Chinook: Immigration Canada’s new tool for immigration applications
In early 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) admitted to using a new tool called Chinook to assist in the processing of temporary resident applications. While this innovative tool allows for a greater volume of cases to be processed, it also raises several concerns about its transparency and fairness.
Developed in 2018, Chinook is a Microsoft Excel-based tool that reduces the amount of time spent downloading and reviewing information. Built in a modular fashion, Chinook provides administrative support for different stages of the application evaluation process, depending on the module used. The different modules can assist IRCC officers in steps such as file management, indicator management, and pre- and post-decision management. It has been designed to facilitate and simplify client information by the way it displays the information stored in the Global Case Management System (GCMS), the IRCC’s processing and recording system.
The biggest change lies in the way the information is presented to agents. Chinook has multiple modules and allows agents to pull information from the GCMS for multiple applicants at the same time. Thus, the agent can have up to 1,000 different files displayed together, which would allow them to review the information more quickly and then make a decision using the built-in note generator. The tool can also record decisions and generate reasons for the decision made by the agent. This allows GMCS users to be more productive, allowing them to process a larger number of files. However, notes made by officers when reviewing applications are not transmitted to GMCS and are therefore automatically deleted after the Excel file is closed at the end of each session.
While the federal government is touting Chinook as the solution to large file processing, some object to it for its lack of transparency. Indeed, Chinook was created without legal oversight, according to documents filed with the Federal Court of Canada. The tool, which is effective because of the way it presents information in a succinct manner, also affects the evidence sent by applicants. Indeed, it summarizes documents that can be hundreds of pages long in a few lines. It is difficult to know and understand what and how Chinook selects the information and whether this summary has an impact on whether an application is accepted or refused. It has even been reported that the reasons given for a refusal sometimes do not correspond to the files and evidence submitted by the applicants, marking discrepancies between the facts and the reasons for refusal.
To counter these criticisms, the federal government insists that Chinook is not artificial intelligence and that IRCC officers are the ones who make the final decision, a decision guided by the Immigration Refugee Protection Act and Regulations (IRPA/IRPR). They argue that the tool does not change the decision-making process, but simply provides a more efficient way of presenting information. Requests are still processed on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, it is a tool that remains optional to decision-makers and is in no way mandatory. Some federal government officials have explained that the similarity in the reasons given for refusals can be explained by the standardization of the IRCC’s internal procedures and processes.
In response to this last point, critics point to the fact that the arrival of Chinook largely coincides with an increase in the number of study permit refusals. Indeed, it is reported that in 2018 the refusal rate for international students was 34%, while in 2020 this rate was as high as 53%. It has been shown that this affects students from French-speaking African countries in particular, such as Cameroon, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Republic of Congo, with a refusal rate in 2020 higher than 80%. In the past year, several actions have been filed by study permit applicants in the Canadian Federal Court for the unreasonable refusal of their applications. It is conceivable that with this increase in the rate of refusal, such litigation will increase. The federal government, for its part, emphasizes that the refusal and acceptance rates for visas have always varied from one year to the next, and that it is up to the applicants to make sure that they meet established IRCC criteria.
The debate highlights the strengths and weaknesses of Chinook, but also shows how this is part of a larger challenge for the Canadian immigration system. It reflects the current issue of increased demand and a system that is trying to adapt and cope with it. The use of a tool aimed at optimizing decision-making processes in the current context is certainly understandable. Yet the allegations of a lack of transparency and the use of Chinook leading to allegations of unreasonable decisions are challenges for the federal government to meet as it increasingly relies on tools such as Chinook to streamline its processes.
For more information on Chinook and the IRCC: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/transparency/committees/cimm-feb-15-17-2022/chinook-development-implementation-decision-making.html