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The Immigration Department of Canada is Undergoing Significant Transformations

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Last week, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced significant changes as part of a new plan to enhance its operations.

The former Deputy Minister of IRCC, Neil Yeates, authored a report on how the department could become more effective. IRCC had commissioned Yeates to assess whether the department’s existing structure was best suited to fulfill its mission. The Deputy Minister is the highest-ranking civil servant within a government department. They’re responsible for overseeing departmental management, policy implementation, strategies, and budget management in a non-political capacity.

The current Deputy Minister of IRCC, Christiane Fox, collaborates with the department’s minister, who is a political figure, currently Immigration Minister Marc Miller. The Immigration Minister’s role is to carry out the agenda of the elected government.

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Fox: IRCC ‘felt like crisis’

In a recent interview with journalist Paul Wells, Fox expressed that the Yeates report would have a substantial impact on the department’s future endeavors. When she took on her role at IRCC in July 2022, Fox conveyed to Wells that the new position ‘felt like a crisis’, with her colleagues at the department feeling stressed and fatigued. She emphasized the necessity for changes within the department, and while she didn’t intend to implement them immediately, she also didn’t want to wait for two years.

By June 2023, Fox had devised an action plan based on the Yeates report and consultations with public stakeholders, including IRCC applicants. Since then, she has been gradually introducing these changes.

Yeates: IRCC’s Organizational Structure Needs Upgrade

In his report, Yeates asserts that “the existing organizational model at IRCC is fundamentally flawed but is being upheld by the hard work and dedication of the staff.”

He recommends “a series of actions to realign the organizational framework (including a substantial shift toward a business line-based structure), reform the governance system, establish stronger management systems (particularly in planning and reporting), and foster a culture that better aligns with the department’s goals and objectives (including a consideration of an overall review of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and measures to better tap into the experience and expertise of diverse staff groups).”

Yeates elaborates on the multiple reasons why IRCC’s current model is flawed, with two key factors standing out. The challenging operating environment, within Canada and globally. And the significant growth of IRCC since its current organizational structure was introduced more than two decades ago. To illustrate this, Yeates points out that IRCC’s total workforce has expanded from 5,352 employees in March 2013 to 12,949 employees as of January 2023.

Key Recommendations from Yeates

In his report, Yeates presents recommendations spanning four key areas: Organizational Structure, Governance, Management Systems, and Culture. Here are the notable highlights of these recommendations:

Organizational Structure Recommendations:

  • Transition IRCC to a business line organizational model.
  • Establish protocols for crisis and emergency management, identifying Assistant Deputy Minister leads for various scenarios.

Governance Recommendations:

  • The Executive Committee should take on responsibility for finance and corporate services, absorbing the functions of the Corporate Finance Committee.
  • Create a new Operations Committee chaired by the Deputy Minister’s Office, responsible for taking on the functions of the Issues Management Committee.
  • Reevaluate the composition of these committees during the reorganization process, with a cap on membership at no more than 12.
  • Conduct a review of the division of responsibilities between IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) under IRPA to streamline roles and accountabilities.

Management System Recommendations:

  • Task the Deputy Minister with leading a new planning and reporting framework.
  • Develop a strategic plan spanning 3 to 5 years.
  • Implement an annual planning cycle covering all departmental areas, including HR, IT, financial, and program plans.
  • Institute a quarterly reporting system with ties to the department’s performance management efforts.

Culture Recommendations:

  • Review IRPA to assess if amendments are needed to better support desired outcomes, particularly in terms of improved service delivery.
  • Examine the training provided to staff involved in administering IRPA to ensure alignment with the department’s desired philosophy and approach.
  • Explore methods to incorporate the voices of IRCC’s diverse communities into the department’s governance structure.

IRCC’s Operating Landscape

Yeates provides an in-depth analysis of the various influences affecting IRCC, with the most prominent ones being:

Evolving Work Environment and COVID-19: The pandemic has permanently altered the nature of work, leading to an increase in remote work. There is now a general directive for employees to return to the office 2-3 days a week. While remote work has proven effective, its long-term impact on IRCC’s organizational culture remains uncertain.

Immigration Policy Assessment: The prevailing immigration narrative in Canada has rarely been challenged, and there is a lack of comprehensive documentation regarding the true impact of immigration. Therefore, conducting an immigration policy review at IRCC could prove beneficial in shaping the department’s future direction.

Digital Transformation: IRCC has secured significant funding for its Digital Platform Modernization. Such transformations are inherently challenging, especially for a department like IRCC with extensive responsibilities. 

Demand for IRCC Services: IRCC often faces higher demand for its programs than its processing capacity can accommodate, as measured by its service standards (the department’s processing time goals for each line of business). While IRCC has tools and resources to manage its application backlog, such as program caps, its inventories can quickly swell when demand exceeds processing capacity.

Growth of IRCC: As the demand for IRCC’s programs has grown, so has its workforce. In 2013, IRCC’s non-executive staff numbered 5,217, which has more than doubled to 12,721 by 2023. Executive staff has also increased from 135 employees in 2013 to 227 today.

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IRCC Adopts a Business-Line Model

Among the recent changes, the department underwent a reorganization last week, structuring itself into the following sectors:

  • Client Service, Innovation, and Chief Digital Officer
  • Communications
  • Corporate Services
  • Economic, Family, and Social Migration
  • Settlement Integration and Francophone Affairs
  • Strategic Policy
  • International Affairs and Crisis Response
  • Migration Integrity
  • Asylum and Refugee Resettlement
  • Citizenship and Passport
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Service Delivery

Fox clarifies that, in line with Yeates’ recommendations, the department is now organized around lines of business. This means that IRCC employees will be grouped based on the different client groups the department serves. And the organization will be more agile in responding to global developments. For instance, the newly established International Affairs and Crisis Response sector is designed to enhance IRCC’s preparedness for humanitarian crises and enable the formulation of effective action plans. IRCC regularly deals with such situations, as seen with its involvement in Ukraine last year, as well as recent initiatives for resettling Afghan and Syrian refugees, among other examples.

Fox also emphasizes the need for IRCC to adopt a stronger client-centric approach, where the department incorporates the perspectives and experiences of its applicants more prominently in its decision-making processes.

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