Improved call centre services and smoother application tracking processes are among the stand-out recommendations that have been submitted by a Parliamentary Committee that has completed its work on the Modernization of Client Service Delivery at the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). The Committee has submitted a list of 24 recommendations to Parliament.
The report takes its cue from the premise that “immigration is a life-changing journey for individuals who should not be frustrated by processes and bureaucracy.” Consequently, the recommendations aim to alleviate the acknowledged frustrations felt by stakeholders.
These stakeholders include prospective visitors and immigrants, employers and sponsors in Canada, lawyers and consultants (known as authorized representatives), as well as permanent residents seeking citizenship, and citizens seeking passports.
The workload shared by IRCC staff should not be underestimated. Last year, the department handled more than two million temporary resident applications alone, with customer service interactions totalling many times that number. In addition to applications for temporary entry to Canada, IRCC handles files relating to permanent residence, refugees (including protected persons), citizenship, and passport requests made by citizens.
Indeed, streamlining the call centre so that advisors and agents specialize in particular areas of expertise is among the recommendations made by the Committee.
Access to case-specific information in a timely manner, and improved online interaction with IRCC for applicants, employers, and representatives alike are also among the recommendations. Based on stakeholder feedback, it was also found that the frequency with which IRCC updates its forms, often without advance notice or a transition period, is a great cause of frustration, particularly when it may lead to a file being returned.
Below is a complete list of the recommendations submitted to Parliament by the Committee. Each recommendation applies to the department of IRCC, currently headed by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen.
Call Centre improvements
Train all Call Centre agents on client service excellence and on how to communicate with people who may have limited English or French speaking abilities.
Provide a standard process to facilitate calls between a client and a Call Centre agent when an interpreter is used.
Have a 15-minute standard for clients to be connected with an advisor or agent for all Call Centre operations.
Consider including specializations and subject-matter experts for Call Centre advisors and agents based on application type, including (1) temporary residence, (2) permanent residence, (3) refugees, including protected persons, (4) citizenship and (5) passports.
Consider, as part of the redesign of its website, using (1) client-centric design principles to produce digital channels for each business line, (2) plain language, (3) languages other than French and English, similar to what the Government of British Columbia is doing, and (4) virtual assistance.
Make improvements to “My Account” to allow clients to view and print applications before filing and during processing, and allow applicants to maintain a complete record of every application filed.
Improve the ability for applicants and their representatives to link paper applications with online accounts.
Provide alternative payment methods for individuals without access to online payment services and credit cards, such as returning to the previous policy of accepting proof of payment at a bank.
Providing more frequent and useful information
Contact clients via email or other channels when (1) processing exceeds times provided at the time of application (2) an incorrect payment is made (3) common or simple errors are made on the application.
Implement an online portal for clients and authorized representatives to track application progress, including but not limited to: (1) current status of the application, (2) any reasons for delays, (3) an estimated time for decision and (4) any missing information or complications with the application.
Provide more information and details to clients on the reasons for negative decisions.
Examine ways, in collaboration with partners and stakeholders, to increase the number of pre-arrival service sessions available, including attendance, in Foreign Service locations.
Ensure Members of Parliament and Senators continue to have access to the Ministerial Enquiries Division.
Regularly review all application forms to (1) simplify the form, (2) improve the client experience, and (3) evaluate common patterns in mistakes and errors made on applications.
Establish a process for notifying applicants when forms are changed and establish a mechanism to ensure that completed applications submitted with once-current forms are not rejected due to form changes.
Consider establishing service standards and processing times for all business lines and publish the standards on the website.
Extend the validity period of work permits from six months to one year to take into account processing times at the department.
Performance Measurement and Client Feedback
Offer automatic client service feedback forms for applications to the department.
Review key performance indicators for all client service channels and review best practices from other immigration systems around the world, such as those of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Create a “Reconsideration Committee” to deal with reconsideration requests within applicants’ 15-day deadline.
Continuous Improvement in Customer Service
Conduct “client service and delivery” consultations with customer and client service experts, the private sector, former and current clients of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and all Canadians on how the department can better provide service.
Consult with refugees to determine their issues with client service and take steps to address them; the review would include (but would not be limited to) the website, Call Centre, languages used, access to technology and payments.
Work to better serve Canadian businesses and employers by studying the possible benefits of the department creating a trusted employer program to offer employers an expedited service for assessments (subject to a fee); that this study include input from Canadian businesses and employers; and that IRCC make its findings available to the Committee.
Conduct a cost‑benefit analysis on having regional immigration offices to deliver in‑person service similar to Passport Canada and Service Canada locations.
In its summary, and with a nod to its audience of Members of Parliament (MPs), the report notes that a huge amount of constituency work is related to immigration, and therefore Parliamentarians and their staff spend much of their time dealing with such work.
“It is our hope that the recommendations in this report will assist IRCC in its continued efforts to modernize its approach to client service and at the same time reduce the need for intervention from Members of Parliament,” the report concludes.
The Committee, which met on four occasions between December, 2016 and March, 2017, has requested a response from the federal government to the conclusions and recommendations. Among the 10 Committee Members were six Liberals MPs, three Conservative MPs, and one New Democratic Party MP.
“While the department does good work much of the time, it is acknowledged by stakeholders that there is a way to go before we can say that it is fully optimized to ensure a smoother, less stressful process for all,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“It is refreshing to see that politicians of all stripes have come together and spoken with one voice. Hopefully this will lead to concrete action on the part of the government, which, to its credit, has done plenty of positive work on improving IRCC service standards since taking office toward the end of 2015.”
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