Immigration Canada’s backlog stands at 1.8 million people, but there are signs of improvement

Kareem El-Assal, Shelby Thevenot
Published: February 9, 2022

IRCC's inventory remains at 1.8 million persons as of February 1, however there are signs of progress among immigration, study permit, and citizenship applications.

CIC News received the newest Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) inventory data via a media request. The backlog includes applications from future citizenspermanent residentsinternational studentstemporary workers, and visitors.

Adding up these categories brings the total to 1,815,628 persons waiting for decisions. In December, the backlog was at 1,813,144 persons. The difference means the backlog has increased by 2,484 persons in a span of 48 days, a growth of 0.1 per cent.

Compared to the 1 per cent growth observed between October and December, the backlog appears to be slowing down. In October, IRCC reported a backlog of 1,791,936. Before that, the Toronto Star reported it was about 1,448,000.

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Note on data reporting

The data below represents the number of persons currently awaiting processing by IRCC.

CIC News is reporting the February 1 data exactly as it was provided by IRCC. Unlike previous data obtained by CIC News, the newer data provided by IRCC does not provide a breakdown of IRCC's inventory under every single one of its economic, family, refugee, and humanitarian class programs.

Permanent residence backlog is down by over 29,000 persons since October

The permanent residence inventory has decreased by 29,165 applications since October.

Most of the improvement has come under the economic class, which has seen a decrease of over 25,000 persons in inventory, followed by the family class, which has experienced a decrease of over 9,200 persons in the backlog.

Immigration categoryPersons as of February 1Persons as of December 15Persons as of October 27Difference (October 27 - February 1)
Economic Class230,573234,770255,587-25,014
Family Class102,222105,298111,443-9,221
Humanitarian and Compassionate
& Public Policy
Permit Holders
Protected Persons158,778157,658152,827+5,951
Grand total519,030525,270548,195-29,165

Permanent residence backlog down since December

If we only focus on progress made since December, we see the immigration backlog has decreased by 6,240 persons.

The economic class has seen a drop in the inventory of nearly 4,200 persons since December while the family class has inventory has dropped by nearly 3,100 persons.

Immigration categoryPersons as of February 1Persons as of December 15Difference
(December 15 - February 1)
Economic Class230,573234,770-4,197
Family Class102,222105,298-3,076
Humanitarian and Compassionate/Public Policy27,43627,520-84
Permit Holders Class2124-3
Protected Persons158,778157,658+1,120
Grand total519,030525,270-6,240

IRCC now processing an average of 800 FSWP applications per week, compared with previous average of 150 per week

IRCC is beginning to process Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) applications at a higher rate.

In early December, CIC News reported that IRCC was finalizing an average of 600 applications per month. This is notable because the FSWP has been Canada's main skilled worker immigration program since 1967 and as of June 2021, Canada had lifted travel restrictions on all immigrants, giving IRCC an added incentive in theory to begin to process more FSWP applications.

The reason, however, IRCC was processing such a small number of FSWP applications per month last year was so it could focus on landing as many in-Canada applicants as possible in support of its goal to land 401,000 immigrants in 2021.

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The newest data now shows that IRCC is beginning to prioritize more FSWP applications as the FSWP inventory has fallen by nearly 4,800 persons since December.

This means over the past six weeks, IRCC has been processing an average of 800 FSWP applications per week, compared with its average of just 150 per week throughout most of 2021.

What may also give FSWP applicants more hope is that IRCC processing tends to slow in December due to the winter holidays. This suggests IRCC should be in better position to continue processing a higher rate of FSWP applications throughout 2022.

The backlog of Canadian Experience Class (CEC) applications is also down significantly which should not come as a surprise. It consisted of 48,225 persons in October and then fell to 24,675 persons in December. It now stands at about 15,100 persons which is a decline of over 9,500 persons since December.

This suggests that IRCC will erase the CEC inventory within the coming months. The low inventory of CEC applicants is a function of IRCC prioritizing their applications in 2021 to support its achievement of its 401,000 newcomer target. In addition, IRCC has temporarily paused Express Entry invitations to CEC candidates since September so it can reduce its inventory and improve its processing times for Express Entry applicants.

Minister Sean Fraser has repeatedly stressed the pause in Express Entry invitations to both CEC and FSWP candidates (which has existed since December 2020) is temporary and that invitations to them will resume once IRCC is more comfortable with the size of its inventory.

It is worth noting the primary sources of inventory growth among economic class applicants since December have come through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and Caregiver Program. The PNP inventory growth can be explained by both IRCC and the provinces and territories continuing to issue invitations to PNP candidates throughout the pandemic to support the economic needs of Canada's regions. Express Entry invitations to PNP candidates continue to happen on a bi-weekly basis, usually on Wednesday, while the provinces continue to hold PNP draws in regular intervals, ranging from each week, to several times a month, to once every few months, depending on the province.

The growth in the Caregiver Program inventory can be explained by the reopening of two IRCC Caregiver pilot streams in January. The two streams accept up to 2,750 applications each and given their popularity, tend to fill up shortly after IRCC reopens the streams at the start of each year.

Immigration categoryPersons as of February 1Persons as of December 15Difference
(December 15 - February 1)
Canadian Experience Class (EE)15,13924,675-9,536
Caregiver Program (Caring For Children Program)16,08512,539+3,546
Federal Self Employed (Federal Business)5,3964,999+397
Federal Skilled Workers (EE)49,75154,529-4,778
Provincial/Territorial Nominees (EE + no EE)68,68239,325 (EE) + 27,421 (no EE)+1,936
Quebec Business (Quebec Investor)14,11714,610-493
Quebec Skilled Workers25,26327,048-1,785
Total Economic Class230,573234,770-4,197

Family class inventory down by 9,200 applications since October

The inventory of family class applications is down by over 9,200 persons since October. Much of the decrease has come through the Parents and Grandparents Program. In recent years, IRCC has held a PGP lottery and then given invitees a window to submit completed PGP applications. IRCC then spends the remainder of the year processing the applications, before opening a new intake. Details on the PGP 2022 are not yet available, but we do know IRCC's goal is to land 23,500 immigrants under the PGP in 2022.

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There has been a slight decrease in the spouses, partners, and children inventory, with it declining by nearly 1,700 persons since October. One explanation as to why it is more challenging for IRCC to reduce this inventory is it continues to accept applications on a rolling basis.

IRCC says its processing standard for new spousal applications has returned to the service standard of 12 months processing and in addition, it has recently introduced a new portal to allow spousal and children sponsors and applicants to review the progress of applications.

Immigration categoryPersons as of February 1Persons as of December 15Persons as of October 27Difference
(October 27 - February 1)
FCH-Family relations - H&C3,3503,4653,719-369
Parents and Grandparents36,04638,12243,223-7,177
Spouses, partners, children, other family62,82663,71164,501-1,675
Total Family Class102,222105,298111,443-9,221

Temporary residence backlog up by nearly 73,000 persons since October

The study permit inventory has declined by over 9,600 persons since October but the overall temporary residence inventory is up by nearly 73,000 persons over the same period.

The increase can be also be largely explained by the fact IRCC continues to accept temporary residence applications on a rolling basis. Demand for various temporary residence categories has increased throughout the pandemic.

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For instance, demand for work permits is strong due to reasons such as Canada's worker shortages, the large number of international students transitioning to Post-Graduation Work Permits (PGWP), and existing work permit holders seeking extensions on their status in Canada. One major change in recent months is the temporary pause in CEC invitations is resulting in more CEC hopefuls looking to extend their temporary stay in Canada until they can submit an immigration application.

Overall, Canada has offered more temporary residence policies amid the pandemic to allow those in Canada to remain in legal status so they can apply for permanent residence, contribute to the economy, and avoid potential hardship of travelling back home during the pandemic.

The improvement in the study permit inventory may be explained by January being among the busiest periods of the year for new international students to arrive to Canada in time for the start of the winter academic session.

TR categoryPersons as of February 1Persons as of December 15Persons as of October 27Difference (October 27 - February 1)
Study Permit112,185122,476121,806-9,621
Study Permit Extension26,47924,46124,551+1,928
Temporary Resident PermitN/A6,726N/AN/A
Temporary Resident Visa420,097403,752384,733+35,364
Visitor Record65,09360,49959,589+5,504
Work Permit85,52678,08073,177+12,349
Work Permit Extension139,218123,880111,885+27,333
Grand total848,598819,874775,741+72,857

Among the most notable changes since December are the increases in persons submitting Temporary Resident Visa (TRV), work permit, and extension applications. One potential explanation for the rise in TRV applications is that Canada lifted travel restrictions on all tourists as of September 2021. As noted, the rise in work permit and extension applications can be explained largely by a combination of Canada's tighter labour market and the increase in temporary residents in Canada during the pandemic.

TR categoryPersons as of February 1Persons as of December 15Difference (December 15 - February 1)
Study Permit112,185122,476-10,291
Study Permit Extension26,47924,461+2,018
Temporary Resident PermitN/A6,726N/A
Temporary Resident Visa420,097403,752+16,345
Visitor Record65,09360,499+4,594
Work Permit85,52678,080+7,446
Work Permit Extension139,218123,880+15,338
Grand total848,598819,874+28,724

Citizenship backlog has decreased by 20,000 persons

IRCC reported the backlog for citizenship applicants was standing at about 448,000 on December 31, 2021. On October 31 of last year, there were around 468,000 citizenship applications in the inventory. In 61 days, the citizenship backlog decreased by 20,000 applicants.

In its email to CIC News, a spokesperson from IRCC said in all of 2021, Canada processed more than 206,000 citizenship applications. Compared to 2020 when IRCC processed 80,000 citizenship applications.

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IRCC's efforts to improve processing times and client experience

On January 31, Minister Fraser announced that Canada is planning to make 147,000 permanent residence final decisions in the first quarter of 2022—double that from the same period in 2021. Fraser also said IRCC's $85 million budget will allow processing service standards to return to normal for study permits, work permits, and permanent resident card renewals by the end of the year.

IRCC has hired about 500 new processing staff, digitized applications, and reallocated work among IRCC offices around the world. Since public health measures reduced in-person services, IRCC has brought some paper-based immigration programs online.

The Minister will announce Canada's new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024 with the next few days which will give us a greater sense of which permanent residence applications IRCC will prioritize moving forward.

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