The number of temporary residence applications processed by IRCC has increased to over 2 million. Due to the new volumes of cases the refusal rate for applications has increased radically.
Study permit applications have increased, due in part to the fact that during the pandemic visitors could not enter Canada and students were allowed to enter the country and processing of study permit applications has continued. Another important reason is because studying in Canada is one of the most flexible ways to immigrate.
The overall refusal rate for 2020 was 53% compared with 34% in 2018, with sharp increases in refusal rates for the largest source countries with students coming to Canada. India, Mexico, Colombia have seen their number of refusals to peak.
As more qualified students received refusals, more are seeking recourse in Federal Court from the unreasonable refusal of their applications. Genuine international students have seen their dreams frustrated with unfair refusals and have chosen to challenge IRCC decisions at Federal Court level, which is great because is has set new precedents. Remember, that law in Canada is based in the common-law system and these new precedents set the law for the upcoming cases and years.
Earlier this year, a case was tried at Federal Court involving a student from Ghana (Ocran v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) and IRCC chose to disclose the use of a processing tool that is has developed to deal the higher volume of applications: Chinook.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an affidavit from one of the developers of the Chinook system in Ocran and the affidavit revealed for the first time the foundations and operational details of Chinook in IRCC applications. Chinook is an Excel based tool developed in-house by IRCC to allow visa officers to review applications more quickly and the mechanism by which the final decisions are recorded and reasons for decisions are “generated” in this tool.
Chinook has a number of modules and allows visa officers to pull information from the GCMS system for many applications at the same time, review the information and make decisions and “generate notes” in using a built-in note generator, in a fraction of the time it previously took to review the same number of applications. For a while, I have been advocating not to rely on GCMS notes, this is one of the reasons.
In the last two months, the Canadian Immigration Lawyer Association (CILA), which I am part of as a founding member, has been able to obtain certain portions of the training manual for Chinook from Access to Information requests. The extensive training manuals demonstrate that the Chinook tool has been adopted across IRCC’s network of visa offices and contains detailed instructions for processing applications and factors to be considered.
Looking at some of that information myself and the more I am learning about how this particular “efficiency-enhancing tool” operates, the more concerned I am about the lack of effective oversight on the decisions being generated and the violation of several principles of natural justice.
The Excel spreadsheets generated by a visa officer when they use Chinook allows them to review up to 1,000 applications at the same time and while visa officers have the opportunity to make notes as they review files, their working notes are not transferred back to the GCMS system once the decision is finalized and the Excel sheets are deleted at the end of each session. This means that if you really want to know what the notes of the officer are, you may have no option but to judicial review your case. The question now turns to the likelihood of succeeding in judicial review.
In order to have a successful study permit application, I recommend seeking professional legal advice from a lawyer. It has been common that study permit applications are filed by study agencies (illegally, since they have no licence to do so), or by immigration consultants (who are NOT allowed to act in Court and, who in general, do not have the training to prepare the precedents for a matter, should it it be reviewed at Federal Court level). Applications for study permit are more than just filling out forms and showing enough funds to cover your expenses.
IRCC is being challenged with an increasing number of judicial reviews for making unreasonable decisions. Hence, preparing a strong application since the beginning, will set a step forward and strong precedent to even prevent an application to be judicially reviewed. Officers know when applications are prepared to be followed through all the stages and they will think twice before a refusal.
If your application has been already refused and you wish to reapply, understand that requesting GCMS notes will not aid your case. You may need to even judicial review your case to get full written reasons of the rationale of the officer who made the decision on your case.