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Canada's Immigration Department

Canada’s Immigration Department Undergoes Transformation to Enhance Efficiency

Last week marked a significant turning point for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) as it embarked on a journey of transformation to improve its operations. This endeavor is a direct response to a comprehensive report commissioned earlier this year by Neil Yeates, a former IRCC Deputy Minister. In his report, Yeates identifies key areas where IRCC can enhance its effectiveness and efficiency, setting the stage for a major overhaul of the department’s structure and operations.

The Broken Organizational Model

Yeates’ report does not mince words as it asserts that the current organizational model within IRCC is “broken,” held together primarily by the unwavering dedication and hard work of its staff. The report outlines a series of steps required to realign the department’s structure, reform its governance system, strengthen management systems, and cultivate a culture that better supports its goals and objectives.

Two primary reasons underlie the assertion of a broken model: the challenging operating environment faced by IRCC, both within Canada and globally and the exponential growth of the department over the past two decades. Notably, IRCC’s workforce has surged from 5,352 employees in March 2013 to 12,949 employees as of January 2023, reflecting the department’s significant expansion.

IRCC in Crisis

Christiane Fox, IRCC’s current Deputy Minister, has described her tenure as one that “felt like a crisis” upon assuming her role in July 2022. She acknowledged that her colleagues were operating under immense pressure and fatigue, making it clear that change was imperative. Rather than wait for a crisis to deepen, Fox embarked on a plan of action in June 2023, fueled by the insights gained from Yeates’ report and consultations with stakeholders, including IRCC applicants.

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Reorganization and a Business-Line Model

One of the most significant changes implemented is the department’s reorganization into distinct business lines, mirroring the recommendations put forth by Yeates. This restructuring involves the division of IRCC employees into sectors corresponding to the various client groups the department serves, as well as segments that remain adaptable to global shifts. For instance, the creation of an International Affairs and Crisis Response sector aims to enhance IRCC’s preparedness for humanitarian crises and facilitate swift action. This development aligns with IRCC’s regular involvement in crises such as the Ukrainian conflict, and recent resettlement initiatives for Afghan and Syrian refugees, among others.

Fox emphasizes the importance of enhancing client focus within IRCC, intending to incorporate applicant experiences more prominently into the department’s decision-making processes.

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Forces Impacting IRCC

Yeates underscores several forces that impact IRCC’s operations:

Hybrid Work Environment and COVID-19

The pandemic has permanently altered work dynamics, with more employees, including those at IRCC, embracing remote work. However, the long-term impact on the department’s organizational culture remains uncertain.

Demand for IRCC Services

IRCC frequently faces demand that surpasses its processing capacity, despite measures such as caps on certain programs to manage application volumes.

Growth of IRCC:

The department’s workforce has grown substantially, rendering the existing organizational structure inadequate for its current scale.

Immigration Policy Review

A review of immigration policy at IRCC could be pivotal in shaping the department’s future direction.

Digital Transformation:

IRCC’s Digital Platform Modernization, backed by substantial funding, is crucial for the department’s transition into a fully digital entity.

Global Uncertainty

Escalating global conflicts, threats to democracy, and factors like climate change continue to influence migration patterns, significantly affecting IRCC’s operations.

Departmental Culture and Unconscious Bias

Yeates’ report delves into IRCC’s departmental culture, which staff often describe as “committed, collaborative, and supportive.” This culture has played a pivotal role in surmounting organizational challenges. However, Yeates highlights a tension within the department between the “IRPA school” and the “client service school.” The former emphasizes enforcing immigration policies, while the latter is more open to waiving requirements and compromises to enhance client service. The report suggests addressing potential unconscious bias among immigration officers, which may affect decision-making.

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Recommendations for Transformation

Yeates’ recommendations span four areas: Organizational Structure, Governance, Management Systems, and Culture. Key highlights include:

  • Transitioning to a business line organization.
  • Developing crisis and emergency management protocols.
  • Reevaluating committee memberships.
  • Instituting a new planning and reporting regime.
  • Formulating a multi-year strategic plan.
  • Establishing an annual planning cycle.
  • Implementing quarterly reporting.
  • Conducting an immigration policy review.
  • Enhancing staff training and integrating diverse voices into governance.

IRCC’s journey of transformation reflects its commitment to adapting to changing dynamics and improving its efficiency and effectiveness. The reforms outlined in the Yeates report signal a new era for Canada’s immigration department, poised to better serve its clients and stakeholders in an evolving world. As the department evolves, it seeks to maintain its culture of dedication while addressing the challenges posed by a rapidly changing environment.

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