Green Bins are no Longer Just for Compost

by Ronalee Carey Law

October 2022

Here in the city of Ottawa, we dispose of our waste using different coloured bins. Blue is for containers (think that empty bottle of ketchup), black is for paper, green is for organics, and your garbage can will be whatever is for sale at the local hardware store.

Introducing the municipal compost program in Ottawa was smartly done in the fall, so people could get used to recycling their organic waste before the hot summer months turned green bin contents into a smelly, sometimes wriggly affair.

Canada's 'green bin' processing system for applications submitted through the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada program was introduced without public fanfare. In fact, the system's existence only became known through an access-to-information request and was later detailed in a Toronto Star article. I now know why mysteriously, I've been receiving approvals for inland spousal sponsorship applications in less than five months rather than the 15 months listed on the IRCC website.

Since June 2022, IRCC has sorted all sponsorship applications made within Canada into two 'bins'; green and standard. Green bin applications are considered 'low-complexity' per "evidence-based, data-driven rules" from past applications and decisions. Automated systems driven by artificial intelligence do the sorting; humans do not decide which bin an application will be put into. Green bin applications skip eligibility and move directly to medical, criminality, and security assessments. Standard bin assessments require an immigration officer to do an eligibility assessment, whether the marriage is genuine or if cohabitation requirements are met for common-law partners, and whether the relationship is genuine and not entered into for the purpose of acquiring status in Canada.

Inevitably, a similar program will soon be used for all types of permanent resident applications, an abandonment of the 'first in, first out' principle. Since January, automatic triage systems have already been in place for visitor visa and study permit applications, expanding a pilot program that began in 2018 for applications submitted in India and China.

IRCC has not and does not intend to release the criteria upon which the automatic sorting rules are based. It has been stated that the system 'uses a combination of rules developed by staff and rules generated through machine learning that has been assessed, adjusted if necessary, and reviewed.' Unsurprising, the lack of transparency has been criticized, and concerns have been raised about bias.

For my clients and me, this change means predicting when an application will be approved is a crap shoot. Though speedy processing times are welcome by most, for some clients living outside Canada, having an approval come in months before it is expected can throw a wrench into carefully made plans that often are linked to the end of an employment contract or an academic year. Permanent residence application approval starts the time ticking for when an individual must arrive in Canada to confirm their permanent residency. Expiry dates on Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) documents cannot be extended.