithm is proposed, it must pass the Algorithmic Impact Assessment (AIA). The AIA is a mandatory risk assessment tool and is part of the Treasury Board Directive on Automated Decision Making. The tool measures the areas of risk, mitigation and the impact of the proposed algorithms. IRCC says that they were one of the first government departments to use AIA.

The department also says it requires assessments of the impacts of the algorithms, quality assurance measures for the data and the algorithm, and proactive disclosures about how and where the algorithms are used.

The IRCC says that the rules used to support (but not finalize) the decision-making process are regularly reviewed by experienced officials, legal, political, data science, privacy, and senior decision-makers to ensure that they align with the eligibility criteria outlined in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

In addition, regular monitoring and quality control measures are put in place to help ensure that these models continue to perform as intended and that any unforeseen negative impacts can be identified early and mitigated.

Minister Fraser remains optimistic about the IRCC’s use of advanced technology and analytics. He said technology adopted by IRCC in recent years allows the department to look at a number of factors in a person’s application to help determine the likelihood that they will go to be eligible for permanent residence and put them in a category that is easier to approve as IRCC officers. He says this has led to a huge boost in productivity and goes on to emphasize that AI doesn’t make any final decisions.

“At the end of the day, our offers still make all the eligibility determinations. It is not possible for anyone to be denied through this technological solution.”

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