September 1, 2022—New Waterford, Nova Scotia—Canada continues to be a destination of choice for people looking for a new place to work, study, and build their lives. That’s why Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is striving toward a modernized and digitalized immigration system to further expedite processing and give newcomers the experience they expect and deserve.
Today, the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, visited an IRCC application processing centre in New Waterford, Nova Scotia, to announce new online services across our immigration system, helping to improve client experience and reduce the backlogs.
Reducing wait times
To help further reduce wait times, and building on the hiring of 1,250 new employees to tackle the backlogs and increase processing capacity, the Minister will exempt permanent and temporary residence applicants who are already in Canada and meet certain criteria from the immigration medical examination requirement. Simplifying this process in the coming weeks will impact approximately 180,000 clients by helping them save time and money on the medical examination process and reducing wait times on their applications.
To quickly process family reunification applications during the pandemic, IRCC began conducting telephone and video interviews with sponsors and applicants. Despite public health challenges, by pivoting quickly, the department was able to welcome more than 69,000 spouses, partners and children in 2021. By modernizing our services and adding support where needed, we have now returned to the pre-pandemic service standard of 12 months for all new spousal sponsorship applications.
Now, as restrictions are eased globally, IRCC has resumed in-person interviews at Canadian and international offices. To provide spousal sponsorship clients with increased flexibility, the department will continue to offer virtual interviews to clients where possible. We are also working at expanding the availability of virtual interviews at our overseas offices, including through a pilot project allowing spousal sponsorship and other clients to take part in virtual interviews at some visa application centres rather than having to travel to a visa office.
Expanding online applications for permanent residence
IRCC is also taking measures to modernize how we deliver services to applicants for our permanent residence programs. Today, the Minister announced that, as committed in January 2022, access to the online application portal for clients has now been expanded to the majority of permanent residence applicants. IRCC will begin transitioning to 100% digital applications for most of our permanent residence programs on September 23, with alternative formats available for people who require accommodations.
Providing better information to clients
In February 2022, IRCC also launched a new application status tracker that allowed permanent residence applicants, sponsors and their representatives in the spouse, partner and dependent child categories to more easily check their application status online. By spring 2023, we will have expanded this application status tracker to include 7 more permanent residence and temporary residence programs. We also introduced a citizenship application status tracker for clients in May 2021, which will be expanded to include access to representatives this month.
To help clients make their plans with greater confidence, IRCC is making further improvements to our online processing times tool to provide more accurate information. Starting this fall, IRCC will publish forward-looking estimates of how long it will take to process an application, increasing predictability for applicants.
Modernizing the citizenship program
Since the onset of the pandemic, IRCC has also been pivoting to offer more online service options for citizenship applicants, including virtual ceremonies and online citizenship tests. We launched a new tool in August 2021 that allows most citizenship applications to be submitted online. The tool is open to applicants age 18 and over, and has now expanded to allow groups of adults to apply together. IRCC intends to expand this tool to offer online applications for minors under the age of 18 by the end of the year.
IRCC continues to set the bar higher for processing so Canada can keep benefitting from all that newcomers have to offer to communities across Canada. We will keep finding ways to modernize and digitalize our immigration system, giving clients the experience they expect, and reinforcing Canada as a destination of choice around the world.