Modernizing Immigration Processes

Canada’s immigration system has made significant strides in embracing technology, aiming to improve efficiency and decision-making. In a recent press conference, Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser detailed how Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is deploying advanced technology and analytics to streamline processes, particularly for those waiting for permanent residency under family class sponsorship programs. 

In 2022, IRCC made over five million final decisions on applications across all their lines of business. This impressive feat, double the number of decisions made in 2021, was made possible due to the increased use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics, modernizing Canada’s immigration system. Fraser reiterated though that even if there is an increase in usage of  AI, a human being is still responsible for every final decision in immigration applications.

Speed and Efficiency through Digitization

Digitizing the system has brought about a new era of efficiency and effectiveness in immigration processes. Advanced analytics have contributed to processing 98% of spousal Temporary Residency Visa (TRV) applications. New applicants can now expect a processing time of just 30 days, reflecting the massive productivity gains as a result of these technological advancements.

The Role of AI in Immigration

AI and advanced analytics aid IRCC in automating positive eligibility determinations, distributing applications between officers based on the characteristics of the application, identifying applications that may require additional verification, workload distribution, and assessing biometrics, amongst other aspects.

Humans Make Final Decisions

However, despite these advancements, there is a crucial human touch to every decision made. A clear assertion by Minister Fraser is that AI is not making any final decisions. There are no algorithms that will unilaterally accept or reject an applicant. Every final decision, be it approval or denial of an application, still comes down to a human officer’s evaluation. This is in place to protect the integrity of the process.

Addressing Concerns about AI and Bias

As this advanced technology is increasingly used to expedite and optimize the immigration process, concerns have been raised regarding potential biases and lack of transparency in decision-making. The Treasury Board Directive on Automated Decision-Making warns that algorithms based on historical data could inadvertently amplify race, class, gender, and other inequalities. To mitigate such risks, the government has imposed requirements for clear explanations of how administrative decisions are made. The federal government must provide reasonable and understandable explanations for individuals denied services or benefits, going beyond merely stating that a decision was made by a computer.

The Role of “Chinook” in Decision Making

One of the tools used by IRCC officers, “Chinook,” simplifies the visual representation of a client’s information. Despite concerns, the department clarified that Chinook does not use AI or advanced analytics for decision-making. It lacks built-in decision-making algorithms, underscoring the department’s commitment to human oversight in all decision-making processes.

Ensuring Equality and Transparency in Algorithm Development

To ensure equality and prevent discrimination, IRCC abides by the Directive in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms when developing algorithms. Each new algorithm must pass the Algorithmic Impact Assessment (AIA), a mandatory risk assessment tool measuring risk areas, mitigation, and the impact of the proposed algorithms. IRCC was one of the first government departments to use AIAs, highlighting its commitment to transparency and accountability.

Reactions to the New System

The changes and use of AI and advanced analytics have received mixed reactions. Some critics argue that long processing times are still a concern despite these advancements. However, others, see these changes as a positive shake-up. There is still a need for a deeper understanding of how these new technologies could potentially introduce biases or discrepancies.

Balancing Technology and Human Decisions

The IRCC is committed to maintaining the human touch in the final decisions on applications while embracing the benefits of advanced technology. The goal is to meet the needs of both clients and Canada and to welcome the highest number of newcomers in the coming years, with the assurance that every final decision is made in the interest of the individual and the nation.



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