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Canada’s Immigration Department Pursues Extensive Reforms

Canada's Immigration Department Extensive Reforms

In a recent move, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has initiated a series of major changes as part of a comprehensive strategy aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of its operations. Discover Canada’s Immigration Department Reforms: Stay updated on the latest changes, policies, and reforms shaping Canadian immigration.

Earlier this year, Neil Yeates, a former Deputy Minister of IRCC, was entrusted with the task of producing a report that delves into the potential avenues for the department to become more efficient and effective. This report, commissioned by the IRCC itself, sought to evaluate the current organizational structure’s alignment with the department’s overarching mission. The Deputy Minister, a key figure in any government department, operates in a non-political capacity, overseeing the department’s management, implementing policies and strategies, and managing budgets.

Christiane Fox, the current Deputy Minister of IRCC, is the liaison between the department and the appointed Minister, who is a politician, currently Immigration Minister Marc Miller. The role of the Immigration Minister is to execute the mandate of the elected government.

Yeates’ Assessment: IRCC’s Organizational Model Requires Revamp

In his in-depth report, made available through CIC News, Neil Yeates concludes that “the current organizational model at IRCC is in need of repair, albeit currently held together through the relentless commitment and dedication of its staff.” To address this issue, Yeates puts forth a series of essential steps, including a significant transition to a business line-based structure, a revamping of the governance system, and the implementation of more robust management systems, particularly in the domains of planning and reporting. Additionally, he recommends fostering a culture that better aligns with the department’s goals and objectives. This includes consideration of an overall review of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and exploring ways to leverage the diverse expertise within the department.

Yeates highlights two primary reasons for the current shortcomings of IRCC’s model. First, the challenging operational environment, both within Canada and globally, presents considerable difficulties. Second, the substantial growth of IRCC since the inception of its current organizational structure over two decades ago is a critical contributing factor. Yeates illustrates this by noting the substantial increase in IRCC’s workforce, which has grown from 5,352 employees in March 2013 to 12,949 employees as of January 2023.

Fox’s Perspective: IRCC Navigates Crisis

In a recent interview with journalist Paul Wells, Christiane Fox disclosed that the Yeates report would be instrumental in guiding the significant changes the department intends to pursue. Having assumed her role at IRCC in July 2022, Fox described her initial experiences as feeling akin to a crisis. She acknowledged the strain experienced by her colleagues, who were under considerable duress and exhaustion. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Fox concluded that departmental changes were imperative and should not be postponed for an extended period.

In June 2023, after receiving the Yeates report and consulting with public stakeholders, including IRCC applicants, Fox formulated a comprehensive plan of action. Subsequently, she has gradually initiated the rollout of these changes.

IRCC Adopts a Business-Line Model

One of the primary changes introduced is the department’s reorganization into distinct sectors. These sectors encompass Asylum and Refugees Resettlement, Citizenship and Passport, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, Client Service, Innovation, and Chief Digital Officer, Communications, Corporate Services, Economic, Family, and Social Migration, International Affairs and Crisis Response, Migration Integrity, Service Delivery, Settlement Integration, and Francophone Affairs, as well as Strategic Policy.

This structural shift, aligning with Yeates’ recommendations, entails the division of IRCC employees into various client-focused groups and aims to enhance responsiveness to global dynamics. For example, the creation of the International Affairs and Crisis Response sector is designed to enable IRCC to better plan for humanitarian crises and formulate responsive action plans. IRCC is often tasked with addressing crises, such as the ongoing situation in Ukraine, the recent initiatives for Afghan and Syrian refugee resettlement, among others.

Fox underscores the importance of adopting a more client-focused approach. The department seeks to incorporate the experiences and perspectives of its applicants more substantially in the decision-making processes.

Challenges in IRCC’s Operating Environment

Neil Yeates elaborates on the multifaceted forces that impact IRCC, with the principal ones being:

  1. Hybrid Work Environment and COVID-19: The nature of work is undergoing a permanent transformation due to the pandemic. As a result, an increasing number of workers, including IRCC employees, are embracing remote work, with a general direction to return to the office for 2-3 days per week. Yeates acknowledges that while remote work has been effective, the long-term impact on IRCC’s organizational culture remains to be seen.
  2. Demand for IRCC Services: The demand for IRCC’s programs frequently surpasses the department’s processing capacity, leading to challenges in meeting service standards. Although IRCC has tools and resources to manage its inventory, such as implementing caps for certain programs, its inventories can rapidly expand when demand exceeds processing capacity.
  3. Growth of IRCC: As the demand for IRCC’s programs has surged, so has its workforce. Yeates characterizes the workforce as “medium-sized” in 2013, with 5,217 non-executive staff, which has more than doubled by 2023 to 12,721 staff. The number of executives in the department has grown from 135 employees in 2013 to 227 today. However, despite this growth, the organizational structure at IRCC, designed for a smaller department, has remained largely unchanged.
  4. Immigration Policy Review: The dominant immigration narrative in Canada has seldom been challenged, and the true impact of immigration remains inadequately documented. Yeates suggests that an immigration policy review within IRCC could be beneficial in shaping the department’s future direction.
  5. Digital Transformation: IRCC has secured significant funding for its Digital Platform Modernization, a challenging endeavor given the department’s extensive responsibilities. Nevertheless, the need for IRCC to become a fully digital department is unquestionable.
  6. Global Uncertainty: Global armed conflicts are on the rise, democracy is under threat, and factors like climate change are affecting the global demand for migration, which will continue to have a significant impact on IRCC.

Challenges in IRCC’s Organizational Culture

While emphasizing that the purpose of his report is constructive rather than critical, Yeates points out several key shortcomings within IRCC. These include limited department-wide planning, the absence of a multi-year strategic plan, and inconsistency in planning practices. These issues present various challenges, such as the department’s inability to achieve its goals and a lack of accountability among staff.

Notably, Yeates identifies a tension within the department, which he refers to as the “IRPA school” and the “client service school.” The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, introduced in 2001, provides a framework for excluding applicants based on numerous criteria. Immigration officers are trained to enforce IRPA, but little attention has been historically paid to addressing potential “unconscious bias” that may influence their decision-making. Conversely, those who align with the “client service school” are more inclined to waive requirements and embrace compromise to enhance service quality for IRCC clients.

Key Recommendations from Yeates

In light of these challenges, Yeates puts forward recommendations across four key areas:

Organizational Structure Recommendations:

  • Transition IRCC to a business-line organization.
  • Develop protocols for crisis and emergency management, identifying Assistant Deputy Minister leads for various scenarios.

Governance Recommendations:

  • The Executive Committee should take on the responsibility for finance and corporate services, absorbing the functions of the Corporate Finance Committee.
  • Establish a new Operations Committee, chaired by the Deputy Minister’s Office, that will absorb the functions of the Issues Management Committee.
  • Reevaluate committee memberships during the reorganization process, with a membership size not exceeding 12.
  • Conduct a review of the split of responsibilities between IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) under IRPA to rationalize and streamline roles and accountabilities.

Management System Recommendations:

  • Assign the Deputy Minister to lead a new planning and reporting regime.
  • Develop a 3 to 5-year strategic plan.
  • Implement an annual planning cycle across all areas of the department, encompassing HR, IT, Financial, and Program plans.
  • Instigate a quarterly reporting regime.
  • Ensure alignment with the department’s performance management efforts.

Culture Recommendations:

  • Undertake a review of IRPA to assess whether amendments are necessary to better support desired outcomes, including improved service delivery.
  • Review staff training involved in the administration of IRPA to align it with the department’s philosophy.
  • Explore means to integrate the voices of IRCC’s diverse communities into the departmental governance framework.

In conclusion, IRCC embarks on a transformative journey, guided by Neil Yeates’ recommendations and led by Deputy Minister Christiane Fox. These changes aim to address pressing challenges, align the department with a dynamic global landscape, and ensure that the client perspective plays a central role in shaping its future. As the IRCC forges ahead, it seeks to create a more agile and responsive organization capable of fulfilling its mandate effectively.

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