Douglas Todd: Quebec gets four times as much as B.C. to settle immigrants

A perennial but untouchable issue. Makes it difficult to have sympathy for the costs incurred by the irregular asylum seekers:

It’s one of the most lopsided distributions of federal money in memory.

Quebec gets roughly four times as many taxpayer dollars from Ottawa to settle each of its immigrants as B.C., Ontario and several other provinces get.

What’s worse, the one-sided gap is growing bigger each year.

That’s because of a deal called the Canada-Quebec immigration accord, which prime minister Brian Mulroney signed in 1991 to give unique immigration powers to francophone provinces, mainly to appease a surging sovereigntist movement.

As a result, Quebec this year is receiving more than $11,600 for each immigrant and refugee it takes in, with the money meant to provide settlements services such as language and job training.

B.C. receives only about $2,400 for each new immigrant or refugee. Saskatchewan gets about $2,500, Ontario receives about $2,600 and Alberta gets about $3,300.

The disparity between Quebec and the other provinces is soon going to grow even more egregious.

That’s in part because the new premier of Quebec, Francois Legault, elected last year, is carrying through on his promise to cut immigration levels to his province by 10,000 newcomers annually. That means Quebec’s immigrant intake will drop to roughly the same as that of B.C. — about 40,000 a year.

Despite Quebec chopping its immigration levels by 20 per cent, the province will continue to get more money based on the generous financial mechanisms built into the Canada-Quebec accord.

It includes an escalator clause, which dictates that Canada is obliged in most years to give more money to Quebec to settle its new permanent residents, but never less than in a previous year.

What it adds up to is that Quebec will get $559 million for 2019-20, while B.C. will get a paltry $100 million — while needing to provide services to virtually the same number of new immigrants and refugees as Quebec.

Ontario, which accepts about 130,000 immigrants a year (by far the largest of any province), will get $340 million. Alberta, which usually takes about the same number as B.C., will receive $129 million.

It is an amazing sweetheart deal for Quebec. And few Canadians realize it, since the subject is virtually taboo among politicians.

“If Quebec takes in one immigrant or 50,000 immigrants, it still gets the same amount of money under the Canada-Quebec accord,” says Stephan Reichholt, who heads the umbrella organization that oversees 150 different settlement agencies in Quebec.

As one of Quebec’s foremost specialists on immigrants and refugees, Reichholt says the vast majority of Canadians have no idea the unbalanced funding is occurring — mainly because the federal government doesn’t want a fight with Quebec and its voters, and because it’s too embarrassed to draw attention to the huge gaps.

“It drives the feds crazy. But they can’t do anything about it. Most Canadians don’t understand the mechanism (of the accord). They don’t know what’s going on in Quebec,” said Reichhold, director general of the Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes.

“Meanwhile, the federal government is ashamed. It’s basically a taboo subject.”

To put it mildly, Quebec has little incentive to call attention to its golden financial immigration goose.

“I’m happy Quebec gets all the money. Eighty per cent of it normally goes into general revenue,” said Reichholt, adding an undetermined portion, which may be about to increase, is distributed to settlement agencies.

The imbalanced payments go back more than 25 years, to when Mulroney was trying to get Quebec premier Robert Bourassa to sign the Meech Lake accord, which was intended to persuade Quebec and other provinces to adopt  constitutional changes. Quebec never signed the Meech Lake deal.

Instead, it agreed to the offer made by Mulroney and then-immigration minister Barbara McDougall to give Quebec more control of its own immigration policy, even as Ottawa promised to foot the bill for the costs.

Mulroney’s deal committed Canadian taxpayers to giving Quebec a proportion of all federal spending, which would escalate when spending rises — and would never go down.  That “incredible formula,” as Reichholt called it, continues no matter how many immigrants Quebec chooses to accept.

Vancouver-based Chris Friesen, who is chair of the umbrella body overseeing all settlement services in Canada, said the Canada-Quebec immigration accord is a “lopsided” agreement that basically cannot be renegotiated.

“What we have is the new premier of Quebec being elected by calling for 10,000 fewer immigrants. Meanwhile he gets more money to settle them. Where do you sign me up (for such a deal)?” said Friesen, who chairs the national Canadian Immigrant Sector Alliance and is also settlement director for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.

The federal government was meant to encourage nation building, Friesen said, by equitably distributing money to the provinces to support their immigrant and refugee settlement programs, which help newcomers learn English or French, obtain jobs and access social services. But that goal has become skewed by the one-sided accord with Quebec.

This is not the only profitable arrangement Quebec has with Ottawa on immigration. There is also the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program, which attracts nine out of 10 of its millionaire applicants from Asia, mostly China. Each must inject a $1.2 million loan into Quebec’s coffers.

But only one in 10 of the well-to-do migrants who take advantage of Quebec’s investor program choose to live there. Instead, most of the roughly 5,000 migrants a year who exploit the buy-a-passport program immediately move to Metro Vancouver and Toronto.

Legault, the new premier of Quebec, was elected in part on his promise to make sure newcomers to the province better integrate. The premier will now have a chance to show that he intends to make that happen, said Reichholt, by funnelling more money from Ottawa into the province’s settlement programs for immigrants and refugees.

Since Reichholt is tasked with overseeing Quebec’s settlement programs, he expects each agency will receive double or triple the funding this year. He also expects the premier to direct some of the settlement money received through the Canada-Quebec immigration accord into public education, health care and to support temporary foreign workers and international students — something the other provinces are not allowed to do.

“Quebec’s immigration program is unique in the world” in the way the province’s politicians can almost entirely call their own shots, while being generously supported by federal tax dollars, said Reichholt.

“But that’s not necessarily fair for you in B.C.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Quebec gets four times as much as B.C. to settle immigrants

Refugees crossing into B.C. on the rise, immigrant group says

Numbers small compared to Quebec but likely to increase:

On Nov. 18, 2017, Ribwar Omar, a 38-year-old Iraqi Kurd, arrived in Blaine, Wash., by bus. He stopped at a coffee shop, bought a hot chocolate and then, using the GPS on his phone, he made his way through a forest near the Peace Arch and crossed the border into Canada.

Omar is awaiting a refugee hearing, one of 1,277 new refugee claimants that made their way on foot from Washington state to B.C. in 2017. New numbers released by the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISS) show their group has tracked a 76-per-cent increase in individuals accessing their services that have applied for refugee status, and 90 per cent of those arrive the same way Omar did: by walking across the U.S./Canada border between Blaine and Surrey through Peace Arch Park.

Chris Friesen of the ISS calls it “the underground railroad.”

“We have seen single men, families of 12, 13, people in wheelchairs, pregnant women,” said Friesen, with the majority originating from Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Iran and Colombia.

Friesen and other advocates are concerned that the spike in the number of asylum seekers could increase as the weather warms-up. Last summer, over 7,000 asylum seekers entered Quebec through irregular border crossings.

The reason many asylum seekers are using irregular border crossings — through farmers fields or border parks — is because of the Safe Third Country agreement between Canada and the U.S.

Under the deal, signed during the Harper government regime, refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in, unless they qualify for an exception.

“This means that a refugee claimant who came from the United States to Canada through an official border crossing could be detained and deported, or kept in the United States, forcibly impinging their ability to seek asylum in this country,” said Friesen.

Many of the refugee claimants are well-informed about their rights, and will phone the RCMP to be picked up once they arrive in Canada. “The RCMP will drive them to Hornby Street to file their refugee claim,” said Friesen.

“With the numbers that are coming in it is pushing us to the breaking point,” said Friesen, who called the situation “a bloody mess.”

Friesen said ISS is tracking two clear waves of refugee claimants. The first includes those, like Omar, who are able to obtain a legal visitor’s visa to the U.S., and use the United States as a transit point into Canada.

“This is quite new,” said Friesen.

The second stream of new asylum seekers is comprised of individuals who may have been in the U.S. for years, but are vulnerable to the Trump administration’s new policies, including accelerated deportations, the suspension of temporary protection agreements for Haitian and El Salvadoran immigrants, as well as Dreamers.

Friesen said he has been in contact with provincial officials who are planning consultations next month on contingency plans to deal with the continued influx of asylum seekers.

via Refugees crossing into B.C. on the rise, immigrant group says | Vancouver Sun

Canada to admit nearly 1 million immigrants over next 3 years

Good overview with some of the preliminary political reaction. Will be interesting to see how this plays out, but the Conservative focus on integration issues and border controls suggests that the increase itself is not a concern:

Canada will welcome nearly one million immigrants over the next three years, according to the multi-year strategy tabled by the Liberal government today in what it calls “the most ambitious immigration levels in recent history.”

Canadian immigration levels by year

The number of economic migrants, family reunifications and refugees will climb to 310,000 in 2018, up from 300,000 this year. That number will rise to 330,000 in 2019 then 340,000 in 2020.

The targets for economic migrants, refugees and family members was tabled in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon.

Hussen said the new targets will bring Canada’s immigration to nearly one per cent of the population by 2020, which will help offset an aging demographic. He called it a historic and responsible plan and “the most ambitious” in recent history.

“Our government believes that newcomers play a vital role in our society,” Hussen said. “Five million Canadians are set to retire by 2035 and we have fewer people working to support seniors and retirees.”

In 1971 there were 6.6 people of working age for each senior, Hussen said, but by 2012 that ratio had gone to 4.2 to 1 and projections show it will be at 2 to 1 by 2036, when almost 100 per cent of population growth will be a result of immigration; it stands at about 75 per cent today.

Hussen said immigration drives innovation and strengthens the economy, rejecting some claims that newcomers drain Canada’s resources and become a burden on society.

He said the government is also working to reduce backlogs and speed up the processing of applications in order to reunite families and speed up citizenship applications.

Canadian immigration class levels by year

The federal government’s own Advisory Council on Economic Growth had recommended upping levels to reach 450,000 newcomers annually by 2021. Hussen said the government is taking a more gradual approach to ensure successful integration.

“At arriving at these numbers we listened very carefully to all stakeholders who told us they want to see an increase but they also want to make sure that each and every newcomer that we bring to Canada — bringing a newcomer to Canada is half of the job. We have to make sure that people are able to be given the tools that they need to succeed once they get here,” he said.

Focus on integration: Rempel

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel was critical of the plan, suggesting the government needs to do a better job of integrating newcomers.

“It is not enough for this government to table the number of people that they are bringing to this country. Frankly the Liberals need to stop using numbers of refugees, amount of money spent, feel-good tweets and photo ops for metrics of success in Canada’s immigration system.”

She said the Liberals need to bring Canada’s immigration system “back to order” by closing the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that has seen migrants cross into Canada at unofficial border crossings only to claim refugee status.

She also said the immigration system should focus on helping immigrants integrate through language efficiency and through mental health support plans for people who are victims of trauma.

Dory Jade, the CEO of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, welcomed the news although he suggested the numbers should be higher.

“Canada will greatly prosper and grow once the 350,000 threshold has been crossed,” he said. “Nevertheless, we are witnessing a very positive trend.”

The Canadian Council of Refugees also welcomed the news, but wanted more, saying the share for refugees was only increased slightly from 13 per cent this year to 14 per cent in each of the next three years.

Calls for longer-range forecast

In past, there has been a one-year figure for how many immigrants will be permitted into the country, but provinces and stakeholders have called for longer-range forecasts.

A statement from Ontario’s Immigration Minister Laura Albanese, before the announcement, said the province supports the introduction of multi-year levels plans “to provide more predictability to the immigration system and inform program planning.”

“Significant variation in year-to-year immigration levels can dramatically impact the requirement for provincial year-to-year resources. A longer term outlook would help in planning for appropriate service levels and use of resources.”

The statement said Ontario supports growth in immigration levels, particularly in economic immigration categories to support the growing economy.

Diversity drives innovation

During the government’s consultation period, the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance presented “Vision 2020,” what it called a “bold” three-year plan to address growing demographic shifts underway in the country, calling for increased numbers in the economic, family and refugee categories.

It recommended a target of 350,000 people in 2018, which climbs to 400,000 in 2019 and 450,000 by 2020.

Chris Friesen, the organization’s director of settlement services, said it’s time for a white paper or royal commission on immigration to develop a comprehensive approach to future immigration.

“Nothing is going to impact this country [more] besides increased automation and technology than immigration will and this impact will grow in response to [the] declining birth rate, aging population and accelerated retirements,” he told CBC News.

Source: Canada to admit nearly 1 million immigrants over next 3 years – Politics – CBC News

‘Frustrating’ backlog of refugee applications will likely get longer as federal targets drop

Not terribly surprising, both the year-to-(exceptional)-year decline and the resulting frustration:

Spurred on by this year’s fast-tracking of displaced Syrians, nearly 30,000 more people are in line to come to Canada as refugees — but they may be in for a wait as the total number of refugees to be resettled in the coming year is much lower than this year’s target.

According to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada there are 4,264 Syrians with approved applications who are waiting to fly to Canada.

Another 25,756 applications are pending final processing.

Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSBC) calls the 2016 push to resettle tens of thousands of Syrians displaced by a bloody conflict a “bold humanitarian mission.”

“It captured the world’s attention, and, of course, captured Syrian’s interest in the region.”

But with reduced numbers for the refugees to be resettled next year, and the large inventory of applications already being processed by Canada’s immigration offices, Syrian families hoping to come here could be waiting for years.

“It’s something that we need to look at — there is a lot of pent up interest,” Friesen says. Based on current processing times and the already-existing backlog, Friesen says “it could take the government three years to address the private sponsorship applications on file.”

The federal government says 2017 numbers will be lower compared to what it calls the “extraordinary target” in 2016. In 2016, the target for refugees and protected persons was 55,800. In 2017, that number drops to 40,000. But that is for all refugees from across the world, not only from Syria.

As telling, the target number of government assisted refugees (GARS) drops to 7,500 next year, from more than 18,000 over the last 12 months.

….Some patterns emerged when ISSBC surveyed 300 Syrian households who arrived in B.C.

Roughly 17 per cent of the people surveyed say they have found part-time or full-time work. English classes have been popular, with 75 per cent of the respondents saying they had signed up.

Fifteen per cent of the people surveyed reflect symptoms of untreated trauma, ISSBC says.

And three quarters of the newly arrived refugees have family members left in the Middle East who want to come to Canada.

Canada’s immigration department said it’s in the process of finalizing a broad report called “Rapid Impact Evaluation” that will look at how the 26,000 refugees who came by March 2016 are adjusting in Canada but the department would not yet reveal its findings.

Not enough resources for Syrian refugees in Canada: poll

Encouraging high level of overall support despite funding concerns:

Canadians generally support the Liberal government’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, but many think there are not enough resources in communities to support their resettlement, according to a new Nanos Research/Globe and Mail poll.

The poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 68 per cent support or somewhat support the government’s overall response to the Syrian refugee crisis, while 30 per cent oppose or somewhat oppose it. The government has resettled nearly 27,000 Syrian refugees since December of last year, with plans of welcoming thousands more throughout 2016.

“Canadians have given the Trudeau government a green light on this Syrian refugee crisis,” said pollster Nik Nanos. “The one thing that they are concerned about is whether we have the necessary resources to resettle these refugees in our communities.”

When asked if communities have all of the resources they need, such as housing, language training or social services, to resettle Syrian refugees, 61 per cent of Canadians disagreed or somewhat disagreed. On the other hand, 33 per cent agreed or somewhat agreed.

Chris Friesen, settlement services director of the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., said he was not surprised by Canadians’ concerns about the lack of settlement resources at the local level.

“Here in British Columbia for example, we’ve had over the past two years a 15-per-cent cut in the immigrant settlement and language program funding,” said Mr. Friesen. “The types of programs and supports we are seeing that are in short supply range from settlement-informed trauma support programs, a diversity of language programs, [and] additional children and youth programming.”

Mr. Friesen said there is a particular need for youth support, as close to 60 per cent of recently arrived Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. He said many Syrians also have medical issues – physical and mental, including post-traumatic stress disorder – stemming from their experiences during the conflict that require support.

Previous housing problems appear to be nearly solved. For instance, Mr. Friesen said his organization knows of about only six or seven Syrian refugee families still in hotels. During the height of the government’s efforts to resettle 25,000 Syrians before the end of February, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver asked the government to stop sending more refugees there for a few days as they struggled to house the large number of people who had already arrived. As of this week, 97 per cent of government-assisted Syrian refugees had moved into permanent housing, according to a government official.

The official said refugees are using the government services available to them. For instance, language assessments have been done for close to 80 per cent of Syrian resettlement clients over the age of 18, and 34 per cent of those assessed have begun language training.

Settlement funding will be increasing for all jurisdictions this year, the official also said. In addition to a base settlement fund of $588.6-million this fiscal year (outside of Quebec), the federal government has provided $38.6-million as a supplement to help deal with the arrival of the Syrian refugees and will kick in another $19.3-million through the budget, for a total of $646.5-million.

Source: Not enough resources for Syrian refugees in Canada: poll – The Globe and Mail

Immigrant groups ask for more time to settle Syrian refugees

Provides political cover for the incoming government to deal with operational realities while still implementing change in policy and accepting more refugees:

A national association of immigrant and refugee service providers is asking prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau to extend the timeline on his pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada to the end of 2016, rather than the end of this year.

Two months is not enough time to adequately support and settle this number of refugees, which would be over and above the thousands of refugees Canada has already committed to taking in, the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance said in a news release Tuesday.

Canada took in more than 7,500 government-assisted refugees in 2014. About 40 per cent of those arrive between September and December, for reasons that range from overseas processing times, flight availability and foreign visa offices rushing to meet annual targets, said CISSA chairman Chris Friesen.

For B.C., Trudeau’s stated target would mean about 2,000 more refugees in the next two months, in addition to the 800-900 the province already receives, Friesen said.

Extending the timeline would still honour the UN refugee agency’s appeal asking countries including Canada to resettle 100,000 Syrians by the end of next year, he added.

The settlement workers also asked the incoming Liberal government to prioritize the reunification of refugees who are already in Canada with their families overseas, eliminate the issuance of interest-bearing transportation loans that refugees must repay within a year of arriving in Canada, and introduce a housing allowance to top up existing resettlement support assistance.

Source: Immigrant groups ask for more time to settle Syrian refugees

Many older Canadian immigrants live on less than $11,000 per year

Some of the challenges facing older refugees:

Immigrants and refugees who come to Canada later in life face unique challenges in terms of income, livelihood and social integration, said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. The problems are especially acute for seniors who are not from one of the region’s larger ethnocultural communities, such as Chinese, Indian or Filipino, where larger social networks are in place. They represent a small but growing share of immigrants to B.C. and Canada, Friesen said.

“The new and few, we call them.”

On Tuesday, Khaleghi and other immigrant seniors will have the chance to share their stories with key decision-makers and recommend changes to help others like them. The forum, called Moving Forward: Unheard Voices, will include representatives of city governments, health authorities, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the B.C. Seniors Advocate, among others.

Recent policy changes have made things more difficult for immigrant seniors, who typically come to Canada either as sponsored family members or refugees, Friesen said. Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently increased the amount of time families must commit to financially supporting relatives to 20 years from 10 years, which means that only the wealthiest families are able to be reunited on a permanent basis. On the refugee side, Canada now selects people based on need of protection versus ability to settle.

“All these things are colliding together that impact the livelihood and life and dignity of these folks as they age in Canada,” Friesen said. “What was kind of an eye opener for me is, if you arrive at 65 and you have no financial means, your baseline entitlement is under $11,000 (per year) that you have to live on. On top that, if you’re a refugee, not only is it less than $11,000 but you also have to repay your transportation loan that provided you the opportunity to come to Canada.”

Many older Canadian immigrants live on less than $11,000 per year.