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Permanent residency backlog persists despite progress, AG report says

A new report from the auditor general of Canada released Thursday warns that while progress has been made, the federal government must improve how it manages immigration programs to reduce permanent residency backlogs.

Karen Hogan's fall report also warns delivery of EI, OAS and CPP at risk because of old technology

A woman sits in front of a row of Canadian flags.

A new report from the auditor general of Canada released Thursday warns that while progress has been made, the federal government must improve how it manages immigration programs to reduce permanent residency backlogs.

Auditor General Karen Hogan's report also said the federal government doesn't know whether it is making progress reducing barriers and inequities for minorities, and must speed up efforts to modernize the delivery of employment insurance, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan to avoid a major outage.

Hogan's office audited eight permanent residency programs and found that despite efforts to reduce pandemic backlogs, most people applying for permanent residency were still waiting a long time for their applications to be processed.

The eight programs examined by Hogan's office fall into three classes: refugee and humanitarian, economic and family. While processing times improved for the economic and family classes, they worsened for refugees.

"At the end of 2022, about 99,000 refugees were still waiting for a decision on their application, and in the current processing environment, many will be waiting years," Hogan said in a statement.

The report says that most privately sponsored refugees waited about 30 months for a decision on their application compared to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada's (IRCC) expected delivery time of 12 months.

Only five per cent of refugees in this class had their applications processed within the 12-month timeline.

Most people applying under the Government-Assisted Refugee Program waited 26 months compared to the same standard. Only 26 per cent of refugees in this stream saw their applications processed in 12 months.

Delayed processing times

Hogan's report said the backlogs remained high for a number of reasons, including the department's decision to process newer applications ahead of older ones already in the queue.

The audit also found that IRCC assigned workloads to offices without first determining if those departments had the resources to do the work.

While the IRCC introduced digital portals to speed up application processing times for refugees, the benefits of that new system were not realized because most people applying were unable to access the portals.

"The department did not monitor the implementation of its new automated eligibility-assessment tool to determine whether the tool was reducing overall processing times or to identify and resolve any unintended differential outcomes for applicants," the report said.

Hogan said that IRCC needs to do a better job of understanding why it has backlogs, ensure the tools it uses are working to reduce them and resources are properly distributed to meet demands.

Delivering EI, CPP and OAS

The report also found that the information technology systems used to support the delivery of employment insurance, Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan were "decades-old and at risk of failing."

The report said the Liberal government's plan to modernize the delivery of these benefits is delayed and is putting the delivery of these benefits at risk.

The delivery system for OAS was supposed to be implemented this year, but it has been pushed to 2024, and could be pushed to 2025, the report found.

These delays increase the risk of a "major outage that could disrupt the delivery of benefit payments," the report said.

"While Employment and Social Development Canada's decision to focus first on migrating the systems rightly prioritizes the continuity of benefits, I am concerned that if challenges and delays continue, decisions could be made to remove aspects of transformation or take shortcuts to maintain the timelines or budget, as happened with the Phoenix pay system," said Ms. Hogan.

The auditor general's report also looked at how successful the federal government's initiatives have been in reducing known barriers and inequities in the workplace for racialized employees, and determined that none of the existing barriers were fully removed.

The report audited six agencies and departments that are responsible for safety, justice and policing, including: the Canada Border Services Agency, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Department of Justice, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Public Safety Canada and the RCMP.

It found that while a number of initiatives have been introduced to reduce barriers, they weren't tracked or measured to determine how well they were working.

"As a result, the six organizations did not know whether their actions had made or would make a difference in the work lives of racialized employees," the report said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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