The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be the most significant factor influencing the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada's (IRB, or the Board) operating context. The Board carries out its work within a global environment of increasing migration flow and shifting mobility patterns. Prior to the pandemic, changing migration patterns and increased intake had a significant impact on the number and complexity of refugee cases received in Canada. However, the pandemic has resulted in reduced mobility around the world due to factors such as closed borders. As a result, the IRB continues to record lower intake levels across all
four of its divisions, but volumes are increasing. It is expected that intake will remain lower than usual until COVID‑19 restrictions are fully lifted, and all borders are opened internationally. The IRB anticipates intake to return to or surpass previous volumes at levels that will exceed the Board's funded capacity going forward.
The IRB's additional temporary funding, of nearly $600M until March 31, 2023, has allowed the Board to make gains against its backlog of cases. However, these gains are at risk due to the possible post-pandemic surge and the sunsetting of funds in 2022–23. To address funding capacity, the Board will continue to seek additional funding to build its internal capacity. This includes helping manage the increased referral volumes and sustained increase in the average length of detention reviews.
The COVID‑19 pandemic will impact the IRB's operating context for the foreseeable future. While the adoption of a virtual hearings model has been quite successful in increasing the IRB's productivity and offering access to justice for many, limitations still exist, including access to technology for some parties and hearings involving highly sensitive matters. The IRB continues work on determining its future hybrid hearings operating model and a future hybrid workplace model. These will only be implemented once health conditions stabilize.
The IRB will continue to respond to challenges within this operating context by leveraging its
Growth and Transformation Agenda. The Agenda—centered on the pillars of improved productivity, strengthened quality and consistency in decision‑making, along with strengthened management—will continue to shape the Board's plans and priorities. This Agenda will continue to support the IRB's vision of being a high‑performing, competent and increasingly digital tribunal, contributing to an accessible, fair, and efficient immigration and refugee determination system.
Refugee claims and appeals
A reduction in inventories across the Board could continue due to border closures. Since the start of the pandemic, there has been significantly less intake of claims for the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) and with the adoption of a virtual hearings model for most claims and a focus on less complex claims, the RPD has reduced its inventory of claims by 37% as of the end of December 2021. However, this reduction creates new challenges for the RPD including a higher proportion (compared to pre-pandemic) of more complex and older claims in the inventory, which take more time to resolve.
The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) could continue to experience limited pandemic‑related disruptions to its operations as most RAD decisions are rendered without a hearing. This, combined with lower intake levels, resulted in a 43% reduction in the pending inventory as of the end of December 2021. While this is encouraging, this is seen as temporary as intake is expected to rise as RPD output increases when border restrictions are completely lifted.
Admissibility hearings, detention reviews and immigration appeals
Despite the impacts of the pandemic, the Immigration Division (responsible for conducting admissibility hearings and detention reviews for permanent residents and foreign nationals who are detained for immigration reasons) is expected to continue to keep pace with intake and meet legislated time limits for detention review hearings.
The Immigration Appeal Division's reduced inventory is expected to remain low. The decrease in intake is the result of the pandemic and the resumption of operations in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020–21 following the temporary suspension of in‑person hearings.