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How artificial intelligence is used in Canadian immigration

Vimal Sivakumar - 14 June, 2023

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Immigration Minister Sean Fraser took some time during a recent press conference in Vancouver to help Canadians understand that artificial intelligence (AI) does not make approval/denial decisions on Canadian immigration applications.

Instead, Minister Fraser alluded to the different ways that AI - defined as "information technology that performs tasks that would ordinarily require a human to accomplish" - has been implemented in Canadian immigration to help the government streamline applications, among other things.  

The increased use of AI, and technology more generally, is part of an effort by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to digitize and modernize Canadian immigration, especially in the area of application processing. 

In fact, Fraser noted that the application streamlining afforded by AI "has contributed to processing 98% of spousal Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) applications", adding that new spousal TRV applicants can also now expect a processing time of just 30 days. 

The following list includes the other ways IRCC says it takes advantage of AI for tasks related to application processing:

Why did Minister Fraser need to make these comments about AI? 

The decision to provide this information to Canadians is rooted in the growing public concern that AI will make decisions based on biases and lead to less explanation regarding how decisions are made in processing applications.

For example, there is some concern that AI, due to its reliance on historical data to make decisions, may amplify inequalities in race or gender. Additionally, some believe that, while "individuals denied services or benefits have a right to a reasonable and understandable explanation from the government", AI may make that clarity more difficult. 

In response to these concerns, IRCC has clarified that it does not act freely with AI. Instead, IRCC says that it "follows principles of transparency, accountability, legality, and procedural fairness [outlined by a Directive in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms] to define how decisions need to be made and what explanations must be provided to those impacted."

New algorithms, says IRCC, must also pass a mandatory Algorithmic Impact Assessment (AIA), which is designed to assess risk areas, mitigation, and the impact of the proposed algorithms. 

The department also says it requires assessments of the impacts of algorithms, quality assurance measures for the data and the algorithm, and proactive disclosures about how and where algorithms are being used.

Finally, Minister Fraser clarified once again that AI does not make any final application decisions for Canadian immigration applicants. 

“At the end of the day, our offers still make every determination for eligibility. It is not possible for anyone to be denied through this technological solution.”

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