August 10, 2018 – Despite increased rhetoric surrounding immigration in the USA and Europe, Canada considers immigration as an important tool to add to the labour market and boost the economy.
This is evident from policy changes over the past decade aimed at prioritizing a carefully managed influx of permanent residents and temporary workers to Canada.
Apart from its impact on the economy, a record number of immigration levels to Canada, across all streams, is causing numerous administrative problems. The higher numbers places added strain on the infrastructure to accept, process, and settle immigrants.
Does AI Hold the Key to an Efficient Immigration Administration?
Artificial intelligence (AI) helps federal immigration authorities improve the way it manages new applications. The question is whether this can be applied to other areas of Canada’s immigration programs, including helping to accept or deny an application altogether. Can a technology-based decision to refuse an application withstand a legal challenge?
Express Entry Immigration and Artificial Intelligence
Assessing eligibility can involve numerous complex details requiring careful analysis and a nuanced approach on the part of decision maker.
Under the Express Entry immigration system, the current management tool of choice, the use of AI has an important role to pre-screen candidates under basic objective factors.
Beyond Express Entry
The scope of using AI becomes more problematic beyond the points-based Express Entry system. Many provinces continue to have some form of paper-based application system for demand occupation programs affecting skilled and semi-skilled immigrants.
It is questionable whether artificial intelligence can become a reliable tool to process these types of applications.
Its use becomes even murkier to assess immigrants seeking refuge on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. How to choose between an immigrant who has shown compelling circumstances to remain in Canada and another applicant who is likely to face danger to life if deported from Canada?
Additionally, tourist or visitor visa applications which exceed 20 Million annually, must assess whether an applicant is likely to leave Canada at the end of the visa’s validity. Various factors ranging from financial resources to ties to home country are considered in arriving at the decision. Refusal rates now exceed 25% based on a risk assessment which cannot yet be carried out using AI.
Removing the human interface can work wonderfully if we can create that perfect AI system which can judge all relevant factors to arrive at the right decision. Yet, this is an imperfect world. If self-driving cars were to be considered as a benchmark, we have a long way to go before we can rely on AI as an integral tool in the immigration sphere.
Balancing Transparency with Systemic Manipulation
Ethical and moral grounds apart, overly relying on AI to pursue immigration policy in Canada, will result in a flawed system with conflicting considerations. The right to appeal an immigration decision is an integral part of the existing process.
Putting AI-based immigration decisions up for judicial review will result in an obvious clash between maintaining transparency and safeguarding the data and algorithms based on which a decision was taken.
If the algorithms are kept secret, then the entire system will become opaque and it will be impossible to find out why a decision was taken. This will make it impossible to determine whether the right decision was taken.
Yet, if publicized, then immigration will be reduced to a step-by-step affair. From choice of study courses to the timing of the application—gaming the system will become the norm.
The Way Ahead
Efficiency is important. Yet, maintaining the integrity of the immigration system is even more important. While innovation and out-of-the-box solutions are essential to tackle the dynamic and complex world of immigration in Canada, use of AI will have to tempered by the realization that complete automation is neither desirable nor necessary.
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