Canada's immigration department has assigned tens of thousands of applicants to immigration officers or placeholder codes that are inactive and no longer working within their system — some who've last logged in and processed files up to 16 years ago, and from airports and visa offices around the world.
Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data on "inactive users" on their Global Case Management System (GCMS) — its worldwide internal system used to process citizenship and immigration applications — show 59,456 open, pending or re-opened applications that were assigned to 779 former employees or dormant computer placeholder codes used to hold applicants in queue as of this February.
The department told CBC once a user is set as inactive, "it means they are no longer using the system and their access is no longer available."
The data also shows when each employee or code last logged into the IRCC system.
IRCC employees are only identifiable publicly via codes, which consist of a mix of letters and numbers (like AB12345, for example).
The oldest login dates back to Oct. 6, 2006, with one application assigned to that Montreal-based code. Nineteen applications are assigned to a code or employee in Edmonton who last logged in on May 9, 2007.
Earlier this year, CBC News shared the stories of several people stuck in immigration limbo while assigned to the same IRCC officer — only known to them as DM10032 — who left their applications largely untouched for years. After the story went public, applicants assigned to that officer, who the department confirmed was an active employee, finally saw significant movement on their files within months.
CBC filed an access to information request to IRCC this January asking for all inactive employees and placeholder codes currently assigned to applicants.
In October, the department sent data that showed a list of hundreds of codes — "a mix of former employees who are no longer active and computer placeholders" as of February 2022.
Those codes are based all around the world — from Canadian airports, border ports and processing centres, to embassies and consulates in the U.S., Philippines, India, Haiti, Poland, Brazil and Tunisia, to name a few.
Ottawa had the most number of inactive codes, followed by Edmonton, Vancouver, then Sydney, N.S. (CBC did not include unknown locations in this calculation.)
Code SM10353 was the most egregious with 9,540 applications assigned to it. This former employee or placeholder based in Sydney, N.S., last used the system on March 23, 2021.
It's followed by:
TD7976, based in Ottawa, with 5,782 applications assigned, last login in October 2020.
TH04332, based in Edmonton, with 3,937 applications assigned, last login in February 2011.
CB01126, based in Sydney, N.S., with 3,756 applications assigned, last login in December 2014.
CB00580, based in Edmonton, with 3,388 applications assigned, last login in January 2012.
RK01404, based in New Delhi, India, with 2,201 applications assigned, last login in March 2021.
CA9999, based in Edmonton, with 2,167 applications assigned, last login in August 2015.
LB6660, based in Sydney, N.S., with 1,897 applications assigned, last login in December 2016.
RA9519, based in Vancouver, with 1,864 applications assigned, last login in February 2016.
RL7901, based in Ottawa, with 1,710 applications assigned, last login in November 2015.
D9151, based in Edmonton, with 1,702 applications assigned, last login in August 2013.
"The user code is a unique ID. Once assigned, no other user would have the same one," explained an IRCC spokesperson about the data. "If a user was no longer required to use GCMS, the code would become inactive."
The department said it's unable to delete these non-functioning user accounts "as we would lose traceability."
Search your GCMS code here
Applicants are able to get information on IRCC's activity on their files through a GCMS note, obtained through Access to Information and Privacy Requests. People can apply directly to IRCC or CBSA to obtain their GCMS notes.
So what happens once an immigration application gets assigned to a code on IRCC's inactive users list?
In the days following the story, the department arranged a background briefing with two senior officials who understand its GCMS system. CBC agreed not to name them as they were not authorized to speak publicly on behalf of the department.
Here's what we learned.
When did the department start repurposing ex-employee codes?
IRCC employees are identified via codes, which consist of a mix of letters and numbers (AB12345, for example).
"The user code is a unique ID. Once assigned, no other user would have the same one," explained an IRCC spokesperson about the data back in November. "If a user was no longer required to use GCMS, the code would become inactive."
IRCC says its practice of repurposing former employees' IDs "became common around 2016."
Why does IRCC do this?
The department said it's unable to delete these inactive user accounts for legal reasons, and it "would lose traceability."
IRCC officials say it's easier for them to use a code that already exists within GCMS, rather than create a new one to use as placeholders for applications.
What exactly does 'placeholder' mean?
IRCC uses terms like "placeholder," "catchment area," "group reference number," and "batch code" to describe the renewed purpose of these inactive users' codes.
The terms mean the same thing: bins that hold applications in queue as they wait for the next stage of processing.
Officials compared this to the role of a mailbox at a physical office building.
Immigration officers would go in and pull files from these "mailbox" bins to work on, based on their line of business and expertise.
What happens when someone gets assigned to an inactive code?
When someone's file is assigned to these bins, it's waiting for an employee to work on it.
Let's take a permanent residency (PR) application for example, and an immigration officer goes in and grabs that file to review its security clearance.
If the file needs more information or clearance from one of IRCC's partners abroad, such as its New Delhi visa office, then the application would go back into a bin and wait for officers there to complete the step, an official explained.
If all steps for the PR application are approved, the official said it would go into a bin again for the final touch.
Depending on whether the applicant is overseas or in Canada, the appropriate office would then pick it up from the "mailbox," and an officer would finalize the applicant's passport with a visa.
That's only one example of one type of application. Officials say more simple applications, like visitor visas, may spend less time in queues and may need fewer "touches" by officers.
There's a very good chance all applications that enter GCMS are assigned to these placeholder codes at some point during their lifetime, officials say.
How long do applications stay in these bins?
It depends on each case, but on the higher end, officials estimate applications can be assigned to these placeholder codes for months.
On the lower end, it could be hours.
What happens when an employee with active applications leaves IRCC?
When an employee holding onto active immigration applications leaves IRCC, it's up to their manager to reassign all their cases to another officer with similar skills.
If that's not done by the time their ID becomes deactivated, officials say IT employees do regular program runs to make sure anyone who hasn't logged in for a while isn't attached to open files. Officials call this a "fail safe" practice.
How many of those 779 codes were repurposed?
The senior officials didn't disclose exactly how many of the 779 inactive user codes were repurposed, but said a "vast majority" of them have been turned from former employee codes into holding bins.
Is there movement on those 59,456 files since February?
At any given time, IRCC says files are moving in and out of these placeholder bins, so numbers fluctuate daily.
As of Dec. 16, IRCC says 39,416 open applications were still associated with the same user IDs reflected in CBC's snapshot data from February.
Of that, the department says 25,951 applications were received after that February data pull.
"To be clear, these figures do not represent the same applications, as files are attributed and unattributed to these IDs every day," a spokesperson wrote via email.
Will IRCC rename placeholder codes to make it more transparent?
When an applicant looks at their GCMS note, obtained through Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests, they may see the officer code they're assigned to at that time.
But those codes can belong to a real employee or a placeholder bin.
CBC asked whether IRCC plans to rename those placeholder bins to have a more transparent name, such as "security clearance queue" or "New Delhi visa office queue," to better inform applicants about the stage of the process.
Officials didn't rule that out. They said it's something the department is considering as its GCMS system matures.
But when CBC asked the department to do just that — describe the function of each of the top 14 inactive user codes on the list, with tens of thousands of applications attached to them — IRCC said it won't disclose that information because it "takes very seriously the security and integrity of its application processing."
Source: CBC News