Flagpoling: How some Canadian visa holders are avoiding long processing times

Julia Hornstein
Published: May 30, 2023

“Flagpoling” is the nickname for when foreign nationals with temporary status in Canada leave by crossing the border, enter the United States, and then immediately re-enter Canada to get same day immigration services.

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Flagpoling is a completely legal practice. It can be done at any point of entry but is generally done at land border crossings, particularly in Ontario’s Niagara region.

The main advantage of applying for a visa through flagpoling is that you bypass processing times, which can be lengthy, depending on the type of visa and where you submit the application. In comparison, during flagpoling, your visa application is processed on the spot, so you do not need to wait to see the result of your application.

In addition, when you flagpole, you hand the required documents to a person standing in front of you. If there is an issue with the application, the immigration officer can let you know, and the error can be fixed. When applying through regular application routes, an error or mistake can cause your application to be delayed.

Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data shows that 21,452 people flagpoled in 2022. CBSA encourages people to apply online through Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's (IRCC) website and avoid flagpoling, as immigration applications are not their primary mandate. However, it has become so common that CBSA has set up certain dates and times at some border crossing to accommodate people intending to flagpole.

The practice is becoming even more common as IRCC's backlog persists.

IRCC’s service standards and backlog

IRCC service standards provide an expected timeline for how long application processing should take. However, the service standard is different from the actual amount of time IRCC takes to process applications. The applications not processed within service standard timing are classified as backlog.

IRCC aims to process 80% of its applications across all lines of business within a reasonable amount of time, depending on the type of application. For example, spousal and family class sponsorship processing time is 12 months, while an application through Express Entry is six months.

As of March 31st, IRCC application backlog was around 2 million people across all immigration, work, study and sponsorship categories. Of that 2 million, about 1.1 million applications are within service standards, and almost 900,000 are in backlog.

For applications such as temporary residence and permanent residence, about 50% of applications are within service standards. In comparison, 75% of citizenship applications are within service standards.

IRCC has said that they are taking action to reduce the backlog and process 80% of applications within their service standards. According to an article by CBC on flag poling, IRCC said it’s trying to shrink the backlog by “digitizing applications, hiring and training new staff, and harnessing automation technologies”.

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