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The increasing role of AI in visa processing

December 23, 2021

When people submit applications to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) they typically have spent significant time carefully completing forms and assembling documents. They expect that their applications will be processed by visa officers who carefully review the information before them. However, applicants need to understand that artificial intelligence is playing an increasing role in visa processing, as is the bulk processing of applications.

IRCC has not been forthcoming with how it uses technology to process applications, however, through a series of Access to Information Act requests as well as Federal Court of Canada litigation, the public is beginning to get a sense of measures being implemented.

Predicative learning
Automated processing of some categories of applications is not new. Since 2015 most visa-exempt foreign nationals have had to apply for an Electronic Travel Authorization before they could board a plane to travel to Canada. These applications were, for the most part, automated applications.

What is less known is that in 2017, IRCC successfully conducted a pilot in which automated systems based on predicative analytics triaged and automatically approved low-risk online temporary resident visa applications from China.

Visa applications were sorted into tiers – the lowest risk for auto-approval, medium and high risk for officer review. This triage model was deployed for all applications from China in 2018, and in the same year was piloted in India. The goal appears to be for artificial intelligence to automatically approve low-risk applications, with officers only manually assessing those that have been flagged as medium to high risk.

In addition to automated triaging, IRCC has also introduced software so that officers can bulk process applications. The software tool is known as Chinook.

According to an affidavit that IRCC filed in Federal Court, Chinook is a standalone tool that streamlines administrative steps. Applicant information is extracted from their applications and presented in a spreadsheet. Visa officers are assigned a workload of applications through Chinook. They are able to see multiple applications at a time on a single spreadsheet.