Plaidoyers pour plus de juges issus de la diversité

Of note (diversity has increased significantly under the current government):

Plusieurs postes de juges étant à pourvoir, le gouvernement Trudeau devra faire plus de place à la diversité dans la magistrature, plaident deux associations d’avocats en immigration au Canada. Le manque de diversité est particulièrement criant à la Cour fédérale, où à peine le tiers des 43 juges, y compris le juge en chef et la juge en chef adjointe, sont des femmes et où les minorités visibles se comptent sur les doigts d’une seule main.

« C’est étonnant. D’autant plus que 85 % des dossiers de la Cour fédérale sont en lien avec l’immigration », dit Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, président sortant de l’Association québécoise des avocats et avocates en droit de l’immigration (AQAADI).

Pour lui, il est indéniable que ces dossiers d’immigration « sont imprégnés du bagage culturel, personnel et historique des personnes qui se présentent devant la justice » et que les tribunaux doivent être plus « représentatifs de la société canadienne moderne ». « C’est pourquoi l’AQAADI croit aussi que la myriade de postes vacants de juges des cours fédérales devraient être pourvus par des personnes appartenant à ces groupes minoritaires », lit-on dans la lettre qu’elle a envoyée au ministère canadien de la Justice.

Cet avis est partagé par l’Association canadienne des avocats et avocates en droit des réfugiés, qui a également enjoint par écrit au ministre de la Justice, David Lametti, de faire une plus grande place à la diversité au sein de la magistrature. À l’automne dernier, des dizaines d’associations juridiques et de groupes de défense des droits des minorités ont aussi envoyé une lettre au procureur général du Canada appelant à ce que les postes judiciaires actuellement vacants à la Cour fédérale soient pourvus par des juges de couleur.

Depuis 2016, et par souci de transparence, le Commissariat à la magistrature fédérale est tenu de publier des données sur les nominations et les candidatures ventilées en fonction du genre, de la diversité et des compétences linguistiques. Entre les dernières élections d’octobre 2019, où le gouvernement Trudeau a été reconduit, et octobre 2020, 60 nouveaux juges ont été nommés, dont 65 % (39) étaient des femmes et 43 % (26) étaient autochtones, issus de minorités visibles, de groupes ethniques ou culturels ou de la communauté LGBTQ. Le quart (15) des juges disaient maîtriser les deux langues.

Même s’il est toujours possible de faire mieux, Andrew Griffith, ex-directeur de ce qui est aujourd’hui Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada, qui s’est intéressé à la question dans des articles pour l’Institut de recherche en politiques publiques, souligne cette amélioration. Il appelle à constater tout le chemin parcouru depuis 2016, où les femmes et les minorités visibles étaient encore bien moins présentes.

Toutefois, ce chercheur à l’Institut canadien des affaires mondiales reconnaît qu’il y a peu de diversité à la Cour fédérale, une situation qu’il n’arrive pas à expliquer. En 2016, à peine 30 % des juges de la Cour fédérale étaient des femmes, mais depuis que le gouvernement Trudeau est au pouvoir, la majorité (52,6 %) des juges qui ont été nommées sont des femmes, selon sa propre compilation mise à jour en avril 2021.

Ce progrès est moins notable pour les minorités visibles et les Autochtones. Le pourcentage de minorité visible était d’à peine 2 % en 2016 et, depuis, environ 8 % des juges nommés appartenaient à cette catégorie. Paul Favel est le seul juge autochtone, sur 43 au total, à la Cour fédérale, et le deuxième dans l’histoire de cette cour.

« Entre diversité et francophonie »

Guillaume Cliche-Rivard soutient que cette ouverture à la diversité ne devrait toutefois pas se faire au détriment de la langue française. « La petite tension qu’on a, c’est qu’on est pris entre diversité et francophonie. On veut favoriser l’accès à des minorités, mais pas au détriment du français, c’est une position difficile. Et on sait qu’un faible pourcentage des juges fédéraux maîtrisent suffisamment le français pour tenir des audiences », dit-il.

Me Cliche-Rivard souligne qu’il y a environ deux ans, il a plaidé devant la Cour suprême et qu’il l’a fait en français. Or, il n’a pas eu le sentiment que les juges anglophones pouvaient tout saisir de son argumentaire. « Je n’ai pas eu l’impression que j’avais été bien compris des juges anglophones. » La ministre responsable des langues officielles, Mélanie Joly, a promis de proposer une réforme de la loi sur les langues officielles d’ici la fin 2021 et s’est engagée à obliger le bilinguisme pour les juges de la Cour suprême.

Pour son dernier tour de piste, le président de l’AQAADI, qui tire sa révérence après un mandat de trois ans, n’a pas seulement voulu interpeller le gouvernement Trudeau sur la nécessité de diversifier la magistrature : il souhaite aussi lui rappeler ses devoirs en matière de protection des réfugiés.

Peu après le dépôt du budget de 2019, Justin Trudeau avait soulevé un tollé en donnant l’aval à une nouvelle stratégie frontalière visant à empêcher les demandeurs de chercher l’asile au Canada s’ils ont déjà présenté au moins une demande semblable dans certains pays, dont les États-Unis. « Même les conservateurs n’étaient pas allés jusque-là », souligne Me Cliche-Rivard, encore en colère à propos de cette mesure.

Soulignant certaines avancées, l’avocat rappelle néanmoins que c’est sous l’actuel gouvernement libéral que les délais pour obtenir une résidence permanente sont de plus de 27 mois, qu’un demandeur d’asile peut être entendu en audience plusieurs années après son arrivée au Canada et que des réfugiés peuvent attendre plus de trois ans avant d’être enfin réunis avec leurs enfants restés dans le pays d’origine. « Et que dire du nombre de dossiers de travailleurs qualifiés du Québec. Il y a encore beaucoup de gros problèmes », conclut Me Cliche-Rivard.

Source: https://www.ledevoir.com/societe/610629/justice-plaidoyers-pour-plus-de-juges-issus-de-la-diversite

‘It’s about time’ to update citizenship guide, Assembly of First Nations Alberta chief says

Of note:

Assembly of First Nations Alberta regional chief Marlene Poitras hopes newcomers to Canada will learn more about Indigenous history and culture once the federal government updates its citizenship guide.

The 68-page document, Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, prepares newcomers for the citizenship test. It has not been updated since 2012.

In its 93rd call to action, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for revising the guide and citizenship test to “reflect a more inclusive history,” including material about treaties and residential schools.

Residential schools are mentioned briefly in the current guide.

“The schools were poorly funded and inflicted hardship on the students; some were physically abused,” one sentence reads.

The Liberal government promised in 2016 that changes to the guide were coming but they have not yet materialized.

“It’s about time — it should have happened a long time ago,” Poitras said Wednesday in an interview with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

Beyond consultations for the guide itself, Poitras said she has recommended that elders participate in the ceremonies for new citizens.

“We have been hard at work over the past few years crafting a new citizenship guide that reflects contemporary Canada,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Nancy Caron in an emailed statement.

Caron said the process has included “extensive collaboration ” with leaders of Indigenous organizations as well as historians, academics, parliamentarians and groups representing racialized communities, women, francophones, the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.

The ministry hopes to share the new guide with Canadians later this year, Caron said.

“From what I understand, from talking to some people who know this better than I do, the new guide will have more extensive coverage of Indigenous history,” said Andrew Griffith, former director general of citizenship and multiculturalism for the IRCC.

On Thursday, the Senate passed Bill C-8, which would revise the citizenship oath newcomers take to include mention of treaties with Indigenous peoples.

“While getting the oath changed is really important, it will really be important to see how the next version of the guide — which apparently is fairly advanced — captures these issues,” Griffith said.

Source: ‘It’s about time’ to update citizenship guide, Assembly of First Nations Alberta chief says

My latest: Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast.

In Policy Options:

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney recently called for a government white paper on immigration to support the Century Initiative’s advocacy in favour of a Canada of 100 million people by 2100. Immigration is seen as the most likely way to address Canada’s aging population and ensure there are a sufficient number of working adults to pay for increased health care and other costs of seniors, with calls for more than 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth to be due to immigration.

In many ways, this has parallels with the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada initiated under a Liberal government in the early 1980s that paved the way for the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement under the Conservative Mulroney government.

While a comprehensive and independent look at our immigration policies and programs is merited, any such review should take a critical look at Canada’s current and future needs, what fundamental questions need to be asked and the realities of what an increase would entail across Canadian society.

In the short term, we need to consider what the experience of past economic downturns tells us about immigrant economic outcomes. Statistics Canada’s Feng Hou gave a presentation in January of this year regarding the labour market outcomes during the COVID-19 lockdown and recovery. That presentation pointed out that following the 1990-91 recession, many recent immigrants were unemployed and under-employed, leading to criticism that Canada was overselling immigration. In contrast, immigrants arriving around the time of the 2008-9 recession were largely unscathed. It is too early to tell whether immigrant outcomes will resemble the deep and prolonged impact of 1990-91 or the minimal impact of 2008-9.

However, given what we know about which sectors (hospitality, travel, retail) and which groups (women, immigrants and visible minorities) have been most affected during COVID-19, how confident should we be that these sectors and groups will bounce back quickly? Will increased immigration exacerbate the difficulties these sectors and groups face? How likely is increased immigration to result in improved working conditions and equality for those we now recognize as “essential workers?”

In the longer term, it is striking the relative lack of attention regarding what sectors and workers are more likely to be vulnerable to automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and remote work, particularly in the context of setting a target some 80 years from now. Will professionals such as accountants, lawyers and other white-collar occupations become increasingly replaced in whole or in part? Will increased automation and AI result in “creative destruction” and new industry and job creation, or a further hollowing out of manufacturing? Will improved remote working technology lead to more offshoring and reduce the interest of moving and immigrating?

Only 8.7 per cent of recent immigrants settle outside our major urban areas. How realistic is the call for more immigrants to settle outside our major cities and urban areas? While the Provincial Nominee Program has had some success as have the various pilots (e.g., Atlantic, Northern and Remote), most new immigrants tend to settle in the larger provinces and urban centres. Government efforts to encourage immigration to francophone communities in English Canada continue to fall short of targets.

There are a number of other medium- and longer-term issues that will need to be addressed to successfully manage such growth.

To start, will governments invest in the public and private infrastructure needed to accommodate such growth, ranging from roads, transit, housing, health care, utilities and parks? Doug Saunders, in Maximum Canada, makes the convincing case that large-scale immigration requires these investments, along with other measures such as zoning to increase population density. However, experience to date suggests that Canadian governments have not done so, hampering growth and quality of life.

Canada already has difficulties meeting its climate change commitments. How likely is it that Canada will be able to do so with a significant increase in population creating further urban sprawl? Even if Canada manages to reduce emissions on a per-capita basis, a larger population will mean an overall increase in carbon emissions.

Will the general consensus among provincial governments in favour of more immigration increasingly confront the reality of Quebec’s reduced percentage of the Canadian population and the consequent increasing imbalance between population and representation in our various political and judicial institutions? How will Indigenous peoples, the fastest-growing group in Canada, perceive increased immigration, compared to addressing their socioeconomic and political issues?

The coalition that the Century Initiative is building in favour of increased immigration across the business community, non-governmental organizations, academics and others is impressive. The business community interest is clear: more immigrants mean more customers. But for any review or commission to be meaningful, it needs to engage with a broader group than those who already favour increased immigration and focus on per capita, rather than overall, growth.

Moreover, such a review has to question the fundamental premise that more immigration will “substantially alter Canada’s age structure and impending increase in the dependency ratio” when the available evidence suggests it will not.

A white paper that largely replicates the group think of the Century Initiative and related players rather than a much-needed more thoughtful and balanced discussion would be a disservice to Canadians.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/may-2021/increasing-immigration-to-boost-population-not-so-fast/

Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Needed modernization:

Ottawa says it will create a new digital platform to help process immigration applications more quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for a faster shift to a new system.

The federal government pledged in the 2021 budget to spend $428.9 million over the next five years to deliver the platform that would gradually replace the existing case management system.

The new platform will launch in 2023 to improve application processing and provide more support for applicants, the government said.

Alexander Cohen, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said the new system is part of a wider shift towards digital platforms across the department and government.

“Alberta for a long time — my home province here — their provincial nomination system was purely paper-based. But then, in the past couple years, they decided to integrate their provincial nominee system with the Canadian federal government system.”

He said almost half of all immigrants who arrive in Canada under economic class programs come through sub-provincial programs.

“The actual larger issue here, I would say, is actually federalism, and maybe to align the provincial and federal governments on the issue of immigration,” he said.

Andrew Griffith, a former director of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department, said it has tried to simplify the process recently by allowing more online transmission of documents.

“These changes are not that easy to implement overnight,” he said.

Griffith said Ottawa’s promise to spend close to a half billion dollars to put in place a new immigration application processing system will be an interesting one to watch because implementing big IT projects presents challenges for the government.

The department should find ways to get rid of any duplication and overlap that may exist in the current immigration system, he said.

“Do we need all those steps? Can some of these steps be automated? Can we use (artificial intelligence) to make determinations?”

Cohen said the immigration department launched in 2018 two pilot projects using computer analytics to help immigration officers triage some online visa applications.

“This computer analytics technology analyzes data and recognizes patterns in applications to help identify routine and complex cases,” he said.

“The goal is to help officers to identify applications that are routine and straightforward for thorough but faster processing, and to triage files that are more complex for a more extensive review.”

He said all decisions on every application are made by a visa officer in all cases and the department’s artificial intelligence tools are not used to render decisions.

“We’re always looking to leverage technology to improve the process for Canadians and those who wish to come here.”

Source: Ottawa to create new system to tackle delays in processing immigration applications

Amid languishing numbers, Canada’s #citizenship process needs to be modernized

My latest:

COVID-19 upended all aspects of immigration policy and programs, requiring government flexibility with respect to documentation, time limits and other requirements. In many ways, this has been beneficial as it required rethinking processes and procedures and adapting to a more online world.

Citizenship was no exception, exposing the underlying weaknesses of citizenship program management: extensive paper-based processes and a dated IT infrastructure.

While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) consistently meets its immigration targets (with the exception of during the first pandemic year), the number of new citizens has fluctuated widely over time, reflecting resource and administrative weaknesses. This is in contrast to the steady increase in the number of new permanent residents (figure 1).

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For 2020, the number of citizenship applications declined 26.5 per cent (from 268,608 in 2019 to 197,472 in 2020). The number of new citizens dropped over twice that number – 55.9 per cent (from 250,083 to 110,214). Finally, new permanent resident applications declined by almost half at 45.9 per cent (from 341,175 to 184,615). Overall, as immigration numbers continued to grow, the naturalization rate of immigrants has declined.

Citizenship is simpler than the myriad immigration programs, and, unlike immigration, falls under exclusively federal jurisdiction. While changes to citizenship are more straightforward, it is a lower priority at both the political and bureaucratic levels than other IRCC programs.

While IRCC was quick to recognize the advantage of encouraging immigration from temporary residents already present in Canada during the pandemic, it initially shut down the citizenship program despite applicants already being in Canada and known to the department.

Modernization

The 2021-22 IRCC departmental plan notes how the department later responded through virtual citizenship ceremonies, piloting on-line knowledge testing and e-applications. Working with the citizenship program in 2008, during an orientation visit to the Sydney, N.S. processing centre, I was shown a large room of paper files that still had to be entered into the tracking system.

Budget 2021 includes $428.9 million over five years “to develop and deliver an enterprise-wide digital platform that would gradually replace the legacy Global Case Management System” to “enable improved application processing and support for applicants, beginning in 2023.” This would be a welcome change if my own experience is any example.

Modernization should result in more informative and timely citizenship information (currently, the government reports on the monthly number of new citizens by country of citizenship). However, there is no public reporting of monthly citizenship applications, province of residence or demographic data such as age, gender or immigration category, in contrast to most immigration datasets.

Modernization also needs to be accompanied by a meaningful citizenship performance standard, based upon the percentage of permanent residents who become Canadian citizens within five to nine years of arrival. This compares to the current and rather meaningless standard which uses the number of all immigrants, whether they arrived five or 50 years ago.

A more ambitious approach, albeit riskier, would help citizenship applicants by pre-populating their forms with permanent residence data and documentation (for example social insurance numbers and tax returns). With exit information now being collected from air carriers, determining whether an applicant has met residency requirements is more straightforward. Overall, applying for citizenship should become a largely automatic process. One could even go further and ensure invitations to apply are sent automatically to eligible applicants to encourage citizenship take-up.

Citizenship education

The IRCC also needs to deliver on existing commitments, including publishing the update to the citizenship guide, first promised  in 2016. A change to the citizenship oath to reflect Indigenous treaty rights is currently before Parliament. The government appears to have walked back from its 2019 election commitment to eliminate citizenship fees as this was not included in the 2021 budget.

The delay in releasing the revised citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, provides an opportunity to reflect on whether more efforts should be made with respect to citizenship education beyond the revising guide and holding high-profile citizenship ceremonies (e.g., at public locations such as a hockey arenas).

Given government plans to increase immigration and provide more pathways for less-educated and lower-skilled persons to become permanent residents, there is a greater need for citizenship education.

The 2018 evaluation of the IRCC’s settlement program indicated that while “Settlement clients reported having knowledge of Canadian laws, rights and responsibilities, …only employment-related services had a positive impact on the level of knowledge.” The 2020 evaluation of the citizenship program revealed that test “Pass rates are lower among applicants with less education and lower language proficiency.”

These evaluations, and census data on naturalization, confirm the need for greater citizenship preparation and training to help new Canadians better understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, particularly in the context of an increase in immigration numbers. Current training offered by settlement agencies and public institutions narrowly focuses on citizenship test preparation rather than a more fundamental understanding of Canada.

Consideration needs to be given to expand the current focus on early arrival integration to include citizenship preparation, either on a stand-alone basis or integrated into language training at intermediate levels, with the curriculum based on, but not limited to, the new citizenship study guide. This would facilitate civic integration, particularly those with less education and language proficiency, and should help address the decline in naturalization among recent arrivals.

COVID-19 continues to provide opportunities to rethink government programs and services, with immigration and citizenship being no exception. While existing government policies and processes make change complex and difficult, IRCC and other departments have been able to make some practical changes to improve existing processes and requirements to attenuate some of the impacts of COVID-19 and pave the way for further changes.

For citizenship, modernization of the IT infrastructure and related processes is key to addressing long-standing inefficiencies and deficiencies in the program. Broadening settlement programming to support more vulnerable groups becoming Canadian citizens should be viewed as part and parcel of increased immigration objectives.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/april-2021/amid-languishing-numbers-canadas-citizenship-process-needs-to-be-modernized/

COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

Data on departures less accurate than arrivals. But a decline in permanent residents of 41,000 in 2020 compared to 2019 using labour force data is much smaller than the drop in new permanent residents, which fell by 156,000, so I think the significance is over-stated:

The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted some recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and family connections.

The number of permanent residents who have been in Canada for less than five years declined by four per cent to 1,019,000 by the end of 2020 from 1,060,000 the year before, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada’s labour force survey that measures the number of workers between 15 and 65 years old by their immigration status.

The number had grown three per cent a year, on average, in the previous 10 years.

The data show that the number of permanent residents who have been in Canada for five to 10 years also dropped from 1,170,000 in 2019 to 1,146,000 in 2020.

“It’s actually not uncommon to have immigrants go back to their home country during the recessionary periods,” said Robert Falconer, a researcher at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

“If they’ve lost their job, they can go and live with their family and not pay rent. They can maybe find some social connections and work back home.”

He said the number of new immigrants fell by about three per cent between 2008 and 2009 during the financial crisis and the recession that followed.

He said many of those who have left in the past year might not come back if the economy doesn’t recover quickly.

“The longer they stay at home in their home countries, the less likely they are to come back to Canada.”

A study by Statistics Canada released in August showed that in the early months of the pandemic, recent immigrants to Canada were more likely than Canadian-born workers to lose their jobs, mainly because they had held them for less time and, as a whole, are overrepresented in lower-wage employment. That includes in service-sector jobs.

Julien Bérard-Chagnon, an analyst with Statistics Canada, said the agency doesn’t keep a monthly count of immigrants who leave the country but a group of its analysts are now working on a paper to examine the issue during COVID-19 pandemic.

“The literature signals that immigrants, especially recent immigrants, are more likely to emigrate than the Canadian-born population,” he said.

While the pandemic has also driven down immigration to Canada by about 40 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, the Liberal government announced in October that Canada is seeking to admit upwards of 1.2 million new permanent residents in the next three years, including 401,000 this year.

But this number seems optimistic as travel restrictions and the sharp economic downtown remain.

“I doubt they will hit their target this year,” Falconer said.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government is very confident it will meet it immigration targets in the next three years.

“In January 2021, we welcomed more new permanent residents than in January 2020, when there was no pandemic,” Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

“We’re already ahead of schedule, welcoming new permanent residents at a rate 37 per cent higher than our projections.”

Falconer said the government is focusing on transitioning temporary residents in Canada to permanent status.

“It’s the best thing to do for people who are living here,” he said. “But in terms of this population growth, it’s a wash, meaning that we’re not actually increasing our population.”

He said this policy is necessary but not sufficient to help the government meet its high immigration target this year.

“Not every temporary resident wants to become a Canadian permanent resident or Canadian citizen. Some of them are here to work, to study and they are perfectly happy to go back home.”

He said the incentive for the government is still to try to increase immigration numbers, especially in jobs related to health care and technology because having fewer immigrants will harm these two sectors more than others.

Andrew Griffith, a former director of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department, says immigrants who arrive during an economic downturns tend to suffer economically, at least in the short term, more than those who arrive when the economy is growing.

He said maintaining high levels of immigration at a time when the economy is weak and sectors such as hospitality, retail and tourism are devastated has an element of irresponsibility.

Griffith said immigrants leaving Canada can reflect a failure of Canadian integration policies.

He said the government needs to put more focus on immigrants who are already here as we face structural change in sectors including hospitality, travel and service industries that will affect mostly women, visible minorities and recent immigrants.

“We may be in a fairly structural shift that will eliminate some jobs or dramatically reduce some jobs, and then what kind of retraining programs or other programs we need to support people as they transition.”

Cohen said the government has invested in settlement services during the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing funding to help boost wages by 15 per cent. It has helped buy personal protective equipment to keep staff safe, as well as cellphones and laptops to ensure services, including language training and job-search help, can be offered remotely.

Falconer said the government should address problems with licensing and professional development that many newcomers face in Canada.

“We make it very, very difficult for somebody who worked in a profession in their home country to come here and work in the same profession.”

“Immigrants come here with aspirations or hopes of being able to work and earn a much better living here in Canada than they did in their home country and they discover that they’re actually going to be working in an unpaid, underemployed job.”

Source: COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

Saunders: How Canada learned what’s wrong with its immigration system – by slamming its borders shut

Usual thought provoking column by Doug Saunders, even if I am more sceptical regarding the government’s approach:

How do you find 401,000 immigrants to become new Canadians when nobody’s even allowed to enter the country? That was the puzzle Ottawa faced at the beginning of the year, after the federal government set admirably high annual immigration targets in 2020 that will bring in 1.2 million people over the next three years in a bold effort to build economic growth through population expansion.

Air and land borders have been shut tight because of the coronavirus pandemic, and neither immigrants nor refugees have been arriving – 2020′s immigration intake was the lowest since the 1990s. The new targets, representing more than 1 per cent of Canada’s population per year, would produce immigration rates Canada hasn’t seen since the 1960s – but begin during a border-closing pandemic. Opposition and business critics said our immigration bureaucrats could never meet that target.

Two weeks ago, those bureaucrats announced a solution that was surprising and potentially ingenious. But it also revealed some of the deep flaws in an outdated and overcomplicated immigration system that was designed for restriction rather than growth, and that leaves hundreds of thousands of families in Canada unable to participate fully in its economy.

In essence, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino recognized that most of those 401,000 immigrants are already living and working in Canada, and often have been for years – they just don’t have the right kind of visa, or haven’t accumulated right number of points along our Byzantine immigration pathway, to qualify for permanent-residency status and eventual citizenship.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, as it does every few weeks, the Immigration Department sent out invitations for selected temporary immigrants, all of whom have worked in Canada for at least a year, to apply for permanent-resident status. Instead of the usual 3,000 to 5,000 invitations, though, it sent out more than 27,000, and hinted that this high rate would continue for some time. In order to find enough current residents to invite, the number of points needed was lowered dramatically. (Canada’s long-established points system, properly known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, awards points toward permanent status for such things as work experience, education and language skills.)

Immigrants who expected to have to wait months or years longer, and to jump through dozens more bureaucratic hoops, suddenly learned they were on a pathway to become Canadians. Immigration lawyers, who found themselves deluged with clients last week, said the supply of qualified high-quality people was always here; it just took a crisis for the government to see it.

“Yes, they can hit the 400,000 target because there are half a million temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada right now,” says Raj Sharma, a Calgary-based immigration lawyer. “I think they’re going to meet the target, and it’s going to have repercussions on the way they do things – they always should have prioritized people already living in Canada.”

Drawing on immigrants with lower point scores is not a case of “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” as Mr. Sharma notes, because the great majority of those in Canada on a temporary basis (with only a few possible exceptions, such as seasonal agricultural workers) are able to be here, for study or work, precisely because they have skills and are fluent in a Canadian language. What has denied most of these people and their families access to citizenship is not a lack of actual skills or experience, but a complex and often self-contradictory set of rules and classifications.

For example, a temporary worker employed for a year as an accounts-receivable clerk does not earn enough points to qualify under normal rules; the same worker employed as a bookkeeper does. In some provinces, an immigrant employed caring for elderly and disabled people in their own homes is ineligible to apply for permanent residency, while an immigrant doing the same work in a long-term care facility is.

At root are two decades-old assumptions behind our immigration system, both of which have been challenged by the pandemic. The first is that highly skilled, educated and fluent immigrants are a comparative rarity and a lengthy weeding-out process is needed to find them. The second is that immigrants divide neatly into two groups of very different people: temporary and low-skilled, and permanent and high-skilled.

That hasn’t been true for decades. Not only are most “temporary” immigrants to Canada people who are educated and considered middle-class in their countries of origin, but temporary low-wage work is most often used as a stepping-stone to permanent work in professions or skilled trades, or to small-business ownership. A high proportion of temporary-immigrant women employed as live-in caregivers and nannies, for example, have postsecondary diplomas and degrees from their home countries.

These assumptions have exacted a high cost on Canada’s economic prospects, by leaving large numbers of newcomers in a limbo state, unable to invest in their communities, start legal businesses or set down family roots because they’re not eligible to become Canadians – even though they’re here because the economy needs them. In the early 2000s, under prime minister Stephen Harper’s earlier policies, a majority of immigrants in Canada were temporary foreign workers without access to permanent residency.

The later Harper years and early Trudeau years saw pathways to permanent residency created for most classes of temporary workers and students. In the prepandemic years, several thousand people per month were making this transition, though few of them were lower-wage immigrants from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who face difficult bureaucratic hurdles regardless of their skill or education level.

The pandemic shone a light on this problem. The jobs deemed “essential” – and thus the jobs that expose employees to the greatest coronavirus risk – are very often the ones held by immigrants who have the least possibility of becoming Canadians.

“I do think that COVID-19 provides an opportunity to rethink our immigration policy, given what we have seen in terms of essential workers, traditionally undervalued and underpaid,” says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department. He doesn’t believe it will be necessary for the government to permanently lower its points-score requirements for permanent residency, especially during a pandemic recession. Even though there are many labour shortages in low-skill fields, much of that demand is filled not by primary immigrants but by their relatives – the family members who accompany them, and who they later sponsor.

This crisis may have come along at just the right time. If Canada wants to reach a level of population density that provides the most ecological, economic and cultural benefits – especially in a world whose borders and markets are becoming less open – it doesn’t have much time. As recent academic analyses have pointed out, Canada’s projected peak population this century (double its current level) may be difficult to reach because many of our chief countries of immigration are watching their own population growth levels collapse and are trying to hold onto their own populations.

What the pandemic has shown us is that newcomers are not guaranteed to be available when we need them, and might not always be willing to jump through all our hoops – not when other wealthy countries, including warmer ones, may be willing to make better offers.

An immigration policy designed for a growing, educated population needs to do three things.

First, it needs to keep families intact – an immigration system built on unaccompanied individuals is bad for immigrants and bad for Canada, as it leaves out the long-term population benefits of immigration.

Second, it needs to avoid leaving people stuck in Canada for a long time without a clear pathway to citizenship. This is true for both refugee applicants and immigrants – it is a huge wasted opportunity to have hundreds of thousands of ambiguous-status individuals knocking around the country, unsure if they should invest in this country or some other one, or when they’ll know for sure.

We wrongly think of our “points system” as assessing the intrinsic worth of an individual, but in fact most immigrants build up points during the time they spend in Canada. Might it make more sense to allow them to accumulate those points not before but after they earn permanent-resident status? That way, the earnings and savings they build up during that time will be used to build a stake in Canada’s society and economy.

But the flip side of a generous and large-scale controlled-immigration system is that removal of non-qualified people should be quick and decisive – ideally through economic incentives rather than far more expensive deportation. Immigration and citizenship should be valued and treated as precious accomplishments, and that means making decisions quickly and fairly.

And finally, the system should allow rapid movement between categories and classes of immigration – ideally without changing anything. Someone in Canada as a temporary medical-industry worker should be able to become a university student, or a permanent-residency applicant, without having to pay lawyers and questionable immigration agents to navigate a labyrinth of applications, waiting lists, lotteries and restrictions. The number of immigration categories, and steps, could easily be cut in half without any detriment to the system.

Canada will never be an open-borders country, and it will never need to return to the era of mass immigration, as we experienced a bit more than a century ago. We can double or triple our population this century within current immigration rates, and without lowering our standards – but we need to start taking advantage of the immigration assets we already have. If nothing else, the pandemic’s border closings have taught us that we need to do things differently.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-canada-learned-whats-wrong-with-its-immigration-system-by-slamming/

Why the Canadian government must review its immigration policy

My latest:

Immigration can be a politically charged topic but the beauty of economics is that there is no arguing with the numbers. Canada’s birth rate has not kept up with an ageing population and so its future prosperity depends significantly on attracting migrants to fill jobs and pay pension contributions.

Immigration is less emotionally charged in Canada compared to most countries, with public debate and discussion focussed more on the specifics of selection criteria and priorities than on fundamental questioning of immigration.

The Canadian government continues to prioritise skills that don’t fully reflect the reality of the country’s needs – which has been laid bare by COVID-19.

Last October, when hopes were high of a flattened curve, the government published an immigration plan for the coming years. The target was to admit 401,000 migrants in 2021 to catch up on the 50% drop in immigration in 2020, with an overall emphasis on skilled economic immigrants.

Yet, this pandemic – which has proven to be far more of a long-term crisis than anticipated – has shown which workers Canadian society actually depends on. Low-paid grocery staff, truck drivers and healthcare support workers were deemed essential, even though they are not prioritised in immigration plans or rewarded monetarily.

The pandemic bottleneck

Between April and December last year, permanent residencyapplications and admissions were down by about 60% compared with the previous year (from 275,000 to 115,000 admissions).

During the same period, the total number of temporary workers residing in Canada fell by 6.3% (from 272,000 to 254,000), except in the agriculture sector where it dropped by 1.5 % (from 45,000 to 44,000). In this period, only 149,000 foreign students applied for study permits – a 59% decrease compared with 364,000 the previous year.

Newcomers are still subject to travel restrictions that are likely to remain in place until this summer, given the ongoing waves of infections and the fact that most people won’t be vaccinated until early autumn. So all of this will create a bottleneck for welcoming in workers that the country urgently needs.

COVID has shown which workers Canada depends on. Low-paid grocery staff, truck drivers and healthcare support workers were deemed essential, even though they are not prioritised in immigration plans or rewarded monetarily.

The reality is that the government’s immigration target levels set last year are no longer realistic for this year and possibly won’t be for next year either.

In fact, maintaining these target levels is questionable as to do so may undermine the credibility of the government’s whole immigration plan.

“Immigrants with higher education levels benefit most from services designed to support economic integration – putting the lower educated at further disadvantage.”

While selection criteria and settlement programming can be adjusted to improve economic outcomes, or at least attenuate the impact of the pandemic-induced downturn, this will be harder to achieve given that the downturn is likely to continue well into the year.

In 2018, the government department Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada evaluated the settlement programme and highlighted several areas for improvement. These included the labour market and the services that support immigrants’ economic integration. The evaluation showed that immigrants with higher education levels or more work experience were benefitting most from these services – further deepening the disadvantage that the lower educated face.

Shouldn’t such programmes serve the essential workers who need this support more? And shouldn’t settlement agencies better support those who are, as John Shield explained, “less digitally adept, lacking in technology and with more limited official language abilities?”

Immigration policies are selective by design: who can obtain permanent residency; who can only stay on a temporary basis; and what are the criteria they have to meet (e.g. language knowledge, education, age, professional qualifications).

Policy steeped in inequality

These criteria invariably raise equality issues between permanent and temporary residents. This can be seen most clearly in the realisation that lower-skilled workers are deemed ‘essential’. These frontline workers are more exposed to COVID-19 than those able to work remotely yet are poorer.

Personal support and healthcare workers – mostly women and visible minorities – are vital to an increasingly ageing population yet remain under-appreciated. Many of these workers come from migrant backgrounds but aren’t supported in immigration policies.

Other inequalities exist in the ability to obtain permanent residency – it’s an easier process for those considered to be higher skilled and less so for those considered lower skilled.

Agricultural workers, given their crowded living conditions, should be prioritised for permanent residency. Some of this work is clearly seasonal, but many jobs, such as meat-packing, are not. This is where a more direct path to permanent residency would be appropriate.

One approach to improve equality in this area would be to draw from the live-in caregivers experience, whereby two years’ full-time work as a temporary resident provided a pathway to permanent residency in Canada. Why not apply this approach to any immigrant who has worked two years full-time?

Recession hits migrants hardest

The Canadian government has essentially adopted a Keynesian approach: more immigration means more demand and thus economic growth.

This approach considers growth only in terms of a country’s GDP, ignoring the more important GDP per capita that shows the total value of all the goods and services produced in a year, divided by the number of people living there. In this way it ignores the importance of equality among all, immigrants and citizens alike.

Yet it’s been proven from prior recessions that recent immigrants suffer the most in a downturn and some remain impacted in the long term.

This is why an increase in migration at this time could likely contribute to an increase in inequality over time, given poorer economic integration for those arriving during this downturn. The Canadian government has yet to adjust its policy though to address these important issues.

Source: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/pandemic-border/why-canadian-government-must-review-its-immigration-policy/

Express entry economic immigration timelines a ‘joke,’ say lawyers as processing times increase

Further to the IRCC departmental results report and its failure to meet its service standards (see https://multiculturalmeanderings.com/2021/01/21/immigration-program-ircc-results-highlights/ :

Canada’s “express entry” approach to key economic immigration programs isn’t working, immigration lawyers say, following a recent report showing that none of them are meeting the six-month service standard.

That failed grade was among 17 missed performance targets the Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) reported for the 2019-20 fiscal year, or 31 per cent of the 54 total targets. It said none of the government’s business lines for permanent residents adhere to service standards during a time period that had yet to feel the pandemic’s full impact. 

Launched in 2015, the express entry process is described by Canada as its “flagship” system for various federal skilled worker programs, and a portion of the provincial nominee program, as a pathway to permanent residence for skilled workers in Canada and overseas. IRCC has said it plans to increase permanent-resident admissions, setting a target of 341,000 for 2020 and 350,000 for 2021, with most of the uptick expected from economic immigration streams.

Evelyn Ackah, founder of Ackah Business Immigration Law in Calgary, laughed when she repeated the program’s name.

“Express entry, that’s a joke. When they first launched that program a few years ago, it was incredible. It was three months, four months,” she said, but now she warns clients it can take more than a year.

She said it’s disappointing the government hasn’t been able to keep up with the high volume of applications. To her, it’s a clear resourcing and staffing problem that doesn’t line up with Canada’s stated goals to increase immigration levels. 

“It’s not working as an express process, absolutely not. It’s the same as the old process, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s lost its credibility with people,” she said. “The trend is getting slower and slower.”

Over the last three years, and before COVID-19 interruptions, processing times have increased, and in some cases, doubled the time it takes to deal with 80 per cent of applicants. The federal skills trade stream jumped from six months in 2017 to one year for the majority of applicants, while the federal-skilled worker and provincial-nominee programs increased from six to nine months in that same time frame. The Canadian Experience Class increased from four to seven months. Across all programs, only 60 per cent of the applications met the standard by the end of 2019.

According to the department’s latest plan, its overall spending is set to increase from $1.92-billion in 2017-18 to the peak last fiscal year at $3.46-billion, before going back down this fiscal year to $2.84-billion, $2.6-billion in 2021-22, and $2.56-billion in 2022-23.

The stretching timelines reflect an increase in applications to express entry, with the 332,331 submissions in 2019 amounting to a 20 per cent jump from the number of applications in 2018. Among the 2019 profiles submitted in 2019, 72 per cent were eligible for at least one of the business programs, according to the program’s year-end report.

https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/5180771/embed

Still, the government promises to those searching for information online about the express entry system that it “will result in fast processing times of six months or less.

“I can’t even bring up that number [to clients],” said B.C.-based  immigration lawyer Will Tao of Heron Law, saying more transparency is needed. 

It’s “misleading” and can “give the wrong impression” to applicants, he said, especially now with the pandemic posing even more of a challenge to processing times.

“I think they pretty much internally abandoned it, so from my perspective, if you’ve done that, then you probably should … let clients know,” he said, calling for better transparency so that people can get more certainty about their situations. 

Even though it’s supposed to be an automated system, based on points, both lawyers said the process gets bogged down during the authentication stage, as officials check over and verify the many documents submitted. Eligible candidates in the pool are given a score based on their skills and experience, with top-ranking candidates invited to submit an application for permanent residence. As of June 2017, IRCC added extra points to candidates with strong French-speaking skills.

Both Mr. Tao and Ms. Ackah acknowledged it can be a complicated process, but Ms. Ackah said that’s all the more reason to match up resourcing.

In IRCC’s report on performance targets, the department said “substantial efforts” have been made to reduce applications that took longer than six months to process in the express entry system.

“While service standards are being met for a higher number of applications compared to previous years, this was offset by an increase in applications and the processing of older applications,” the report said.

The department noted early results show “progression towards higher admission targets” and efforts to increase the intake are having an impact on service standards, in this case, the promise to have the majority completed within six months. The department doesn’t control intake for provincial nominee program’s paper applications and Quebec-selected skilled workers.

By email, IRCC spokesperson Lauren Sankey said the government remains committed to reducing application processing times and improving the department’s service delivery. 

IRCC misses a third of 2019-20 targets

In 2019-20, the department met 37 of 54 performance targets, and missed 17, or 31 per cent. The express-entry delay was the worst among several performance targets the department didn’t reach. Canada’s backlogged asylum system again failed to make the cut, with the department reporting only 32 per cent of asylum claims were referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada within service standards, compared to target of 97 per cent.

A couple of targets found language-development delays for people settling in Canada. In one case, only 37 per cent of IRCC’s settlement clients reported improved official language skills compared to the target of 60 per cent, while 19 per cent of people reported receiving language-training services compared to target of 25 per cent.

Ms. Sankey said every newcomer’s experience is unique, including their participation in settlement services, which is managed by IRCC and delivered by more than 500 service provider organizations across the country, outside of Quebec. Federally funded language training is “a key component” said Ms. Sankey, who noted there’s been a proportionate increase in newcomers with limited knowledge of English or French over the past few years.

In 2019-20, IRCC also reported 2.82 per cent of permanent residents outside Quebec identified as French speaking, compared to the target of 4.4 per cent. Ms. Sankey said under the Francophone Immigration Strategy, IRCC is “pursuing year-round targeted promotion and recruitment” to attract more qualified French-speaking candidates, and noted under the express entry program, the government increased invitations to French-tested candidates from 4.5 per cent in 2018 to 5.6 per cent in 2019.

These results suggest issues with respect to service standards, language training, and refugee claims, said Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute who was once a director general at the department’s Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch.

While many reflect perennial problems and backlogs, given these markers IRCC seems to be “systematically” missing the standards it sets to monitor how well it’s delivering its services, he said.

“So if they’re consistently their targets it says there’s either a management problem, an operational problem, a resource problem, or some combination of those,” he said. 

Even so, he noted a contrasting target the department met: a 91 per cent satisfaction rate from visitor, international students, and temporary worker applicants who reported they were satisfied overall with the services they received. While he doesn’t advocate for lowering targets, Mr. Griffith questioned why the government reports on aspirational or unrealistic goals. 

“Personally, I favour realistic standards for public departmental reports, with aspirational more appropriate for internal use,” he said. 

IRCC’s targets are based on factors like historic trends, program objectives, resourcing levels, client service goals, and evolving influences such as the impact of increasing temporary resident and permanent resident immigration levels, said Ms. Sankey.

“Targets are reviewed regularly, and in some cases, the department establishes ambitious targets that serve to stretch program vision and encourage innovation. In other cases, they are based on baselines and historic trends where achievement is more certain,” said Ms. Sankey, noting following a 2020 departmental review how IRCC tracks performance will change.

Distilling service performance down into two tracks—one for permanent residents (PR) and one for temporary residents (TR)—is not a true representation of the department’s performance, she said, given the disparate programs under the two umbrellas. Instead, IRCC will report on the service standard for each individual program, which Mr. Griffith called a “significant change” given the “overly simple” approach before.

“This change will capture more accurate service standard performance for the many lines of business which make up the temporary and permanent resident programs,” Ms. Sankey said. 

Source: https://hilltimes.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=a90bfb63c26a30f02131a677b&id=4ac92e0ed3&e=685e94e554

The impact of COVID may make it difficult to attract immigrants compared to other G7 countries, making it difficult to meet the targets set for 2024.

Howard Ramos, Dan Hiebert and I have been looking at COVID-19 impact on immigration (my last monthly update can be found here: https://multiculturalmeanderings.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/covid-19-immigration-effects-key-slides-november-2020-draft-1.pdf).

One of the research questions we have is whether or not a country’s ability to manage or control COVID-19 will impact on its relative impact to potential immigrants. Out initial analysis is below, published in Policy Options (the updated slides can be found in the previous post):

Statistics tracking infections and deaths during the COVID pandemic show that Canada is faring better than all its G7 allies, save for Japan. Yet, it is doing far worse than the top five immigration source countries that it draws newcomers from. Canada cannot assume that it looks as attractive as it once did to newcomers, suggesting that it may be time to act proactively to meet ambitious immigration targets.

In October, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino made an ambitious announcement to bring 1.2 million newcomers to the Canada over the next three years. If it the country has a shot at meeting those targets, it cannot not sit back and simply expect those numbers to happen.

Immigration is driven by a complex set of push and pull factors that incentivises migration. Put simply, source countries have attributes that make life look more attractive abroad and host countries have features that attract newcomers. For instance, a weak economy or poorer quality of life at home compared to good jobs and good health abroad.

The lingering impact of the COVID-induced downturn is flipping traditional push and pull factors on their head. In past economic downturns and recessions, for example, recent immigrants suffer the most and this means we need to consider the inequalities that might get triggered by returning to recent levels (340,000 in 2019) too quickly, which the federal government’s plan largely ignores. This is not to mention how Canada’s health care system looks compared to other countries in addressing the pandemic.

The statistics may weaken the perceptions of potential immigrants of Western public health, social welfare programs and quality of life advantages. Take for instance COVID-19 infections-per-million from July to January 2021 as an example. If you look at the top-five immigrant-source countries to Canada (India, China, Philippines, Nigeria and Pakistan) all have far lower rates of infection than the G7 which are among the countries that compete with Canada for newcomers.

Although there may be undercounting of COVID infections and deaths in non-Western countries, rates would have to be five or more times higher to change the trends we report here. We do not believe such issues are significant enough to change the overall picture that rates in G7 countries are among the highest in the world.

Rates of infection can be taken as a proxy of a number of factors. They reflect the strength of a country’s social welfare system, its healthcare system and the quality of life it can offer newcomers. Polling of immigrants to Canada time and time again show that quality of life is a reason people move to the country and it is also seen in polling on specific regions, such as Nova Scotia. Rates of infection put this all into question.

The situation is even more stark when looking at deaths-per-million over the same period in 2020. Again Canada’s top immigrant source countries all have lower rates of death compared to the G7. On this front, again, Canada tends to look better than its G7 allies. But when regions of the country are examined in more depth, Quebec has worse outcomes than other immigrant destinations and has some of the highest death rates in the world.

https://e.infogram.com/3bb049d7-ee59-4cde-b209-ed8f1edbacce?parent_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpolicyoptions.irpp.org%2Fmagazines%2Ffebruary-2021%2Fwill-the-pandemic-make-canada-less-attractive-to-newcomers-2%2F&src=embed#async_embed

The degree to which Canada is to vaccinate may also become a factor, given its sluggish start compared to the UK and U.S. but higher than immigration source countries. Such statistics put into question whether traditional immigration destinations can offer the quality-of-life immigrants seek and this may change mix of the push and pull factors that drove migration before the pandemic.

https://e.infogram.com/7176996e-d1b1-406e-b337-d32fd0bf9c85?parent_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpolicyoptions.irpp.org%2Fmagazines%2Ffebruary-2021%2Fwill-the-pandemic-make-canada-less-attractive-to-newcomers-2%2F&src=embed#async_embed

The statistics put into question the ability of the West to offer strong public health and social welfare safety nets. Dampened perceptions of the West’s advantage will likely impact the speed at which countries recover from the pandemic, the pace at which they can get their economies back to speed and thus their relative attractiveness to immigrants.

In this context, the federal and provincial governments may well need to revise immigration targets downward, at least in 2021. The mix may also need to be revisited given that the economic immigration streams prioritize the higher skilled where one lesson from the pandemic is the essential nature of lower-skilled service jobs. At the same time, Canada’s attractiveness compared to the U.S. will likely decline under the Biden administration, which is of particular importance to the tech sector.

The government cannot take for granted that the push and pull factors that drove migration before COVID will remain the same in the new normal. Instead, Canada needs to act boldly and proactively if it has a chance to returning to being a key player in attracting newcomers.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/february-2021/will-the-pandemic-make-canada-less-attractive-to-newcomers-2/