Ottawa outlines likely impacts of PSAC strike on immigration, tax, other federal services

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (April 19, 2023, 3:10 PM EDT) -- Ottawa says most citizenship, immigration and passport services will be “partially or fully disrupted” by the withdrawal of services of federal public servants, as will services provided by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), with expected delays in processing income tax returns and longer wait times at CRA contact centres.

On April 19, the first day of strike action on behalf of 159,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the federal government outlined what it believes are the likely impacts on government services to the public until a deal is reached with the public-sector union on pay and other issues, such as remote work.

(The Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Tax Court of Canada also provided information about the impact on their operations.)      

Some 120,000 workers in the core federal public administration and 39,000 CRA workers are PSAC members and of these, about 48,000 hold “essential” jobs obliging them to provide services necessary to public safety or security. They are continuing to report to work during the labour disruption.

Information about the impact of the strike on government services, by department, is available here.

The Canada Border Services Agency said it expects that its services to travellers and businesses will be maintained.

The CRA said it anticipates delays in processing some income tax returns, particularly paper returns, but the agency will prioritize benefit payments during any labour disruption, including continuing the Canada Child Benefit. The CRA said it encourages businesses, representatives, tax preparers and charitable organizations to use “My Business Account” or “Represent A Client” online to manage their tax affairs or those of their client/organization.

The Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said that labour disruptions mean that the delivery of passports to Canadians in Canada will be available only at passport offices or consolidated Service Canada Centres and Passport Office locations and will be limited to those “experiencing humanitarian or emergency situations.”

Humanitarian/emergency situations for passport clients are defined as those clients: at risk of financial hardship; who rely on travel as a source of employment, and their income security will be jeopardized; who must travel for medical reasons, or have had a death or illness in the family; or whose situation is deemed urgent on compassionate grounds

“Passport applications that do not meet these criteria will not be processed when employees are striking,” IRCC said, noting “delivery times will exceed published service standards.”

IRCC said on its website, however, that delivery of regular passport services to Canadians residing outside Canada, including those in the United States, is deemed to be an essential service and will therefore continue, although such clients may also experience delays. 

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser

IRCC, which has about one million applications for temporary residence, permanent residence and citizenship in its current inventory, plus approximately one million in a backlog that burgeoned during the pandemic, warned that “delays and disruptions” should be “expected” for its services, including: processing applications; in-person appointments or events, including citizenship ceremonies; consular citizenship services; and contacting IRCC via email, phone or social media.

“Unfortunately, the labour disruption will have an impact on the gains that we have made, and the work that we’ve been doing, to address some of these backlogs,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told a Parliament Hill press conference April 19.

“As a result of the labour disruption, we would be at a significantly reduced capacity,” he explained. “Clients can expect to experience serious delays” in processing all immigration applications.

Fraser noted “our response times for those writing to us or contacting us by phone will be significantly impacted.”

He added “we’re going to take every step we can to minimize the impact on real people with very real concerns that could be seriously impacted. We’re going to continue to monitor the situation very closely and ensure we provide whatever services are possible to our clients that they can rely on as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

IRCC said clients with immigration-related appointments in Canada will be contacted to reschedule or cancel appointments. Interviews outside the country are proceeding as scheduled, unless advised otherwise by the IRCC office abroad.

For those temporarily in Canada who are seeking to extend their stay and remain in Canada until a decision is made on their application, they can apply online during the strike, but must apply before their temporary residence status expires, the IRCC’s website states. Applicants must also submit online (unless an applicant is exempt); a complete application, including biometrics, fees and other applicable requirements.

IRCC said citizenship events will be rescheduled, although “some urgent applications may still be processed.”

Indigenous Services Canada published a list of critical services “that will be maintained regardless of a labour disruption,” including: requests under Jordan’s Principle; First Nations Child and Family Services; supporting Inuit children; treaty annuities, estates and trusts; supports to Indigenous businesses, getting, renewing or replacing a status card; and emergency management.

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