Focus: Express Entry online system full of glitches, say lawyers

Technical problems with online services at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada are threatening to overshadow the Express Entry revolution in immigration, according to lawyers in the field.

The new immigration system, launched in January of last year, uses a points system to rank prospective immigrants to Canada, then matches them to employers and provinces, with only the highest scorers in a particular draw invited to apply for permanent residence.

The fledgling system has received mixed reviews thanks to its unpredictable points requirements and bias towards applicants with a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment, but immigration lawyers seem to be united in their negative assessment of the online infrastructure designed to support Express Entry.

Some of the problems are so bad that the Canadian Bar Association’s national immigration section has requested an emergency meeting with the federal ministry to discuss them.

“There are parts of Express Entry that are good, and there are parts that work less well,” says Evan Green, a partner at Toronto immigration boutique Green and Spiegel LLP.

“The IT issues are huge,” he adds.

Green says filing can be delayed on applications for “two to three days” simply because the online representative portal, which lawyers and immigration consultants use to fill out applications and upload supporting documents on behalf of clients, is not working.

“The portal comes in fits and spurts throughout the day. I have staff checking it regularly, and when it’s up, you need to take that opportunity to do some data entry before it fails again,” he says.

Any attempt to get information on the problems from the government is diverted to a 1-800-number helpline, where the response is never any more reassuring, Green says.

“It’s always the same: ‘I’ll make a note and someone will get back to you,’” he says.

Ronalee Carey, an Ottawa-based immigration lawyer, says even when the representative portal is functional, it is often “painfully slow” or unreliable, with data disappearing from forms “like black magic.” On one occasion, she accidentally deleted a client’s entire travel history, one of the more time-consuming
entries on the application, by clicking her mouse in the wrong spot during a particularly slow screen transition.

“When the screen changed, it just happened to be hovering over the ‘no travel history’ button, and all 20 entries disappeared,” she says. “Now I have to be really careful to make sure I keep my mouse way over to the right of the screen so it’s not over something that could wipe out data. You would think it would be a simple fix to get a pop-up warning or something that asks if you’re sure you want to delete all this information from your form.”

The problems have begun affecting her fee estimates, Carey says, since it has become impossible to accurately assess how much of her time will be wasted due to technical difficulties beyond her control.

In other cases, the technical mishaps go beyond mere annoyance, says Carey. A glitch in the system caused another client of hers to receive an invitation to apply for permanent residence via the Federal Skilled Worker program rather than the Canadian Experience Class. The differing documentary requirements for each program have left her client with a denial based on an incomplete application, but rectifying the mistake has proven problematic.

Carey filled out a case-specific enquiry form to get answers from IRCC, but the current 30-day response time falls outside of the 15-day deadline to file for judicial review of the case in Federal Court. To keep her options open, Carey has had to file both on behalf of her client.

Case review enquiry response times are one of the problems identified by the CBA’s national immigration section as requiring immediate attention in its demand for an emergency meeting with IRCC officials, prompted by mounting member complaints. In his Jan. 15 letter, section chairman Stéphane Duval added two more particularly pressing procedural and client service issues:

• Web form inquiries not being reviewed and/or forwarded to the office handling the case;
• Applications filed via the representative portal having requests for additional documents to be submitted mid-processing, yet not opening ports for the documents to be uploaded.

Together, the problems have resulted in “numerous cases being closed or refused” for incompleteness, despite the fact that the requested documents have been provided either via the online portal or through more old-fashioned methods, such as couriers or e-mail.

“The additional documents are simply not being properly reviewed, noted, or matched up to the in-progress application,” Duval writes.

IRCC spokeswoman Nancy Caron said in an e-mailed statement that a meeting was scheduled last week between the parties in response to the letter, which warns that the CBA is maintaining a database of further issues and examples to “illustrate the systemic issues” at the ministry for discussion at a later date.

“In the meantime, people are out of work, damages are accruing, and there is no simple or expeditious way to resolve issues that stem from inefficiencies and problems with IRCC’s tools and service options,” reads the CBA letter, which ends on an optimistic note:

“We understand from prior consultations and presentations at our national conference and Ottawa meetings that client service is a key initiative for your office, and we would welcome the chance to work with you to resolve these critical issues,” Duval concludes.

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