Like many other countries, Canada is struggling to process the large volume of visa applications following the lifting of entry restrictions. Over the past year, the Canadian Immigration Service (IRCC) has been working hard to reduce this backlog. Processing times for eTA Canada applications have always remained relatively short.
Causes of the delays
On 7 September 2021, Canada reopened its borders to tourists and other travellers, including those with a travel purpose requiring a physical visa. As a result, the volume of visa applications increased tremendously. Even to such an extent that most visa applications could no longer be processed within the average processing times that were common during the pandemic.
Besides the large volume of applications, there was a shortage of staff at the immigration department. As the IRCC had less work due to COVID-19, many employees left. As a result, the IRCC did not have enough employees at the time when travel restrictions were lifted and the number of visa applications increased. The shortage of staff at the immigration department is therefore another cause of the backlog.
Over the past year, the government itself as well as the Immigration department in Canada have done everything possible to prevent the processing time of visa applications from increasing further. This included investing heavily in hiring and training new staff and deploying existing staff to the busiest departments.
By December 2021, the backlog had reached 1.8 million applications to be processed. Besides clearing all applications in this queue, the Canadian government hoped to welcome 411,000 immigrants in 2022. This target was later raised to 431,000 immigrants, and it seems that Canada could still meet this figure before the end of the year. In any case, 2022 will be the second record year in a row, after 2021, when Canada welcomed 405,000 immigrants. The last time Canada received a record number of immigrants was 1913.
Meanwhile, the processing time of applications has recovered or even shortened compared to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Processing backlogs have clearly been reduced, but not yet completely gone. However, in the last few months of 2022, the IRCC caught up tremendously and reduced the backlog by almost half a million applications.
Thanks to this catch-up, the goal of processing at least 80 per cent of new visa applications within service standards has almost been achieved. There has also been a record number in the total volume of visa applications processed this year. The count now stands at around 4.8 million visa applications processed, almost twice as many as last year. Indeed, a total of 2.5 million visa applications were processed in 2021.
Processing of temporary visas
Temporary visas, including student, work and visitor visas, are also increasingly being processed within the normal average processing time again. In November 2022, 80,000 more temporary visa applications were processed than in November 2021. Moreover, more visa applications were processed monthly last year than before the pandemic. The IRCC says this catch-up is due to improvements in digitisation and automation of procedures. As a result, staff take less time per application.
UK travellers generally don’t experience such long waiting times. This is because they are eligible for an eTA Canada. The eTA is not a visa, but a digital travel authorisation to fly to Canada. This travel authorisation has existed since 2013 and both the application and processing process are completely digital.
To apply for an eTA Canada, travellers must meet a number of conditions. If travellers meet all the conditions, they can complete the digital application form online. Besides the standard contact and travel information, a number of details about the traveller(s) need to be filled in here. These include passport details such as passport number, as well as employer information. In addition, some background questions need to be answered for all travellers. Finally, one has to agree to the agreement form and the eTA can be applied for.
Once the form is fully completed, IRCC officials can see at a glance whether the applicant meets all the requirements. The fully digitised process ensures that eTA applications can be vetted quickly. Applicants who meet all requirements therefore receive their eTA within 3 days in most cases.