Saunders: How the pandemic may have made government agencies better at their jobs

Ironic timing, given that large immigration and passport backlogs in Canada. That being said, IRCC is moving on IT and more online services.

But perhaps MPI should have accompanied this analysis with a snapshot on backlogs in all the countries surveyed:

Chaos descended on governments more than two years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of frontline public-service workers and back-office bureaucrats to abandon their offices, stop meeting with clients and managing lineups, and switch quickly to improvised digital services in departments that in many cases had barely moved beyond the fax machine.

Unsurprisingly, some departments became frozen and dysfunctional, leaving a legacy of perpetual waiting lists, undelivered projects and unanswered calls. But an unexpected consequence of the global crisis was that some branches of government actually sharply improved their quality of service, in terms of both timeliness of delivery and effectiveness of results. The virus forced transformations, in many places, that should have happened decades ago.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the way governments have changed how they deal with the process of immigration, settlement and the pathway to citizenship. If you’ve ever emigrated to new country, you know it involves years of day-long waits at government offices, repeat trips to bring in the proper documents, hard-to-arrange appointments with officials, forms that must be handled in person and often years of non-optional classes in language and citizenship. Even for a middle-class immigrant with resources, it’s a complex, disruptive process that can go on for years.

But the pandemic had a striking and often overwhelmingly positive effect on the Western world’s immigration bureaucracies. That’s made apparent in a new study, “The COVID-19 Catalyst,” by Jasmijn Slootjes of the Brussels-based Migration Policy Institute Europe, in which her team looked at the immigration bureaucracies of 14 countries, including Canada’s.

Pretty much every developed country faced twin problems during the pandemic. One, restricted travel and sometimes-closed borders made it very hard to bring in the people who were needed to keep the economy rolling, especially in suddenly crucial fields such as healthcare, eldercare and food production. And two, an already undersized bureaucracy was now working from home and unable to operate service desks, offices and classrooms.

Three important things happened, according to Ms. Slootjes.

First, the entire landing, settlement, integration and naturalization process was moved online. While this created some disadvantages – immigrants often value in-person meetings and the networking opportunities that come with them – these, the researchers were surprised to find, were usually far outweighed by the benefits, which allowed more people to be reached, far more quickly and effectively, across a wider geography and with less inconvenience.

This was particularly true for immigrant women and members of vulnerable refugee communities, who, for various reasons, previously had trouble making in-person meetings during business hours but now could be reached directly, in large numbers. Some countries did this immediately: Germany spent €40-million in 2020 developing online language-oriented integration classes.

Of course, some immigrants and especially refugee claimants have trouble finding internet connections and smart devices. But the speed with which this problem was solved surprised everyone. In the Netherlands, a major new program brought tech companies together with government to give devices to more than 12,000 people. Canada’s tech-donation schemes became far more active, and Ottawa launched a popular digital-literacy program for immigrants during the pandemic.

Second, national governments were forced to work with outside organizations and local governments, who actually have more front-line knowledge. (That’s the paradox of immigration: It’s a national policy area that manifests itself almost entirely at the municipal level.) “In Canada, Finland, Flanders and France, governments were forced to reach out to colleagues in other policy areas to address newly arising issues,” Ms. Slootjes writes

Many countries decided to follow the decentralization lead of Canada, whose settlement and integration services are mostly delivered not by the federal public service but by 500 not-for-profit institutions and local-government offices whose employees and volunteers are able to work longer and more flexible hours, adapt more quickly and work in more trusted relationships with clients, at lower cost.

And third, the pandemic forced government agencies to rethink their primary missions – and sometimes, their entire purpose.

The concept of “integration,” which in Europe had often meant language and “values” education, was quickly redefined around its more important meaning: inclusion in the country’s economy, education and housing systems.

Immigration agencies, which had previously seen themselves as gatekeepers that slowly filtered in the more desirable and well-off people from lists of applicants, suddenly found “a renewed appreciation of low-skilled migrant workers in essential roles,” and often invested in chartered flights and instant naturalization invitations in order to fill the economy’s yawning gaps with such people.

Countries that undertook this rethink are, in this year of overheated recovery, typically having less difficulty with shortages and inflation than countries that stuck to their old ways. And, thanks to the wholesale reinvention of their immigration bureaucracy, they’ve been able to respond better – and with less hassle or controversy – to the millions of Ukrainian refugees they now face.

Few of them will publicly credit a deadly pandemic with making them better at their jobs. But they could.

Source: How the pandemic may have made government agencies better at their jobs

Saunders: The Christchurch massacre may have had a Canadian connection – but there’s a reason you may not know about it [Rebel Media]

Of note:

Three years ago this week, a young man drove to a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers and, strolling through them while firing an arsenal of military-style weapons at worshippers, killed 51 women and men. In the midst of the massacre, he posted an online manifesto that described the murders as acts of racially motivated terrorism intended to stop immigration, using phrases and ideas borrowed from a small circle of extreme-right and white-supremacist publications.

The young man – who we are not naming, in following New Zealand convention – had learned these ideas over a period of months. And one of the apparent sources of those ideas was a Canadian fringe-media outlet – something you may not know, as a result of that outlet’s determined efforts to use the courts to prevent you from reading about it in this newspaper and elsewhere.

Between January of 2017 – around the time he first “had a terrorist attack in mind” – and August of that year, when he moved from his native Australia to New Zealand to begin actively planning the attack, the future murderer spent months reading far-right literature and communicating with people and organizations that had inspired him. By the end of that summer, he possessed “a fully developed terrorist ideology.” Those were the conclusions of a detailed forensic report on the massacre published by the New Zealand Parliament in November, 2020, after the young man had been imprisoned for life on murder and terrorism charges.

We now have a sense of what ideas might have inspired him during those eight formative months. The investigation found that in August and September of 2017, while he was making active plans for the rampage, he made a series of donations to a small circle of publications and organizations. The recipients of his donations, all on the extreme right, had all published or promoted a similar set of then-obscure racially oriented ideas.

One of those organizations was Rebel Media, the Canadian right-wing publisher known for online video sites such as Rebel News. On September 15, 2017, the future terrorist made a donation of $106.68 from his personal bank account to Rebel News Network Ltd. of Canada, using PayPal. Around the same time, he made donations to organizations such as the neo-Nazi publisher Daily Stormer and the white-supremacist organization Generation Identity. It is reasonable to conclude that he felt influenced by those organizations, because they were among the few places in the world then publishing and publicizing the collection of ideas that would be at the core of his manifesto.

Canadians may not be aware of this connection between the Christchurch massacre and their country’s fringe media – and that’s because Ezra Levant, the publisher of Rebel Media, went to great lengths to ensure that it stayed out of the press. Around the time that the New Zealand parliamentary report became public, Mr. Levant launched a series of libel suits against journalists who had mentioned his organization’s possible influence on terrorists and violent individuals and groups. That included a suit against the author of this column for having mentioned the terrorist’s donation to Rebel Media on Twitter, after it appeared in the New Zealand report.

None of these lawsuits have been successful. In 2021, three of them were thrown out by Ontario judges, who agreed with the defendants that the suits were simply attempts to silence the media (or, in legal terms, “strategic lawsuits against public participation”). This January, a judge ruled that, in two suits, Mr. Levant and Rebel Media were “using litigation to silence critics” and ordered the outlet to pay more than $250,000 in costs. In late 2021, Rebel Media dropped its suit against me, too, with an agreement not to pursue its defamation claim against me with respect to my tweets or their contents, and not to pursue any claims against me relating to them.

What Rebel Media appears to have been trying to keep out of the public eye – and, to a large extent, successfully so – was any suggestion that their content could have influenced terrorists and violent figures in several countries.

In preparing my defence around the lawsuit, I found a string of articles and videos that were published on Rebel Media’s sites during those key months when the terrorist was gathering influences, shortly before he made his donation to the Canadian organization. Most have been subsequently deleted from their sites, but can be found on internet archives.

Central to many of those articles is Martin Sellner, an Austrian extreme-right figure who was arrested in 2006 for painting swastikas on synagogues and who, in the late 2010s, made declarations about the “Jewish question” and funded attacks on refugee ships using his extreme-right organization Generation Identity. He has popularized a racial conspiracy theory known as “the Great Replacement,” which holds that people in Western countries from racial or religious minorities are not simply fellow citizens, but the subjects of a plot to “replace” white and Christian people. He is also known for promoting the concept of “white genocide,” which holds that the immigration of racial minorities is a form of extermination.

The Christchurch terrorist was an admitted admirer of Mr. Sellner’s. He corresponded with the extremist repeatedly during those formative months of 2017, and he titled his manifesto “The Great Replacement,” filling it with Mr. Sellner’s quotes and concepts, including “white genocide.” The murderer’s donations appear to have all been directed to Mr. Sellner’s organizations or those that regularly published and advocated his ideas.

That includes Rebel Media. On June 22, 2016, Rebel Media published a post headlined, “Leader of Generation Identity Austria: We want to stop what we call the Great Replacement,” devoted to an adulatory video interview between a Rebel staffer and Mr. Sellner. The post remained visible until at least March of 2019, and carried the tagline, “Martin Sellner of the Austrian chapter of Generation Identity joined me to talk about Europe’s disastrous immigration policies, and why more people like him are fighting back.” Rebel Media’s main Twitter account promoted it with the line, “We want to stop the Great Replacement,” and a photo of Mr. Sellner with one of their staff.

Journalists have also identified at least one other Rebel interview with Mr. Sellner(which has since been deleted), as well as two other instances of posts that appeared during this period in which Rebel hosts reportedly express advocacy for Mr. Sellner. These were among the few places in the world, aside from the Daily Stormer and Mr. Sellner’s own sites, where his ideas could be found in any detail during this period.

The concept of “white genocide,” central to the terrorist’s manifesto, featured prominently on Rebel Media platforms during the time the young man was planning his terrorist attack. On May 31, 2017, Rebel published a much-discussed article, also later deleted, titled “White genocide in Canada?” which asked whether “diversity is just code for population replacement.” Another, published in December, 2016, claimed that a CBC show “celebrates white genocide.” During 2018, other Rebel posts and tweets promoted the “white genocide” concept.

I am not suggesting that this Canadian fringe-media site was responsible for, or approved of, the murderous violence of March 15, 2019; that is solely the responsibility of the man who committed the crimes. But it is quite reasonable to conclude that Rebel Media was an influence on his ideas during the time he was planning an attack, as were the people and concepts the outlet regularly and enthusiastically promoted during those years.

What does appear clear is that Mr. Levant and his colleagues at Rebel Media have devoted considerable effort and expense to ensuring that Canadians do not hear any discussion of their organization’s potential influence on people who commit horrible crimes in the name of baseless racial conspiracy theories.

While Rebel Media’s legal efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, they do mean that many Canadians have spent three years without hearing a word about what could be a Canadian connection to this, and other, atrocities. At a moment when the online publication of hateful fictions is having an increasingly damaging effect on the world, we need to be on guard against such attempts to silence the media.

Source: The Christchurch massacre may have had a Canadian connection – but there’s a reason you may not know about it

Saunders: Canada is now dependent on the ‘illegal’ workers in our midst. They deserve better

Frustrating that we do not have better numbers than the numbers thrown around by advocates. That being said, paths to regularization are better than being underground:

You may not notice that the crew drywalling your house are visitors from Russia on tourist visas that expired a couple months ago. You don’t ask, and your contractor doesn’t, because their work is good, and drywallers are so hard to find these days.

You may not notice that the brilliant young Indian developer you hired to rework your company’s customer-service platform is a graduate student whose visa does not actually allow her to work. It’s impossible to find anyone else with that talent in this economy.

We may not often notice, but undocumented immigrants – also known by the inaccurate U.S. term “illegals” – have become increasingly integral to our economy, and to our working lives, over the past two years.

First, there were the pandemic border closings and restrictions; then, there were the supply chain crises caused by pandemic labour immobility. Together, these have created gaping labour shortages, causing industries and governments to search desperately for skilled workers wherever they can find them.

Ontario, for example, recently asked Ottawa to double the number of skilled immigrants it usually receives; the province currently has more than 300,000 unfilled positions, mainly in health care, food services, manufacturing and construction. A lot of those are essential to the survival of their enterprises, and a good number of them – although accurate counts are hard to get – are being filled by the undocumented.

In other countries, the pandemic has forced governments to be more honest about their dependency on workers without papers. Ireland, for example, recently launched a plan that, when it comes into effect next week, will grant legal residency to tens of thousands of undocumented workers and ex-students who have been living there for at least four years (or three, if they have children). Irish officials say most have been employed throughout that period. (Ireland is also asking the United States to do the same for undocumented Irish immigrants working there.)

That follows Portugal, which granted temporary regularization to 223,000 undocumented migrants in 2020 and 2021; Spain, which gave legal residency to undocumented agricultural workers and granted work permits to foreigners aged 18 to 21 who were unable legally to work; and Italy, the first country to recognize the legal-worker shortage when, in spring of 2020, it granted a right to legal residency to foreign workers in agriculture, domestic service and care work.

Other countries, forced to acknowledge their economic dependence on people who aren’t permitted to be in the country, have had political campaigns to make them legal residents. Australia, whose border-quarantine program reduced pandemic deaths but prevented seasonal workers from entering, acknowledged hundreds of thousands of crucial workers were undocumented (or had become undocumented because they couldn’t leave when visas expired). It dealt with the problem partly the way Canada did: It met annual immigration targets by drawing on hundreds of thousands of people who were already in the country, giving them permanent residency. That still left a lot of workers with ambiguous papers.

Relying on undocumented workers isn’t just inhumane (they’re more likely to be exploited) and fiscally unwise (they’re less likely to pay taxes). It can also be deadly. That’s what health officials have warned in Brazil, where there are possibly millions of undocumented workers, mainly from the countries of the Andes, whose clandestine existence means they’re unlikely to enter a health clinic to get vaccinated. There’s a big campaign to regularize them in order to prevent further disease spread in what is already the world’s most COVID-19 infected country.

Countries such as Canada and the U.S. have been slower to recognize the pandemic-era role of the undocumented, in good part because of news media and political myths that portray the typical “illegal” as someone who paid a smuggler to sneak them across the border at night. In reality, the overwhelming majority, around the world, are people who entered the country legally at an airport and have overstayed their visa or have one that doesn’t permit work.

In Canada, the issue is rarely mentioned in polite society. But it’s well known in government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently used a mandate letter to instruct his new Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, to “explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.”

It’s a typically Canadian way of facing a problem – quietly, slowly and long after other countries have successfully dealt with it. We ought to find a better way – at the very least for the sake of our many neighbours who make our lives better while living in fear and insecurity.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-canada-is-now-dependent-on-the-illegal-workers-in-our-midst-they/

Saunders: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

Good commentary:

For a surgeon who had been risking his life in pandemic-hit Canadian hospitals performing organ transplants, the April 14 invitation was a welcome gift. Despite his highly sought-after, life-saving skills and the risks he was taking to do his job, he’d so far had no pathway to becoming Canadian.

Then Marco Mendicino, the immigration minister at the time, announcedthat Canada would give permanent residency, and thus eventually citizenship, to 90,000 immigrants, refugees and foreign students currently living here on temporary visas and mostly doing in-person jobs deemed “essential.”

It was one part of a broad goal, announced earlier this year, to meet an ambitious target of 401,000 new Canadians in 2021, despite then-closed borders, mainly by drawing on the huge number of people already living and working here.

It sounds good – but the pandemic months have taught us that Canada does not have the immigration system to deliver it.

Almost immediately after that announcement, those invitations collided with a bureaucracy – including a Byzantine and outdated set of federal and provincial immigration rules – that all but prevented those worthy goals from becoming realities.

The transplant doctor soon noticed. He had been slowly accumulating points under Canada’s main immigration system, known as Express Entry, which grants points for things such as education and language fluency and requires full-time work experience in Canada. (Surgeons are classified as self-employed, so have a harder time earning those points.)

While the invitation was a gift, the rules all but prevented him from accepting it. His application – which had to be begun afresh, with no relationship to the existing paper trail of his Express Entry application – had to be personally submitted at a specific time on a weekday. This hours-long procedure on a newly created and deeply dysfunctional and crash-prone web portal was nearly impossible for a working surgeon. For some reason it forbade lawyers and immigration agents from helping, and reportedly barred applicants from working during the application process, which could drag on for months.

The long-standing rules also required him to submit the results of a fluency test in English or French. His language skills weren’t in doubt – you can’t be a high-level surgeon without them – but the testing centres had weeks-long delays, and the minister’s invitation had an hours-long application window.

Many people filed applications without the language test, hoping it could be added informally later. Months later, they found their claims were rejected without any communication from the department, and the whole system had to start again. It was an ordeal for a privileged surgeon; for the nurses and home-care workers for whom the program was intended, it was far worse.

“In 25 years of practice I have never seen the client service as poor as it is now,” says Barbara Jo Caruso, the surgeon’s immigration lawyer. “I think there is a fundamental disconnect right now. … The department needs to change the way front-line workers work, so they can be facilitative and solve problems by making a call. Otherwise they’re wasting enormous amounts of human resources doing the same things over and over.”

The major problem, says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department, is “not understanding the service needs of the target population.”

In essence, Ottawa is trying to force a growth-oriented policy through a haphazard, enormously complex and often uncommunicative set of provincial and federal bureaucracies that were constructed over the last five decades to restrict immigration and control numbers, and to administer a range of often contradictory immigration programs.

The result has been chaotic. Even though experienced front-line health workers ought to be the most desirable new Canadians, Ottawa was not able to come close to its target of 20,000 of them – after the deadline passed this summer, only 7,155 had reportedly been able to get their names on the list. Tens of thousands more simply could not manage to apply.

Other invitations suffered the opposite problem: The target of 40,000 student-visa holders who’ve completed their degrees was met in fewer than two days. Then a computer failure reportedly caused thousands more to be let into the system in a mess of false messaging and panicked confusion, so Ottawa had to give another 7,300 applicants admission.

Despite its high annual immigration targets (which will continue to rise), Canada has become notorious for its inability to turn people into immigrants and citizens without years of unnecessary delay and reams of procedures that can’t be navigated without a lawyer – even if you’re a nanny earning less than minimum wage. Ottawa currently says it has 1.8 million immigration applications stuck in the queue, many lost on the desks of an understaffed and overburdened public service.

A new Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a few weeks ago. He ought to have one job: to scrap and rebuild the entire system, reducing the off-putting hodgepodge of outdated programs and procedures with a single, understandable and sensible immigration pathway for all applicants that actually serves the country’s needs. If nothing else, the pandemic months have taught us that we need to start afresh.

Source: Opinion: The pandemic exposed Canada’s inefficient immigration system. It needs to be scrapped and rebuilt

No more immigration: PM says Britain is in period of adjustment

Will see whether this holds up, or ongoing shortages force a change (see Doug Saunders Bare shelves, empty pumps: Britain’s self-inflicted Brexit wound):

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday he would not return to “uncontrolled immigration” to solve fuel, gas and Christmas food crises, suggesting such strains were part of a period of post-Brexit adjustment.

At the start of his Conservative Party’s conference, Johnson was again forced to defend his government against complaints from those unable to get petrol for their cars, retailers warning of Christmas shortages, and gas companies struggling with a spike in wholesale prices.

The British leader had wanted to use the conference to turn the page on more than 18 months of COVID-19 and to refocus on his 2019 election pledges to tackle regional inequality, crime and social care.

Instead, the prime minister finds himself on the back foot nine months after Britain completed its exit from the European Union – a departure he said would give the country the freedom to better shape its economy.

“The way forward for our country is not to just pull the big lever marked uncontrolled immigration, and allow in huge numbers of people to do work … So what I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills supported by uncontrolled immigration,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“When people voted for change in 2016 and … again in 2019 as they did, they voted for the end of a broken model of the UK economy that relied on low wages and low skill and chronic low productivity, and we are moving away from that.”

It was the closest the prime minister has come to admitting that Britain’s exit from the EU had contributed to strains in supply chains and the labour force, stretching everything from fuel deliveries to potential shortages of turkeys for Christmas.

“There will be a period of adjustment, but that is I think what we need to see,” he said.

But while the government plans to issue thousands of temporary visas for foreign truck drivers and poultry workers, Johnson was clear he would not open the taps of immigration, again shifting the responsibility to businesses to lift wages and attract more workers.

Shortages of workers after Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic have sown disarray in some sectors of the economy, disrupting deliveries of fuel and medicines and leaving more than 100,000 pigs facing a cull due to a lack of abattoir workers.

Conservative Party chair, Oliver Dowden, said that the government was taking measures to hire more truck drivers in general and that the government had started training military tanker personnel to start fuel deliveries on Monday.

“We will make sure that people have their turkey for Christmas, and I know that for the Environment Secretary George Eustice this is absolutely top of his list,” he told Sky News.

But the overwhelming message from the government was that businesses must step up to solve supply chain issues and to entice more British workers with higher wages.

“I don’t believe in a command and control economy so I don’t believe the prime minister is responsible for what is in the shops. This is why we have a free enterprise economy,” foreign minister Liz Truss told an event at the conference.

“I’m sure that the goods will be delivered into our shops.”

But rather than the reset Johnson hoped to preside over in the northern English city of Manchester, the conference looks set to be overshadowed by the crises and criticism of the government’s withdrawal of a top-up to a state benefit for low-income households.

The main opposition Labour Party is set to focus on the removal of the uplift, hoping to undermine those Conservative lawmakers who won over its traditional supporters in northern and central England.

Johnson may also come under fire for breaking with the Conservatives’ traditional stance as the party of low taxes after increasing some of them to help the health and social care sectors.

“We don’t want to raise taxes, of course, but what we will not do is be irresponsible with the public finances,” he said. “If I can possibly avoid it, I do not want to raise taxes again, of course not.”

Source: No more immigration: PM says Britain is in period of adjustment

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/

Saunders: Climate migration isn’t a thing – but maybe we should make it one

Good commentary by Saunders on the reality:

The world is likely to suffer a lot of destruction, disruption, economic and political instability and death as a result of rising global temperatures and ocean levels, even if we’re able to keep atmospheric warming to 2 degrees.

One thing we’re not going to encounter, however, is mass immigration across international borders. “Climate migration,” scholars of the subject tend to agree, is not something that will happen internationally on any significant scale, even under the worst imaginable projections. “Climate refugees” are not a plausible future problem for any developed country.

You may have been led to believe otherwise. A startling range of international organizations and publications have issued reports and alarmist stories based on the assumption that the millions of people whose lands will be hurt by climate change are going to respond by fleeing to another country.

United Nations agencies have embarrassed themselves by predicting climate migrations that never materialize. One charity predicts that a billion people will be displaced by 2050; a news report last year amplified that assumption to 1.5 billion. In July, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story that observed (correctly) that “billions of people” will have their livelihoods hurt by global warming, and then inferred that most of them will become migrants.

The renowned Dutch migration scholar Hein de Haas warned recently that these studies and forecasts lack any credibility because they “are not based on fact and scientific knowledge. They either have no scientific basis at all, or reflect extremely simplistic quasi-scientific reasoning.”

In fact, the scholarly community has come together to warn, with increasing urgency, that the notion of “climate migration” is false and dangerous.

Last November, 31 of the world’s most respected climate scholars published a paper in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change warning against “misleading claims about mass migration induced by climate change” which, they said, continue to circulate in both academia and policy circles without any scientific foundation. Although climate change will indeed threaten lives, they agreed, the notion that a warming climate and rising ocean levels will produce “climate refugees” is a “false narrative” driven by political motives.

Dr. de Haas outlined those motives: “For left-wing groups, it serves to raise attention to the issue of climate change… For right-wing groups, it serves to raise the spectre of future mass migration, and the need to step up border controls.”

Earlier this year, the world’s leading migration scholars published the sixth edition of the standard textbook on the subject, The Age of Migration. Though their work is otherwise deeply concerned about both refugees and climate change, they included a new chapter on “climate migration,” which warns that the concept contradicts everything that actually is known about human responses to climate shocks and disasters.

In the world of actual knowledge, the last 10 years have seen an unprecedented amount of serious, well-funded study into the question of what families and communities in climate-devastated places are going to do when their livelihoods turn into ocean or desert. While the answers are varied and often disturbing, one thing people almost never do under such circumstances is move far away.

The definitive work on climate migration remains the Foresight Report, commissioned in 2011 by Britain’s Government Office for Science, which commissioned more than 80 studies in multiple disciplines. It found that climate will sometimes have an impact on local migration. But that impact is quite likely to be negative – that is, climate change will often prevent people from migrating. Not only that, but it found that when regions suffer climate devastation, people are equally likely to migrate into those regions.

In 2018, the Migration Policy Institute conducted a comprehensive review of all the research evidence on climate and migration. It found that climate shocks are highly likely to reduce a community’s likelihood of moving (by hurting their ability to afford to migrate); when they do use migration as a survival strategy, it’s almost always within the local region.

None of that should have been a surprise. The one thing we’ve long known about immigrants and refugees is that they’re products not of ruin and absolute poverty but of comparative prosperity – and thus ability to move – within their communities.

There will be a lot of human migration during the coming decades – most of it regional or internal – and the small number moving to faraway cities because of climate devastation will be greatly outnumbered by those making exactly the same journey simply in order to have a better life.

The fact is that people who live in highly climate-vulnerable regions, where incomes tend to be low anyway, really ought to be migrating – and countries such as Canada could use them. Rather than spreading false alarm about desperate hordes headed for our borders, we ought to be thinking of ways to encourage and make possible climate migration. The world would be better off if it really was a thing.

Saunders: How was a neo-Nazi threat ignored for years? Because it looked so familiar

Worrisome:

For Berlin actor Idil Nuna Baydar, the past year has been a sequence of escalating shocks, at first private and horrific, which in recent weeks have been shared with millions of other Germans.

The first shock came last year, when she received a series of detailed death threats via private contact information known only to family members. The first was signed “SS Ostubaf,” a Nazi-era paramilitary rank. Other threats were signed “NSU 2.0,” a reference to the National Socialist Underground, a far-right terrorist cell that murdered at least 10 people across Germany between 2000 and 2011.

The threats became more specific, containing information (such as the name of Ms. Baydar’s mother) that was not known to the public. Dozens of other Germans, including lawyers and politicians, received threats from the same source, typically saying they would be killed because of their ethnicity or support for immigration. Ms. Baydar filed a police complaint; the investigation was dropped, without charges, at the end of 2019.

The second shock came when she learned this year that the threats had come from within the police. Her personal information had been obtained from an unauthorized query made on a computer database within a police station in Hesse, the western German state that includes Frankfurt. A newspaper later confirmed that the queries had been made by police officials.

Newspapers, and then public investigators, gradually found out that the “NSU 2.0” group is linked to a national chat network in which members exchanged messages of racial intolerance, extreme-right and neo-Nazi allegiance and sometimes threats of violence. Members of the group allegedly include active German police and military officials.

Some members of the group are allegedly also members of other known extremist groups, including one calling itself the Ku Klux Klan, the outlawed neo-Nazi group Combat 18, and a “prepper” group known as Northern Cross, which believes that there will soon be a complete societal breakdown, perhaps triggered by the group’s actions, and plans to implement something resembling the Third Reich in its aftermath.

Police and government officials until recently played down the incidents and organizational affiliations, claiming that no known far-right networks existed within the police and military.

Over the spring, this argument began to fall apart as investigations revealed just how extensive, and deeply infiltrated into German state institutions, these networks are. On June 14, the Hesse chief of police, Udo Munch, resigned over this.

The final shock for Ms. Baydar came during the past few weeks, when she, along with the rest of Germany, learned that these extremist networks were not just exchanging bigoted memes and making idle threats.

On July 1, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced she would disband one of the companies of Germany’s most elite special-forces unit, the KSK, and forbid the entire unit from participating in any military operations, because it had become so infested with active neo-Nazis.

The military counterintelligence service revealed that at least 600 soldiers are being investigated for extreme-right activities, and that the chat network that united extremist groups had been set up within the KSK.

It emerged that 62 kilograms of explosives and 48,000 rounds of ammunition had disappeared from the KSK, allegedly taken by extreme-right groups. Other military officers were found to be storing huge caches of weapons and ammunition along with Hitler memorabilia.

The “prepper” group Northern Cross, previously seen as extreme but nutty, was said to have amassed tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, built fortresses and training camps, and had drawn up lists of “enemies” to be executed on “Day X,” or the day of Germany’s societal breakdown; last week it emerged that they had purchased body bags and quicklime for this task.

Germans are now asking the question that has long alarmed Ms. Baydar and other targets: How, in a country where even the slightest hint of Nazi-era racial politics is highly illegal and unconstitutional, were they permitted to thrive for so long, when they did very little to conceal themselves?

It seems that it’s because their language and messages had become so commonplace and mainstream. The notion that people of other ethnic or religious groups are “invaders,” once an unmistakable signal of illegal extremism because it was the animating idea behind Hitler’s rise, is now uttered by members of a legal political party, the AfD, and is heard in mainstream right-wing media.

It has international sanction, too: The man chosen by Donald Trump to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Douglas Macgregor, has described religious-minority Europeans as “invaders” in language similar to that heard on the chat network.

It’s a situation Germany has seen before: a violent cancer went unnoticed within the state because its messages had become so numbingly familiar. What we need to be on guard for, in every country, is not just the threat of intolerance, but also the sense of numbness and indifference that allows it to thrive.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-was-a-neo-nazi-threat-ignored-for-years-because-it-looked-so/

@Doug Saunders George Floyd and the dangerously unequal effects of ‘stay at home’ orders

Good column by Saunders:

My pandemic emergency began on March 2, when my daughter’s school in Berlin was abruptly evacuated, the students sent to the safety of their homes. Two weeks later, I was told to work from home, because it would be healthier and less infectious. The next eight weeks were mildly inconvenient. We took long walks, did online homework and felt reassured as we watched the local police wander through the parks and politely ask crowds to sit a bit further apart.

George Floyd’s pandemic emergency began on March 13, when the governor of Minnesota ordered non-essential businesses to shut down and employed people to work from home. That meant losing his income from restaurant work and apparently resorting to a mishmash of temp jobs and hustles to get by. Staying home, for low-income people of colour in his inner-ring Minneapolis suburb, was neither healthier nor safer – it typically meant sharing a poorly ventilated apartment building and getting around on a city bus crowded with essential workers. Likely as a result, he contracted COVID-19. And police were not a source of reassurance, but of fear – as the world now knows, they targeted Mr. Floyd, who was picked up on a petty crime charge and then slowly suffocated to death beneath a police officer’s knee, a death provoked by his race and likely hastened by his coronavirus infection.

“Stay at home” seemed like sound public health advice – but it implies a notion of “home” confined to middle-class, mainly white neighbourhoods, an assumption that your house and street are a less infectious, more isolated and less dangerous place than school or work. For kids in these vulnerable suburbs, being at home, with many children to a bedroom and no computer and a shared ventilation system, is more dangerous than staying at school or crowding into a park. For Mr. Floyd, staying at home meant becoming exposed to the pandemic, being thrust into economic marginality and spending his days in far more danger.

George Floyd was not just typical of most victims of police violence in the United States. He was also very typical of most victims of COVID-19, not just in the United States but across the Western world. In most countries, including Canada, the disease is disproportionately targeting people from racial and ethnic minority communities and those with lower incomes. This is not a result of some biological proclivity – it’s because of the places where people live and work, by choice or by force of housing markets.

In Toronto and Montreal, and in most European cities, the disease has largely skipped majority-white neighbourhoods, and is highly concentrated in places, mainly suburban, where immigration settlement occurs or where housing-market discrimination forces people to live. In Toronto, COVID-19 is overwhelmingly present in parts of Scarborough, North York and northern Etobicoke that have the largest populations of Canadians of African and Caribbean descent. Black Canadians say they feel doubly victimized by the disease and by a police and justice system that discriminates based on colour – and on both counts, the data show they’re right.

According to a Yale School of Medicine study released in May, Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white Americans – and again, this appears to be because their neighbourhoods and workplaces are much more vulnerable (lower-income minorities are far more likely to work in jobs deemed “essential services”). They are also, according to the Economic Policy Institute, likelier to live in crowded housing, and often in multigenerational households where younger members can easily infect older ones. This is also true of many racial-minority communities in Canada and Europe – the ones COVID-19 has hit hardest.

Toronto urbanist Jay Pitter notes that poor and racially marginalized people in Canadian cities tend to live in neighbourhoods that feature “ageing infrastructure, over-policing, predatory enterprises like cheque-cashing businesses and liquor stores, inadequate transportation options, and sick buildings.” As she writes, the inner-suburban identity of these neighbourhoods and their overall low population density contrast with crowding within buildings and on transit routes to create a toxic combination.

“The true underlying root is white supremacy, not geography,” says George Galster, a Detroit scholar who’s been analyzing the economic effects of neighbourhood segregation for six decades. “But it helps to have somebody live separately from you if you are going to psychologically brand them as different and other… The bottom of the segregated housing market is quite unsafe in terms of vermin infestation, lead-paint contamination, poor air conditioning and ventilation systems, basic sanitary facilities that don’t work – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have a physical dwelling.”

“Stay home” must have seemed like sound, safe advice. But for too many of our fellow citizens, home is where the danger is.

Source:     George Floyd and the dangerously unequal effects of ‘stay at home’ orders Subscriber content Doug Saunders 20 hours ago Updated       

Saunders: When viruses threaten, the strongest disinfectant is democracy

Good reminder by Saunders (although current US administration is testing thesis):

If you want to see bold leadership in the fight against this pandemic, look no further than Turkmenistan, where dictator Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov put his foot down and banned any use, in conversation or print, of the word “coronavirus.”

That ought to take care of the problem.

Mr. Berdymukhamedov may occupy a place on the remote fringes of politics (and of sanity), but he is far from the only politician who would like us to believe that a disease outbreak is best fought by suspending democratic practices and ruling by decree.

There is an unhealthy belief, far too prevalent among otherwise liberal-minded people these days, that democracy is not an effective disinfectant for fighting infection.

It’s not hard to reach this conclusion – after all, citizens are being asked to do things, and sometimes compelled by law, that in normal times would be considered grotesque infringements on personal liberties. A lot of emergency decisions have to be made quickly. Isn’t democracy, with its checks and balances and deliberative processes, just a sluggish hindrance?

That was the case made by Viktor Orban, the far-right president of Hungary, when he persuaded his parliament this week – in which his party already has a two-thirds super-majority – to pass an “emergency” law that suspends all elections and allows him to rule by decree, bypass democratic institutions and courts, and imprison anyone who complains. It has no end date.

It was immediately apparent that these new measures have nothing to do with fighting the virus, which has yet to hit Hungary hard. Mr. Orban included language that made it illegal for people to have a gender different from their biological sex – a hot-button topic on the angry right, but one utterly unrelated to virology.

Mr. Orban already holds extraordinary extralegal powers under another “emergency” law passed in 2015, ostensibly to deal with the European refugee crisis, which barely touched Hungary. It was never repealed.

Democratic leaders have done a better virus-fighting job not by seizing absolute power (like Mr. Orban) or by lying and denying the existence of a pandemic threat for months (like U.S. President Donald Trump or his counterparts in Brazil and the Philippines) but by building their country’s reserves of public trust and co-operation by using transparency, compromise and other democratic values to bring everyone together around this difficult common sacrifice, as we’ve seen in the better moments from Asian and European democracies.

As such, it was welcome to see Canada’s opposition parties fight back against attempts by the governing Liberals, who have an unhealthy preference for governing from the backrooms of the Prime Minister’s Office, to allow economic policy to be passed by emergency decree – and for the Liberals to climb down quickly and open their policies to full parliamentary debate.

Nevertheless, there is an alarming number of otherwise democratic people who have pointed approvingly to China – where opaque authoritarian secrecy allowed the new coronavirus to explode and spread internationally in December and early January, before a harsh crackdown slowed its spread.

There is absolutely nothing to suggest that an epidemic is better fought by non-democratic governments.

In fact, the record shows otherwise. In February, researchers from The Economist used the massive International Disaster Database to examine the death and infection data from all recorded epidemics since 1960 – hundreds of outbreaks in hundreds of countries over six decades. The results are striking: “For any given level of income, democracies appear to experience lower mortality rates for epidemic diseases than their non-democratic counterparts.”

In democracies with average incomes similar to China’s, epidemics have killed a third fewer people than they have in China and other autocratic states with similar incomes. This “democracy gap” has remained consistent in recent years and under all sorts of epidemics.

“Authoritarian regimes,” the authors conclude, “although able to co-ordinate massive construction projects, may be poorly suited to matters that require the free flow of information and open dialogue between citizens and rulers … . Non-democratic societies often restrict the flow of information and persecute perceived critics.”

The most impressive responses to the virus are not those ordered, belatedly, by Beijing – or by other countries that have followed China’s lead in imprisoning critics and silencing dissent, including Thailand, Cambodia, Venezuela, Bangladesh and Turkey.

Far more impressive Asian pandemic-fighting results can be observed in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Singapore, where democracy was not suspended but rather used as a tool, and infection curves were flattened even better. I see similar results around me in Germany, where the Chancellor used persuasion and public trust to avoid sending police vans immediately onto the streets.

It is, in many ways, the healthier response – both for democracy and for death rates.

Source:     When viruses threaten, the strongest disinfectant is democracy Doug Saunders 20 hours ago Updated