11/22/2011 10:12 EST | Updated 01/22/2012 05:12 EST

Auditor General's Report: Huge Holes In Canada's Visa System


OTTAWA - Canada's border watchdogs need to tighten the visa system with better health and security screening for people who want to come to Canada either as visitors or permanent residents, says a new report.

Tuesday's report from John Wiersema, the interim auditor general, says Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency need to do a better job of managing risks.

He said his office has been pointing out weaknesses in the visa system for 20 years. "I find it disturbing that fundamental weaknesses still exist."

One problem is that people don't get the information they need.

"Visa officers are responsible for deciding whether to grant or refuse a visa to enter Canada," he said.

"The system lacks basic elements to ensure that they get the right information to make those decisions."

The report said the criteria visa officers use to sift out high-risk applicants have not been reviewed in years.

And the border agency analysts who provide security advice to visa officers often don't have the right training and their work is rarely reviewed.

The agency also has no formal arrangement with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to obtain security-screening information.

The report says there are problems with screening applicants for health problems.

"Medical screening for danger to public health has focused on the same two diseases — syphilis and tuberculosis — and this has not been updated for 50 years," Wiersema said.

That focus contrasts with the system within Canada, where public health authorities list 56 diseases that must be formally reported by doctors.

The audit found other loopholes. For example, people seeking visas must supply a police certificate saying they have no criminal record. Visa officers say such certificates are often difficult to authenticate.

Both the immigration department and the border agency lack quality assurance systems that could tell them whether they're doing a good job screening applicants.

Most of the systems that exist focus on rejected applications, which are the cases most likely to end up in court.

"The quality of decisions on the vast majority of applications is not reviewed," said the report.

"This means that CIC and CBSA don't know if a visa was issued to someone who in fact was inadmissible," Wiersema said.