An Ottawa-Ontario turf war hobbled efforts to bring in skilled workers. Here’s what ended it

Of interest:

Around the world, ideology drives the politics of immigration by pushing people apart.

Across Canada, geography drives a deeper wedge between rival governments in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park.

Over the past decade, an undeclared turf war has hobbled Ontario’s attempt to recruit skilled workers. The federal government refused to give Canada’s biggest province a significant say in who came here.

Now, Ontario is finally getting a bigger role in selecting skilled immigrants. And Ottawa has belatedly declared peace in our time.

Just in time.

This month, a federal Liberal cabinet minister and his Progressive Conservative counterpart in Ontario agreed to double the skilled immigrants selected by the province for rapid resettlement, matching workers with work. By 2025, Ontario will get to select 18,000 skilled workers, primarily in the health-care, construction and hi-tech fields ― up from 9,000 in 2021 and just 1,000 a decade ago.

How did it happen?

The rise of inflation, the risk of recession, and the recurrence of labour shortages forced Canada’s two biggest governments, at Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill, to work together after years of talking past each other.

But it’s not just the economic environment. The political climate has also brought the rival governments together to collaborate.

Two erstwhile enemies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford, now meet almost monthly to cut cheques and cut ribbons for new factory investments. Against that backdrop of bonhomie, Monte McNaughton, one of Ontario’s most politically astute cabinet ministers, went one step further to bridge the partisan divide with his federal counterpart.

As the province’s minister of labour, McNaughton has long been a linchpin of Ford’s outreach strategy with union leaders. But he also has special responsibility for immigration and training, so when Sean Fraser was sworn in as the federal minister two years ago, McNaughton quickly texted an old pal to get his phone number.

That pal was Katie Telford, the PM’s chief of staff, with whom McNaughton has kept in touch since they served together as teenage pages in the legislature. Armed with Fraser’s number, McNaughton disarmed the new Liberal minister by dropping Telford’s name ― proof that he could work across ideological and geographical lines.

“I got his number from Katie and got ahold of him,” McNaughton told me this week. “I said to him, ‘This is not about politics whatsoever. We have a serious challenge in terms of the labour shortage … so let’s grow the numbers and actually do something that is going to make a meaningful difference on the ground.’”

They’ve been talking and texting ever since ― without political aides, without bureaucratic advisers, just the two of them. They started far apart, because the inherited challenge wasn’t just about bipartisanship but bilateralism.

Historically, the federal government was accustomed to unilateral action while Ontario contented itself with inaction. By contrast, Quebec had led the way decades ago, winning shared jurisdiction on immigration on the strength of its special French-language needs; meanwhile, Western provinces had quietly persuaded Ottawa to let them select thousands of immigrants to meet local labour market needs amid growing economies.

Ontario had never bothered to ask in the past. As the jobs went West, so did the talent.

A decade ago, seven out of 10 immigrants to Western provinces were in the “economic” class, compared to barely half of those coming to Ontario. By the time Queen’s Park woke up to that reality, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in Ottawa were unwilling to help.

“We’re not interested in devolving services to the junior level of government,” then-immigration minister Jason Kenney told me at the time.

Now, with the roles reversed ― there’s a federal Liberal minister in Ottawa, while his Ontario counterpart is a PC ― the roadblocks have been removed and a back channel reopened.

“I give full credit to Fraser,” McNaughton said in our interview. “We were more desperate than other provinces from a labour shortage perspective. We were receiving, as a percentage, less (skilled nominees) than any other province in the country.”

For his part, Fraser says he never saw it as a turf battle. The economic stakes are too high for political grudges or bureaucratic games.

A mismatched labour market “is one of the challenges that keeps me up at night,” Fraser told me at a recent Democracy Forum at Toronto Metropolitan University (where he also talked about crossing party lines to get advice from ex-PM Brian Mulroney).

If workers end up in the wrong regions for the wrong jobs, while skilled jobs are going begging in businesses elsewhere, all Canadians will pay the price of a delayed recovery and missed opportunity, he argued.

“I think this was a unique opportunity for us to increase (Ontario’s) provincial nominee program levels,” Fraser said at the TMU event I co-hosted last week, adding coyly: “Before too long we’re going to show up in Ontario.”

Days later, both ministers did indeed show up in Toronto to announce their landmark agreement. Ontario’s biggest employers promptly hailed the deal as an economic breakthrough that ruptures previous roadblocks.

Despite the doubling of the program, the new numbers are still small and the progress largely symbolic. But it is a strategic first step.

Immigration always has the potential to drive people apart. Consider the continuing tumult in the U.S. and U.K.

Yet two Canadian cabinet ministers quietly came together, in a bipartisan and bilateral way. They tried to work it out, so that the economics would turn out better for workers and workplaces alike.

Small numbers, yes. But no small feat.

Source: An Ottawa-Ontario turf war hobbled efforts to bring in skilled workers. Here’s what ended it

Citizenship oath at the click of a mouse would cheapen tradition, Tory critic

Nice to see the opposition raising the issue as this change requires a political discussion. Sent my Canada Gazette submission to both the Conservatives and NDP, with no reaction from the NDP to date.

Hard to take Minister Fraser’s assertion that “they will still have an opportunity to participate in an IRCC-organized citizenship ceremony shortly after they complete their citizenship” seriously when the main rationale is to reduce the number of ceremonies to save a minuscule portion of the cost of the citizenship program. The inclusion arguments are more of a smokescreen than substantive.

Clearly Minister Fraser doesn’t understand and appreciate how powerful the ceremonies are to new Canadians (and many existing Canadians) in terms of meaningfulness and sense of belongin:

The Conservative immigration critic says a proposal to allow people to become a Canadian citizen with the click of a mouse “cheapens” an otherwise special moment for newcomers.

Citizenship by click is not citizenship,” said Calgary MP Tom Kmiec.

They’re really cheapening citizenship purely for political motivation, to reduce their backlogs.”

The federal government is seeking feedback on a plan to let people take the Oath of Citizenship online, rather than attend an officiated ceremony.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser first floated the idea in January 2022 as a way to speed up processing times, which would have someone “self-administer a digital oath by signed attestation, and celebrate their citizenship at a later date.”

Yet the proposal published in the Canada Gazette late last month would instead allow someone to skip the ceremony entirely.

Fraser did not specify why the proposal had changed, nor who came up with the idea. But he said COVID-19 created a backlog that even virtual ceremonies can’t quickly clear.

“For those people who choose to do an online self-attestation, they will still have an opportunity to participate in an IRCC-organized citizenship ceremony shortly after they complete their citizenship,” Fraser said on Friday, in his first public comments on the proposed regulatory change.

Fraser added that those who have waited years for citizenship would be able to take their oath faster under that process, and he rejected claims it would cheapen the moment.

Kmiec said the ceremonies are a big deal for people like him who were not born Canadian. Kmiec, who immigrated from Poland, still recalls taking his oath in 1989, and said the tradition shouldn’t be diminished as a way to deal with an administrative backlog.

“These are very low-cost events; these are mostly retired civil servants, serving judges and ex-judges who do the actual ceremony,” he said.

“The way they’ve done this tells me that they’re embarrassed by it, because I’d be embarrassed by it too.”

Kmiec argued the backlog stems from Liberal incompetence in administering programs, rather than the pandemic. He is also critical of the lag after newcomers they take the oath, at which point they relinquish their permanent-residence card and await their citizenship certificate in the mail, which can be used to apply for a passport.

“There are some process changes they could do to actually make people’s lives easier,” he said.

In any case, Canada’s former director-general of citizenship and multiculturalism, Andrew Griffith, said the department should have issued a press release about the proposed change instead of “trying to slip it by.”

Griffith retired after a career with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Canada’s foreign service, and said the phrasing in the regulatory proposal and the lack of public-opinion research suggests it’s aimed at reducing costs rather than making things more convenient for applicants.

“It’s driven by the desire to reduce, if not eliminate, ceremonies, virtual or physical. And it’s pretty explicit,” he said.

“One gets the impression as a former bureaucrat that maybe the officials who had to draft the stuff weren’t really that keen.”

Griffith noted that the 1946 Citizenship Act explicitly called for ceremonies that instil the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, as Canada carved out an identity separate from Britain following the Second World War.

“It’s really an abuse of the process, because it goes against the grain of what the Citizenship Act was designed to do,” he argued. “It really goes against one of the fundamental objectives of citizenship.”

The comment period on the proposed change closes on March 27.

If approved, the changes to the citizenship regulations would come into effect at early as June, at a cost of about $5 million.

Source: Citizenship oath at the click of a mouse would cheapen tradition …,

Un serment de citoyenneté en ligne déprécierait le rituel, soutient l’opposition

Legault pitches English Canada for closure of Roxham Road and transfer of migrants

While Premier Legault has a point, he and many commentators in Quebec and the Rest of Canada all too often forget about the annual grant for immigration and integration to Quebec under the 1991 Canada-Quebec accord: funding cannot be reduced no matter how much Quebec decreases the number of immigrants it selects and no matter how great the decrease compared to the Rest of Canada.

The numbers for 2022 illustrated this: $697.03M for 69,000 Permanent Residents, rest of Canada $832.41 M for 366,000 Permanent Residents. Or, about $10,000 per Quebec Permanent Residents compared to about $2,300 for the rest of Canada. This overstates the difference somewhat given what is included in the Accord but not dramatically so.

The Minister’s comments, as quoted, suggests the government has no realistic solution to the underlying problem, which likely is the case, but then some honesty and frankness would be welcome:

After demanding for months that Ottawa stop the flow of migrants into the country, Quebec’s premier is making his pitch to English Canada for the closure of an irregular border crossing popular with asylum seekers — and for their transfer outside his province.

The number of would-be refugees entering Quebec “has exploded,” François Legault wrote in an English-language letter published Tuesday in The Globe and Mail, adding that the province’s social services have been pushed to their limits. The sooner the federal government closes Roxham Road — an irregular border crossing in southern Quebec frequently used by asylum seekers — the better, the premier said.

“This situation even raises several humanitarian considerations, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to receive asylum seekers with dignity,” Legault said.

The letter is similar to the one Legault wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday. But unlike the letter to Trudeau, Legault’s message in the Globe does not include concerns that the arrival of thousands of asylum seekers is putting the French language in Montreal at risk. The premier also doesn’t mention that he’s asked Trudeau for more money to pay for the costs of caring for would-be refugees.

“We have therefore asked the federal government to settle new asylum seekers in other provinces that are capable of supporting them with dignity,” Legault wrote in the Globe. The letter called for Ottawa to transfer to other provinces all new asylum seekers who enter irregularly, “while Quebec catches its breath.” Ottawa should issue work permits and process refugee applications faster, he added.

“In the meantime, Mr. Trudeau’s government should send the message loud and clear to would-be migrants not to come via Roxham Road anymore.”

For months, the Legault government has been calling on Ottawa to close Roxham Road and to transfer asylum seekers to other provinces. The influx of would-be refugees in Quebec has put significant strain on the housing, education and social services sectors, the government says.

According to federal government statistics, more than 39,000 people claimed asylum in Quebec in 2022 after crossing into Canada outside official ports of entry, mostly through Roxham Road. About 369 people who crossed irregularly over that period claimed asylum in the rest of the country. In total, around 64 per cent of all asylum claims in Canada in 2022 were made in Quebec.

In response to Legault’s letter to Trudeau, the office of federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said Monday that Ottawa had transferred thousands of migrants to Ontario to take pressure off Quebec, adding that the government was working with other provinces and municipalities to find other temporary accommodations.

Source: Legault pitches English Canada for closure of Roxham Road and transfer of migrants

Why Canada’s plan to bring in 1.45 million permanent residents won’t fix the labour shortage

Of note, pretty hard hitting:

With a master’s degree in nursing and six years of experience teaching nursing students in the Philippines, Rodolfo Lastimosa Jr. figured he’d quickly get a licence to work as a registered nurse in Canada.

In September, he passed his RN exam in Ontario — 11 years after arriving in this country.

Upon coming here, his overseas credentials had been “downgraded.” He found he had to work as a live-in caregiver while qualifying to become a practical nurse (RPN), then return to school for yet another bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“There was just no other way for me but to go back to school,” says Lastimosa, a 43-year-old living in Toronto, who cared for a man with dementia and later worked for a home-care health agency while juggling his studies, costly upgrading courses and qualifying exams.

At one point, Lastimosa, living paycheque to paycheque while also financially supporting his family back home, didn’t have the money for transit fare. But he says his drive pushed him through all the necessary hoops to return to his practice.

“It was tough and I had to be strong,” says Lastimosa. “My goal was always to be an RN in Canada to help others. It took me a while, but I’m proud of myself.”

Lastimosa’s story may be extreme, but many newcomers in Canada today still struggle to get equivalent work in their fields of expertise, often due to credential-recognition issues.

That’s despite the fact that the country is facing a major shortage of workers.

The latest Statistics Canada data showed 991,000 Canadian jobs remained unfilled in the third quarter of 2022; workers were particularly lacking in construction, manufacturing, and accommodation and food services.

Of those vacancies, 177,780 were in managerial positions and professions that must have a university education; 288,750 in occupations that needed a college diploma or apprenticeship training; 319,350 in jobs that required a high-school education and job-specific training; and 202,456 were in jobs considered low-skill.

One of the solutions the federal government has put forward to deal with the shortage is to raise the immigration level. Over the next three years, Canada plans to make 1.45 million people new permanent residents of this country — on top of bringing in an unchecked number of temporary foreign workers.

But is simply increasing our intake going to do the job? What future awaits these new permanent residents? Will those arriving find meaningful work to let them succeed in their new lives? And is this country bringing in the people its labour market truly needs?

The answers to such questions are elusive, and wrapped in an at-times confusing immigration system that critics say is in serious need of an overhaul.

A smart, overqualified workforce

Canada has the most educated workforce in the G7, largely thanks to highly educated permanent residents.

In 2021, immigrants accounted for more than half of the working-age population with a doctorate and master’s degree, or a degree in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or optometry, as well as 39.1 per cent of those with a bachelor’s degree.

Yet one in four immigrants with a university degree worked at a job that typically requires a high school education or less. That’s 2.5 times more than the “overqualification rate” of Canadian-born degree holders.

“How do we actually admit these people and ensure that not just they, but also the people who’ve come over the last 10 years, don’t completely become an underclass?” asks Toronto Metropolitan University professor Rupa Banerjee, Canada Research Chair of economic inclusion, employment and entrepreneurship of Canada’s immigrants. 

“That’s what I worry about.”

Over the past 20 years, Canadian governments have invested in credential assessments, career-bridge training and other programs to help skilled permanent residents integrate into the workforce.

Yet between 2001 and 2016, the percentage of university-educated immigrants in highly skilled jobs in Canada fell from 46 per cent to 38 per cent, statistics show.

“So where are we after 20 years? We used to say ‘Doctors are driving cabs,’ but now we say, sometimes jokingly, ‘Doctors are driving Ubers,’” says Shamira Madhany, a former assistant deputy minister in Ontario with extensive experience working with licensing bodies, settlement agencies and higher education sectors.

“You have a million jobs to fill and you need immigrants, but if their prior skills and experience is not recognized, you’re going to end up in the same situation.”

There are those for whom deskilling hasn’t been as much of an issue. Former international graduates of Canadian institutions and temporary foreign workers already have Canadian education and work experiences when they obtain permanent residence. Among the permanent residents who came for economic reasons who landed in 2020, about 67 per cent had worked in Canada before immigration, an increase from 12 per cent in 2000 and 33 per cent in 2010. 

Their prior Canadian experience helps boost first-year earnings of permanent residents, when and if they successfully transition from their status as temporary foreign workers. First-year earnings of permanent residents in the economic class have risen by 39 per cent.

The two halves of Canada’s immigration system

When it comes to selecting skilled immigrants, Canada relies on a points system based on age, language proficiency, education levels and work experience. Applicants must have a background in listed qualifying occupations to enter the talent pool. 

It’s a system that excludes those in lower-skilled and lower-wage jobs; that’s led to another part of the problem. Canada’s immigration system is divided, observers say — there are two halves that need to be aligned.

When employers want those low-skilled workers, the system turns messy.

“The federal economic immigration programs ignore anything below medium- and high-skill jobs,” says Naomi Alboim, a senior policy fellow at TMU, who served senior roles in both federal and Ontario governments for 25 years specializing in immigration and labour.

Some hire foreign workers through the temporary worker program. When it comes to permanent positions, some provinces and employers have used their limited authority to bypass federal rules and sponsor workers such as butchers, truck drivers and servers to become permanent residents.

Increasingly, employers are turning to temporary migrants already in Canada with an open work permit. In doing so, businesses avoid going through what’s known as a labour-market assessment, a measure that’s meant to ensure no Canadian is available to do the job. Those in Canada on open-work permits include youth in a working-holiday program and hundreds of thousands of international students.

While Ottawa sets an annual target for permanent residents, there’s no cap on migrant workers and international students. 

That makes for a Wild West of temporary workers in Canada, where policymakers in this country don’t have great data about who is working in this country, what credentials they have and if their skills are what we need.

“We are way too dependent on temporary entrants,” says Alboim. “We are not providing them with the support that they need, the information that they need, the pathways that they need to transition successfully to permanent residence. We have no plan for the number of temporary entrants that we receive.”

It sets the stage for exploitation, critics say.

If Canada is to keep counting on temporary foreign workers and transitioning them to be permanent residents, it needs to have a better handle of the skill sets of these temporary residents, experts say. Ottawa must set targets for foreign workers and international students — and figure out how they fit into the puzzle.

“If we are going to continue to have a two-stage immigration system, we cannot plan only for the second stage (permanent residence). We have to plan for the first, but we do no planning for the first. That’s the big issue. That’s the elephant in the room,” says Alboim.

Last year, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser relaxed the rules for employers in order to bring in more temporary foreign workers and made 16 new lower-skilled occupations in health care, construction and transportation eligible for the permanent residence talent pool. Fraser now also has the power to do targeted draws to hand-pick permanent residents with skills in demand in Canada.

“These changes will support Canadians in need of these services, and they will support employers by providing them with a more robust workforce who we can depend on to drive our economy,” Fraser said.

Connecting the public and private sectors

Meanwhile, some jurisdictions are making strides to help high-skill workers find success in Canada. Such success, where it’s been achieved, has seen collaboration with the private sector.

Several years ago, the Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia developed the Facilitating Access to Skilled Talent (FAST) program. It brought together employers and industry groups to develop online tools to assess the competency of permanent residents in skilled trades in construction — newcomers are evaluated and steered to further training or get credentials certified by authorities. Through an online platform, employers are matched with job-ready immigrants.

The program has since expanded to biotechnology, life sciences, information technology and long-term care. Funded by the federal Future Skills Centre, FAST is now delivered through some 50 settlement service agencies across Canada.

“It’s really important that we play our part, that businesses play their part and the post-secondary institutions play their part,” says Patrick MacKenzie, the council’s CEO. “We have to own that responsibility.”

He says 67 per cent of the FAST clients find jobs in their field within four weeks of arrival and the rate goes up to 85 per cent in eight weeks.

Femi Ogunjji, an IT professional from Nigeria, enrolled in the FAST program when he was granted permanent residence in 2017 while still in Lagos.

He attended pre-arrival online workshops and orientation about resumé writing, Canadian workplace culture and the IT job market. He also participated in e-mentoring and learned to use the keywords in his CV to get past AI pre-screening to land interviews.

A week after settling in Vancouver, a headhunter offered him a six-week contract job that turned into a full-time job as a business systems and database co-ordinator.

FAST’s soft-skill training and labour-market orientation regarding his profession was particularly helpful, says Ogunji.

“I already had all the IT certifications,” says the 41-year-old father of two. “That’s the advantage of being in technology. You don’t need any recertification.”

Where’s Fort McMurray?

Egyptian engineer Ahmed Abdallah was cautioned by his friends to lower his expectations about getting a commensurate job in health and safety management when he came to Canada.

Before arriving in July 2020, one of them recommended he enrol in a program offered by ACCES Employment in Toronto to learn about the Canadian job market in his field, work on his resumé and build professional contacts.

Through networking, Abdallah got a job offer as a health and safety environment adviser from an oilsands company in Fort McMurray — a place he’d never heard of. 

Although he initially had to take several courses on Canadian laws, rules and regulations while on the job, he says he’s happy with his choice.

“In Canada, employers care a lot about soft skills and it’s fine if you have medium technical skills. They believe if you have the soft skills, they can teach you the technical skills. What immigration does is they just make sure immigrants coming in have strong technical skills,” says the 32-year-old.

“You need employers who are open-minded, like mine, who will take a chance on new immigrants.”

ACCES Employment CEO Allison Pond says employers have been involved in her agency’s programming by supporting newcomers with onboarding.

“Our sector needs to be very comfortable working with the business world. We have a corporate engagement team that has 15 people. These are individuals who are very comfortable in the business world and yet they’re working in a non-profit charity,” says Pond.

“Our funding is provincial. Our funding is federal. We’ve got private and regional funding. Governments need to recognize and support the settlement sector … We’re a great place for that collaboration.”

More regulations — and higher stakes

When it comes to newcomers looking to enter regulated professions — such as nursing and legal counselling — things are still trickier and more complicated. The stakes in these professions are often higher, given the need to protect the public.

Part of the problem is that newcomers find themselves having to navigate different licensing rules and regulations across federal and provincial jurisdictions. In contrast, Britain and Australia both have an overarching health regulator to oversee licensing processes, making it easier for newcomers to manoeuvre through the systems, says Wilfrid Laurier University professor Margaret Walton-Roberts, whose current research focuses on the global migration of nurses.

Foreign-trained nurses and doctors coming to Canada in recent years are getting better information beforehand, starting their credential clearance and receiving the counselling about their licensing pathways sooner, she says.

However, barriers have continued because assessments and bridge programs meant to fill knowledge and skills gaps require extensive government funding and resources.

The CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses, for instance, offers one-on-one case management, exam preparation, mentoring and other supports. In 2021-22, the organization got $282,000 from the federal immigration department and $1.33 million from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development.

In the same fiscal year, 113 of its clients passed College of Nurses of Ontario exam to become RNs or RPNs while more than half of its program participants had been in Canada for over five years.

The province has some, limited medical residency spots available for internationally educated doctors to acquire field training experience. But they must compete against Canadians who study in medical schools abroad.

“It has to be almost bespoke, because you are talking about such a complex system and you have to match people who’ve come from a completely different country,” says Walton-Roberts, editor of “Global Migration, Gender, and Health Professional Credentials,” published by University of Toronto Press in 2022.

“You have to support the candidate as they find their way into professional practice. That all costs money.”

‘No one guided me’

The federal government has invested an extra $115 million over five years, with $30 million ongoing, to expand its foreign-credential recognition program with a focus on supporting those in health-care professions.

Ontario also passed a new law to eliminate Canadian work-experience requirements for professional registration and licensing, reduce overlapping language tests and compel regulators to sign up registrants faster in emergencies such as a pandemic. It funds 46 bridge training projects, totalling $68 million over three years, to serve 12,516 newcomers in various professions.

Although these changes help address some past challenges in effectively registering applicants, Ontario’s fairness commissioner says there still isn’t a routine “co-ordinated end-to-end system” for players in immigration, settlement, post-secondary education, regulator and employment to address and resolve licensing gaps.

Another challenge is how to assist qualified internationally trained licensing applicants who, for one reason or another, fail to meet all the registration requirements, says Fairness Commissioner Irwin Glasberg, who oversees licensing practices of 40 regulators.

“I am asking regulators and other stakeholders to find ways to move them across the finish line,” he says. “Our province cannot afford to have skilled immigrants remain on the sidelines when, with appropriate supports, they can apply their skills where they are needed most.”

In the Philippines, Lastimosa was a registered physical therapist before he studied to become a registered nurse and later a nursing instructor while working in hospital emergency. He even got himself a diploma in midwifery.

He says he felt demoralized when he was deemed ineligible to practise in Canada, after waiting a year to get his credential assessed, when competency gaps were identified. 

“Different applicants had different gaps. There’s no uniformity how to fill those gaps,” says Lastimosa, who delayed his studies at York University’s two-year nursing program until 2019, because he needed to save money while supporting his parents and relatives back home. “No one guided me what to do.”

He was a RPN for a private home-care agency and during the pandemic he worked five jobs at vaccination clinics and different hospitals before he passed his RN exam last summer.

Lastimosa says he believes some of the recent initiatives by provinces and regulators to fast-track foreign-trained health professionals into the workforce, through supervised practices and offering temporary conditional licences, certainly make sense and will help.

“It should all start with the immigration application process. If you qualify to migrate here as a nurse, it should only take you a few months or weeks to take the exam and practise, but it’s not the case,” Lastimosa says.

“The process is more streamlined now, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.” 

Source: Why Canada’s plan to bring in 1.45 million permanent residents won’t fix the labour shortage

Liberal minister says Canada needs more immigration as targets get mixed reviews

Mixed reviews are from me and Ted McDonald of UNB:

As Canada plans to significantly ramp up its immigration levels in the coming years, some policy experts are worried about potential effects on health care, housing and the labour market.

But Immigration Minister Sean Fraser insists that Canada needs more newcomers to address labour shortages and demographic changes that threaten the country’s future.

“If we don’t continue to increase our immigration ambition and bring more working-age population and young families into this country, our questions will not be about labour shortages, generations from now,” Fraser said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“They’re going to be about whether we can afford schools and hospitals.”

In November, the federal Liberal government announced a new immigration plan that would see Canada welcome 500,000 immigrants per year by 2025.

A record-breaking 431,645 people became permanent residents in 2022.

The new immigration rates will be substantially higher than rates in similar countries, such as Australia, said University of New Brunswick political science professor Ted McDonald.

That’s not a bad thing in itself, he said. But in his view, raising immigration levels isn’t the right way to address current labour shortages.

“I think the policy would make more sense if it’s aligned with what are seen as underlying structural labour market shortages that are going to persist,” McDonald said.

At the same, he said one justification for immigration is clear: Canada has a declining birthrate.

According to Statistics Canada, the country’s birthrate fell to a record low of an average of 1.4 children per woman in 2020. That’s well below the 2.1 rate needed to maintain a population without immigration.

That doesn’t stop others from worrying about how more newcomers could put a strain on other perennial issues such as housing affordability and health care.

“There’s no assessment that I have seen of the impact of these targets on housing affordability and availability, no assessment of these targets in terms of additional pressures on health care,” said Andrew Griffith, a former high-ranking official at Immigration and Citizenship Canada.

But Fraser said that many of the new permanent residents already live in Canada. For example, 157,000 international students became permanent residents in 2021.

“It’s not as though there are half a million people coming to Canada who are not already here,” the minister said.

He said changes are also coming to the Express Entry system in the spring so that immigrants can be selected based on the sector and region in Canada they’re heading to.

That will help alleviate some of the strain on things like health care and housing, he said.

The ongoing debate on whether the new targets are too ambitious is also coinciding with heightened scrutiny regarding what — or who — is influencing government policy.

Radio-Canada reported last week that two sources within Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said McKinsey & Company’s influence on immigration policy has grown in recent years.

A government response to a Conservative MP’s written question, which was tabled in the House of Commons in December, says the department has not recently awarded any contracts to the consulting firm — at least, not during the timeframe the MP asked about, which was from March 2021 until October 2022.

And during the interview Thursday, Fraser said McKinsey has had no role to play in the new immigration levels plan.

“I’m not being influenced by them,” Fraser said.

“This is something that I’ve arrived at independently.”

The minister said he came to the decision regarding the immigration plan on the advice of department officials. He said he also took into consideration what he’s heard from different organizations, stakeholders, and provincial and territorial leaders.

Policy experts often worry about the outsized influence stakeholders can have on government policies, since interest groups lobby the government to implement policies that are in line with their priorities, and some are more powerful than others.

Business groups in Canada have seen ongoing labour shortages as a major concern, and they have called on the government to help fill vacancies.

Following the announcement of the new plan, the Business Council of Canada applauded the targets in a press release, saying that “an economy that is chronically short of workers cannot achieve its potential.”

Griffith said that in his opinion, the current government is “fairly responsive to the pressures of stakeholders,” whether they are business groups or organizations that work with immigrants.

While the interests of stakeholders can sometimes align with what is actually good policy, McDonald said stakeholder groups have “vested interests.”

“We have to be aware of where the advocacy is coming from, and not being naïve about it,” he said.

Source: Liberal minister says Canada needs more immigration as targets get mixed reviews

Pierre Poilievre thinks he can win over new Canadians. Here’s how he plans to do it.

Reasonable take and strategy and familiar to someone who worked in the Kenney years. Expect that the party has learned some lessons from its use of “barbaric cultural practices” in the citizenship guide and in the 2015 tippling. Minister Fraser’s comment is a bit ingenuous given the liberal record of responding (some would say pandering) to new Canadian voters:

A young Pierre Poilievre sits in front of a room of Conservative faithful and explains their party’s strategy for winning a majority mandate. 

That hasn’t happened yet. It’s 2009 and while the Tories have won two federal elections, they’ve remained in minority territory for three years. 

“We will win a majority if we appeal to naturally conservative-inclined voters and get them out to vote, and we turn small-c conservative immigrants into big-C Conservative voters,” the MP says in a video posted to the website of the Cable Public Affairs Channel.

“That’s the formula.”

More than a decade after former prime minister Stephen Harper pulled off that majority in 2011, Poilievre is the party’s leader. 

Since Harper’s four-year term, Conservatives have lost three straight elections to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, with losses stacking up in Toronto- and Vancouver-area suburban seats, home to many visible minorities and new Canadians. 

If there’s one thing many in the party agree on, it’s the need for Conservatives to build support in such communities. But can Poilievre do it? 

Enter Arpan Khanna. This week, Poilievre tapped the Greater Toronto Area lawyer, who served as one of the co-chairs on his leadership campaign in Ontario, to co-ordinate outreach efforts.

Khanna was a political staffer for the man federal Conservatives credit most for making the inroads with immigrant communities that helped Harper along to a majority: Jason Kenney. 

Colleagues had nicknamed the former federal cabinet minister and Alberta premier the “minister of curry in a hurry” for spending his weekends darting to dozens of cultural events around Toronto and Vancouver.

Khanna said he sees the same drive in Poilievre, who visited the Toronto area multiple times, plus Vancouver in his first three months as leader, sometimes attending up to 15 events a day. He is planning visits with Chinese community groups in Markham, Scarborough, Vancouver and Burnaby to mark the Lunar New Year. 

The new leader has taken the idea of “building a Jason Kenney style of outreach” to heart, Khanna said. “He’s all into this. He understands the importance of it.”

The first step is showing up, he said.

“We recently were at someone’s backyard for a barbecue party with about 100 people from the Tamil community, just having a conversation about their issues.”

Poilievre has been hitting the road nearly every weekend. 

Often travelling with him are his two deputy leaders. Melissa Lantsman, who is Jewish and the party’s first openly lesbian member of Parliament, hails from Thornhill, just north of Toronto. Longtime Edmonton MP Tim Uppal, who is Sikh, became Canada’s first minister to wear a turban when Harper appointed him to cabinet in 2011. 

For the high-profile finance critic role, Poilievre picked former small business owner Jasraj Singh Hallan, who had been considered an at-risk youth after immigrating to Canada as a child. 

It’s stories like Hallan’s that Poilievre promotes, touting the promise of the Canadian dream. 

“It doesn’t matter if your name is Poilievre or Patel … Martin or Mohamed,” a video posted online shows Poilievre saying at a Diwali event in October. “If you’re prepared to work hard, contribute, follow the rules, raise your family, you can achieve your dreams in this country.”

Poilievre often points out that he married an immigrant Canadian. His wife Ana and her family were refugees from Venezuela. 

Tenzin Khangsar, who worked in Kenney’s office when he was immigration minister and assisted with the Tories’ outreach strategy, said Poilievre is setting an example for his caucus and the entire party. “And frankly shows to all Canadians that look, ‘this is a priority for me. This is not just something I’ll do during an election campaign.’”

Khangsar said that if step one is showing up, step two is following up with policy. 

Poilievre has promised to get provinces to speed up recognizing foreign credentials, one of his first policy announcements as a leadership candidate. He’s also railed against “gatekeepers” at the federal immigration department.

During a roundtable with ethnic community media convened during the race, Poilievre said immigrant and Conservative values are the same: “hard work, family, freedom, tradition.”

“Values upon which we need to build a future Conservative party.”

A roughly 50-minute video from the event shared on Facebook shows Poilievre offering more detail on his immigration policy ideas: expanding express entry, making it easier for temporary foreign workers to become permanent residents, improving immigrants’ ability to bring their parents to Canada to help with child care and expanding private sponsorship of refugees. 

He was emphatic in an interview with a Punjabi radio show last month: “The Conservative party is pro-immigration.” 

But the NDP’s immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, threw water on the idea, saying in a statement that the Harper government cut settlement services for newcomers and made family reunifications more difficult. 

Liberal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser didn’t wade into the Tories’ past, but in a statement said speaking to newcomers is the job of any political leader. 

“Newcomers are not a voting block to pander to. They are Canadians, and soon-to-be Canadians.”

But many Conservatives believe that the party’s approach to immigration issues lost them the 2015 election, as Tories pushed policies such as banning niqabs at citizenship ceremonies and establishing a tip line for so-called barbaric cultural practices. 

Lantsman and Uppal both publicly apologized for supporting what became known as the “niqab ban.” But Poilievre has defended the policy as simply requiring “that a person’s face be visible while giving oaths at citizenship ceremonies.” 

An internal review of the Tories’ 2021 election loss found the party’s image remained damaged among immigrant communities. 

Poilievre’s immigration critic, Tom Kmiec, said Conservatives believe in an “employer-driven immigration system.”

Asked whether they support the Liberal government’s plan to welcome a record-high number of permanent residents in the coming years, which includes a target of 500,000 by 2025, Kmiec said “the number is not as important as the customer-service experience.”

Kmiec, a Polish immigrant, said the federal immigration department is dealing with massive backlogs and out of control processing times. “It’s a total lack of compassion to over-promise what you can actually deliver.”

Andrew Griffith, a former director of multiculturalism policy for the federal government, predicted Conservatives will avoid attacking the targets for fear of being labelled xenophobic.

Griffith said he doesn’t perceive the party is skeptical about immigration, despite such views being historically present in its base. 

Source: Pierre Poilievre thinks he can win over new Canadians. Here’s how he plans to do it.

International students enticed to Canada on dubious promises of jobs and immigration

Yet another policy and program fail. Federal and provincial governments need to regulate better to reduce this exploitation by recruiters and private colleges:

Dilpreet Kaur’s parents were worried it would be difficult for her to find a job in her home state of Punjab, India, where her father toils long, lonely hours as a rice and wheat farmer. She, too, felt there was no future for her there.

So last year, her dad sold two trucks for $28,000 and mortgaged the family’s land to raise money for her to come to Canada, rent a room in a shared apartment in Toronto’s east end and pay $16,000 in international tuition fees for the first year of a two-year college program.

Kaur, 19, told CBC’s The Fifth Estate that she consulted with a college recruiter, one of a legion of freelance agents operating in an unbridled market in India who earn commissions by signing up students to attend Canadian colleges — sometimes by painting a distorted picture of the education on offer and the ease of life in Canada. The recruiter directed her to Alpha College, a school she’d never heard of before.

“I don’t know why she just suggested this college,” Kaur said in an interview. Nevertheless, she enrolled in a computer systems technician course at Alpha.

“Before coming here, it was kind of, in my mind, ‘Canada is so beautiful. I’m going to come here, just earn well, live a life, have fun at the weekends,’ like we saw in the movies,” she said.

“When I came here it was different, it was completely different.”

Increasing numbers of Ontario’s international college students come, like Kaur, from India, where it’s not uncommon for rural families such as hers to literally bet the farm to raise enough money to pay for a daughter or son’s education, hoping they’ll eventually land a decent job and be able to remit money back home to repay the debt.

Drawn by Canada’s reputation and the potential to gain permanent residency, tens of thousands of foreign students enrol every year in Canadian post-secondary schools. The vast majority head to universities and public colleges.

But a subset, about 25,000 students as of last year, had been enticed to enrol at private career colleges in Ontario that partner with public colleges — colleges that have grown dependent on the international students’ much higher tuition fees, typically four to five times what a domestic student pays. Critics told The Fifth Estate those colleges are packing pupils into classrooms — real or virtual — with little regard to government rules, student wellbeing or anything beyond the bottom line.

Since the pandemic began, Alpha, a private career college in partnership with public St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., has more than doubled its enrolment, to 4,900 students, whereas its two-storey building at Kennedy Road and Passmore Avenue in Toronto has a capacity of just 420, according to the Toronto fire department.

“They just want us to give money, again and again. And get rich, filling their pockets, and don’t really care about us at all,” Kaur said of her experience.

A report from Ontario’s auditor general last December found that the province’s smaller public colleges, particularly the ones in smaller or northern communities where domestic enrolments have been declining, “have become highly dependent financially on international students but increasingly face challenges in attracting these students to their home campuses.”

As a result, 11 of them have entered into partnerships with private career colleges in the Toronto area, allowing students to live in or around Toronto but take courses toward a diploma from a public college located in Timmins or North Bay, for example.

The auditor general’s report found that the tuition revenue from these partnerships single-handedly meant the difference between running a deficit or a surplus for five of the six public colleges that had them in place as of 2019-20, and is also lucrative for the private career colleges, with net profit margins ranging from 18 to 53 per cent.

“With reduced funding from government, international students have become bread and butter sustaining these institutions,” said Earl Blaney, an advocate for international students and a registered Canadian immigration consultant based in London, Ont.

“Their appetite is insatiable. They’re doing everything they can to find more ways to bring in more students… whether it is increasing class sizes, whether it is irresponsibly bringing in students that they don’t have enough support to offer. I mean it doesn’t matter. What matters is numbers.”

Recruiters make questionable claims

Education recruiters represent the first step in the chain from farmer’s field to classroom. It’s a cutthroat industry in India, where thousands of independent agents compete to earn around $2,000 for each student they recruit for a Canadian college with which they have an agreement.

Alpha College, for example, got 100 per cent of its international students in its most recent academic year through recruiters, according to documents obtained by The Fifth Estate.

Ontario’s public colleges paid more than $114 million in commissions to recruiters in 2020-21, according to last year’s auditor general report; the total paid by the private career colleges isn’t tracked.

The Fifth Estate‘s investigation went undercover in Punjab state, using hidden cameras, to see what recruiters are telling potential students. A father and his 19-year-old son interested in a Canadian education agreed to wear a hidden camera while meeting with several recruiters in Jalandhar, the state’s third-biggest city.

In one of their meetings, the recruiter outlined that tuition would cost around $17,000 for the first year.

“Will he be able to find a job for the second year?” the father asked.

The recruiter replied that “it is very easy for students to pay their second-year tuition fees.”

In fact, as The Fifth Estate found, many international college students struggle to earn enough money in Canada to pay their living expenses, much less tuition for their second year.

Last Friday, the federal government temporarily lifted the cap of 20 hours of off-campus work a week that international students had previously been limited to during school semesters. At minimum wage in Ontario, the limit meant international students couldn’t expect to earn much more than about $22,000 a year — not enough to cover $16,000 or $17,000 in tuition and have funds left over for rent, food, utilities and other essentials. And that’s while also studying full-time.

During the meeting involving the father and his 19-year-old son, the father asked about a well-established public college in Toronto. But the recruiter directed him instead to a little-known private career college.

“There is a college called Cambrian at Hanson,” he said, referring to private Hanson College, which is tucked away in a strip mall in Brampton, Ont. Hanson has had a partnership since 2005 with Cambrian, a public college based in Sudbury, Ont., 350 kilometres to the north.

When contacted by The Fifth Estate, a Hanson College spokesperson wouldn’t confirm whether the school had a relationship with that particular recruiter, but did say the college works with “recruitment agents across various regions globally, including Indian agencies,” and that the students they sign up account for about 30 to 35 per cent of the school’s enrolment.

The auditor general noted that because recruiters’ commissions are a percentage of the tuition fees paid by the students they sign up, “recruitment agencies are incentivized to enrol as many students as they can in the programs that charge the highest tuition fees.”

Dubious claims about visas

At another recruitment agency, the father expressed concern that after his son graduated, it might be hard to get permanent residency in Canada.

“Definitely not,” the recruiter said. “It’s easy for students to get permanent residency.”

In reality, a Statistics Canada study last year found only about 30 per cent of people who come to Canada on a student visa had obtained permanent residency within a decade.

Even after the father and son left the agents’ offices, they were approached on the street by recruiters for another agency offering to charge less for their services and to provide a more personal relationship.

The Ontario auditor general’s report found similar examples of dubious claims made by college recruiters, including agencies that promised “100 per cent visa success” and others that advertised “guaranteed scores” on English aptitude tests.

In recent years, a new type of recruitment has cropped up. A number of “edu-tech” companies in Canada, Australia and Singapore have created online platforms to connect the millions of potential students in other countries with the thousands of recruiters and educational institutions in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and Ireland.

But critics like Blaney, the international student advocate and immigration consultant, said these so-called aggregator companies only put more distance between colleges and the recruiters who are signing up students for them. “Ten thousand-plus sub-agents on the ground … have absolutely no direct connection with the college. The college has no ability to screen them, they have no ability to review their work or conduct with the student, promises made, advertising, you name it,” Blaney said.

Colleges exceed provincial enrolment limits

Blaney said the volume of foreign students coming to Canada really picked up starting 10 years ago, after the federal government declared the country needed more skilled immigrants. A federal advisory panel also recommended doubling the number of international students to more than 450,000 in total by 2022. Canada sailed far past that target and had 621,000 people on student visas as of Dec. 31, 2012, according to federal data.

The crush of students coming from abroad opened up more opportunities for the province’s public colleges to enter into partnerships with private career colleges; nine such deals have been signed since the 2012 report.

All those international tuition fees now provide more money to Ontario’s colleges — $1.7 billion in 2020-21, according to the province’s auditor general — than the provincial government’s total funding of $1.6 billion, which is the lowest amount of per capita government funding of any province in Canada.

Ontario’s Ministry of Colleges and Universities officially caps the number of international students that a public college can have at one of its private career college partners. The quota is a maximum of two times the number of international students enrolled at the public college’s home campus.

But the provincial auditor general found a number of colleges have exceeded those limits in recent years with seemingly no consequences. North Bay-based Canadore College’s private partner had 8.8 times the number of international students as the college itself; at Northern College in Timmins, Ont., the ratio was 8.6. Alpha College is at about 4.5-to-1 compared with St. Lawrence College’s home-campus enrolment, or more than twice the allowed ratio

“The focus has been numbers-driven,” Blaney said. “That’s all, literally, that anyone cares about … how many international students can we pack in, and how much money can we get.”

A Ministry of Colleges and Universities spokesperson told The Fifth Estate that colleges “are separate legal entities and are responsible for both academic and administrative matters — including enrolment and capacity.”

Neither Alpha College nor its public partner, St. Lawrence College, would agree to an interview.

In an email this week, St. Lawrence spokesperson Julie Einarson said the school and Alpha College have “established and followed quality assurance protocols to ensure students who come to Ontario to study have a good experience and ultimately stay here to live and work.”

“Colleges and our partners provide a wide range of support services to international students but we know there is a lot more to do,” the email continued. “We are working collaboratively with other colleges, governments, and community leaders — and most importantly, our students — to find new solutions.”

Low-wage jobs after graduation

Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said it troubles him greatly that “certain private career colleges, I’m convinced, have come to exist just to make a buck on the back of the international student program.”

In an interview with The Fifth Estate last week, he said, “We have concerns that it might be about financial impropriety, rather than providing a quality education to students who are coming here trying to better themselves.”

Fraser said if certain recruiters or colleges are taking advantage of students, then he needs to make it clear to the appropriate provincial government that they don’t need his permission to oust the college from the study permit program.

“It’s not what the program was designed for. It’s designed to provide an education to students and to benefit Canadian communities, not to allow sham operations to open up to financially abuse innocent students who have in their mind what Canada could be, only to be let down.”

Source: International students enticed to Canada on dubious promises of jobs and immigration

Canada’s immigration minister leaves door open to extending Afghan resettlement programs

Of note:

As Canada reaches the halfway point of meeting its commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says he’s not ruling out lifting the current cap and welcoming more into this country.

But for the moment, he says, his main focus is the 8,500 people to whom Canada has already promised refuge who remain stuck in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

“When we hit that target (and) we have the ability to continue to support all of the people through additional pathways, then we’ll do what we can,” Fraser told the Star in an interview Thursday, on the eve of the arrival of the 20,000th resettled Afghan in Toronto on a charter flight from United Arab Emirates.

“What we have done is made the commitments to the 40,000. But we have not taken a decision never to do more for people from Afghanistan.”

Fraser’s softened tone was in contrast to how his office had previously underlined to media Canada’s commitment to meet the target it announced last October.

In June, the Star reported that Ottawa planned to stop taking in Afghans after it had enough applications to fill the announced spots, despite the fact that many who risked their lives to help the Canadian mission were still waiting for a response to their applications.

“The unfortunate reality is that not everyone who expressed interest in coming to Canada will be eligible. … We are doing everything we can to help Afghans inside and outside of Afghanistan,” Fraser’s press secretary told reporters at the time.

Fraser said there are currently 8,500 Canada-bound Afghans still inside Afghanistan who need to get to another country to complete the resettlement applications and meet requirements such as biometrics and health screening.

These applicants to whom Ottawa has already committed are his top priority and he is working with the international community to find ways to get them out of the country, he said.

He would not reveal the different options officials are investigating.

“I learned through my experience with this effort not to expect a smooth ride. We’re dealing with a territory that’s under the control of a group that’s listed as a terrorist entity in Canadian law. There is very little patience that the Taliban has for people who are eligible to come to Canada,” he explained.

“These 8,500 people who are already in the process are still inside Afghanistan. We are not wavering on our commitment to bring those individuals here. If it was a matter of bringing in any 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada, we could have done that.”

In terms of processing displaced Afghans who are now in a third country waiting to come to Canada, Fraser said the largest groups are in Pakistan and Tajikistan. But many of those are privately sponsored by community groups and their applications may fall outside the special resettlement programs.

This week, the Globe and Mail reported that a Manitoba senator’s office had issued an inauthentic Canadian government document to help facilitate an Afghan family’s travel.

Fraser said an internal investigation confirmed the document — known as “facilitation letter” to help eligible Afghans get through Taliban checkpoints — was inauthentic and that the matter has been referred to law enforcement.

“The integrity of the process has not been compromised because even the authentic letters that we did issue do not permit a person to enter Canada. An individual who used them to move through the airport still has to go through the application process and be issued an invitation to apply and complete the process and other steps required,” he said.

“To our knowledge, no one has been able to use an inauthentic facilitation letter to enter the program, but only to transit to and through the airport.”

Fraser said the Afghan resettlement project has been the most difficult but also rewarding task in his entire life and career as a parliamentarian.

He said it’s humbled him as he’s heard an Afghan woman arriving in Newfoundland saying “she finally has a home”; played soccers with the kids of a group of Afghan human rights defenders in Edmonton; and seen a new arrival kissing the ground of the tarmac in Toronto.

“It’s a great reminder of the lottery of birth that we win as Canadians, by virtue of being born in a country that is safe, where we take for granted that our communities will be peaceful places to grow up,” Fraser said.

“It’s not lost on me that we will have a lot of work ahead of us to make good on our commitment to hit 40,000.”

Source: Canada’s immigration minister leaves door open to extending Afghan resettlement programs

Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Refreshing admission by Minister Miller (he consistently one of the few ministers who is more candid with respect to government weaknesses and failures). And yes, the task force is more communications than substance as the main issues involve Service Canada and IRCC, which did not need a task force to address. (Airport issues are more complex given the different players involved):

The delays plaguing Canada’s airports, passport services and immigration processes “should never have happened in the first place,” the federal minister charged with co-leading Ottawa’s task force on slashing wait times admitted Monday.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, providing an update on the government’s efforts to tackle pandemic-induced delays across a swath of operations and services, said that despite some improvements, officials were still working to prevent such issues from occurring again.

“I do want to say that nobody should be congratulating themselves for having done their jobs. We are by no stretch of the imagination out of the woods yet. The focus will continue to be on Canadians and the results they expect and deserve from this or any other government,” Miller said at a joint news conference with other ministers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struck a committee involving 13 cabinet members in late June to get started on reducing wait times at major airports and clear out backlogs that led to sluggish processing times for passport and immigration applications.

As COVID-19 restrictions eased, air passengers passing through Canadian travel hubs have contended with hours-long delays in security screening lines, delayed or cancelled flights, hiccups with the ArriveCAN app and the chaos of lost baggage.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Monday that between January and August, the number of air travellers jumped by more than 250 per cent just as the travel industry faced staffing shortages.

He pointed to the hiring of more than 1,800 new screening officers and weekly meetings with airlines, airports and travel-related government departments as evidence that delays were improving. According to the federal government, between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21, 85 per cent of passengers were screened within 15 minutes. The number of aircraft held at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport also dropped to 47 by the third week of August, down from 370 in May.

Monette Pasher, the interim president of the Canadian Airports Council, said there has been “marked progress” in reducing wait times and cancellations in the past few weeks.

But she told the Star in a statement that other measures, like modernizing screening procedures and reopening Nexus assessment centres amid a backlog of applications for the trusted traveller program, would improve the situation more.

The staffing increases don’t change the fact that airport screeners are “worn out,” said Catherine Cosgrove, the director of communications and public affairs for Teamsters Canada, which represents over 1,000 screeners across the country.

“We can expect to continue seeing difficulties in hiring and retaining screeners and delays throughout the fall,” she told the Star, adding that there still aren’t enough trainers to get new hires working at full capacity.

Addressing frustrations experienced by Canadians trying to renew or apply for passports, Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould acknowledged “the recent demand for passports far exceeded the government’s expectations.”

That was despite unions representing federal workers warning the government in 2021 that passport requests would rise, without the necessary staffing to take on the increased load.

Gould said Ottawa has boosted the number of staff handling the country’s passport program and that workers have implemented a “triage system” to better process applications. Passport services have also been expanded in a number of offices and Service Canada centres.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser also discussed application backlogs within his department, which have left international students and others hoping to immigrate to Canada in limbo.

“Though we have a welcoming nature towards newcomers, our immigration system has faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles that have become larger and have compounded on one another over the past few years,” Fraser said.

He said that owing in part to staffing changes, his department had returned to a “pre-pandemic service standard” in some areas and was on track to reaching its permanent residency and study permit goals.

“We could have sat here and blamed others. We could have blamed airlines, we could blame this, that and the other. But we realized quite quickly that a lot of responsibility did lie on our shoulders,” Miller told reporters.

“To some extent, we were slow in responding to a number of unprecedented … things that Canadians expect to see from their governments.”

Indeed, ministers said Monday that Ottawa has been “scrambling” to contend with a series of challenges outside its control, from the havoc the pandemic wrought on Canada’s travel sector to continuous humanitarian crises that hampered which immigration applications were prioritized.

“We’ve thrown bodies at the problem, which is not the most effective way of doing things. It’s important because it got people their passports in time so they could finally travel after sitting in their houses for two years,” Miller said. “That is not the most effective way … of doing things.”

Source: Airport, passport and immigration problems ‘should never have happened,’ minister admits

Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval

Yet the latest example of management weaknesses at IRCC as it appears to lurch from one program backlog to another. The risk is, of course, that the shift in resources to address student visas will adversely impact other programs, leading to future negative headlines:

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser says his department has shifted its focus toward tackling backlogs in student visa applications, as many students who have been accepted to attend Canadian universities and colleges this semester wait nervously for their immigration approvals.

The minister made the comments Monday as part of the first news conference by the task force to improve government services. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the team of cabinet ministers in June when the federal government was facing heavy public criticism for failing to provide basic services, such as timely passport delivery or efficient traveller processing at Canadian airports.

Mr. Fraser said his department recently shifted its focus away from work permits to tackle the demand for student visas.

“We had been focusing over the course of the summer on processing as many work permits as possible to help address the labour shortage. We’ve made a pivot, and through the month of August, we expect that we’re going to process a little more than 104,000 additional study permits,” he said. “There has been an absolute explosion in demand when it comes to Canada’s International Student Program in recent years.”

The student visa delays recently prompted a complaint from the Indian High Commission in Ottawa. India is the largest source country for international postsecondary students.

In addition to Mr. Fraser’s update, Monday’s news conference included assurances from Families, Children and Social Development Minister Karina Gould that passport wait times had improved and an update from Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who said delays and cancelled flights have been dramatically reduced.

Opposition MPs said the task force is little more than a public relations exercise. They also say some of the improvements in areas such as passports and travel delays can be attributed to the fact that the summer travel season is coming to an end.

As for the Immigration Minister’s comments about student visas, Conservative and NDP MPs said this is part of a continuing pattern of shifting focus from one crisis to another, which they say ultimately creates bigger problems for the system as a whole.

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan said the students awaiting visas are expecting to start classes shortly.

“There are many students that are still left in limbo in this immigration backlog,” he said. As for the task force, he said many of the members are the same ministers who are ultimately responsible for the service issues.

“This task force really hasn’t shown or done anything yet,” he said.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan said Canada’s immigration system, including student visa applications, is in a state of chaos. She said operating in a constant state of “crisis management mode” is not sustainable.

Ms. Kwan said there should be independent reviews of the key departments to determine why services are failing.

“The task force was established as a political cover-up,” she said.

International students from outside Canada pay tuition that is often more than two or three times higher than those paid by domestic students.

Naman Gupta, a 22-year-old student in New Delhi, India, was planning to attend York University this fall to pursue a postgraduate certificate.

His study permit has not come through and he said unless something changes in a matter of days, he’ll defer coming to Canada until the start of the January term. However the $17,000 in tuition he paid won’t be returned in the meantime, he said.

“It’s going to be tough. All my plans are held up,” Mr. Gupta said. “I’m pretty stressed.”

He said he expected the visa processing would have been expedited to ensure that students could arrive in time for the start of their courses.

“I would’ve appreciated if they could apply more compassion to the situation,” Mr. Gupta said. “The response is slow.”

Pallavi Dang, who lives in New Delhi, applied for her study permit in March. She’s disappointed that more than five months later she still hasn’t heard whether she will be approved. Department guidelines said respondents can normally expect an answer in eight weeks, and that current average processing times are about 12 weeks.

She said she had made plans to hand over her business while she was away, but now she’ll need to change course.

“All that planning is on hold,” Ms. Dang said. “I’m not able to take another step.”

Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, an umbrella group that lobbies on behalf of nearly 100 Canadian universities, said Canada trails countries such as Britain and Australia in visa processing.

He said there has to be more federal government investment in IT capacity to speed up processing.

“I think that’s really the solution,” Mr. Davidson said. “There’s all-party support for international students, there’s a good policy climate, but it’s the operational reality that needs to improve.”

Source: Immigration Minister says his department has shifted focus to international student visas as many await last-minute approval