Safe Third Country Agreement is ‘working’ despite surge in irregular crossings: minister

Of note (not sure its perceived as working by the public):

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) is “working,” despite the massive increase in migrants using unofficial border crossings last year compared to previous years.

Mendicino told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, Canadian officials and their American counterparts continue to work together to modernize the agreement. Still, he insists the system is functioning.

“To be clear, that agreement remains in place and it is working,” he said. “The RCMP are doing the job of intercepting those who are coming into the country, which obviously underscores the integrity of our borders and the investments, which are backstopped by the federal government.”

The STCA was first signed 20 years ago, and there have been talks of modernizing it since 2018, with some changes made in 2019. Under the STCA, people seeking refugee status in either Canada or the U.S. must make their claim in the first country they enter.

The loophole that the agreement applies only to official land border crossings means asylum seekers who manage to enter a country via an unofficial crossing — such as Roxham Road along the Quebec-New York border — are not returned.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the number of RCMP interceptions and asylum claims at unofficial border crossings between Canada and the U.S. hit a six-year high in 2022. There was a drastic drop in the numbers as of spring 2020 and throughout 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the border.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to land it,” he said. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to make historic investments and work with provincial and territorial partners, so that asylum seekers who have a basis on which to make those claims in Canada are able to do so, but do so in a safe and orderly way.”

“It’s important that we recognize that we have an immigration system that works, and that fosters safe and orderly flow both when it comes to asylum seekers, as well as economic immigrants,” he also said.

Conservative Leader Poilievre Poilievre said this week that the Liberal government should renegotiate the agreement “in order to close Roxham Road,” adding he understands why people try to use it, because the Canadian immigration system is “now so slow and so broken.” He blamed the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada application backlog, and said the prime minister should “renegotiate the deal with the Americans, and speed up the processing of immigration generally.”

Source: Safe Third Country Agreement is ‘working’ despite surge in irregular crossings: minister

Police-reported hate-motivated crime rises sharply for second year in a row

Latest numbers by StatsCan, showing particularly high increase in 2021 of religiously motivated hate crimes, with biggest relative increase for Catholics, likely due to the discovery of unmarked graves. In terms of ethnicity motivated, the rise of anti East and SE Asian hate crimes during pandemic stands out:

The number of police-reported hate-motivated crimes in Canada increased by 27%, up from 2,646 incidents in 2020 to 3,360 in 2021. This follows a 36% increase in 2020. In total, the number of police-reported hate crimes rose 72% from 2019 to 2021. Higher numbers of hate-motivated crimes targeting religion (+67%; 884 incidents), sexual orientation (+64%; 423 incidents) and race or ethnicity (+6%; 1,723 incidents) accounted for the majority of the increase. All provinces and territories reported increases in the number of hate crimes in 2021, except for Yukon, where it remained the same.

Police data on hate crimes reflect only those incidents that come to the attention of police and that are subsequently classified as hate crimes. As a result, fluctuations in the number of reported incidents may be attributable to a true change in the volume of hate crimes, but they might also reflect changes in reporting by the public because of increased community outreach by police or heightened sensitivity after high-profile events. Reporting may also be influenced by language barriers, issues of trust or confidence in the police, or fear of further victimization or stigma.

Source: Police-reported hate-motivated crime rises sharply for second year in a row


The head of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation is calling for action to combat hate and more federal help for victims, as new statistics show that hate crimes in Canada rose by 27 per cent last year. 

Executive director Mohammed Hashim warned that unless action is taken to combat hate-motivated abuse, including online, it will continue to spread.

He said the “slew of hate” online is so prevalent it risks becoming normalized and those affected are changing their behaviour to deal with it, including by not reading social media comments.

“It is a firehose of hate that is growing, honestly, like a wildfire,” he said. “And unmitigated it will grow even further to a point where we will normalize being in a wildfire.

“That is because we have left this environment unchecked.”

Statistics Canada reported a dramatic increase in hate crimes in 2021. Last year, the number of hate-motivated crimes reported to the police rose to 3,360 incidents from 2,646 in 2020. This followed a 36 per cent rise in 2020. 

In total, the number of hate-motivated crimes recorded by the police has gone up 72 per cent since 2019, according to the agency. 

Four Muslim Canadians from the same family were killed in June last year when a man rammed a truck into them in London, Ont. Police have said the attack was motivated by Islamophobia.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the figures are “further evidence of the alarming and unacceptable rise of hate that marginalized communities have experienced in recent years.”

Mendicino said the federal government is taking action on a variety of fronts, led by new legislation to tackle the rise of hate speech and hate crimes.

“We will not rest until all Canadians feel safe in their communities,” he added. 

A report by the race relations foundation, published Tuesday, calls for greater federal help for victims of hate, many of whom do not qualify for financial compensation because their abuse does not count as a crime.

Hashim warned that “not supporting victims and leaving hate to proliferate freely disintegrates Canadian multiculturalism as a whole and a sense of collective belonging to this nation.”

Hate-motivated crimes targeting a person’s religious affiliation were up 67 per cent last year, according to Statistics Canada. Crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation were up 64 per cent year over year. Another 1,723 recorded incidents targeted a person’s race or ethnicity, a six per cent increase, and together these categories made up the majority of the overall rise.

Marvin Rotrand of B’nai Brith Canada said Jews were the No. 1 target of hate crimes aimed at religious minorities. 

“All Canadians should be worried about the alarming explosion of hate crimes witnessed in 2021,” Rotrand said. “Our community comprises 1.25 per cent of the Canadian population but were the victims of 56 per cent of hate crimes aimed at religious minorities. That is more than all other religious groups combined.”

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said incidents targeting the Jewish community have risen by 47 per cent since 2020.

“Statistically, Canadian Jews were more than 10 times more likely than any other Canadian religious minority to report being the target of a hate crime,” he said.

All provinces and territories reported increases in the number of hate crimes in 2021, except for Yukon, where the numbers remained the same.

Hashim, who regularly tours the country speaking to victims of hate as well as community groups and police forces, said more focus must be put on victims. He said young women are facing huge amounts of abuse online, particularly young Black women. 

“Right now we talk a lot about hate crime statistics, how police are dealing with it or not dealing with it, being reported or not being reported,” he said. “What we are constantly missing is what is the effect on victims.”

The Department of Canadian Heritage is working on drafting an online hate bill to set up a framework to combat abuse online.

A previous anti-hate bill, introduced at the tail end of the last Parliament, died when the election was called. 

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez appointed an expert panel to make suggestions for a future bill, including faster takedown obligations on platforms, in particular over child pornography.

During a consultation by the federal government last year, some minority groups raised concerns about directly involving the police to combat hate speech online.

Hashim warned against “digital carding” and a mass trawl of content online. He acknowledged there is concern about whether police should be able to access all takedown materials for investigative purposes.

“I don’t think that is the proper way of doing online safety. There need to be checks and balances between how much information is accessible to the police. That is why we have warrants,” he said.

“Just creating open access for all police, for all takedown data, for all social media platforms is overkill in my opinion.” 

The report commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and written by PricewaterhouseCoopers, said 80 per cent of hate crimes go unreported each year.

The report recommends Canada mirror Germany’s model for supporting victims of hate with millions of dollars of funding for community groups, which people who encounter hate “instinctively” reach out to, as well as a further victims fund. 

It says the government’s current compensation schemes exclude many victims of hate because few hate-motivated acts are designated as criminal.

The report also suggests the government establish an emergency response fund for communities hit by hate attacks on a large scale, as well as a central national support hub for victims.

Source: Race relations foundation urges more help for victims as hate crimes rise further

Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Good overview of the backlog and related issues that IRCC will have to address:

Thanks to COVID-19, Linda Shaji and Canada have had what you might call a bad romance.

After a lengthy vetting process, the 29-year-old from India was approved for permanent residence here on March 20, 2020 — two days after this country’s border was closed.

Now, 16 months later, her Canadian immigration visa has expired and Shaji is still home at her parents’ house, waiting to be admitted into this country.

The worst part is, after all this time, she’s still in the dark — met with automated email responses and told by Canada on its immigration website: “To wait for us to tell you what happens next. You don’t need to contact us again.”

“Ghosting us when we ask questions. Denying anything is wrong. Saying we are too needy when we question the long silence,” Shaji paused, “if this is a relationship, these are some serious red flags.”

The pandemic has wrecked havoc on the entire immigration system, with backlogs for every program — from family reunification to different economic immigration streams — that are only growing.

Now, as the border begins to reopen, the federal government is faced with long lines of disgruntled applicants, all looking to be the first to come in and start new lives in this country, while the bureaucracy struggles to digitalize an outdated case management and processing system.

Since March 18, 2020, when Canada closed its border in the face of the emerging pandemic, the immigration system has ground to a halt. The federal immigration department found itself scrambling to secure laptops for stay-at-home staff and to transition its processing online.

As of July 6, the backlog of permanent residence applications had skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137 since February 2020, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases.

The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned: it’s reached 369,677 people from 208,069 over the same period. These numbers do not include the applications that have been received at the mailroom of immigration offices but which have yet to be entered into the system.

Amid border lockdowns here and around the world, Canadian officials prioritized foreign nationals whose travels were deemed essential, such as migrant farm workers and health workers. They also responded to the plight of international students, who had paid a fortune to study in Canada and were in immigration limbo.

Wanting to keep the country’s immigration pipeline flowing, but not knowing how long travel restrictions would be in place, officials turned to the huge pool of migrant workers already in Canada to offer some of them permanent residency.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has, meanwhile, been criticized by applicants left, right and centre who have had their lives, careers and dreams put on hold, some facing prolonged separation from spouses and parents or grandparents who are being kept out of the country.

“The growth of the inventory or what is described as backlogs is very much a function of the pandemic. There (was), quite literally, in the case of new permanent residents, no place for them to come to as a result of the travel restrictions,” Mendicino said.

“We hear you. We see you. Each and every one of your cases matters to me and to our department and to our government.”

While Mendicino has boasted about the quick adaptation of the immigration system to the pandemic, often citing the virtual citizenship test and oath-taking ceremony as examples, he has yet to make public a detailed plan or priorities for when the border reopens.

Recently, Canada’s reopening effort reached a new milestone, with the federal government set to welcome fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and green card holders at the land border for non-essential travel beginning on Aug. 9 without having to quarantine, and from other countries beginning Sept. 7.

What Mendicino needs to do immediately, experts and advocates say, is bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but kept outside of Canada.

“All of the backlogs have now been exacerbated. The government has to provide some clear pathways and criteria for prioritization,” said independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, a strong voice on migration, diversity and inclusion in the Senate.

“It should do everything it can to process those people who’ve already been processed. They should be a priority. They’ve put their lives on hold because we’ve selected them. They need to come to Canada. They need to put roots down.”

Shaji quit her job at an artificial intelligence development firm last July, when she got her visa after the visa office in India reopened. But Canada’s door was closed to immigrants even if they had valid visas because it was deemed non-essential travel.

“There is still no set timeline for anyone. It means further agony of waiting,” said Shaji, who has yet to hear from the federal government on what she needs to do regarding her expired documents in order to get here.

“Immigration surely matters to Canada, but do immigrants matter?”

In late June, Ottawa started opening the border to immigrants who have valid permanent residence visas to enter Canada, but the ones with expired documents were told more information would be forthcoming and not to contact officials.

For travellers like Shaji from India, Canada’s top immigrant-source country, getting here is another logistical challenge.

Ottawa has just extended its ban on all flights from India to Aug. 21, meaning even Canadian citizens can’t travel back. The ban was introduced in April due to the unruly surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country.

The pandemic has exposed many shortcomings of the immigration process, said MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, and officials must cut unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy in these unprecedented times.

One of the things they could do, she said, is to automatically renew immigration applicants’ expired documents.

Requiring people to scramble to update outdated documents during a pandemic may buy Ottawa time, she noted, but it won’t solve the crisis and is going to further agonize immigration applicants.

“To this day, it is a mystery to me why the government has insisted on contacting each individual with an expired or expiring permanent resident visa to see if they still wanted to come to Canada, instead of just automatically renewing it,” Kwan said.

“Why did they do that? Why did they spend all those resources doing that instead of putting it into processing applications? They need to adopt an approach that’s not so rigid.”

Taraneh Gojgini sponsored her parents, Kaykavoos and Sima Gojgini, both American citizens, to join her in Vancouver from Long Island, N.Y., in 2018. The couple were issued their confirmation of permanent residence in September 2019 and had booked a flight to move here in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, the border was closed and their flight cancelled.

They didn’t hear anything from immigration officials for 10 months until this February, when they were asked if they were still interested in moving to Canada. The couple confirmed their desire to come here but wanted to delay the trip until the summer after most Canadians were expected to have been vaccinated.

Last April, after their visas expired, they were asked again if they were ready to come and told to send in their passports and photos for a new visa. In June, another email came asking them a third time if they planned to come to Canada. This time, they were also told to do a new medical exam.

“My parents are past the point of worry. They are so upset and anxious that there is no calming down their concern at this point,” said Gojgini, who moved to Vancouver in 2011 after marrying her husband, Behzad Pourkarimi. “They have become disillusioned with Canada.”

Kwan said reuniting families, whether spouses or parents, should be a priority for the immigration department, even if it means letting applicants abroad come here first on temporary visas and have their permanent residence applications processed within Canada so families won’t be kept apart even longer.

Suhani Chandrashekar, an engineer, came to Canada from India on a work permit in 2018 and went back to marry Naveen Nagarajappa, a close family friend, in December 2019. She returned to Canada and entered her profile into the skilled immigration pool for permanent residence.

In March 2020, just before COVID was declared a global pandemic, she received an invitation to submit her application under the Canadian Experience Class. Her case has since been stalled.

“Staying away from each other for so long is putting unnecessary strain on our marriage. We are also planning to start a family. But the uncertainty is not helping our cause here,” said the 29-year-old Toronto woman, who also has a pending application to have her husband join her here on a temporary work permit.

“Even after more than a year and a half of marriage, we are not able to see each other.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said many of the permanent residence applications in the backlogs are actually near “finalization,” just pending approvals and admission.

Application backlogs in economic immigration, such as Canadian Experience Class or federal skilled workers, should be quick to clear, he contends, because they are processed online based on points allotted to applicants’ age, education, language test result and related work experience — and only require straightforward document reviews.

The paper-based family class applications, however, will be a problem because these are harder to process remotely and involve more discretionary decision-making by individual officers, and will take longer to finalize.

“The government has shown that where they’re willing to allocate resources and put the effort toward processing files, they can achieve it,” Meurrens said. “If they want, they can clear out this backlog easily.”

To him, the biggest question for Ottawa is whether it has the will to greatly exceed the annual immigration targets that they’d set — 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — while simultaneously clearing backlogs and processing new applications that keep coming in.

“Are they prepared to explain to Canadians why immigration levels are going to go up because we’re processing this backlog while maintaining existing plans?” Meurrens asked. “If they don’t do that, they will have more application backlog delays.”

One of the blessings of the pandemic, he said, is that it gave Ottawa the opportunity to transition a large number of migrants on temporary status in Canada, such as precarious low-skilled workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for immigration, to become permanent residents.

“COVID has reduced that gap between the number of people who work here and the number of people who can immigrate,” said Meurrens. “Otherwise, we risk developing this permanent foreign worker class in Canada.”

Earlier this year, Ottawa introduced a one-time special program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 international graduates and essential migrant workers already in Canada in part to meet its 2021 immigration targets and in part to recognize migrant workers’ contributions to Canada during the pandemic.

Sen. Omidvar said the pandemic has shown Canadians that our economy not only needs highly educated STEM scientists and engineers but also immigrants who deliver essential services such as in agriculture and health care during the crisis.

A 21st-century immigration system needs to recognize those “essential skills” in the labour market that go beyond minimum language requirements and how many university degrees an immigration applicant has, she said.

“Let’s get away from this dichotomy and this unfortunate language of low skills and high skills. It doesn’t suit us anymore in this new era,” Omidvar said. “We need to view the labour market a little bit more broadly than we have done in the past. Coming out of this crisis, that’s the new horizon we need to grasp.”

For front-line immigration officers, many of whom are still working from home, having the proper digitizing infrastructure is key post-COVID-19, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the 27,000-member Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

During the pandemic, immigration staff were not equipped to work from home and some had to take turns going into the office, which only allowed a 20 per cent capacity at one point. Programs were de-prioritized and then reprioritized, and her members — 78 per cent women — weren’t given proper training and support, she said.

“There is a lack of a centralized digitization process. Staff are scanning mailed applications on desktop scanners at their desks in the office. It’s not an effective strategy. Progress is being made, but it is slow,” she said.

Warner said some of the systems are still not upgraded appropriately and crash all the time. Just recently, after a meeting where staff were told that significant investments were being made into the bandwidth and server space, the whole system crashed for the day, nationwide.

“This is ongoing,” she said. “On the one hand, they are digitizing like crazy and on the other hand, the hardware and system upgrades are not keeping pace.”

It’s an issue the federal government is hoping to address with an $800-million investment to modernize the immigration system in its 2021 budget, said the immigration minister.

“That’s the really exciting work that lies ahead of us, which is going to, I think, catapult us into an entirely transformed immigration system,” Mendicino said. “Our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it.”

While the current immigration case management system certainly needs an upgrade, critics said Mendicino must first figure out the vaccination requirement for travellers — both permanent and temporary residents — who don’t meet current border exemptions.

Whether to let someone into the country should be based on vaccination status rather than just about which immigrant group Ottawa wants to prioritize, said Ravi Jain, past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division.

“If people are fully vaccinated, I think we’ve got to start opening up,” he said, adding that processing immigration applications abroad depends very much on how well other countries manage the pandemic and their lockdown conditions, which hinders Ottawa’s priorities.

Ottawa, Jain noted, needs to figure out a vaccine passport that’s easy to enforce and can complement ArriveCan, the government app for travellers to provide travel info before and after entry to Canada, as well as which vaccines should be recognized based on science.

For fairness, he said, officials do need to allow prospective immigrants who have been waiting the longest to come first and start a new life here, as well as fast-tracking investors and businesspeople who can create employment in Canada for its economic recovery.

“I don’t want to say that you prioritize this and that particular group, and everyone else is waiting,” said Jain.

“There’s nothing preventing the government from moving forward on all fronts and on all these issues. What’s been preventing them, frankly, has been the border. That’s been the real sticking point.”

For overseas immigration applicant Maninderjit Singh, it’s simply heartbreaking to see those applying for permanent residence from abroad being shut out from the process.

The lawyer from Punjab, India, entered the federal skilled worker pool in January with 467 points, but the government has not had one single draw for the program.

And time is running out because a candidate loses points with increased age, five points per year as the system targets those in prime working age. Singh’s score has already come down by five points to 462 after he turned 32 recently.

“Thousands of federal skilled worker applicants are getting prejudiced with each passing day. Our life is now at a stand still,” he said. “With reduced score and thousands of new applications adding into the pool, the chances are getting bleak for me to get invited to Canada.”

Source: Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Liberals promise to boost number of parents and grandparents sponsored to Canada

Targeting key voting groups and ridings:

In an election-style campaign stop in B.C., Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Ottawa is going to triple the number of parents and grandparents Canadians can sponsor to Canada in 2021 to 30,000.

Flanked by two Liberal colleagues in Surrey, where South Asians make up almost 60 per cent of the population, the Ontario MP made an in-person appearance at a community centre to praise the importance of family reunification, a big issue for newcomer communities.

Mendicino was quick to remind the audience how the Liberals have raised the annual quota of the parents and grandparents program — which allows Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor their parents to the country — since it took over from the Conservative government in 2015, when the intake was capped at 5,000 a year.

“We are going to welcome under it to a record level of 30,000. Let’s not gloss over that fact, in 2015, when we took reigns over from the last Conservative government, they were at just 5,000. We are now at six times that rate under this program,” he said.

“And worse, they put a two-year pause on the parent and grandparent program when there wasn’t even a pandemic.

“So my message to the community is: continue to see the parent and grandparent program as an opportunity to reunite with your loved ones, to reunite with your families. This is a government that believes in you, believes in family reunification, and we will deliver on these commitments.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government scaled back its 2020 intake under the program to 10,000, half the level in the previous year. Now, with speculation that an election call is coming, the Liberals are promising to reverse that.

“Every immigrant that I go to, this is what I’m hearing, ‘Parents and grandparents play a major role in the success of new immigrants,’” said Sukh Dhaliwal, MP for Surrey—Newton, citing other immigrant-friendly policies his party has rolled out since coming into power.

Through a random draw, the immigration department will select 30,000 applicants from a pool of potential sponsors who have already submitted “an expression of interest” to sponsor their parents and grandparents from abroad to be permanent residents in Canada.

Selected individuals will be invited to submit the full applications over two weeks, starting the week of Sept. 20, through a new digital platform created to “speed up and simplify” the process.

Citing the financial challenges faced by Canadians during the pandemic, Mendicino said sponsors’ income requirement for the 2020 tax year will be reduced. For instance, to bring in two people, a sponsor only needed to make $32,270 last year, down from $41,007 in 2019.

Incomes from regular employment insurance benefits and temporary COVID-19 benefits such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit will be counted toward their 2020 income.

Source: Liberals promise to boost number of parents and grandparents sponsored to Canada

‘We Can’t Take Immigrants for Granted’: Minister

Bit of an odd comment by the minister – “ranking immigrants one against the other” – given that the old point system and current Express Entry application process do just that. Or maybe he was simply trying to communicate an increased focus on lower-skilled essential workers.

But perhaps the massive draw earlier this year with minimal comprehensive ranking score of 75 suggests that the government’s objective in meeting this year’s target of 400,000 makes previous merit assessment approaches less important:

Minister Marco Mendicino has emphasized the need to modernize Canada’s immigration system so that future public health crises don’t threaten the economy the way COVID-19 has, though he was scant on details about how to achieve it.

Speaking at an online event on Friday organized by First Policy Response, Mendicino said bringing immigrants into the country is critical for the Canadian economy, while also recognizing the “contributions (of immigrants) that we took for granted before the pandemic.”

“We believe that we are an open country, an inclusive country, but our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it,” he said.

Mendicino believes the $1 billion slated in the 2021 budget to “modernize and transform” the immigration system will lead “not only to better service…but to faster outcomes” for people trying to immigrate into the country. As he sees it, it is part of a “shift in the paradigm in the way we talk about immigration,” which should include getting rid of discriminatory practices like “ranking immigrants one against the other” – namely those considered low-skill versus those with higher qualifications.

“I think the pandemic has allowed us to really understand that each and every newcomer has something to contribute to our economy, to our communities and to our country,” the Minister said.

The government has taken some steps during the pandemic to continue some level of immigration. These have included writing new laws and policies to authorize entry based on “the needs of the economy;” the digitization of permanent residence and citizenship application processes; and the extension of permanent residence to immigrants already working in the country but lacking status through programs like the Essential Workers Pathway and the Guardian Angel programs, the latter of which allowed “asylum seekers to stay in Canada thanks to their contributions in hospitals and long-term care homes,” Mendicino said.

“We prioritized the needs of the economy. Immigration will create jobs, further opportunities and strengthen our long-term prosperity.”

But other than “investing in hiring additional people, introducing new technologies and putting in place policy flexibility,” there were few, if any, details on what will be done going forward to ensure immigrants don’t fall into precarious employment. Raju Mohandoss, one of the four panelists and the director of newcomer programs and services at WoodGreen Community Services, a settlement organization in Toronto, referred to these employments as “survival jobs.”

“When newcomers come – even qualified ones – they get into survival jobs that sustain them during a period when they are putting other things together and trying to access other services to integrate,” he said after the Minister had finished speaking and left. “But all these survival jobs are in the hospitality, retail, or manufacturing sectors…all of which are completely wiped out because of the pandemic situation.”

To his credit, before leaving, Mendicino had mentioned the importance of “making sure we protect (migrant workers’) rights” and “ensure that their workplaces are safe and healthy,” but he again failed to specify how this would be done.

He also made no mention of the precarious nature of most of those so-called “survival jobs.” And while he recognized that speaking of immigration must include a discussion on how to “attract people not only for the purposes of adding to our economy…but to protect that promise of Canada” as a welcoming, safe country, he gave no details on what will happen to people whose permanent residence applications are stuck in limbo or in a backlog, other than “keep the faith” and “we hear you.”

The four-member panel that followed Mendicino’s presentation, which consisted of immigration experts from various fields, failed to find the Minister’s announcement as much more than a self-congratulatory moment.

Rupa Banerjee is the Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson. She said that while she agreed with Mendicino that “a lot of news early in the pandemic really [was] quicker” than what is expected from governments, little work has been done to help newcomers integrate into society.

Mendicino “talked about selection and modernization,” she said, “but, at the end of the day, those do not exist in a vacuum…Newcomers face challenges once they arrive in Canada, and those challenges need to be integrated into the selection system as well.”

What is needed immediately in order to help newcomers, added Mohandoss, are dollars. While the $1 billion investment is “good to hear,” Mohandoss stressed that “no new dollars” have been made available for settlement agencies, which are crucial in helping newcomers find, understand and access available resources. According to him, there hasn’t been any investment in the settlement agencies sector for “more than a decade and a half.”

“We have these targets – that’s great – but what happens to (newcomers) when they’re here?” he said. “Unless we’re improving settlement services, these people are going to continue to struggle being here…So, dollar investments in digitizing and innovating stops short of investing in settlement services.”

Much of the rest of the conversation between the panelists involved discussing what they saw as Canada’s “two-tier immigration system,” referring to the premium the government puts on the Canadian Experience Class versus so-called “low-skill” immigrants. The result, said Shamira Madhany, World Education Services’ managing director, is that Canada ends up “with a lot of people who come to Canada through the two-tiered system but don’t grow our economy” as their experience abroad is discounted and thus often goes underutilized, forcing them onto precarious so-called survival jobs.

“Even with pathways to permanent residence, people still struggle greatly after transition,” added Banerjee.

Madhany suggested a three-pronged approach to help boost the economy by properly utilizing newcomers’ experiences and skills as they integrate without having to sacrifice their safety: a national strategy to enhance immigration and labour market integration; policies that are intentionally passed with those who are “impacted greatly” in mind, such as racialized women and people relegated to low-wage labour; and developing innovative tools and approaches to recognize and assess skills and experience gained abroad.

“We need to think about being intentional about leveraging the skills people bring,” she said. “This isn’t just about bringing people in and taking any job…but using people’s deep experience.”


Federal government opening immigration options for Hong Kongers to come to Canada


The federal government is opening up new immigration options for Hong Kongers to make Canada their home as Beijing continues its unprecedented crackdown on the former British colony.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said two new immigration streams will now begin taking applications from Hong Kongers working in Canada or recent university graduates from Hong Kong now living in Canada. They will be offered a quicker and more efficient pathway to permanent residence.

“At this difficult moment, Canada continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Hong Kong. We are deeply concerned about China’s imposition of the National Security Law, and more broadly the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong,” the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department said in a statement.

This is on top of a program announced in February targeted at people living in Hong Kong who had graduated from a Canadian or foreign university. It offers them a three-year open work permit that would help pave the way for applying for permanent residency.

The work permit program opened in February and has so far attracted 3,481 applications, the department said on Monday.

An exodus from Hong Kong has been expected since the Chinese government imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in June, 2020, saying it was to target secession, subversion and terrorism. But it includes vaguely defined offences that critics say effectively criminalize dissent and opposition to the Chinese Communist Party’s rule.

“With young Hong Kongers casting their eyes abroad, we want them to choose Canada,” Mr. Mendicino said in a statement.

“Skilled Hong Kongers will have a unique opportunity to both develop their careers and help accelerate our recovery. This landmark initiative will strengthen our economy and deepen the strong ties between Canada and the people of Hong Kong.”

Canada and Western allies have called China’s clampdown a violation of the international treaty it signed pledging to allow local autonomy and civil rights to continue for 50 years after the 1997 handover.

Records show Hong Kongers have already moved billions of dollars to Canada. Last year, capital flows out of Hong Kong banks and into Canada reached the highest level on record, with about $43.6-billion in electronic funds transfers recorded by FINTRAC, Canada’s anti-money-laundering agency.

A crackdown on civil rights in Hong Kong that accelerated in 2020 amid the global pandemic has steadily eroded the territory’s political and social freedoms that were unique in China, a legacy of the territory’s years under British control. Earlier this year, Chinese lawmakers approved changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, further reducing democratic representation in the city’s institutions and introducing a mechanism to vet and screen politicians for loyalty to Beijing.


La balle est dans le camp de Québec, dit le ministre Mendicino

This “blame game” has been going on for some time:

Le gouvernement fédéral a beau être celui qui a le pouvoir d’octroyer la résidence permanente, Québec a sa part de responsabilité dans les dizaines de milliers de dossiers de travailleurs qualifiés en attente, croit le ministre de l’Immigration, Marco Mendicino. En entrevue au Devoir, il s’est dit « encouragé » par le fait que Québec a légèrement augmenté ses seuils pour 2021, mais estime que la balle est toujours dans son camp.

« Il faut comprendre très clairement que Québec établit ses propres seuils d’immigration annuels, et nous recevons plus de demandes pour le PTQQ [Programme des travailleurs qualifiés du Québec] que les [places] permis [es] par Québec. C’est la raison pour laquelle il y a plus d’applications dans l’inventaire », a dit le ministre dans une entrevue accordée en français au Devoir.

Il rappelle que 50 000 travailleurs qualifiés sont en attente d’une résidence permanente, mais que les cibles du Québec ne permettent pas d’absorber toutes les demandes traitées. « Les seuils d’immigration de Québec en 2021, cette année, sont de maximum 26 000 personnes. Ça, c’est la réalité », a déclaré le ministre Mendicino, qui a succédé à Ahmed Hussen à ce poste à la fin 2019.

Il ne cache pas que cette « réalité », soit les seuils trop bas du Québec pour écouler les dossiers en attente, est à l’origine d’une demande de la ministre de l’Immigration, Nadine Girault, enjoignant au fédéral de traiter en priorité les dossiers de travailleurs qualifiés déjà ici. Or, cela n’est pas sans conséquence sur les autres catégories d’immigration, souligne M. Mendicino. « Quand nous faisons l’exercice de priorisation du PTQQ, la réalité est que les autres applications ne sont pas priorisées. […] Ça va rester comme ça tant et aussi longtemps que la demande sera plus grande que les niveaux d’immigration établis par le Québec. »

Regarder vers l’avenir

Il y a deux semaines, Le Devoir avait révélé qu’Ottawa avait reconnu avoir ralenti le traitement des dossiers de travailleurs qualifiés et que c’était attribuable « aux restrictions imposées par le gouvernement du Québec quant aux admissions en raison d’un nombre limité de places dans les niveaux annuels », pouvait-on lire dans des documents gouvernementaux. Ces déclarations avaient agacé Québec, qui a continué de rejeter la responsabilité des délais de traitement sur le gouvernement fédéral, le seul à pouvoir délivrer des résidences permanentes.

Mais le ministre canadien dit qu’il ne souhaite pas « débattre du passé », mais plutôt assainir le climat entre lui et le Québec. « Je vais me concentrer sur aujourd’hui et l’avenir, et je vais livrer tous les travailleurs dont le Québec a besoin pour appuyer sa relance économique. C’est la chose la plus importante pour moi et mon gouvernement », a-t-il dit, en ajoutant qu’Ottawa est un « partenaire de bonne foi » dans cette affaire.

Marco Mendicino rappelle que son ministère a déjà octroyé une résidence permanente à plus de 7000 travailleurs qualifiés du Québec, soit une augmentation de 54 % par rapport à l’an dernier. Il aurait également contribué à fournir au Québec plus de 7000 travailleurs temporaires.

Plus d’anges gardiens

Quant au programme des « anges gardiens », qui vise à régulariser le statut des demandeurs d’asile ayant travaillé en soins directs aux patients pendant la première vague, le ministre fédéral de l’Immigration a dit continuer de talonner son homologue québécoise pour qu’elle élargisse le programme. « J’ai répété que la porte restait ouverte de notre côté pour revisiter les paramètres de programme », a-t-il indiqué, en évoquant une rencontre avec Nadine Girault il y a exactement deux semaines. « Je pense que le Québec veut attendre un peu plus pour regarder le progrès. Mais s’[il] veut élargir le programme, nous sommes prêts. »

En date du 10 avril, seulement 3200 dossiers (représentant 7500 personnes au total) avaient été reçus dans le cadre de ce programme, dont 1400 au Québec. Soucieux d’atteindre sa cible historique de 401 000 immigrants en 2021, le gouvernement fédéral a également lancé le mois dernier un programme permettant à plus de 90 000 étudiants et travailleurs temporaires d’obtenir la résidence permanente.

Source: La balle est dans le camp de Québec, dit le ministre Mendicino

Minister Mendicino marks Citizenship Week

Of note is what was not said or announced: the elimination of citizenship fees that was part of the 2019 election platform, the long delayed release of a revised citizenship study guide (Discover Canada) and the limited recovery in citizenship numbers following the program’s complete shutdown in April 2020.

Citizenship Week would have been an appropriate time for the release of the revised guide:

The Honourable Marco E. L. Mendicino, P.C., M.P., Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, today issued the following statement to mark Citizenship Week:

“Today, Canadians celebrate the start of Citizenship Week, a time to express pride in our shared history, our diverse heritage, and our collective achievements. It is also an opportunity to highlight the tremendous contributions of immigrants to their communities and the Canadian economy.

“Canadian citizenship is both highly valued and sought after around the world. Without a doubt, one of our greatest achievements is the shared recognition that Canada is stronger and more prosperous because of its diversity.

“While we are by no means perfect, Canadians share a profound commitment to equality, inclusion, and respect for our differences – this includes our ethnicities, our gender identities and expressions, and our beliefs.

“As Canadian citizens, we all have a responsibility to help others in our communities, and that has never been more important than during the global COVID-19 pandemic we’ve faced together this past year. We will forever be grateful to the front line workers, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and all Canadians who have worked tirelessly to help Canada throughout the pandemic.’’

“The hopes, the commitment, and the energy that newcomers and new citizens bring to Canada are expressed in countless positive contributions, and that has never been truer than over the past year.”

“As Canadians, we share a profound commitment to be there for one another. It is one of our defining attributes, and time and time again, newcomers and new citizens have embraced this spirit. I encourage all Canadians to take the time to find ways to be active in your communities, to do some volunteer work, and to help welcome new Canadians in your community.

“Throughout Citizenship Week, I encourage all Canadians to reflect on what it means to be Canadian, and the many rights, freedoms, and responsibilities we all share as citizens.”


Immigration Minister open to raise permanent residency caps

Of note, more signs of government determination to meet 2021 levels target of 401,000 (January-March 2021, 70,425 permanent resident admissions, or an annualized rate of about 280,000). Modernization remarks also of note:

Canada’s Immigration Minister says he’s not ruling out expanding a new program that would grant permanent residency to 90,000 temporary foreign workers and international student graduates as part of the country’s annual immigration goal.

“I am open to discussing whether or not to revisit the current caps,” Marco Mendicino said in an interview Wednesday.

He made his comment after delivering a speech on modernizing immigration earlier in the day. He said in the speech to the Canadian Club that more than 50,000 people have expressed interest in the spaces since last Thursday’s opening for applications.

He said the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department needs to carefully assess the early results of the program, including the quality of applications, and see how quickly the department hits the 90,000 target.

“At that point, I will certainly have a much greater line of sight on whether or not there may be a need to revisit the caps.”

Asked if he could secure cabinet approval for such a shift, Mr. Mendicino said, “Well, we got this far, didn’t we? I am open to revisiting the caps.”

In mid-April, the minister announced the plan to allow 20,000 temporary foreign workers in health care, 30,000 workers in other occupations deemed essential and 40,000 international students who have graduated from a university or college to apply to become permanent residents.

However, migrant groups have criticized the program, saying program exclusions and requirements shut out many refugees, undocumented people and thousands of migrants, with caps in application streams meaning few will be able to get their applications in before spots are filled.

In a statement, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Wednesday that the rollout of the new pathways to permanent residency for the 90,000 applicants has been problematic, adding it excludes many essential workers and does not recognize those who have lost status.

Also Wednesday, Mr. Mendicino called for moving toward a paperless immigration system that would offer prospective new Canadians more opportunities to file claims online and even be sworn in virtually.

“The reality is that our immigration system is one that has been bogged down by paper. We need to change that,” Mr. Mendicino said in the speech to the Canadian Club. “The technology is behind the times.”

As Canada has raised levels of immigration – the goal is 401,000 new permanent residents this year – Mr. Mendicino said there have been challenges in capacity and processing times exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We need to retire our systems that are long past their best-before date,” he said.

Mr. Mendicino said the recent federal budget commits more than $800-million to create a new digital platform to replace the existing Global Case Management System, which the department uses to process citizenship and immigration services applications.

In the interview, Mr. Mendicino said there is an online component to immigration now. “But what I would like to do is transform the entirety of our system,” he said.

“We still have many aspects of the system that have to be done in person or through paper-based applications. Transforming the system means that every aspect of that process will be an online application process with in-person meetings being substituted and replaced by digital and virtual meetings.”

He said he expects there will be a dedicated department team to look at the issue and drive it forward. “I think it’s a safe thing to say this will be a multiyear project, but not that long,” he said.

Ms. Kwan said that while digitizing the immigration application process is “long overdue,” the Liberals have been using this as an excuse to avoid talking about current delays.

“The process to move to a new system could take years and the government has failed to present a plan or provide resources to address current backlogs in a reasonable timeline,” she said.

But Mr. Mendicino said the department is well-advanced on its goals of meeting its target of 401,000 new permanent residents this year.

Jasraj Singh Hallan, the Conservative immigration critic, echoed Ms. Kwan’s concerns, saying the Tories have long called for the modernization of the immigration system. But he said Mr. Mendicino’s announcement does nothing to address thousands of applicants caught in backlogs.

“Because of the Liberal government’s poor management of the immigration system, outdated systems, and paper applications, families who have been trying to reunite with their loved ones have been stuck in massive backlogs and delayed processing times causing hardship,” he said in a statement.


Immigration Minister promises to address concerns over new federal immigration program

Lots of commentary regarding the barriers encountered by temporary workers in “other essential sectors” given language proof requirements, computer skills and accessibility and the like (likely less significant for healthcare workers not clear, and not barriers to international students).

The initial application numbers, as of about 5:30 this morning, highlight the barriers:

  • Healthcare workers: 644 applications out of 20,000 slots;
  • Essential non-healthcare workers: 4,460 out of 30,000;
  • International graduates: 37,778 out of 40,000 (almost completely subscribed).

The federal Immigration Minister says he is working to address concerns about a program launching this week that is aimed at creating a pathway to permanent residency for 90,000 people.

Marco Mendicino said he is committed to working with stakeholders and that he is open to the criticisms of various migrant groups as the program begins Thursday.

Announced in April, the program is designed to grant permanent residency to thousands of temporary foreign workers and graduated international students.

Under the measures, 20,000 temporary foreign workers in health care, 30,000 workers in other occupations deemed essential and 40,000 international students who have graduated from a university or college will be able to apply to become permanent residents.

“Before we prematurely rush to make any judgments about the train being on the tracks, let’s see it pick up steam, and ensure it stays on track and gets to its final destination,” Mr. Mendicino said Wednesday, “which is to welcome 90,000 newcomers in a way that is unprecedented.”

In a news conference this week, the Migrant Rights Network, representing organizations across Canada, said current requirements for this program, the short timeframe and the arbitrary caps ensure that only those in the best situations will be able to apply.

Opposition parties have called for a broader opening to welcome many more than 90,000 people.

On Wednesday, the minister was asked about specific problems with the program. They included application guides only now being available, many people scrambling to get language tests required to apply, and essential workers facing challenges applying.

In response, Mr. Mendicino said the program is “unprecedented” and ambitious. It was not a forgone conclusion that the government would proceed with the effort during a pandemic, he said, but that it was launched because of feedback from economists and the immigrant and migrant-workers community.

“I also acknowledge that because it is a new program, we have a lot of legwork to do to make sure that it is communicated clearly and there will be access to the program,” he said.

He added that guidelines have now been posted online, clarifying application needs. and said language-instruction operations are working to meet the demand.

Despite the minister’s assurances, Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said in an interview that he remained concerned about what his group sees as flaws in the program

He said, based on the alliance’s research, that the 90,000 openings fall far short of meeting the needs of 1.6 million migrants and undocumented people in Canada. He also said only a estimated 470,000 people can apply for spaces under the current rules.

“This is a short-term window, which excludes most people. It prioritizes those with the highest earnings, the highest access, and excludes the essential, low-wage workers that the Prime Minister, the Immigration Minister and most of our society says we value.”

Source: Immigration Minister promises to address concerns over new federal immigration program