Canada is selling itself as a global hub for immigration, and people want in—temporarily at least. Temporary resident applications surged higher in Q1 2023, according to the latest data from the IRCC, Canada’s immigration department. Despite fewer permanent resident applications, temporary resident applications have surged so quickly the agency has turned to artificial intelligence to help with processing. Approvals in such a volume that can’t be done by humans, what can go wrong?
Canada Received Over 550k Temporary Resident Applications In A Month
Canada has seen temporary resident applications spike. The latest numbers show 553,244 applications in March 2023, an increase of 13% (+67,700) compared to the same month last year. It’s also more than triple the volume seen in 2021, and the largest single-month in at least 3 years—but likely goes much further back. It’s not just a large number of applications, it’s an astronomical volume.
Canada Has Seen 50% Growth For Q1 Applications
In general, temporary resident applications have shown strong growth in 2023. Canada saw 1.43 million applications filed in Q1 2023, an increase of 50% (+475,000 applications) compared to the same period last year.
Over half of applications came from just three countries. India represented nearly 1 in 3 applications (30%)—no other country was even close. The next closest country was Ukraine (17%), followed by China (5%).
Canada Turns To AI To Help Process The Massive Inflow of Applications
If you’ve been following Canada’s immigration backlog, processing this volume seems impossible. The IRCC has roughly 2 million applications in their “inventory” (gross term btw), with 809,000 in the backlog. It’s a lot of applications, and if the current pace is sustained, that can mean a whopping 7 million applications.
To help, Canada turned to “artificial intelligence” (AI) to aid in the processing of applications. They first began using AI for applications in China and India. A third model was added for other countries in 2022.
How much this helps is a bit of mystery at this point. The IRCC stated the AI can’t deny applications, but it helps to triage emails and applications, determining your priority based on the words chosen in your email or application. However, the advanced analytics system can’t deny people, with the agency stating ultimately the decision is still with an officer.
As for approving the actual applications, the IRCC argued that’s incorrect. “Media coverage has incorrectly suggested that IRCC’s ‘Chinook’ tool employs advanced analytics or artificial intelligence to automate decisions,” read a note shared with policymakers in November of last year.
Damn media. Anyway, two days later the IRCC stated the results from an automated processing system are used for “approvals for some applications.” Two really busy days, apparently.
Critics of automation strictly on the basis of non-human involvement likely don’t understand applications. Non-complex applications are essentially a rubric, where an applicant fits the requirements that only need to be verified. There have been cases where humans failed to do background checks, and accidentally let the head of an organized crime family move to Canada. It happens. Concerns that Canada is approving so many applications it doesn’t have enough humans might be a more valid concern. Building adequate shelter for an immigrant will be more labor intensive than reading their application and performing a background check, but I digress.
Anyway, the use of these tools might be why the backlog is clearing so quickly. That’s good news for applicants, and can mean more housing demand. Though that’s not totally clear either.
Applications Aren’t Approvals, But A Lot of People Want To Move To Canada… Temporarily
These numbers are often thrown around to demonstrate housing demand. While it’s definitely a sign that Canada’s population has no shortage of people that want to help the numbers grow, applications aren’t the same as approvals.
Last year, there were 4.7 million applications for temporary residency, but clearly not the volume of people that moved to Canada. A public image as a country with low barriers to immigration means a lot of applications that may not be quite ready to move.
Further, the IRCC doesn’t differentiate between new applications and extensions in this number. There were more than 3.1 million temporary residents last year, and some will choose to stay on that visa by applying for an extension, counted in these numbers. Others will decide Canada isn’t for them, and the net flow will be null.
In short, applications don’t directly tell us about demand. It’s a lot of people that are applying to be a part of the demand if possible, but how much demand materializes needs to actually be seen.
A more important point that deserves a deep dive is the divergence between temporary and permanent residents. Applications for the latter have been taking a nosedive, while the former continues to surge higher. A try before you buy approach isn’t the worst issue, but a sudden shift is worth paying attention to.