Will Tao
Will Tao

Today, we are thrilled to bring you a guest post from Vancouver-based Canadian immigration lawyer, Will Tao on some of the key recent technological developments impacting immigration processing in Canada. You can learn more about Will here.

Will – take it away!

Among the several buzzwords one could select to describe the developments of Canadian immigration law and policy in 2015, ‘technological change’ is arguably high on the list.

This year has seen somewhat of a technological revolution in immigration processing in Canada.

These changes include:

  1. The introduction of Express Entry, Canada’s algorithmic-based economic immigration system replacing the previous first-come, first-serve paper process of applying for permanent residence as an economic immigrant.
  2. Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s International Mobility Program, in charge of processing work permit requests for Labour-Market Impact Assessment-exempt temporary foreign workers, introduced a required virtual form, IMM5802, and employer compliance fee. This is a new requirement.
  3.  Electronic Travel Authorization, although not officially required until March 15, 2016, creates a process by which visa-exempt travelers will need to obtain e-clearance prior to entering Canada as visitors. This is also a new requirement.
  4. Several provinces, including British Columbia and Saskatchewan have incorporated electronic, point-based, management system for several of their provincial nomination programs. These electronic programs replace paper-based processes.

With these changes, immigration practitioners (lawyers and consultants) have been slowly coming to grips with the fact that technology will play a bigger role in their practices. Some of the strategies that I have seen employed on an increased level over the past year include:

  1. Increased use of technology to gather information from potential clients in advance of advising them on their immigration applications (e.g. interactive surveys, questionnaires);
  2. Increased use of technology and applications to manage communication, progress, milestones and document exchange with clients (e.g. use of apps such as Slack, and client booking sites such as Kabuk);
  3. Increased use of technology as a means of establishing communication with, and advising, clients who are located in other cities/countries around the world; (e.g. use of Skype, Chinese-based WeChat to communicate with clients).

I expect technology to continue to play a key role impacting both the immigration process offered by the government, and the legal services offered by practitioners. Marco Campana has conducted some research finding that new immigrants to Canada, as a group are, extremely technology savvy.

I would add that new immigrants, generally speaking, may also be more time-sensitive (by virtue of their employment and family obligations) and legalfee-sensitive (by virtue of the already high costs of settlement). Providing technological solutions that can help bridge these challenges may lead to the development of a larger client base while saving valuable lawyer hours.

New Ways Technology Will Impact Immigration Law, Policy, and Procedure

Should the current government be re-elected, the Prime Minister has made clear that part of his increased security measure includes increased biometrics requirements that may eventually cover all visitors to Canada. This meta-data, much of it which will be shared between partner government agencies and even partner nations, will operate primarily through electronic means.

New Canadian legislation recently passed regarding the sharing of Social-Insurance Numbers between CIC and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) that will mostly be done through technological processes. Social Insurance numbers serve like a “financial biometric” that will allow immigration officials to track an individual’s residency and tax compliance.

In another area of the law, aircraft carriers have recently been trained by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on new processes to gather and share advance passenger information. Exit controls systems are currently in the works, which will allow CBSA to similarly track exits from Canada where previously only entries to Canada were recorded.

It is safe to say that immigration officials may know just as much, if not more, than the immigrant themselves thanks to the new technological changes the Government is implementing.

We also know that technology is set to affect other long-standing practices in immigration law. The Immigration Appeal Division, in particular, is in the process of taking steps that will make the burden-heavy process of appeals more technology friendly. Some of the proposed solutions they are examining include the use of electronic filing and ways for immigration practitioners and hearings officers to communicate in advance on issues such as settlement and alternative dispute resolution.

What Immigration Lawyers May Try To Do to Respond

Reaching Clients Through the Use of Technology

From my personal research, it appears that many law firms are slowing down their production of long-winded law firm news updates and newsletters, choosing instead to live tweet or advertise via media commentary. Others have started to switch to virtual-based videos and podcasting. Clearly, the issue is one of the lawyer’s time and the interest of a more informed client-base looking for quick answers and not long-winded explanations.

Today’s clients are also much better informed coming into consultations, having done their own research first. In many cases lawyers will find that clients have visited several forums and blogs and may have more knowledge (not all of it correct) than the lawyer may have themselves in a particular field. Lawyers will have to reconsider their value-add in these circumstances, particularly if the advice they provide is more readily available through a quick Google search.

However, technology must also be used cautiously for fear of issues such as false advertising. As lawyers increase their use of technology (much of it automated) to advertise and market to potential clients, there is increased risk that inadvertent messages can be sent to clients or services and competencies can be oversold and under delivered.

Better Manage Practices and Make Technology a Value-Add

There appear to be several ways technology can be used to better manage immigration processes.

For example, with Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC) introducing significant administrative monetary penalties (AMPs) that increase the risk of hiring a foreign worker, it seems only fitting that data management software will be released soon, I suspect by some savvy start-up app company, to assist employers in managing that risk. Such software could arguably track requirements pursuant to the AMP and simultaneously track employee statistics, informing the Employer of any anomalies or compliance issues. I see similar technology being utilized in the context of international students, where immigration authorities are cracking down on study permit holders who are not actively engaged in studies.

Another area where you can expect technology to play a bigger role is in legal project management of immigration. As technology allows lawyers to handle a larger volume of files, issues such as processing times, deadlines, and application timing become harder to manage. The use of project management software by lawyers, accessible by their clients, may be a solution to this problem.

However, just like in the context of marketing, technology as a process-enhancer can be a double-edged sword. Software that purport to auto-populate application forms can be subject to glitches and may hinder, rather than help, where explanations by way of counsel’s submission are necessary. Broad misrepresentation rules that focus on effect rather than intent may punish Applicants for lawyer’s software glitches.

What about Alej – Technology’s Role in Increasing Access to Justice in the Immigration Context?

In her August 2015 speech to the Canadian Bar Association at the National Legal Conference in Calgary, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin dedicated almost the entire speech to the way technology is a change that the law cannot escape from.

She also noted that technology has the potential to play a huge role in access to justice, providing regular Canadians more access to legal information. Indeed, the Canadian Bar Association’s biggest social media campaign is around #WhatAboutAlex, a fictional individual who represents the challenges ordinary Canadians have with access to justice.

One direct benefit I can see with technology and access to justice in the immigration context (lets call it Alej), is the ability for legal aid organizations to work with individuals overseas or those in Canada who are physically unable to access a legal clinic. The creation of more virtual legal clinics and virtual forms of legal advocacy may also encourage more lawyers to volunteer their time, knowing that they can do so over a lunch-time Skype call as opposed to having to take a few hours out of a day to attend a legal clinic.

I note that CIC itself, by virtue of making more virtual resources available in third-languages and more virtual representatives available to answer applicant’s questions, can and must also play a vital role in the Access to Justice crisis.

Conclusion: Technology will never fully replace human lawyers in Immigration Context

Unlike in the realm corporate due diligence or litigation preparation, Canadian immigration law appears to be an area of the law where technology will never fully replace human lawyers. The administrative and discretionary nature of immigration of the laws and policies, ensure that a human lawyer making human inquiries and human submissions will always be a necessity.

At the same time, technology has the benefit of facilitating the process of interacting with immigration officials, building client trust and rapport, and overall creating a more consistent process and outcome.

Technology is a double-edge sword, for sure, but certainly one of much opportunity.

About the Author

Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C. He practices in all areas with a particular emphasis on assisting clients with complex refusals or developing creative business immigration options. He is a freelance writer and columnist, as well as being the founder and principal writer at Vancouver Immigration Blog, a widely-read blog on immigration law and policy developments. Will is proud to be an early adopter of Kabuk Law and grateful for their partnership in producing this piece.