IRCC introduces new method for calculating processing times for some applications

Edana Robitaille
Published: May 3, 2024

A recent announcement by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) says that the department will now publish anticipated processing times online using forward-looking processing times.

This is to help applicants predict the length of time it will take to process their applications.

The updated processing times will be available for several high-volume immigration programs including:

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Changing how processing times are calculated was flagged as necessary in a report by the Office of the Auditor General last October. The report made several recommendations regarding how IRCC calculates application processing time and communicates this with clients.

Specifically, the report said that “online information on processing times should be provided for all PR applications, taking into consideration the volume, and age, of applications already in inventory.”

This update to how processing times are calculated is one of IRCC’s first steps to addressing many of the report’s recommendations. Updated service standards can be expected by the end of this year.

Service standards are the length of time that IRCC deems reasonable for issuing a final decision on an application. The service standard varies depending on the type of application. For example, spousal sponsorship applications have a service standard of 12 months while a permanent residence application through an Express Entry program should take no more than six months.

How do forward-looking processing times work?

IRCC says this method of estimating the time it will take to issue a final decision on an application is based on the total number of applications in the queue and the number of applications the department expects to process.

It notes it can vary depending on variables including admission spaces within the annual Immigration Levels Plan, processing capacity and seasonal changes in the types of applications received.

Historically, IRCC has estimated processing times based on the amount of time previous applications have taken to complete, or issue a final decision on. The department says it bases backward processing times on how long it has taken to process 80% of applications in the past 6 months for permanent residence programs, and 8 or 16 weeks for temporary residence programs.

This method will still be applicable for temporary residence applications such as study permits, work permits and visitor visas.

Should you reapply?

IRCC advises clients who have already applied to one of the programs using the new processing time method not to reapply. It says ,“If you have already applied, you are closer to the front of the queue. Applications will still be processed in the order we receive them, and in most cases, you will wait no more than the new forward-looking processing time for a final decision.”

IRCC's Current backlog

IRCC regularly updates the number of applications in inventory and distinguishes between those that are processed within service standards and those that are not. These applications are in backlog.

IRCC aims to process 80% of applications across all lines of business within service standards.

The most recent data, as of March 31, shows that there are currently a total of 2,121,200 applications in inventory. Of these, 1,320, 000 are within service standards and the remaining 892,000 are backlog.

The department further breaks it down by application type. For example, there are 746,000 total applications in inventory for permanent residence. Of these,440,000 are within service standards and 306,000 are backlog.

Temporary residence (work, study and visitor visas) data shows that 538,600 applications were backlog and 665,400 were within service standards, adding up to 1,204,000 temporary residence applications in inventory.

Of note, 46% of study permit applications are in backlog. This is not unexpected due to recent changes in Canada’s international student program. IRCC now requires that all provinces issue Provincial Attestation Letters (PALs) to all international student applicants accepted to a designated learning institution. IRCC introduced this change in January and most provinces did not have a system in place for issuing PALs until March.

Of the 262,000 citizenship applications in inventory, 214,000 were within service standards and the remaining 47,400 were backlog.

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