Ottawa has issued new guidelines for email communication with immigration applicants to avoid complaints — and lawsuits — over missing correspondence that leads to wrongful denials of eligible applications.
As Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada (IRCC) moved toward paper-less electronic processing, the reliability of the email correspondence between applicants and officials has become a growing concern in the Internet age.
Failing to respond to officials’ requests as a result of missing email can be detrimental to applicants’ immigration prospects; failing to prove that the correspondence had been sent and received can open the federal government to lawsuits.
“Email communication with applicants is efficient, cost effective, and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is increasingly becoming the method of communication of choice for applicants,” said the five-page guidelines published Friday.
“Once the Minister of IRCC proves that the email correspondence was sent to the most up-to-date email address provided by the applicant, the applicant bears the risk involved in a failure to receive the email correspondence.”
Toronto immigration lawyer Karen Kwan Anderson, whose client from India was awarded $3,000 over a lost email last year, welcomed the move but is cautiously optimistic.
“The new guidelines provide safeguards and more precise instructions to officers to save records. But theory and practicality can be two different things. It all depends on the users and how they are put into action,” she said.
The guidelines include instructions on how to save a sent email in the department’s system and provide evidence “for litigation purposes.”
Officials must ask applicants for consent to communicate via email by ensuring a completed application form includes an email address of either the applicants. Consent is assumed if applicants initiate an email communication.
Officers must also send emails from the office’s generic mailbox and provide “a reasonable period of time” for clients to respond to requests. All the correspondence must then be saved in the case management system.
“If an ‘undeliverable’ message is received, offices must verify whether the email address has been changed or updated in the Global Case Management System and resend the message to the updated email address supplied by the client,” the guidelines said.
“If the initial email was sent to the most up-to-date email address but an ‘undeliverable’ message was received, an alternate method of communication (e.g. paper mail) should be used to send the correspondence to the client.”
Kwan Anderson said the new verification requirement of undelivered email is significant.
“In our case, no response was received by the officer and my client’s application was refused,” she noted. “This clarifies what officers have to do.”
Officers are warned that the old departmental practice of “read notification function” can no longer be used as a means of verifying that the applicant had received the email.
While the onus is on the applicant to respond to officers’ requests and make their case if it warrants a reconsideration of an application deemed “abandoned” over alleged missing email, the guidelines said decision-makers must review the case and decide whether to reopen the application.
Where the decision-maker finds that an error was made by IRCC and the email requesting additional information was not sent to the applicant or representative, the applicant must be given a second chance.
The changes are good news for people like Bashar Kassir, who applied to sponsor his parents to Canada from Syria in 2011. The application was rejected three years later after immigration officials said he had failed to respond to their demands for further documentation. The family said they never received the email request. The application was later reopened after their story appeared in the Toronto Star.