N.L. working to ease application backlog as immigration interest increases
As of late May, processing time was double the guideline for key program
The Ball administration has stressed the importance of immigration to Newfoundland and Labrador's future, but people trying to come to the province through two key programs have recently faced longer waits in having their applications processed.
That's according to internal provincial briefing materials obtained through access to information.
The minister in charge of the immigration portfolio says there is a good-news reason behind the bad-news backlog — a big bump in the number of people seeking to come to the province.
"There is a little blip there for sure, but that's a blip because we've had a massive amount of demand," said Bernard Davis, the minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour.
According to Davis, there has been a 50 per cent increase over last year's number of applications.
"That's an impressive total by any stretch, in any business or any opportunity. So there is a bit of a stress in the system," he said.
Processing time double the standard
The internal document obtained by CBC News outlines the impacts of that "blip," as of late May.
Applications to the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program (NLPNP) are supposed to be assessed within 25 business days. Instead, the processing time was double that, or about two and a half months. (There is a second, federal portion that occurs after the provincial approval.)
And the combined number of applications in the queue for the NLPNP and the other provincial stream, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP), was triple the number from a year earlier.
There were 49 NLPNP applications in the line-up in late May 2018; the corresponding 2019 number was 88.
There was only one AIPP application in the queue in late May 2018; that number jumped to 68 in the same period this year.
"We have to process those files as best we can, and as efficiently as we can," Davis said.
He says a "record number" of applications were processed in June, which helped clean up some of the backlog.
And one of the five immigration officers handling those applications is soon expected to return from parental leave, which will also help.
(The number of immigrants settling in the province under those two programs don't include other types of applications such as federal economic, family sponsorship, or refugee applications.)
'People on the ground'
As a full-time immigration lawyer, Meghan Felt sees the impact of all of this on her clients.
She says the province is doing a good job, but more resources appear to be needed in the system.
And the consequences of longer processing times could be skilled immigrants deciding to go elsewhere.
"The government had mandated that they want immigration to increase in the province. If Newfoundland wants to remain competitive economically, then we need to increase the number of immigrants coming to the province," said Felt, who is a partner with McInnes Cooper in St. John's.
"And if we don't have the people on the ground in these offices to be able to process applications in a timely manner, then there seems like there's a bit of a disconnect there. So in my opinion, you know, it's a simple fix."
'Make sure there's opportunity here'
Davis says work is underway to assess that need going forward, and to come up with that fix.
He says the work of immigration officers is "highly specialized" and people can't be dropped into the positions for short-term employment.
"The long-term solution is more individuals processing the applications as the demand requires, and that's where we are right now," Davis said.
"We're addressing those situations. Hopefully, we'll be looking at those in the near future, because if this trend continues, we're going to need more support in that area, which is what we're looking for."
We're a welcoming place. We want to make sure there's opportunity here.- Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Bernard Davis
Davis stresses that there is another trend moving in the right direction.
The province had hoped to reach its annual target of 1,700 newcomers by 2022, but now expects to "smash" that total this year.
While that number is near the bottom of the list nationally, it's a big increase over prior years.
And a new target is expected to be unveiled soon, for an influx of more people to help address looming demographic challenges in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"It's great for the schooling system that we get younger families here," Davis said.
"We need a strong workforce. And these individuals, when they come here, provide [a] great, great amount of cultural diversity for our province … We're a welcoming place. We want to make sure there's opportunity here."