Procedural Fairness Letter (PFL) in visa and immigration applications

Canadian immigration officers must adhere to procedural fairness. Therefore under specific circumstances, they issue Procedural Fairness Letters (PFL) before finalizing their decision. Here I explain the Procedural Fairness Letters and how to respond to them.

What is procedural fairness?

The landmark Baker v. Canada decision by the Supreme Court of Canada mandates procedural fairness for immigration officers. However, what is procedural fairness? IRCC has published a service delivery guideline for their officers on this subject. Based on this guideline, procedural fairness instructs the officers to consider the following for the applicants:

  • They receive an impartial and fair assessment of their application.
  • The officer informs them of their concerns.
  • The officer gives them a meaningful opportunity to respond to the officer’s worries.

There is a lot more to how officers must handle procedural fairness. Consequently, I encourage you to read the guideline on your own.

What is a procedural fairness letter?

Sometimes officers have serious questions about your application or intend to refuse it. Hence, they may send you a letter to share their doubts or questions. You usually receive these letters by email. Of course, we call them procedural fairness letters or PFLs. Some examples of receiving a PFL include:

  • The officer doubts you have misrepresented.
  • They have referred to outside sources such as your social media account. Thus, they want to refuse your application based on those external sources.
  • The officer has the urge to refuse your application if you do not update some of your forms or documents. Notably, the officer believes you are inadmissible if you fail to deliver the updates.
  • They believe you are medically inadmissible to Canada.

Keep in mind the burden of proof is on the applicant. Therefore, if you miss submitting a document, the officer has no obligation to ask for that document. However, when it comes to inadmissibility issues or extrinsic evidence, they usually issue a PFL. An alternative to a procedural fairness letter is an interview. However, interviews are rare nowadays. In the case of national security, a CSIS officer could interview the applicant.

A sample procedural fairness letter (PFL)

The following images show a sample procedural fairness letter. Of course, I have removed private information and applied some changes to protect the document and the privacy of the applicant.

Page 1 of 2: A sample Procedural Fairness Letter

Page 2 of 2: A sample Procedural Fairness Letter

This letter focuses on misrepresentation because of contradictory information on two different applications for the same person. However, PFLs could address other concerns as well.

How to respond to a PFL?

When you receive a procedural fairness letter, you could address it differently. Of course, your reply depends on your situation. Here are some examples.

  • Refuting the officer’s concerns by presenting supporting evidence
  • Admitting the mistakes and coming clean, then
  • Withdrawing the application

Refuting the officer’s concerns

When you receive a PFL, there is no room for misrepresentation. At this stage, the officer usually has enough proof against you. Nevertheless, if you genuinely believe they are wrong, present documentation to support your claims. The standard of proof in most applications is reasonable grounds to believe. Therefore, please do your best to convince the officer their concerns are baseless. However, act respectfully and professionally at all times. Never send disrespectful emails or publish insulting public comments.

Admitting to mistakes

Sometimes you need to come clean and admit your mistakes. However, don’t expect a positive outcome in these situations. Your best bet is to offer alternative options when you agree with the officer’s concerns on a procedural fairness letter. Moreover, consider hiring a licensed practitioner to assist you in handling these matters professionally and truthfully.

Withdrawing the application

Generally, a withdrawal request is too late after receiving a PFL. The officer may deny your plea. However, the complexities of the case may convince you to choose this route. On rare occasions, they accept your request and close your application.  The content of your application won’t go away, though. Therefore, you have to deal with the issues in future applications. Regardless, click here for more information about the withdrawal process.

Essential considerations when receiving a procedural fairness letter

When dealing with a PFL, keep the following issues in mind:

  • You must meet the deadline. However, ask the officer for an extension when the deadline is too tight. If you have the officer’s email, contact them via email. Alternatively, you could submit the request via the IRCC webform.
  • If the time permits, submit an ATIP request to receive the officer’s notes. Of course, you could ask for an extension while submitting the request. Do not ignore the deadline, though. Sometimes you have no choice but to submit the documents without having the notes.
  • A procedural fairness letter could have immense effects. Therefore, consult with or hire a professional to assist you.
  • If you miss the deadline, send backing documents to justify the delays on top of the documents in response to the PFL. However, reply to the PFL as soon as you can. Sometimes the officers refuse the application soon after the deadline.

It may look like a cliché, but prevention is better than cure. Thus, if you submit a complete and clean package in the first place, you could contain receiving the PFL. Moreover, if there are some concerning aspects in your application, try to answer them upfront. Don’t wait for the officer to raise concerns. Deep comprehension of the immigration system could mitigate the chances of receiving procedural fairness letters.

Let us help!

If you have received procedural fairness later or dealing with other issues, fill out the following form. Alternatively, please book a consultation session with me.

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    Al Parsai, LLM, MA, DTM, RCIC
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Adjunct Professor – Queen’s University – Faculty of Law
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    Al Parsai

    Al Parsai is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) in Toronto, Canada. He is an adjunct professor at Queen's University Law School and Ashton College. Al, who holds a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University, is a member of CICC and CAPIC organizations. Al, the CEO of Parsai Immigration Services, has represented thousands of applicants from more than 50 countries to the immigration authorities since January 2011.

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