Operating context

​​The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB or the Board) carries out its work within a global environment of increasing migration flow and shifting mobility patterns. Over the past few years changing migration patterns, increased intake and processing capacity below intake have had a significant impact on the number and complexity of refugee cases received in Canada. This trend was most recently impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which reduced mobility around the world due to factors such as closed borders. As a result, the IRB received less intake of claims last year across all divisions.

Refugee claims and appeals

Border closures have resulted in significantly less intake of claims for the Refugee Protection Division (RPD). Between April 2020 and January 2021, the IRB reduced its RPD inventory of claims by approximately 14% or 12,900 claims, bringing the inventory close to 78,500. As of January 2021, the average wait time for refugee protection claims was approximately 24 months and the average age of claims in the inventory was 20 months. The primary focus for the Board in 2021–22 continues to be on processing claims in the existing inventory, with a priority on older claims.

The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) also faced lower intake of appeals between April 2020 and January 2021. This allowed the RAD to reduce its inventory of appeals by approximately 24% or 2,000 appeals from 8,400 at the beginning of April 2020. At the end of January 2021, the inventory of appeals stood close to 6,400 appeals, resulting in wait times of approximately one year.

Temporary funding provided in Budget 2019, and extended in the Economic Fiscal Snapshot 2020, will enable the Board to finalize 50,000 refugee protection claims and 13,500 refugee appeals in 2021–22. It is expected that the volume of refugee claim intake will continue to be lower than anticipated in the first half of 2021–22. Assuming COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and borders re-open in the second half of 2021–22, the IRB expects intake will return to or surpass previous volumes, at levels that will exceed the Board’s funded capacity going forward.​

Admissibility hearings, detention reviews and immigration appeals

Despite the impacts of the pandemic, the Immigration Division (responsible for conducting admissibility hearings and detention reviews of individuals detained for immigration reasons) continued to keep pace with divisional intake and meet legislative time limits for detention review hearings.

The Board continues to strengthen its immigration appeals and detention processes by reviewing and implementing changes, as required, to its Rules of Practices. This will help ensure administrative justice is fair, fast, and accessible. Work will continue with the Canada Border Services Agency and provincial correctional authorities to ensure decision-makers have access to those in correctional facilities to conduct detention review hearings, which have been impacted by the pandemic.

The pandemic has also had significant impacts on the IRB’s operating model across all divisions. During the first half of 2020–21, the IRB suspended in-person hearings while putting in place health and safety measures, invested in digital tools to support remote work for most employees, and introduced virtual hearings with the anticipation of an eventual return to in-person hearings. With the success of virtual hearings, and in order to sustain its operations, the IRB accelerated its transformation efforts and adopted a virtual hearing operating model in January 2021 with in-person hearings being conducted only in exceptional and urgent circumstances. This model prioritizes the health and safety of IRB employees and those appearing before the Board, while maximizing access to justice to the extent possible. This remote hearing operating model will remain in place for the foreseeable future and will underpin the Board’s operating context for 2021–22.

In response to its challenging operating context, IRB’s Growth and Transformation Agenda, centred on the pillars of improved productivity, strengthened quality and consistency in decision making, and strengthened management will continue to shape the Board’s plans and priorities. In particular, 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.