Canada’s Immigration System: redefined and redesigned

In spring 2016 I had the opportunity to participate in a design challenge as part of an OCADU Masters level course: Policy Design and Innovation. As part of a team we looked at the Canadian Immigration system, specifically, the  family-class sponsorship process. We interviewed applicants, sponsors and successful citizens. We spoke with government employees and citizenship experts. We checked our assumptions and preconceived ideas while we discovered unknown situations just by listening to people’s stories.

We learned that what seemed like a linear process from the outside, was actually extremely complicated, fraught with confusion, uncertainty and stress. The difference could be illustrated as below:



Re-defining the beginning:


Naila and Saad- waited 18 months and during that time Saad was not allowed to work. Naila worked back-to-back contracts to keep up with bills.

By looking at the start of the family class sponsorship process through a different lens we saw that we could make significant improvements in the experience.

What we learned:

  • Where the beginning of the sponsorship process actually starts is a matter of perspective.
  • The beginning really matters and the choices people make early on can dramatically impact their experience. These beginning choices have implications for both the applicants and the IRCC later in the process.
  • From talking to both front line workers and applicants we discovered a real disconnect between the applicant’s reality and the IRRC’s perception of the applicant’s reality.

Ruby has been waiting 8 years for her sponsorship approval to come through.

If we want to improve the experience of the Family Class Sponsorship Program, the problem is not the process, the paperwork or the time required. The problem is the fear, stress and anxiety that the process creates for people. This insight, opened up the existing problem space and revealed a new set of opportunities to explore.

With this reframe, we asked ourselves:

  • How might we alleviate stress and anxiety for everyone – both applicants and IRCC?
  • How might we use the concept  of multiple beginnings as an advantage?
  • How might we improve the system by working outside of the system?

What if we could connect people at the beginning stages of the process directly to people who have successfully completed the process and eliminate the needless anxiety and worry that comes with not having anyone to turn to for questions and advice?

New Leaf Project Pal, or Pal.
The IRCC will connect those without adequate history, to a Pal, a person from the online community, who has gone through the application procedure and is willing to provide emotional and experience- based support.

What if we could give people credit for having been in the system already? People who have filled out their forms, who may have gone to school here, worked and paid taxes here already. Future citizens, who already have a clearly established Canadian History.

Advanced admission status.
The record of the applicants who have multiple beginnings counts for them in a points system collected on their application journey. From visa to citizenship and everything in between, the information will be saved in an online database.

These two interventions into the beginning of the application process can act as strategic levers for change and dramatically improve the Family Class Sponsorship Process – for both applicants and IRCC staff.

Results were presented to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in Ottawa.

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