Canada clamps down on ‘flagpoling’ with immigration restrictions at some border crossings

When regular channels don’t work or take too much time …:

Border enforcement officials have slowly — and quietly — restricted foreign nationals from validating their permanent resident status and processing work and study permits at land ports of entry in southern Ontario and Quebec.

The move to limit the immigration services at the land border has wreaked havoc for temporary residents in Canada who try to immediately obtain or renew their status by briefly travelling to the United States and back — a long-standing practice known as “flagpoling,” symbolizing applicants making a quick U-turn at flagpoles.

Under a pilot program launched last summer, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) began to restrict “flagpoling” to Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week at the Rainbow, Queenston-Lewiston and Peace bridges. It has since expanded to the Lacolle and St-Armand ports of entry in Quebec.

“This is unlawful because there is nothing in the law that authorizes CBSA to deny the processing of these applications for permits and landing documents,” said Barbara Jo Caruso, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section.

“We appreciate that CBSA has 90 different legislations they need to adjudicate on. They have drugs and guns to deal with and immigration is one more thing. But these people are Canadian taxpayers and they are being denied services.”

Although members of the bar association were notified about the changes, Caruso said there has been no public notice issued and the border agency’s website includes no cautions about the pilot.

“Given the consequences, to say this is misleading is an understatement,” she said. “We think the oversight is deliberate because to post otherwise would be to publish a process that is contrary to the regulations.”

Flagpoling has been the preferred way to obtain and validate Canadian immigration status for those who are already in Canada because it typically takes less than 30 minutes for the border processing, allowing applicants to bypass the weeks or months for the immigration department to process the same application or schedule a permanent resident landing interview inside Canada.

The border agency said it has adopted the flagpoling pilot project in order to “mitigate” the high volume and excessive wait times at the land ports of entry due to flagpole cases from Friday through Monday. Last year alone, the agency’s southern Ontario ports of entry processed 4.5 million travellers at the Rainbow, Queenston and Peace bridges, with another 1.2 million at the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle and St-Armand/Philipsburg border entries.

It said the pilot allows unsuccessful flagpolers to re-enter Canada under their current immigration status and apply online, by mail or by making an appointment with the immigration department for processing within the country.

Those who choose to return to a port of entry between Tuesday and Thursday are also warned same-day processing is not guaranteed, pending traffic volume at the border, said Diana Scott, a spokesperson for the agency.

The pilot allows the CBSA to better manage its immigration-related services during peak traffic times while ensuring critical resources are focused on national security and trade priorities.

“The CBSA regularly reviews its operations and prepares operational plans to ensure maximum operational efficiency,” Scott said in an email. “There are no plans at this time to expand the operational model beyond Southern Ontario and Quebec.”

In a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, the bar association said its members were “dismayed” by the extension and expansion of the pilot program. People often flagpole on weekends to avoid taking time off work or taking their children out of school, it noted.

“The refusal to process these requests at ports of entry can have a significant detrimental impact on an applicant’s ability to work or study in Canada, as well as on their health insurance coverage,” said the association.

Dan, who asked his last name be withheld for fear of repercussion by immigration officials, said his wife received her permanent residence visa under his spousal sponsorship before Christmas and the letter stated she had the choice of going to any port of entry to “land” or make an appointment at a local immigration office.

They decided to “flagpole” on New Year’s Eve, a Sunday, so she would be able to validate her status the same day and could apply for OHIP, a social insurance number and start looking for jobs without further delays.

“The booth officer politely said they don’t process the landings or work permits until Tuesday through Thursday, and sent us inside to see what they’ll say,” recalled Dan, a Canadian citizen who works in health care in Toronto.

“Inside there were three or four uniformed officers and a group of two clients just sitting down. In other words, not busy. But instead of being served, we were refused landing and handed a pamphlet about flagpoling, a term I wasn’t familiar with.”

The border agency allowed his wife to return to Canada as a visitor, as opposed to being a permanent resident, and weeks later the couple managed to get her an appointment to land at a local immigration office in the city.

“Why has CBSA decided to take this position? They were providing a convenient and efficient service, which I want more of from the public service, not less of,” said Dan. “I speculate that CBSA is unhappy doing ‘immigration’s’ work, but if the law says they have to, then don’t they have to?”

via Canada clamps down on ‘flagpoling’ with immigration restrictions at some border crossings | The Star

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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