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Predictive/Advanced Analytics + Chinook – Oversight = ?

In September 2021’s issue of Lexbase, my mentor Richard Kurland, provides further insight into what happens behind the scenes of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) processing, specifically providing a section titled: “Overview of the Analytics-Based Triage of Temporary Resident Visa Applications.

At the outset, a big thank you to the “Insider” Richard Kurland for the hard digging that allows for us to provide this further analysis.

 

What the Data Suggests

I encourage all of you to check out the first two pages from the Lexbase issue, as it contains direct disclosure from IRCC’s Assistant Director, Admissibility opening up the process by way Artificial Intelligence is implemented for Temporary Resident Visas (‘TRVs’), specifically in China and India, the two countries that have implemented it so far. By way of this June 2020 disclosure, we confirm that IRCC has been utilizing these systems for online applications since April 2018 for China, August 2018 for India, and for Visa Application Centre (“VAC”) based applications since January 2020.

To summarize (again – go read Lexbase and contact Richard Kurland for all the specific details and helpful tables), we learn that there is a three Tier processing system in play. This filters the simplest applications (Tier 1), medium complexity applications (Tier 2), and higher complexity applications (Tier 3). While human officers are involved in all three Tiers, Tier 1 allows a model to recommend approval based on analytics, where as Tier 2 and Tier 3 are flagged for manual processing. IRCC claims that the process is only partially automated.

The interesting factor, and given we have been as a law firm focusing a lot on India, is how the designated of a Tier 2 file drives the approval rates from the high nineties (%) to 63% for online India apps to 37%  for India VAC applications. Moving to Tier 3, it is only 13% for online India and 5% for India VAC. The deeming of a file Tier 3 appears to make refusal a near surety.

What is fascinating is how this information blends usage of “Officer Rules,” the first stage filter which  actually precedes the computerized Three Tier triages and is targeted at cases with higher likelihood of ineligibility or inadmissibility.

The Officer Rules system would be the system utilized at other global visa offices that do not use the computerized AI decision-making of India and China. Looking specifically at the case of India, the Officer Rules system actually approves cases at a much higher rate (53% for online India, and 38% for India VAC).

These rates are in-fact comparable to Tier 2 moderately complex cases – ones that presumably do not contain the serious ineligibility and inadmissibility concerns of Officer Rules or Tier 3 . It suggests that the addition of technology can sway even a moderately complex case into the same outcomes as a hand-pulled out complex case.

Ultimately, this suggests that complete human discretion or time spent assessing factors can be much more favourable than when machines contribute to overall decision-making.

It Comes Down to Oversight and How These Systems Converge

Recently, we’ve been discussing in Youtube videos (here and here), podcasts, and articles about IRCC’s Chinook system for processing applications. Using an excel-based model (although moving now to an Amazon-based model in their latest version), applicants data are extracted into rows, that contain batch information for several applicants, presumably allowing for all the analytics to be assessed.

Given we know IRCC takes historic approval rates and data as a main driving factor, it is reasonable to think Immigration Officers are given these numbers as internal targets. I am sure, as well, that with major events like COVID and the general dissuasion of travel to Canada, that these goalposts can be moved and expanded at direction.

An excel-based system tracking approvals and refusals likely put these stats front and centre to an officer’s discretion (or a machine’s) on an application. Again to utilize a teaching analogy (clearly I miss teaching), I utilized a similar ‘Speedgrader’ type app which forced me, mid-marking, to often to revisit exams that I had already graded because I had awarded the class average marks that were too high. I have no doubt a parallel system exists with IRCC.

What this all means, as my colleague, Zeynab Ziaie has pointed out in our discussions, there are major concerns that Chinook and the AI systems have not been developed and rolled out with adequate lawyer/legal input and oversight, which leads to questions about accountability. Utilizing the Chinook example, what if the working notes that are deleted contain the very information needed to justify or shed light on how an application was processed.

My question, in follow-up, is how are the predictive/advanced analytics systems utilized by India and China for TRVs influencing Chinook? Where is the notation to know whether one’s file was pre-assessed by “Officer’s Rule” or through the Tiers. I quickly reviewed a few GCMS notes prior to this call, and though we know whether a file was pre-accessed, we have no clue which Tier it landed on.

Furthermore, how do we ensure that the visa-office subjective “Officer Rules” or the analytical factors that make up the AI system are not being applied in a discriminatory manner to filter cases into a more complex/complex stream. For example, back in 2016 I pointed how the Visa-Office training guides in China regionally and geographically discriminate against those applying from certain Provinces assigning character traits and misrepresentation risks. We know in India, thanks to the work of my mentor Raj Sharma, that the Indian visa offices have a training guide on genuine relationships and marriage fraud that may not accord with realities.

Assuming that this AI processing system is still being used only for TRVs and not for any other permits, it must be catching (with the assistance of Chinook’s key word indicators no less) words such as marriage, the names of rural communities, marital status, perhaps the addresses of unauthorized agents, and businesses that often have been used as a cover for support letters. Within that list there’s a mix of good local knowledge, but also the very stereotypes that have historically kept families apart and individuals from being able to visit without holding a study permit or work permit.

If we find out, for example, that filtering for complex cases only happens at visa offices with high refusal rates or in the Global South, does that make the system unduly discriminatory?

We acknowledge of course that the very process of having to apply to enter the borders, the division of TRV and electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) requiring countries is discriminatory by nature, but what happens when outcomes on similar facts are so discrepant?

In other areas of national bureaucracy, Governments have moved to blind processing to try and limit discrimination around ethnic names, or base decisions on certain privileges (ability to travel and engage in previous work), and remove identifying features that might lead to bias. For immigration it is the opposite, you see their picture, their age, and where they are from, and why they want to come (purpose of visit). As we have learned from Chinook, that is the baseline information that is being extracted for Officers to base their decisions on.

When – as a society – do we decide to move away (as we have) on what were once harmful norms to new realities? Who is it that makes the call or calls for reviews for things such as consistency or whether a particular discriminatory input in the AI system is no-longer consistent with Charter values?

Right now, it is all in the Officer’s discretion and by extension, the Visa Offices, but I would recommend some unified committee of legal experts and race/equity scholars need to be advising on the strings of the future, inevitable, AI systems. This would also unify things across visa offices so that there is less discrepancy in the way systems render decisions. While it makes sense that heavier volume visa offices have more tools as their disposal, it should not depend on where you live to receive less access to human decision-makers or to an equal standard of decision-making. We do not want to get to a place where immigration applicants are afraid to present their stories or speak their truths for fear of being filtered by artificial intelligence. From my perspective, we are better of being transparent and setting legitimate expectations.

What are your thoughts on the introduction of AI, the interaction with Chinook, and the need for oversight? Feel free to engage in the comments below or on social media!

Thanks again for reading.

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Three Common Mistakes Canadian Immigration Applicants Make When Documenting Employment/Personal History and My New Strategy

Recently, I have had a major increase in misrepresentation consultations and other related issues with one common starting point: incorrect work/personal history that either Canadian immigration has found or will eventually find out about.

There are several forms that canvass work/personal history. This ranges from initial application forms (IMM 1294, IMM 1295, etc.) to the IMM 5257E Application for a Temporary Resident Visa Forms, to the dreaded IMM 5669 – Schedule A.

Excerpt from IMM 1294 form

Each form (and accompanying instructions) often ask for the materials a different way. Some forms ask for only employment history, whereas others as for a full ten-year history. Complexities also arise when certain visa offices want a full personal history starting from the age of 18, but do not make these instructions apparent at the outset, requiring them later in request letters.

What often happens is a hot mess of unclear work dates, forgotten travels, mistaken residences, and IRCC analyzing all of these for possibly material misrepresentations that may impact officer assessment.

To make things even more complicated, misrepresentations can extend to past applications, even if it is attempted to be corrected. Memories are imperfect, what is required to be disclosed is confusing, and unfortunately perfectly innocent applicants can make devastating mistakes.

While there are some positive trends in judicial interpretation, the law around misrepresentation in Canada is harsh: a five-year bar from Canada (and from applying for permanent residence) regardless of the intent of the error or omission, and a thin-exception for innocent misrepresentation.

In this post, I look at three common mistakes I see applicants (and their representatives make) and how to avoid them. I will close with a new approach I am taking to documenting work history for my clients on temporary resident applications.

 

Mistake 1: Omitting Material Personal History/Blurring Dates Together

There are several sub-mistakes under this category:

[1] Applicants often include only their last position held, rather than to breakdown the various positions within a company

This one may seem innocuous now, but on a PR application or when facing an employer’s reference letter that paints a different picture this could be an issue. Often times these dates are also contradicted by public information you may have about yourself online, such as your LinkedIn profile or a biography you hastily submitted to a third-party who has posted it online.

Visa Offices also have many internal tools at their fingertips. For example, for China, they have access to a quite comprehensive ‘legal persons’ registry for businesses. Particularly for entrepreneurs or businesspersons who own multiple businesses, failures to disclose one (even if it is unclear whether it constitutes employment or ownership) could constitute misrepresentation. This was the fact pattern in the Federal Court’s decision in Sun v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2019 FC 824 (CanLII).

My rule of thumb is to over-disclose rather than under-disclose if there are no inadmissibility risks to the additional details being disclosed and it may set forward a good groundwork to get ahead of a potential issue or pave the way for a future application. If your disclosure of the item could affect your eligibility, consider whether applying on misrepresented information could come back to haunt you in the future.

Yet, many times the information being omitted is not itself going to change the decision of the Officer, but the very omission of the information could impact the Officer’s processing or review of the requirements, which could make it a material misrepresentation.

 

[2] Applicants often don’t include periods of unemployment, self-employment, and educational pursuits

Often times Applicants only provide just the formal work/employment history and forget to include the personal history. Again, the forms make it a bit confusing. In the description of the form, it asks for employment history, but in the fine print it may say to include periods of unemployment or leave no gaps. Another challenging aspect is that certain applications (co-op work permits and post-graduate work permits) do not actually require full disclosure of work history, whereas other applications (temporary resident visas inside Canada) do. We play it safe by including a running 10-year history for all applicants, regardless of it is a requirement.

This often rears its head as an issue when a visa is refused for lack of continuous study or lack of relevant employment history demonstrating there are opportunities in the country of residence. When it is only indicated that one is ‘unemployed’, the literal interpretation  the Officer will take is that you are at home doing nothing. Trying to start up your own business or taking pre-requisite courses for a formal program of study, is not sitting home doing nothing and may be very material. Failure to include this initially could create discrepancies later (see mistake 3 below).

 

[3] Applicants do not disclose sufficient details in the personal histories

In my work often reviewing materials for refused clients, often who applied the first time themselves or less competent counsel, there are common themes.

Rather than put detailed descriptions of position or title – words such as “employee” or “management” or “police officer” are used. Alternatively, when discussing employment rather than put the company or school name, answers such as “restaurant business” or “self-employed” or put down. Immigration Officers may want to conduct an inadmissibility inquiry into your former work place, or verify that you indeed worked for said employer or that such a company/organization exists.

If there is an admissibility concern or clarification to be made, make sure to make it on a letter of explanation or clarify (see attached). Too often I see clarifying explanation missing until after a Procedural Fairness Letter (PFL) is received. This is often times far too late in the game.

 

 

Mistake 2: Not Correcting the Mistake When IRCC Gives You a Chance (Requests vs. PFLs)

When IRCC notices an inconsistency (and depending on what visa office and what type of application), there may be the opportunity provided to fix an inconsistency. Commonly, especially if a misrepresentation is not apparent on the surface, a request letter will be issued offering an opportunity to clarify or seeking further information. `

The tendency with request letters, I find, is to blindly try and answer them as soon as possible. Applicants immediately take a defensive position, without thinking at that stage that the request letter could be the set up for an A16(1) IRPA (failure to truthfully provided requested documents) or worse yet, an A40 IRPA (misrepresentation) refusal. Given the withdrawal of an application is unlikely to be granted after a PFL is issued and the leg work is all but done at that stage, it is as the request letter stage that clarifications need to be sought and legal arguments made.

Repeated errors in providing accurate information or misunderstanding request letters could later lead to further challenges arguing innocent misrepresentation or seeking discretion later on in the process.

 

Mistake 3: Not Keeping Adequate Records and Inconsistencies Between Applications

Visa Offices such as those in India (especially Delhi and Chandigarh) and China (Beijing) now utilize artificial intelligence tools that will be able to spot an inconsistency instantaneously.

Before submitting an application, if possible, compare your forms with previous forms submitted. Better yet, request or obtain (by access to information) a copy of all final forms before a representative submits any application for you.

Another discrepancy I see is with address history, travel history, and work history on forms. Where these do not align, and particularly when it comes to permanent residence applications that look into where work was performed and where the Applicant was located, and whether or not the claimed work matches with past records – this becomes ever so important. Virtual work or work through multiple client sites is becoming more popular, and failure to properly document this in respective applications may complicate things when permanent residence rolls around.

 

My New Approach: Focusing on Forms First, and then Attachments

In the past, a move I did (and one I know many counsel mirror) is to put “please see attached” on the work history sections or personal history sections of some validated temporary resident forms and then add a work document. This option will not be available with the new online temporary resident portal, which like Express Entry do not allow you to move on to the next page until there are no gaps. In the interim, what I am suggesting with the validated forms is still to list as much as possible on the form and then add ‘see attached’ on the final line before continuing.

The reason for this is that IRCC has been focusing on auto-populating systems like Chinook that appear to extract information directly from forms into their internal processing system. I am worried that my attached table found at the back of my rep’s submission letter is missed by a processing agent or in review. We know increasingly that the Officers are only accessing the information extracted for their review and are under a major time crunch. This little tip might help practitioners and self-reps.

 

Some Positive News: Court Critical on IRCC’s Need for a Materiality Analysis of Misrepresentation

While misrepresentation is often a death trap for an immigration application, the Federal Court has recently been pushing back on the tendency of IRCC to equate a mistake as misrepresentation, without an analysis of materiality.

In Alves v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2021 FC 716 (CanLII), Justice Manson allowed a judicial review after finding that an Officer’s finding of misrepresentation was unreasonable. The Applicant disclosed one of his previous refusals to the United States, but had omitted an earlier one.

Justice Manson writes:

[19] However, an officer must consider the totality of the evidence before the decision maker (Koo v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)2008 FC 931 at para 23). The Officer, in this case, failed to recognize the potential significance of the mitigating evidence, as it relates to the finding of misrepresentation without meaningfully coming to grips with the facts before the Officer. Instead, the Officer broadly found that the Applicant had […]

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The Problem With Education Agents Performing Unauthorized Immigration Services

It has come to my attention recently that the very important section 91 of IRPA is often misinterpreted by education agents so let’s break it down a bit.

Representation or advice for consideration

  •  (1) Subject to this section, no person shall knowingly, directly or indirectly, represent or advise a person for consideration — or offer to do so — in connection with the submission of an expression of interest under subsection 10.1(3) or a proceeding or application under this Act.

  • Marginal note:Persons who may represent or advise

    (2) A person does not contravene subsection (1) if they are

    • (a) a lawyer who is a member in good standing of a law society of a province or a notary who is a member in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec;

    • (b) any other member in good standing of a law society of a province or the Chambre des notaires du Québec, including a paralegal; or

    • (c) a member in good standing of a body designated under subsection (5).

Many educational agents or unauthorized consultants claim that they are able to help for free or a recovery administrative fee basis because they are not being paid immigration service-related fees directly by the client. This unfortunately is an overly narrow reading of s. 91 IRPA.

If the application’s success (i.e. student getting a seat at the school) pays you, you are receiving consideration (albeit on what we often call ‘contingency’). Furthermore, even if you do not actually sign a Use of Representative Form but are contributing (i.e. advising) as it pertains to immigration advice on a study permit application – you are advising with respect to an application.

It is also not simply good enough to have a ghost-signing RCIC on your contact list, or hire one internally for your organization. While the former might squeak by on ethical standards or not get caught, the second clearly does not change the issue of consideration. Furthermore, in most cases if you try and seek remuneration or some benefit back, that too could constitute consideration. For example, if an RCIC promises you to send all of their possible student referrals for schools, while you send it back to them for the immigration work, that could constitute consideration in relation to an application for both of you.

I have heard from a colleague that often times educational consultants or former RCICs will contact newer consultants, hoping they can utilize them to help sign-off on immigration applications. In exchange, work is promised and fees are split. Be very cautious of these arrangements with respect to your own level competency but most importantly your obligation to the clients to disclose where their fees are going and who they are being split with. As lawyers, we have strict ethical obligations not to split fees with third-parties other than lawyers. While the wording is much looser currently for consultants, expect the new regulatory/ethic codes for the College to step up significantly on this front.

When representing your client’s best interest (which in some cases may be withdrawing or deferring one’s admission or choice of educational institution), reaping benefits from an institution paying you to recruit for them is indelibly a conflict.

Whenever I advise a student from any institution where I might even have the slightest advisory relationship, I always disclose in writing what that relationship is and ensure they know that my advice will be confidential. Another common book in the shady educational agent playbook is to have the agent act as a ‘family friend’ or ‘relative’ or in the worst cases I have seen even attempt to stand in for the client. Remember, as a practitioner, your regulatory obligation to confirm your client identity – which includes asking the individual to turn their camera on to confirm they match the ID they provided.

 

I wish IRCC made Section 91 Clearer and Provided Examples

IRCC has been touting for quite awhile recently a very pro-self representative angle. While it is laudable that IRCC is making their platforms much more self-representative friendly, one of the consequences has also been the use of this language to support further ghost consulting and undisclosed consulting. I have seen agents, in the guise of being family friends or interested parties, assist on immigration applications and even appoint themselves as counsel, full well-knowing they will benefit from the student if the application is approved.

The way it currently works (in almost all cases other than rare exceptions in one Province in Canada) is there is no requirement for institutions to disclose to the student, what percentage of their tuition goes to the agent, no requirement for the agent to disclose to their student client, what percentage they are making, and ultimately the immigration process becomes this barrier or vehicle. I cannot think of any other industry where there are no checks and balances.

 

What Should the Role of Education Consultants Be in Canada? Should They Be Provincially/Nationally Regulated? I Argue Yes.

Overall, Canada needs to have a honest assessment of the role we would like education agents to play in our immigration system. They are inevitably a gatekeeper of institutional opportunity. They are able to expand a school’s reach into countries and communities and give them business leads. Taking a free market approach, shouldn’t schools be unrestrained in their ability to fill seats (i.e. if one is willing to pay, then why not)?

The problem at the heart of international student recruitment though is you are dealing with vulnerable populations of younger individuals, unaccustomed and unfamiliar with the laws of Canada or standard business practices. Many students come from countries where one cannot get an elite opportunity without paying up for it – relationally or financially. When someone offers an opportunity, sugarcoats it, does not disclose their full interest, this can create harm and perpetuate serious misunderstandings with the rules-based, due process laws and regulations we try to promote here and a broad. A student who is unaware of what they are getting themselves into in Canada, the true cost of tuition, and the realities of the city they are moving to – this can create further harm from a mental health aspect.

On the other hand, Canada is losing tons of money (we’re talking 10% – 25%) of a student’s first year tuition. I have also heard of arrangements that go beyond just the first year and are continuous upon enrollment. These entries are also the launching point often for other labour-based exploitation practices. A quite common practice abroad is for an educational agent to secure a seat for a client in Canada and then work with other recruiters to then find the student employment via an LMIA to transition them off studies they never wanted to attend in the first place.

It is indisputable that educational agents contribute directly to the high cost of international tuition, one that has had a major impact on student well-being, but also of their families around the world. Imagine if the 10% to 25% per student went to actually providing international students with resources – proper school counselling services, academic advisors, wellness and cultural staff to help them adapt and deal with the culture shock and emotional letdown that a new environment can bring along.

In my mind, the very least that needs to be done is professional regulation. As it is in Manitoba (although I have questions about the follow-through), all DLIs should be required to share their list of recruiters/agents publicly.

There also should be clear regulation that every agent who also performs immigration services, must also be s.91 IRPA compliant, vetted somewhere during the study permit process.

If I had it my way, similar to what is occurring with foreign workers in representative spaces, I don’t believe any one who has a contingency interest in the student obtaining a seat (i.e. student recruitment) should also be providing immigration services on that file.

Finally, I would also set a mandatorily-disclosed max cap or range for student recruitment to ensure educational agent fees do not extend to an ongoing yearly exploitation or result in the offshoring of tens of thousands of dollars per student.

There are certainly barriers to this. I understand there also may be Provincial/Federal jurisdictional issues, as most labour recruitment issues are Provincial. Many Provinces were also pressured by institutions not to require tracking or registry of student recruitment agencies.

I know such an opinion might make me extremely unpopular in student recruitment circles, but I have to think first and foremost for my clients, the students, who are often given poor advice, a pipe dream, and a major tax on their admission to Canada – with nobody watching or caring for their well-being.

My two cents on this important issue and a topic that is sure to rise to prominence in the years to come. In a future post, we will look at what other countries do to regulate this and as well explore how Manitoba is doing with their model. More to come for sure!

 

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Will Tao is an Award-Winning Canadian Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, Writer, and Policy Advisor based in Vancouver. Vancouver Immigration Blog is a public legal resource and social commentary.

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