Immigrants new to U.S. are farming its lands with old ways

Interesting. Wonder if any of this is happening in Canada (apart from the Canadian Sikhs in British Columbia):

It was pitch-black in the early morning after the Washington region’s first snowfall, when the Nigerian farmer went to check on his crops. Olaniyi Balogun pushed open the fence, took two steps, then stamped his boot against the soil. He bent over the rows of kale and gently touched the underside of a palm-size, sprouting leaf.

“Hmm,” he grunted, frowning. Just like he thought — frozen.

Most farmers in the Maryland suburbs stop growing their crops by mid-January, but Balogun wants to stretch out the season as far as he can. His wife says it’s because he’s a workaholic; he disagrees. In the rural towns outside Akure, the city in southwestern Nigeria where he was born, people farm year-round.

“For me, this is the only thing I know how to do,” said Balogun, 53, a stocky man with a deep, steady voice. Every time he steps out onto his farm, he said, he remembers himself as a boy, leaping off a crowded pickup truck into the cornfields, slingshot in hand.

“This is what makes me happy.”

Agriculture was once the driving economic force of Montgomery County, now a booming suburb of 1 million people. But after World War II, rapid industrialization drew residents and resources away from the land, leaving just several hundred farmers in what is now the county’s protected 93,000-acre agricultural reserve.

As the county’s demographics change, another shift is underway. Immigrants, many of whom grew up farming in their home countries, are taking over small pockets of the land — part of what advocates say is a national trend that is most pronounced in West Coast states such as California and Washington.

In the United States, farmers have been — and are — predominantly white and male. A third of them are over 65, and as they march toward retirement, many struggle to find successors, contributing to a crisis within the industry that has seen rises in bankruptcies, loan delinquencies and suicides.

From New York’s Hudson Valley to California’s Central Coast, public and private organizations are trying to connect immigrants with the resources they need to start their own farms or cultivate land owned by others, hoping to infuse the industry with new energy and traditions.

The U.S. agriculture census does not track farmers based on national origin, but judging by its data on race, the growth of immigrant farmers seems likely, experts say. From 2007 to 2017 (the most recent year the census was conducted), the number of farms with Hispanic producers grew about 30%, from 66,000 to 86,000. Those who study the census note that since many land-leasing contracts happen informally, these figures may undercount the number of foreign-born farmers who are bringing their agricultural traditions to U.S. shores.

In her recent book “The New American Farmer,” Syracuse University professor Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern says immigrant farmers often introduce new crops and their own, more sustainable farming practices — complementing a growing U.S. “food movement” that urges consumers to take back control of what they eat.

Some immigrant farmers in Maryland have become their neighborhood’s local producers, reviving fading relationships among buyers, farmers and landowners.

“These farmers, their heart and soul are in the land,” said Caroline Taylor, a Maryland farmer and the head of the nonprofit Montgomery Countryside Alliance. “It’s something people miss.”

A love match service: land + farmer

The alliance runs a program, called Land Link, that matches potential farmers with landowners who don’t want to farm but want to keep their land active. The goal, Taylor said, is to revitalize the agricultural reserve and in turn fend off developers hungry for the land.

Since it started in 2011, the Land Link program has helped to lease out nearly 500 acres. It has gained more momentum in recent years, Taylor said, in part because of increasing demand from immigrant and minority farmers, who constitute the majority of applicants. Alliance staff members receive a growing number of inquiries each week on the program, Taylor added, some from people not even in the country yet.

Before he moved to the United States, Balogun ran his own farm in Nigeria that spanned more than 120 acres. In 2016, he married Tope Fajingbesi, a self-described “city girl” who left Lagos in the early 2000s to study, and later settle in College Park as a lecturer at the University of Maryland. They agreed that he would join her if — and only if — he could farm. But in wealthy Montgomery, buying land, even renting, seemed impossible.

“I said to him, ‘Yes, of course we will do it,’ but inside, I thought, ‘Oh my God, there’s no way,’ ” Fajingbesi, 42, recalled. “What was the plan? I don’t know. We had no plan.”

When Land Link first matched them with landowners Dorothy and Brad Leissa, Fajingbesi crunched the numbers. “$500 a month,” she told her husband. That’s all they could shell out. At an introductory meeting, the Nigerian couple nervously asked the Leissas how much it would cost to rent the acre of land around the their 19th-century farmhouse. When the landlords asked for a dollar, Fajingbesi thought she had misheard. One dollar, the Leissas repeated.

“We’re happy to share,” said Dorothy, a soft-spoken schoolteacher. “Really, we’re happy to let them use it.”

Slowly, Balogun began to build up Dodo Farms, spending 11 — sometimes 12 — hours at the site each day. When he harvested his first tomatoes, he brought a bag to the Leissas’ farmhouse at the top of the hill. At Thanksgiving, he turned up at their door with a 25-pound turkey.

Last year, the couple brought him a gift: a wooden sign for the dim-lit shed where he does his administrative work. On it, the words “OFIISI NIYI” — Yoruba for “Niyi’s office.”

They wanted to show Balogun that he belonged on the farm, Dorothy said.

And that it belonged to him.

What’s old is new again

Minkoff-Zern, the Syracuse professor, interviewed 70 immigrant Latino farmers for her book. Nearly all showed a preference for a specific farming style, she wrote, “one where they are able to regain control over their daily labor and reproduce a specific agrarian way of life.”

They limit use of chemicals, opting for natural alternatives that were used in family farms in their home countries. They go out of their ways to ensure that the crops are safe and healthy. As one Mexican farmer in New York told Minkoff-Zern: “We were organic [in Mexico], we just didn’t know we were.”

Balogun is similar: Instead of commercial fertilizer, he uses cow manure, which he gets free from a nearby cattle rancher. He avoids pesticides, picking out weeds and insects by hand.

“These farmers are working with natural systems, using quote-unquote old school conservation techniques,” Taylor said. “These are folks that have things to teach us.”

Immigrant farmers also offer different crops. In the summer, Balogun grows a type of spinach often used in Nigerian stews but not easily found in this country. Another Land Link farmer, Tanya Doka-Spandhla, 54, almost exclusively grows crops native to South and West Africa — vegetables that grew in the backyard of her childhood home in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Doka-Spandhla, who came to the U.S. two decades ago, said she started her farm in 2015 because she missed food from home. She wanted the mustard greens, “tsunga,” that are sautéed with peanut butter sauce, and the pumpkin leaves, “mubura,” that are boiled and eaten with porridge. She craved the jelly-meat of the bright yellow horned melon, called “kiwano.”

On summer weekends, her three-acre farm in Gaithersburg is a buzzing hub for Montgomery’s expanding West African population.

“It just makes sense,” Taylor said. “We have a million people in the county now. They aren’t all people who want to eat baked potatoes.”

Dodo Farms, too, has earned a loyal following — and not just among immigrants. Among the more enthusiastic fans is Alexa Bely, a 50-year-old biology professor who not only gets most of her household’s produce from Balogun but has persuaded her neighbors in College Park to do the same.

For those who cannot make it to the College Park farmers market, where Balogun sells produce on the weekends, Bely picks up their vegetables and delivers them herself.

“I’ve become a bit of a nut about this,” she admitted, laughing. “But he’s doing something that I really believe in.”

“And,” she added, “his carrots are the best I’ve ever tasted.”

Source: Immigrants new to U.S. are farming its lands with old ways

As 2020 Olympics Approach, Japan’s Treating Foreign Workers Like Indentured Labor

Frightening comparable to  Qatar with the 2022 FIFA World Cup and other Gulf states where passports and other documentation are held by employers:

As Japan ages and the population declines it needs foreign workers more than ever, but it’s unlikely to get them when employers can snatch your passport and keep it, even after you quit—leaving you in legal limbo.It all seems like something that you’d expect to happen in a dodgy part of the Middle East, but nope, it’s happening in the Land of Omotenashi, where everyone is putting on a friendly face with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on the horizon.

Foreign tourists with money are very welcome. Foreign laborers? Not so much. Yet they are needed. The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) union published a report last year, The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, claiming that laborers—many of them foreign—already are being overworked and exposed to dangerous conditions. There simply aren’t enough Japanese to do the jobs that need to be done.

Even if all the sporting venues, new hotels, and housing for the Olympics are completed in time for the start of the games in July, staffing those facilities adequately may be a colossal challenge.

There’s even concern there won’t be enough security staff to police the venues, and the Japanese government is considering asking Japan’s Self Defense Forces to do the job. But soldiers can’t take up the slack elsewhere.

Japan’s Cabinet Office announced last year that the nation has a shortage of about 1.2 million workers, primarily in the construction, agriculture, fishing and hotel industries. Teikoku Data Bank lists 10 major industries in Japan that already are short on labor, not only in construction, but in the automobile industry and information technology.

Perhaps that is why Japan is willing to look the other way when laws get bent, as long as empty workbenches are filled. But Japan’s rep among potential recruits is such that many are discouraged from coming here. The abuse of foreign workers often occurs within the antiquated laws of this country, and the Japanese government seems to have no interest in solving the problem.

BRENDA’S STORY

On Thursday, a Filipino woman, with the financial aid and support of the independent nonprofit called POSSE, which supports labor issues here, sued her employer in the Yokohama District Court. She is requesting the return of her confiscated passport and her graduation certificate, as well as financial compensation. Without her passport, she cannot find a new job or leave the country. Her employer, ironically, is an Immigration Law Firm in Yokohama.

According to the lawsuit and her lawyers, “Brenda”—who has asked us not to use her name, lest she be branded a troublemaker when she seeks future employment—arrived in Japan in 2017. After finishing Japanese language school, she began working for the law office in Yokohama in April of 2019.

“If I give you your documents, you’ll run away.”
— Brenda’s Japanese employer

Brenda was asked to give her employer the documents necessary to process her visa paperwork, and she signed a contract that allowed her boss to “manage” these materials. She did interpreting, translating Tagalog into English, and other secretarial work for the firm. However, when she was paid after the first month she discovered her entire salary was under 100,000 yen (about $900), well below the cost of living. That was half of what she had been promised. She tried to quit the firm, but her boss refused to give her back her papers, saying, “If I give you your documents, you’ll run away.”

Eventually, in early July she did resign, but the firm still refused to give her back her passport. She went to POSSE, which is known for helping young workers, students and foreign laborers.

Makoto Iwahashi, a staff member there, says that when they went to the law office with Brenda to talk to her employer, he refused to cooperate and yelled at them to leave.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Iwahashi. “In order to make non-Japanese work long hours for very little pay without quitting, a number of companies confiscate their employees’ passports.” Many foreign workers complain about poor conditions, wage arrears, workplace injuries, and unfair dismissal, he said, but regulations to protect the rights of foreign workers are far behind where they need to be.”

“This is, after all, a country where Karoshi (death by overwork) is a word everybody knows.”
— Shoichi Ibusuki, labor rights lawyer

“Many workers speak little Japanese,” says Iwahashi, which is a major handicap. “They are afraid to speak up or report the harsh conditions.”

Iwahashi notes that in many countries withholding an employee’s passport is against the law. The Immigration Bureau of Japan says there is nothing illegal about an employer keeping the passport of a foreign worker who is not under the technical trainee program. The Labor Ministry of Japan has issued guidelines discouraging employers from holding onto passports, but there are no penalties for violators.

If Japan wants to attract the large number of workers it needs, says Iwahashi, it’s going to have to do a better job protecting their rights.

Brenda told The Daily Beast, “I had heard stories about foreign workers being treated badly in Japan, but I never expected it from an Immigration Law Office. I guess because they know the law, they know they can get away with it.” She said she feels like an untethered kite in the wind, unable to find work because now she doesn’t have the necessary paperwork to apply for a job, and unable to leave Japan because she does not yet have a new passport, or her old one back.

Still, Brenda is a little lucky. POSSE is paying for the lawsuit and soliciting funds for the court case, which may take up to two years. “Even if the embassy reissues my passport, I’m going to fight this. I will stay and I will work and I will fight. I’m surely not the first foreigner in Japan to suffer this treatment, but I would like to be the last one.”

Brenda’s former employer, the Yokohama legal firm, has not yet responded to requests for comment, despite phone calls, letters, and emails.

Shoichi Ibusuki, the noted labor rights lawyer representing Brenda, says that it’s very rare to sue for the return of a passport in Japan. Most employers would simply return the passport rather than go to court. “But then again very few foreigners would ever be able to take their employers to court in the first place.”

The road to restitution and fair treatment for foreign workers is long and hard; the odds of winning are not on their side.

CHICKENS AND EGGS

“In 2015, I was able to gain back wages from one surly employer of a foreign agricultural worker,” says Ibusuki, “but I had to get a court order to seize 1,000 chickens and their eggs, in lieu of compensation.”

At that point the recalcitrant employer chickened out, as it were, and paid up what he owed—after what had been more than a court battle of more than two years.

Partly for cultural reasons, Japan has never been a model nation when it comes to labor laws and worker protections. This is, after all, a country where Karoshi (death by overwork) is a word everybody knows. Japan’s working hours are some of the longest in the world, according to the International Labor Organization, despite numerous attempts at reform.

It may be a lot to expect a country notoriously unfriendly to labor conditions with its own people to integrate foreign labor successfully, and the history is not encouraging.

In the old days, Japan solved labor shortages in part by conquering Korea or parts of China and integrating them into the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. This doesn’t work so well anymore, but the archaic labor laws have not advanced far from this “golden era” when labor was synomous with slavery.

Modern-day servitude in Japan is more subtle, and a prime example of how it works is the Technical Intern Training Program. It started in 1993 and has come under fire repeatedly  as a breeding ground for the exploitation of foreign labor.

“The ultimate virtue of a Japanese worker: endure silently and work long, long, long hours for low pay.”
— Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University

The Japan Times in an editorial, “Overhaul Foreign Trainee Program”, bluntly stated that a large number of trainees “are in fact used as cheap labor under abusive conditions.”

“Japanese labor laws are deeply flawed and outdated, unfit to protect Japanese workers, much less foreign workers,” says Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies. He notes that while there appears to have been progress made in integrating foreigners into the workplace, most of these advances are merely cosmetic. Saito emphasizes, “There are a multitude of legal ways that a Japanese company can keep a non-Japanese employee in servitude, other than simply taking their passport.”

In the end, Saito points out, the Japanese system for recruiting “is not about measuring skill but measuring endurance. Japanese companies want people who have gone through and completed spartan training programs, who make no complaints, and can build pleasant relationships at their workplace. This is seen as the ultimate virtue of a Japanese worker—endure silently and work long, long, long hours for low pay.”

Japan is a lovely place to visit as a foreign tourist. But currently if you want to work at Hotel Japan as a foreign laborer, you will need to check your human rights and your passport at the front desk.

You can’t change hotels and, to paraphrase The Eagles, while you can check out anytime you like, you may not be able to leave.

Source: As 2020 Olympics Approach, Japan’s Treating Foreign Workers Like Indentured Labor

Portugal’s socialist government celebrates rising immigration numbers

More a country of emigrants which may explain some of the support for immigration:

Portugal‘s government is celebrating rising immigration numbers after the number of foreign nationals living in the country hit half a million for the first time in its history.

The socialist-led government said Portugal had “overcome” barriers to attracting more migrants, who it says are needed due to the country’s relatively low birth-date and ageing population.

“Preliminary data prompt me to say that in 2019, for the first time in our history, the barrier of half a million foreign citizens residing in Portugal has been overcome,” interior minister Eduardo Cabrita told the country’s parliament on Wednesday.

The minister told MPs there were 580,000 foreign nationals were living in Portugal at the end of 2019, up from 490,000 at the end of 2018.

The debate in Portugal over migration contrasts with that in other EU countries, notably the UK – where the government has been aiming to reduce immigration.

Portugal is one of ten EU states where fewer than five per cent of residents are foreign-born; between 2011 and 2016 it also suffered strong emigration due to the fallout from the global financial crisis and austerity.

In 2017 prime minister António Costa’s government passed new laws to boost immigration, with the legislation taking effect in the autumn of 2018.

“We need more immigration and we won’t tolerate any xenophobic rhetoric,” Mr Costa said at the time.

The changes made it easier to come to Portugal for seasonal work, casual work, and study; while the process for regularising undocumented migrants was also modernised. Visas and other bureaucracy were also streamlined.

Notably the Portuguese government has also promised a 50 per cent income tax cut until 2023 to tempt back Portuguese emigrants who have left the country for at least three years.

Portugal’s Socialist Party leads a minority administration that governs with ad hoc support from communists and the radical left.

His party was re-elected in 2019 with a higher percentage of the vote than in 2015 and 22 more seats.

Source: Portugal’s socialist government celebrates rising immigration numbers

USA: Why Hostility to Immigration Runs So Deep

Good commentary regarding some of the causes of the hostility of many Americans to immigration, largely based on misperceptions and not the actual evidence, and the contrast with Canadian support based on immigration that favours skilled workers.

Given US discussions of their H1-B visa program (workers for the tech industry), not convinced that this would change anti-immigration discourse much:

Public opinion about immigration is hard to understand. Americans express more favorable views toward immigration since Donald Trump was elected president:

But these poll numbers come with several caveats. First, the surge in support for immigration might simply be a reactionto the xenophobia of the Trump administration and could fade after he leaves office. Second, the polls say little about the salience of the issue to the two sides; opponents of immigration might be more motivated than advocates, and thus fight harder. Finally, it’s worth noting that even now, those who support decreasing immigration outnumber those who back increasing it. And this data is just for the U.S.; other countries may be going in the opposite direction.

Why does the public seem to have an anti-immigration bias? The bulk of the data shows that immigrants, at least in the U.S., are a healthy and positive force. They are highly upwardly mobile. They make outsized contributions to technology and industry. They don’t push down the wages of native-born workers and in the case of high-skilled immigrants they even raise them. They commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. They pay plenty of taxes that help support local and state governments. They revitalize dying small towns and blighted neighborhoods. Why are so many Americans wary of what seems on paper like an unadulterated good?

One possible reason is that Americans, though more positive toward diversity than those in many other countries, also worry that their culture will be diluted by newcomers. Racial prejudice toward immigrants from nonwhite countries plays a role as well. And politics may also be a factor; because children of immigrants tend to vote for the Democrats, Republicans may fear that immigration poses a threat to their electoral strength.

But on top of all this, anti-immigration sentiment may be intertwined with suspicion of the welfare state. People may overestimate the amount of public resources spent on immigrants. And they may be less willing to distribute government benefits to people from other countries.

That’s the upshot of a recent paper by economists Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva. The authors conducted detailed surveys with 24,000 native-born people in six developed Western countries — the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Sweden and Italy. What they discovered is a pervasive tangle of misperceptions.

First, native-born people in all the countries surveyed tend to substantially overestimate the number of immigrants. Across the entire demographic and political spectrum, people said that the share of immigrants in their countries was about 10 to 15 percentage points higher than it actually was. They also tended to make mistakes about the people coming in, overestimating the share of Muslim immigrants and underestimating the share of Christian ones (except in France). And they tended to underestimate immigrants’ share of the highly educated workforce. The researchers also found that people tended to assume that immigrants receive more welfare benefits than the native-born.

So many people in rich countries seem to think of immigration much the way it’s depicted on the famous poem on the Statue of Liberty — a tired, hungry, poor huddled mass. Even those who normally support the welfare state might be inclined to curb benefits if their country was faced with such a teeming horde of needy newcomers. That inclination will be even stronger among those who don’t like the idea of the welfare state in the first place, who blame the poor for their poverty, who simply don’t care about foreigners, or who buy into racist stereotypes. In a follow-up paper, Alesina and Stancheva show mathematically how all of these factors combine to reduce support for welfare.

Sure enough, Alesina and his colleagues found that when they ask people questions about immigration before asking them about redistribution (rather than afterward), their support for the welfare state goes down. Unsurprisingly, the effect is stronger among conservatives.

So immigration seems likely to reduce support for redistribution. But advanced countries all have big welfare states and are unlikely to abandon them up any time soon. Instead, it seems likely that many will try to shut the gates to foreigners instead.

Those who know the benefits of immigration will have trouble formulating a response. Information campaigns telling people that immigrants are a net fiscal positive seem unlikely to work (the Alesina study, for example, found that respondents weren’t very interested in learning actual facts after the survey was over). Campaigning against racism and negative stereotypes of the undeserving poor may help, but changing deep-seated attitudes is always an uphill battle.

One approach might be to admit more skilled immigrants. Studies show that educated immigrants contribute much more in tax revenue than they take out; most people instinctively know that engineers or doctors are not likely to claim welfare benefits.

Tilting the immigration system toward skilled workers, as Canada and other countries do, won’t just help keep government coffers flush — it might help preserve broad support for both immigration and the welfare state, even in the face of stubborn public misperceptions.

Source: Why Hostility to Immigration Runs So Deep

UK immigration rules are unworkable, says Law Commission

Curious to hear whether any similar issues with respect to Canadian immigration rules, given their complexity. Over to you immigration lawyers and practitioners!

Immigration rules are “overly complex and unworkable” according to the Law Commission, which recommends simplifying them in order to save the government £70m over the next decade.

The regulations have quadrupled in length since 2010 and are “comprehensively criticised for being poorly drafted”, says the body, which advises ministers on updating the law.

When introduced in 1973, immigration rules ran to 40 pages; they now extend across 1,100. Making them more prescriptive was intended to produce more transparent outcomes but instead rendered them harder to follow, the study observes.

Nicholas Paines QC, the public law commissioner, said: “For both applicants and case workers, the drafting of the immigration rules and frequent updates makes them too difficult to follow. This has resulted in mistakes that waste time and cost taxpayer money.

Source: UK immigration rules are unworkable, says Law Commission

Douglas Todd: Robots replacing Canadian visa officers, Ottawa report says

Ongoing story, raising legitimate questions regarding the quality and possible bias of the algorithms used. That being said, human decision making is not bias free and using AI, at least in the more straightforward cases, makes sense from an efficiency and timeliness of service response.

Will be important to ensure appropriate oversight and there may be a need from an external body to review the algorithms to reduce risks if not already in place:

Tens of thousands of would-be guest workers and international students from China and India are having their fates determined by Canadian computers that are making visa decisions using artificial intelligence.

Even though Immigration Department officials recognize the public is wary about substituting robotic algorithms for human visa officers, the Liberal government plans to greatly expand “automated decision-making” in April of this year, according to an internal report.

“There is significant public anxiety over fairness and privacy associated with Big Data and Artificial Intelligence,” said the 2019 Immigration Department report, obtained under an access to information request. Nevertheless, Ottawa still plans to broaden the automated approval system far beyond the pilot programs it began operating in 2018 to process applicants from India and China.

At a time when Canada is approving more guest workers and foreign students than ever before, immigration lawyers have expressed worry about a lack of transparency in having machines make life-changing decisions about many of the more than 200,000 temporary visas that Canada issues each year.

The internal report reveals its departmental reservations about shifting more fully to an automated system — in particular wondering if machines could be “gamed” by high-risk applicants making false claims about their banking, job, marriage, educational or travel history.

“A system that approves applications without sufficient vetting would raise risks to Canadians, and it is understandable for Canadians to be more concerned about mistakenly approving risky individuals than about mistakenly refusing bona fide candidates,” says the document.

The 25-page report also flags how having robots stand in for humans will have an impact on thousands of visa officers. The new system “will fundamentally change the day-to-day work of decision-makers.”

Immigration Department officials did not respond to questions about the automated visa program.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says Ottawa’s sweeping plan “to process huge numbers of visas fast and cheap” raises questions about whether an automated “Big Brother” system will be open to scrutiny, or whether it will lead to “Wizard of Oz” decision-making, in which it will be hard to determine who is accountable.

The publisher of the Lexbase immigration newsletter, which uncovered the internal document, was especially concerned that a single official has already “falsely” signed his or her name to countless visa decisions affecting migrants from India and China, without ever having reviewed their specific applications.

“The internal memo shows tens of thousands of visa decisions were signed-off under the name of one employee. If someone pulled that stunt on a visa application, they would be banned from Canada for five years for misrepresentation. It hides the fact it was really a machine that made the call,” said Kurland.

The policy report itself acknowledges that the upcoming shift to “hard-wiring” the visa decision-making process “at a tremendous scale” significantly raises legal risks for the Immigration Department, which it says is already “one of the most heavily litigated in the government of Canada.”

The population of Canada jumped by 560,000 people last year, or 1.5 per cent, the fastest rate of increase in three decades. About 470,000 of that total was made up of immigrants or newcomers arriving on 10-year multiple-entry visas, work visas or study visas.

The senior immigration officials who wrote the internal report repeatedly warn departmental staff that Canadians will be suspicious when they learn about the increasingly automated visa system.

“Keeping a human in the loop is important for public confidence. While human decision making may not be superior to algorithmic systems,” the report said, “human in-the-loop systems currently represent a form of transparency and personal accountability that is more familiar to the public than automated processes.”

In an effort to sell the automated system to a wary populace, the report emphasizes making people aware that the logarithm that decides whether an applicant receives a visa is not random. It’s a computer program governed by certain rules regarding what constitutes a valid visa application.

“A system that provides no real opportunity for officers to reflect is a de facto automated decision-making system, even when officers click the last button,” says the report, which states that flesh-and-blood women and men should still make the rulings on complex or difficult cases — and will also be able to review appeals.

“When a client challenges a decision that was made in full or in part by an automated system, a human officer will review the application. However, the (department) should not proactively offer clients the choice to have a human officer review and decide on their case at the beginning of the application process.”

George Lee, a veteran immigration lawyer in Burnaby, said he had not heard that machines are increasingly taking over from humans in deciding Canadian visa cases. He doesn’t think the public will like it when they learn it.

“People will say, ‘What are we doing here? Where are the human beings? You can’t do this. People are afraid of change. We want to keep the status quo.”

However, Lee said society’s transition towards replacing human workers with robots is “unstoppable. We’re seeing it everywhere.”

Lee believes people will eventually get used to the idea that machines are making vitally important decisions about human lives, including about people’s dreams of migrating to a new country.

“I think the use of robots will become more acceptable down the road,” he said. “Until the robots screw up.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Robots replacing Canadian visa officers, Ottawa report says

100,000 children in London ‘without secure immigration status’

Of note:

New research estimates that more than 100,000 children are living in London without secure immigration status, despite more than half of them having been born in the UK.

Children who are undocumented may face problems accessing higher education, health care, opening bank accounts, and applying for driving licences, housing and jobs. The findings were condemned by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, as a “national disgrace”.

The study, commissioned by the mayor and undertaken by the University of Wolverhampton, estimated that there were around 107,000 undocumented children and 26,000 18- to 24-year-olds in London. Once an undocumented child turns 18, they face the threat of deportation to a country they may never have visited.

Undocumented people can include those who arrived in the UK with proper documentation but who stayed beyond their permitted time, those who entered without proper documentation, trafficked children, unaccompanied minors whose temporary leave to remain was withdrawn once they reached adulthood and young people born to parents who are themselves undocumented.

The research found that more than half of the UK’s estimated 674,000 undocumented adults and children live in London. It warns that the number of undocumented young people could rise dramatically if the estimated 350,000 young European nationals in the UK are not helped to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme that will enable them to remain after Brexit.

Assessing the size of Britain’s undocumented population is inevitably a challenging process, since there is no official data and it requires counting people outside most formal systems. Instead, the report has reviewed previous research and analysed all available data to come up with a conservative estimate. The study suggests that the population of undocumented migrant children has grown by 56% between March 2011 and March 2017.

The report highlights the high cost of regularising immigration status. “The Windrush scandal has exposed the barriers facing people who have lived in the UK for many years, including a complex application process, a lack of awareness of the system, cuts to legal aid and the high cost of applications – with the high court last month deeming as ‘unlawful’ a government decision to charge £1,012 to register children as British citizens,” the report states. “Since 2012, only 10% of families with undocumented children in the UK have applied to secure their immigration status.”

Majority of Countries Don’t Approve of Trump’s Bid to Curb Immigration to U.S., 33-Nation Study Finds

More interesting public opinion research from Pew. Of most interest is that the same demographic patterns regarding concerns about immigration – right-oriented and rural area voters – are common to most countries:

Countries around the world strongly disapprove of President Donald Trump’s efforts to deter immigration to the U.S., a Pew Research Center poll of 33 nations has found.

In the Pew Research Center’s Spring 2019 Global Attitudes Survey, Canada joined countries including Spain, Sweden, Germany and Turkey in showing high rates of disapproval for Trump’s policy to “allow fewer immigrants” into the U.S.

Most nations in Asia-Pacific, Middle East and North African and Latin American countries, the Pew Research Center said, “disapprove of restricting immigration into the U.S.”

However, it asserted, there are “notable exceptions.”

In Europe, for example, Pew said a median of 51 percent of countries polled said they disapprove of Trump’s efforts.

However, the research center noted, “this masks relative support among many Central and Eastern Europeans for restricting immigration into the U.S.,” including Hungary and Poland, where approval ratings for Trump’s immigration efforts were higher than disapproval ratings.

“While majorities in Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain and the U.K. oppose Trump’s immigration policy, about half or more in Hungary, Slovakia and Poland (as well as a plurality in the Czech Republic) approve,” the study said.

Another “clear exception” to the trend, the study found, was Israel, where 58 percent said they were in support of Trump’s plan to limit migration.

Israel showed the highest rates of approval for the U.S. curbing immigration, followed by Hungary, where 54 percent were, in favor and Italy and Poland, where 51 percent were in support across both nations.

The Pew Research Center also noted that “there are consistent demographic patterns on this question as well, with ideologically right-oriented respondents expressing more approval than those on the left in most countries.”

For example, in Italy, the poll found that at least six in ten of those who identified themselves as being on the “right end of the ideological spectrum” were in support of Trump’s immigration policies, compared to just 26 percent of left-leaning people.

The divide between European supporters of right-wing populist parties and nonsupporters was also clear in the study, with supporters of Marie Le Pen’s National Rally in France three times as likely to support restricting immigration to the U.S. compared to nonsupporters.

Rural areas, the study also found, were also more likely to show support for restricting immigration to the U.S., including rural areas across Britain, where 41 percent of people living in rural regions said they supported the effort compared to 24 percent who lived in urban areas.

Results for the survey, which was conducted in Spring 2019, are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews Pew says were conducted under the direction of Gallup.

Newsweek has contacted the White House and Department of Homeland Security for comment on this article.

Source: Majority of Countries Don’t Approve of Trump’s Bid to Curb Immigration to U.S., 33-Nation Study Finds

Quebec invited 305 skilled worker candidates over two Arrima draws

Quebec’s equivalent of express entry. But hard to understand that this group includes diplomats, consular officials and others on government business. Odd:

A total of 305 candidates for Quebec immigration have been invited over two Arrima draws in December.

In the latest draw on December 17, 2019, a total of 220 invitations went to candidates who submitted their application under Quebec’s Regular Skilled Worker Program.

These candidates were either except from the cap that had been in place when they first applied to the Regular Skilled Worker Program or they were residing in Quebec on a study or work permit on June 16, 2019 when roughly 16,000 Regular Skilled Worker Program applications were cancelled.

Earlier in December, Quebec invited 85 candidates to submit an application for permanent selection.

There were two types of candidates in the December 12 cohort. Either they had a valid offer of employment, or they were staying in Quebec carrying out official duties as diplomats, consular officers, or representatives of intergovernmental organizations, among others.

Since the launch of the Arrima system in July 2019, Quebec has held nine draws and invited 2062 candidates to apply for a Quebec Selection Certificate (Certificat de sélection du Québec, or CSQ).

What is Arrima?

Arrima was introduced in 2018 to manage the bank of candidates for the QSWP after the program was switched from a paper-based “first-come, first-served” application approach to an Expression of Interest (EOI) system.

Quebec’s EOI system manages the bank of candidates for a Quebec Selection Certificate (Certificat de sélection du Québec, or CSQ), which is required in order to apply for permanent residence in the province through the QSWP.

Candidates express their interest by creating a profile in Arrima, which is then placed in the pool of candidates and ranked based on either a score or other criteria.

Quebec’s Immigration Ministry issues invitations to apply for a CSQ based on either a candidate’s score or other factors such as labour needs in the province’s regions.

Candidates who receive a CSQ can apply for permanent residence with Canada’s federal immigration ministry, which verifies medical and criminal admissibility.

Source: Quebec invited 305 skilled worker candidates over two Arrima draws

USA: New Immigration Fees To Hit Businesses Hard

Quite striking. Continues to strengthen the “Canadian advantage” in attracting high-skilled immigrants:

Will “Pay more for less service” be the Trump administration’s new marketing slogan for businesses dealing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)? The administration plans to raise fees more than 50% for many business applications, while workers will need to pay more to become citizens or gain permanent residence.

On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule that would increase fees across key business immigration categories, in essence, levying a tax increase on employers that access the global market for labor. The fee increases come at a time when U.S. job openings in 2019 outnumbered the unemployed by “the widest gap ever,” which, along with a large body of economic research, undermines the argument that immigrants prevent natives from finding jobs.

The fee increases are unlikely to reduce processing times at the agency because USCIS states in the rule that it will not change the policies that have created the longer delays. Lack of money does not seem to be the problem: The average USCIS case processing time increased by 91% between FY 2014 and FY 2018, at the same time the agency’s budget rose by 30%, according to USCIS data, notes the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Processing times became longer at the agency even when the number of new cases dropped by over one million between FY 2017 and FY 2018.

Case processing times have increased in the past few years due to:

  • The USCIS director requiring adjudicators to no longer defer to prior adjudications when evaluating extension of status applications, which has led to a larger workload and compelled many experienced employees of tech companies to leave the United States.
  • The administration employing terms such as “heightened screening and vetting” of applications to justify resource-intensive checks without analysis as to their benefit.
  • USCIS transferring resources, including personnel, to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A close reading of the proposed fee regulation indicates USCIS will continue and, in some cases, expand these policies.

Below is a summary of the proposed fee changes by visa category:

H-1B and L-1 Visas: The fee for L visa petitions will increase by 77%, rising from $460 to $815. The fee for an H-1B petition will rise by 22%, from $460 to $560.

If enacted, much higher fees will be imposed on companies with more than 50 employees that have at least 50% of their workforce in H-1B and L-1 status. USCIS proposes in the fee regulation to reinterpret the law to impose an additional $4,000 fee not just on initial H-1B petitions and a $4,500 fee on initial L-1 petitions, as is the current practice laid out in the statute (Public Law 114-113). USCIS also proposes to impose the fee for extensions when the fraud prevention and detection fee is not collected.

“USCIS’s proposed change in how it interprets the applicability of the Public Law 114-113 fee is unreasonable and clearly unlawful as it runs counter to clear statutory language indicating the 50/50 fees should only apply to petition filings where the fraud prevention and detection fee is also required,” according to Vic Goel, managing partner of Goel & Anderson, LLC. “Given that this proposed interpretation is also diametrically opposite to USCIS’s own longstanding interpretation of this provision, it raises questions about the agency’s motivations for this change after so many years.” (See here for more on the legislative history.)

Other High-Skilled Employment Visas: USCIS is increasing a range of high-skilled visa petitions by more than 50%. Petitions for O visas (extraordinary ability/achievement) would rise by 55%, from $460 to $715. Fees would increase by 53%, from $460 to $705, for petitions for the TN (NAFTA professionals), E (treaty traders and investors), P (athletes/entertainers), Q (cultural exchange) and R (religious workers) categories, as well as for H-3 visas for training. USCIS will change the current I-129 form, now used for multiple categories, and rename the forms based on the visa type.

Premium Processing: USCIS proposes to change premium processing. The cost will remain the same. However, USCIS will now process a case within 15 business days, rather than the current 15 calendar days. That means it will take longer for employers to receive decisions when paying the additional $1,440 premium processing fee.

H-2A and H-2B Visas: The current fee for H-2A (seasonal agricultural) and H-2B (seasonal nonagricultural) petitions is $460. USCIS proposes to raise the fee for H-2A to $860 and H-2B to $725 for petitions with named workers and limiting an application to 25 workers. Costs for employers could rise considerably, since H-2A and H-2B petitions can now list 100 or more workers.

Increasing Costs for Workers, Including for Adjustment of Status: In its comments to the proposed fee rule, AILA notes applicants for adjustment of status (obtaining permanent residence inside the U.S.) will “see at least a 75% increase in the total cost of filing forms I-485 [for adjustment of status], I-765 [for employment authorization] and I-131 [for a travel document].” That is because USCIS will now charge separate fees for the three forms.

USCIS would increase the cost of the application to become a U.S. citizen by more than 80%, rising from $640 to $1,170 (although a separate $85 biometrics fee would be eliminated). USCIS would also raise the cost for an asylum applicant to apply for an employment authorization document from the current zero to $490, one of many policy changes to discourage asylum applications.

Doug Rand of Boundless said in an interview to anticipate at least two or three months into 2020 before a final rule on the fee increases is published. He believes lawsuits and preliminary injunctions are both possible.

Businesses are not pleased with the USCIS proposal to raise fees. “Many companies . . . consider this proposal as imposing increased costs on them for, at best, the same suboptimal services they current receive from USCIS,” commented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The best way to understand the plan to increase fees is as another tax or tariff. It is aimed at admitting fewer immigrants, foreign-born workers and professionals by taxing them more. Given America’s demographic issues, the country’s demand for labor and the increasing importance of high-skilled workers, economists would question the wisdom of the administration’s policies.

Source: New Immigration Fees To Hit Businesses Hard