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cants may be getting what amounts to a

free pass because officers are not attuned

to the kinds of fraud that they practice.

My research shows that individual-level

characteristics may lead officers to take

particular kinds of approaches to files. They

vary in howmuch weight they place on cer-

tain kinds of documents and what types of

factors they emphasize or de-emphasize as

they assess credibility. For instance, officers

have various ways of determining whether

a marriage is genuine: some concentrate

on conformity to certain rituals, some look

for compatibility, and some check whether

the relatives showed up for the wedding.


/ Canadian Government Executive

// January 2016

But even such individual differences in ap-

proach might be the product of social cir-

cumstances and are not necessarily purely

individual in nature. For example, some

officers are more facilitative than others.

But where a particular officer stands on

this continuummay depend, in part, on the

stage of his or her career. Newer, less-ex-

perienced officers tend to stick to the book

and loosen up as they gain confidence in

their abilities. It may also depend on how

they arrived at their present occupation.

Canada-based officers who previously per-

formed enforcement-related work in the

immigration department or Border Servic-

es may be more enforcement-minded than


It is, of course, entirely possible that indi-

vidual officers do entertain ethnic or racial

prejudices that cause them to look more

thoroughly at some applications and lead

them to refuse more visible minority ap-

plicants than white applicant. However,

the possibility that decisions are grounded

in racism should not be overemphasized.

After interviewing so many of them, I’ve

come to the conclusion that because refus-

ing an application entails more work than

approving one, and because officers must

meet processing targets and cope with

time constraints, they arguably have an

incentive to approve applications rather

than refuse them. Racist officers whose de-

cisions sprang from prejudice would prob-

ably have a higher refusal rate than their

colleagues in the same office. They would


also have trouble contributing to the office

target, which would no doubt attract the

attention of management.


Canada and Immigration: Public Pol-

icy and Public Concern

, political scientist

Freda Hawkins explained that a mix of

“curiosity and frustration” led her to ex-

plore what went on in overseas visa offices

during the 1960s. Though she had spent

much of her academic career studying and

teaching about immigration policy and

management in Canada, she could find

few academics, leaders of NGOs, or even

immigration department employees who

“appeared to know or care where the visa

offices were or how they were run.” Dur-

ing her visits, Hawkins spent a few days

in each office, interviewing staff and ob-

serving routines and procedures. Her “per-

sonal impressions” of her tours were pub-

lished as a short chapter in her book. One

of the most notable focused on the merits

of immigration officers. Whereas the pub-

lic commonly regarded them as “rigid,

narrow-minded, rather petty [and] ... re-

strictionist,” she found them to be of “high

quality” and noted that they displayed “a

keen interest in the job and dedication to

it.” Some fifty years later, having conduct-

ed my own “tour” of overseas visa offices, I

cannot fault her conclusion.

Adapted from Vic Satzewich, Points of

Entry: How Canada’s Visa Officers De-

cide Who Gets In

. Vancouver: University

of British Columbia Press, 2015.

It would be wrong

to interpret visa

officers, and their


procedures and

techniques, as


Capriciousness is

not synonymous

with discretion.