Good morning, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Neil Yeates and I am Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
I'm accompanied by Claudette Deschênes and Les Linklater.
I would like to thank the committee for inviting me to speak today on the findings of chapter 3 in the Auditor General's report.
First, simply to make it clear, the department does agree with the Auditor General's recommendations related to adopting service standards and more generally improving service delivery. As the Auditor General observed in her report, the department has already taken some steps to improve our services to the public, both in Canada and overseas. But I'd also like to take this opportunity to point out to the committee that it is challenging for CIC to introduce timely service standards for business lines where we have no control over intake.
Our immigration plan sets limits on how many applications we will process in a year; however, in many immigration streams there is no limit on the number of people who can apply. We receive high volumes of applications, processing capacity is limited, and the levels plan determines, ultimately, how many people can be admitted each year. This can result in long delays while cases wait for active processing and it makes it difficult to set timely service standards.
I would also like to note that each case is processed on an individual basis in full accordance with the law. In order to ensure applications are processed accurately and fairly, this can take longer in some cases. Errors or incomplete information in forms, missing information, or other inconsistencies can cause further delays in processing a case. Despite these challenges, CIC remains committed to improving its services to applicants and our processing times. Indeed, we've made some recent progress.
This year, CIC piloted initiatives that have shortened processing times for business visitors and many students through the business express program and the student partners program. It also accelerated processing of sponsorship applications from Canadian citizens and permanent residents who had close family members who were significantly affected by the earthquake in Haiti. As well, the global case management system, GCMS, is currently being rolled out overseas, and it will be implemented in all overseas missions by the end of March 2011. This will improve CIC's processing efficiencies, since staff will have access to an applicant's information in one integrated system.
In addition to improving our processing times, we have expanded our online services and increased the use of online applications, in order to provide more accessible and efficient services.
Our goal is to make it easier for people to apply online, by helping applicants overcome the often confusing information overload that may lead some to seek the services of an immigration consultant.
Expanding our online services has significantly improved the application process by providing more accessible and efficient services, and CIC intends to make all types of applications available online in the future. The department is also developing video tutorials that provide step-by-step instructions on completing application forms. We expect these videos will help increase the efficiency in processing applications, since they will help reduce the number of errors on the forms.
Our online services are now also available on a mobile site. This enables applicants to access our services whenever they are on the move, wherever they are in the world, and whenever is most convenient for them. Indeed, we are committed to establishing an online relationship between applicants and CIC through the use of electronic accounts, application forms, and status updates. This means we would be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The department has also entered the foray of social media to further engage applicants and the broader public. Through Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, we've begun an ongoing dialogue with the public about our policies and programs. We are also publishing the most current processing times on the CIC website for applications in all immigration categories. This provides applicants with access to the most accurate and timely information available.
Despite making information more easily accessible for applicants, we understand that members of Parliament are often approached by their constituents for information on the status of their application. And CIC is looking to improve its immigration reference document intended specifically for senators and MPs.
By engaging applicants in an online relationship, CIC is empowering applicants and we are also improving our online services in other ways. For example, we are developing an interactive online tool that matches individuals with the immigration option that best suits them.
Based on the recommendations from the OAG's report, CIC also began work this year to improve our collection and analysis of feedback and complaints from applicants, and through our website we've begun online consultations on our current service standards to understand applicants' perceptions of these and the CIC's service declaration. We will also launch a survey of applicants by the end of this fiscal year, and the results should be available next year.
The results will inform future work on improving our service standards and setting new ones. We plan to report on these results publicly.
This year we introduced service declaration and service standards for four services, and we will implement a second phase of service standards on April 1, 2011. The second phase will incorporate the lessons learned so far, together with feedback from applicants from the implementation of phase 1 on April 1, 2010.
These are some of the ways we are working to improve service and address the Auditor General's recommendations. Ultimately, we aim to improve service standards for all of our key business lines.
I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.