IRCC to introduce advanced analytics and automation to speed up processing for spousal and partner sponsorship

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced that it will introduce advanced analytics and automated technology to process all spousal and partner applications under family class immigration.

The department has developed two new tools which will be used for different parts of the sponsorship application, in a bid to increase processing efficiency

What applications will these changes apply to?

According to the notice posted by IRCC, these processing measures will apply to all spousal and partner applications under the family class. Sponsorship applications for spouses, common-law partners and conjugal partners under family class immigration will be processed with these new tools.

How will IRCC implement these new processing tools?

Spousal and partner sponsorship applications have two parts: the sponsorship part (application by a Canadian permanent resident or citizen to sponsor their spouse/partner) and the principal applicant part (application to be sponsored by Canadian spouse or partner).

IRCC will implement a new tool in each stage, which will use rules developed by officers, and generated through machine learning based on past applications.

For the sponsorship part of the application, IRCC will use the first automation tool to identify cases that “can automatically be approved”, with the intention of reducing processing times at this stage. Applications that cannot be automatically approved at this stage will be sent to an IRCC officer for manual review.

For the principal applicant part, IRCC will implement the second tool to do a preliminary analysis of applicant eligibility. When the tool encounters routine applications, it is empowered to decide if a principal applicant is eligible and send the file to an IRCC officer to determine if an applicant is admissible. If an applicant’s eligibility can’t be automatically approved, the tool will send the application to an IRCC officer to be manually reviewed.

IRCC is clear that automation tools implemented in either stage cannot give final approval of an application—this responsibility continues to rest with a reviewing immigration officer. In addition, these tools cannot refuse, nor recommend refusing applications.

How will these tools impact spousal and partner sponsorship processing?

As part of the notice announcing the introduction of these new tools, IRCC affirmed its commitment to responsibly deploy “data-driven technologies” in line with privacy requirements and human rights protection. In line with this, the department has completed an algorithmic impact assessment (AIA) to determine the impact of these new tools on application processing. The AIA categorized the impact level as “moderate”, with the department also committing to additional measures to “mitigate possible risks”.

While it is currently too early to determine the impact of these new processing measures, IRCC has committed to previous implementations of technology and even artificial intelligence in the processing phase, that can provide some indication. In 2023, former Minister of Immigration, Sean Fraser, clarified that AI had been used in the processing of spousal temporary resident visa (TRV) applications, resulting in 98% of applications being processed, and a wait time of just 30 days.

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