Canada expands use of robotic algorithms to decide who gets visa

Canada expands use of robotic algorithms to decide who gets visa

Jamaica To Canada

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

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Dear Mr Brown,

I heard that Canada will be using computers to assess visa applications. I do not think it is fair since there are also no interviews, but I wanted your thoughts.

— SK

Dear SK:

It has been reported that tens of thousands of permit applications for workers and international students from China and India are being processed by Canadian computers that are making decisions using artificial intelligence. The process that decides whether an applicant receives a visa is not random. It's a computer programme governed by certain rules regarding what constitutes a valid visa application.

The approach was initiated as a pilot programme in 2018 to process applications from India and China. However, the Government of Canada plans to expand this automated decision-making procedure using algorithms this year.

Critics raise concerns about the threat to the safety and security of Canada, the lack of transparency and accountability in having machines making important decisions that affect the lives of many, or how vulnerable such a system is to misrepresentation regarding financial, employment, marital status, educational or travel history.

This new artificial intelligence system may be met with scepticism by Canadians, as more people learn about the increasing use of an automated visa system.

Apparently, appeals or challenges to decisions would be reviewed by a human officer.

However, the concern is that algorithms are by no means neutral. Bias of the individuals designing an automated system or selecting the data that trains it can result in discrimination. For example, using the algorithm means it may be more likely that issues such as race, religion, nationality, or travel patterns from certain countries would affect the denial of a visa application.

As the programme expands, we would have to monitor these issues to ensure fairness. However, as a whole, I believe the system is a reasonable one.

Please visit for additional information on Canadian Permanent Residence programs, including Express Entry, The Study & Work program, Visas or Appeals, etc.

Antonn Brown, BA, (Hons), LLB, MSc, RCIC, is an immigration counsel and an accredited Canadian education agent of — a Canadian immigration and education firm in Kingston. Send questions/comments to

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