Canada’s immigration department says it is investigating a privacy breach, where work permit extension candidates received emails intended for someone else.
Expired and soon-to-expire Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders and Temporary Residence to Permanent Residence (TR2PR) applicants were told to wait for an email with instructions on how to extend their status. One day later, several reports surfaced on social media that Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had sent the emails containing names, application numbers, and unique client identifiers to the wrong addresses.
In an email to CIC News, IRCC said it became aware of the privacy breach on August 3, one day after announcing the new measures. The emails were intended to advise clients that they may be able to get their work permit updated with a longer validity date or to give potential clients the chance to opt-out of the extension.
“As is the case for privacy breaches, an investigation into this incident is currently underway,” IRCC’s email said. “We are taking precautions and have appropriate measures in place to ensure security of information. Once all affected clients have been identified, clients will be sent an email with the correct information.”
IRCC says affected individuals should wait for a separate email informing them of the privacy breach. Anyone who received a message intended for someone else should delete it. A notice of correction will then go out to those affected and the correct email message will be sent.
In IRCC’s words:
“A separate email will be sent to affected clients informing them of the privacy breach. We are advising clients NOT to share the incorrect email with others and to delete the email from their inbox. Once the issue has been resolved, a notice of correction will go out to those affected, and the correct email message will be distributed.”
When asked what IRCC is doing to rectify the issue, the media spokesperson replied with the following:
“The Government of Canada takes its privacy obligations very seriously, and we will take the necessary steps to protect the privacy of all those we serve. IRCC has an array of policies and procedures in place to protect the privacy of Canadians and those hoping to come here, and we regularly take action to ensure they are being met.
IRCC is also reviewing its current processes to prevent this situation from happening again and to minimize human error.
When asked if this privacy breach will have any impact on the speed at which clients receive their work permits, and how long it will take until clients receive the correct emails, IRCC says the issue is still under investigation and officials are unable to give a definitive timeframe until the issue is resolved.
The importance of these emails
Foreign nationals cannot work in Canada without legal status. In most cases, they need a work permit which allows them to work for a set amount of time in Canada.
The PGWP is a one-time open work permit that allows candidates to work for any employer in Canada. These work permit holders have all graduated from a designated learning institution in Canada. Oftentimes, they apply for permanent residence through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), an immigration program managed by the Express Entry application management system.
Before IRCC paused CEC draws in September 2021, PGWP holders who applied for immigration were allowed to stay beyond the validity of their PGWP by applying for a Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP). However, with no opportunity to apply, PGWP holders working in Canada would be forced to quit their jobs or request that their employer get a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) for a new work permit.
TR2PR applicants waiting on a decision for their application cannot apply for a BOWP, but they have their own work permit that will allow them to work in the interim between their work permit expiring and obtaining their permanent residency status.
IRCC announced the special measure for PGWP holders in April, and released instructions for how to apply in August. These letters are supposed to allow work permit holders to apply for their new status and allow them to keep working in Canada. Without an extension, these workers in Canada could be forced to leave the labour market, which is already feeling the squeeze of high job vacancies and low unemployment.
Meanwhile, PGWP holders are feeling the mental strain of losing their jobs and facing the possibility of needing to leave the country or dip into their savings to stay.