Below are frequently asked questions about Time Extension Notices from government agencies like IRCC, CBSA and CSIS.
Table of Contents
- How long does the government agency have to respond?
- What does time extension mean?
- What is the length of a time extension?
- Why did I receive a time extension?
- I did not receive a time extension. So why is there a delay?
- Will the time extension impact my visa application?
- When will the file be due?
- Will the file arrive exactly on the due date?
- Can a complaint be filed about the delay?
- Is the Government of Canada doing anything about processing delays?
- What is expected to change?
- What can I do about the delay in the meantime?
How long does the government agency have to respond?
For requests (e.g. GCMS, CBSA, CSIS Notes or the Entire File) made under the Access to Information Act, government agencies like the IRCC, CBSA and CSIS have 30 calendar days to respond to the request. If the 30 day deadline falls on a weekend or on a holiday, the due date becomes the next business day.
What does time extension mean?
While it takes the government agency 30 days to process a request, this period may be extended for a reasonable period of time if:
- the request is for a large number of records or requires a search through a large number of records, and the original time limit would unreasonably interfere with operations
- external consultations are necessary and cannot reasonably be expected to be completed within the original time limit or
- notice to a third party is required to advise him or her that his or her information is the subject of a request
If a time extension is required then the government agency will inform the requestor of the extension. This notification will tell you about the extension and its length and the notification is sent within 30 days of the government agency receiving the request.
What is the length of a time extension?
A time extension if taken is usually in 30 day increments; meaning that the time extension can be for an additional 30 days, 60 days, 90 days etc. Extensions are always in addition to the statutory 30 day limit.
IRCC receives the most requests of all government agencies and hence frequently takes time extensions to process requests. CBSA on the other hand has a better track record for on-time performance. Processing delay with CBSA is less likely and if there is a delay then it’s often for a shorter duration compared to IRCC
Why did I receive a time extension?
The government agency is permitted under the Access to Information Act to take a time extension. Who receives a time extension, these days, is almost arbitrary!
I did not receive a time extension. So why is there a delay?
In rare cases there can be an administrative delay from the government agency in releasing the information. When such delays occur they often happen with IRCC compared to CBSA or CSIS. This is another reason to consider requesting your file from CBSA. In such circumstances the file is usually released a few days after the due date and in rare cases a few weeks after the due date.
Another reason for delays is that government agencies at their discretion may release the file via postal mail on a CD. This can add an additional 1-2 weeks to the processing time.
[Updated July 22, 2021] In the special report tabled in the Canadian parliament on May 25th, 2021 by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada it was revealed that IRCC had developed an automatic extension policy to delay requests for GCMS files. Nevertheless, on March 1, 2021, IRCC stopped this automatic extension policy. Prior to March 1, 2021 IRCC was “automatically” issuing time extension notices for an additional 60 to 90 days; it no longer is issuing such notices but it “appears” that IRCC is still taking more time to process some requests. Regardless of the reason for the delay you will receive your file, it just might take longer than originally expected. Once your file is available you will be notified via email and at the same time the status will be updated on the online tracker as well.
Will the time extension impact my visa application?
No. Requesting your file from a government agency or receiving a time extension as a result is completely unrelated to your visa application. The time extension will have no impact on your visa application.
When will the file be due?
When a time extension is taken by IRCC they provide the length of the time extension as well as the due date in their correspondence. On the other hand when CBSA takes a time extension it does not mention the due date in its correspondence and only states the length of the time extension. The due date can be calculated as follows; 30 days from when the government agency received the request + the length of the time extension. Remember, if the deadline falls on a weekend or on a holiday, the due date becomes the next business day.
Will the file arrive exactly on the due date?
The file from the government agency can come well before the due date, exactly on the due date, even a few days after the due date and in rare cases a few weeks after the due date. With IRCC there is a great degree of variability though most files arrive close to or on the due date. With CBSA on the other hand most files tend to arrive well before the due date and CBSA rarely misses the promised due date.
Can a complaint be filed about the delay?
Yes, a complaint can be submitted with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OIC) if the file is delayed. However, the complaint will NOT speed up the processing of your request.
OIC itself is backlogged with complaints that they take an average of 90 days to resolve a complaint ; see the latest stats from OIC at https://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/ar-ra/2019-20/investigations.html. As a result, complaints often become “moot” because the government agency will send a response before the OIC can fully investigate and issue a finding regarding the allegation.
Complaints submitted to the OIC by us and a few other entities in the last couple of years have had the desired and intended effect of escalating the issue within the government hierarchy and it led to an investigation into IRCC’s handling of requests.
Is the Government of Canada doing anything about processing delays?
Yes, On March 11, 2020 the Information Commissioner of Canada initiated a systemic investigation into IRCC. The investigation was completed in 2021 and a 26 page special report was tabled in the Canadian parliament on May 25th, 2021. Below is additional information with regards to the investigation;
- Information Commissioner of Canada’s special report
- Response from the Immigration Minister
- IRCC’s Management Action Plan
- Media coverage
What is expected to change?
- Read about Bill C-58, it received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, bringing into force important improvements to the openness and transparency of government. These are the most significant changes to the Act since it came into force in 1983. This news release can be found here
- Read about Reviewing access to information. You can also sign up for alerts on updates and upcoming opportunities to participate in engagement activities.
- In January 2021 the Information Commissioner provided Observations and Recommendations on the Government of Canada’s Review of the Access to Information Regime. This news release can be found here
What can I do about the delay in the meantime?
If you have received a time extension notice then please patiently wait till the government agency sends the file. It’s NOT possible to expedite the processing of a request once it’s been submitted to the concerned government agency. No matter how important or urgent your situation may be, it’s just not possible to expedite the processing. As mentioned earlier, even filing a complaint with the Information Commissioner will NOT make IRCC, CBSA or CSIS work any faster. Any request sent to the government agency asking for the file to be released quickly will simply be ignored.
So what can be done in the meantime? – If you are unable to wait during the period of the time extension then you can consider requesting your file again. If you are considering this option then there are few things to be aware of;
- If you make concurrent requests from the same government agency then it’s highly likely that the additional requests may be considered as duplicates. In which case the government agency will provide only 1 file in response to all the requests and that 1 file will correspond to the most recent request.
- Another option that many applicants don’t consider is to request the same information from a different government agency. IRCC and CBSA both use the same GCMS computer system to provide information. So, if you made a request for your GCMS Notes from IRCC and it has been delayed then you can consider requesting the same information from CBSA. See this detailed comparison about requesting GCMS and Entire File from IRCC vs CBSA
Keep in mind that requesting your file again or from a different source doesn’t guarantee that you will receive the information any faster but these are all the options you have other than to patiently wait. Patiently waiting is what we recommend if you have received a time extension notice.
Government agencies like IRCC, CBSA and CSIS are permitted under the Access to Information Act to take a time extension for a reasonable period of time. Extensions are always in addition to the statutory 30 day limit.
It is not possible to expedite the request once it has been submitted to the government agency (the only exception being if you have filed a formal lawsuit against the concerned government agency). Even filing a complaint with the Information Commissioner will not speed up the processing of the request.
Patiently waiting is what we recommend if you have received a time extension notice.