Alboim and Kohl: A post-election to-do list for the Afghan crisis

Good practical recommendations:

Now that the federal election is over, it’s time to make urgent policy decisions in response to the Afghan crisis. People remain in peril there and Canada needs to play its part domestically and on the international front.

Canadians worked side-by-side with Afghan nationals to improve security, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, girls’ education and a free press in Afghanistan. Canada has a moral obligation to help people who are now at risk. Even if there is no direct link to Canada, coming to the aid of people in danger is the humanitarian thing to do, the right thing to do. It’s what Canada does and has done well in other refugee crises.

Here’s our suggested to-do list of what government should tackle on an urgent basis.

Get people out
Canada should intensify its work with allies on the diplomatic front to encourage the Taliban to allow safe passage out of the country. Afghans with travel authorization to Canada can then leave the country. We should also continue to encourage and support neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to fleeing Afghans and allow Canadian immigration processing to take place in these countries of first asylum.

Increase government assisted refugees 
Prior to calling the election, the Liberals committed to the resettlement of up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals through two new programs. They have now doubled their commitment to 40,000. At least half of these should consist of government-assisted refugees. This will expedite arrivals and send a strong message to private sponsors that they are complementing, rather than replacing, government efforts.

Keep extended families together
Every effort should be made to keep extended families together when selecting refugees for resettlement to Canada. Where families have become separated, it is also important to enable and expedite mechanisms to reunite them. Many people living in dire circumstances, whether in Afghanistan or other countries, are ineligible under existing rules to be reunited with family members in Canada.

People in Canada can sponsor certain close family members, but they cannot sponsor others such as adult children or siblings. This creates an untenable situation. Afghans in Canada will have a hard time adapting to their new life when fraught with worry over relatives who are in peril abroad. Both groups will suffer without the mutual support that they can provide.

Pave the way for private sponsorship
Canadians are willing to pitch in but there are obstacles to private sponsorship. First, the lengthy processing times and backlogs must be reduced. Organizations that have sponsorship agreements with government are further hampered by caps on the number of refugees they can sponsor each year.

During the Syrian refugee crisis, the government allowed sponsors to exceed those caps. The same approach should be taken for Afghan refugees. Additionally, as Canada did with the Syrian crisis, privately sponsored Afghans should be deemed “prima facie” refugees without requiring a formal assessment by the United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees or another state. This will allow groups that are not affiliated with agreement holders to play a strong role in private sponsorship.

Clarify the new humanitarian program 
The government has announced a promising new program to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals who have managed to leave the country. This includes women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and journalists. The government needs to communicate how eligible people will be identified and what processes will be used for this program. Lists prepared by Canadian organizations, family members and others will be instrumental in identifying candidates.

Speed things up 
Afghan refugee claimants in Canada should be fast-tracked at the Immigration and Refugee Board, as has been done for groups from certain other world areas. We also need to expedite the transition to permanent residence for Afghans who entered the country on a temporary permit because they didn’t have the opportunity to complete their immigration processing overseas. Individuals on a temporary permit are not eligible for federal programs available to permanent residents, including income support and the sponsorship of family members.

Strengthen international aid 
We cannot forget that most vulnerable Afghans are unable to leave and that millions of Afghan refugees are hosted by neighbouring countries. This reality has existed for decades, exacerbated by the most recent crisis. Perhaps the most important task on the government’s to-do list is to increase humanitarian aid for organizations working on the ground in Afghanistan and neighbouring or nearby countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.

Achieving the items on this to-do list will require sustained government commitment, funding and staffing in Canada and abroad. If Canada can check off all of the boxes, we can be confident that we are doing our part in response to this international crisis.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/october-2021/a-post-election-to-do-list-for-the-afghan-crisis/

Alboim and Cohl: Ordinary Canadians can help Afghans settle successfully in our communities

Useful recommendations and call for support:

The planes are arriving. They are bringing to Canada people who fear retribution, oppression or death from the Taliban, now firmly in control of Afghanistan. These arrivals are part of the federal government’s commitment to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals. Officials estimate this will include 6,000 people from within Afghanistan and 15,000 who have managed to flee the country. With minimal opportunities for people to make it safely to the Kabul airport, let alone get on a plane, and with borders to neighbouring countries closed, Canada may be hard pressed to reach these numbers quickly. The reality is that many Afghans are trapped in their landlocked country, unable to escape by land, sea or air.

The immediate priority must be to get vulnerable people out of Afghanistan, whether they are at risk for having helped the Canadian government or for their human rights advocacy. Women leaders are particularly vulnerable and urgently need help to exit the country. But this cannot be our sole focus. We must also create systems to help Afghan refugees to settle successfully in our communities. In this regard, there is much to learn from previous crises where Canada welcomed large numbers of refugees.

Although every refugee movement requires tailored solutions to address unique circumstances, Canada’s success with Indochinese refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (after the fall of Saigon in 1975) and Syrian refugees (after the civil war began in 2011) is particularly instructive. An overarching lesson from these two movements is that the involvement of ordinary Canadians – in addition to governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations – can have a huge and positive impact.

One way that members of the public and civil society organizations make a difference is by being vocal about their support for a strong government response. In 2015, public outrage and concern helped to make Syrian refugees a federal election issue, garnering strong commitments from all political parties. An initial target of resettling 1,300 Syrian refugees, set by the Conservative government in 2013, became 25,000 after the Liberals came to power two years later.

Iconic photos of capsized boats and a young child who didn’t survive the journey were factors in galvanizing Canadian support in the past. Heart-wrenching images emerging from the Kabul airport could potentially have a similar effect. Canadians may feel especially motivated to help the two categories the federal government has prioritized: people who helped the Government of Canada, and those who fought for human rights and democracy, principles highly valued in Canada. These individuals and their extended families are clearly in grave danger.

While many potential refugees remain trapped in Afghanistan, those who fled to other countries before the Taliban took control are eligible for private sponsorship. The people being airlifted directly from Kabul and arriving in Canada as government assisted refugees could also benefit from being matched with groups interested in private sponsorship. This would give those refugees the benefit of the personal relationships, networks and cross-cultural connections that privately sponsored refugees typically enjoy.

For such approaches to work, authorization for sponsorship agreement holders to help Afghan refugees will need to be above and beyond any existing caps. And the lists of persons and families at risk being compiled by veterans, human rights groups, Afghan organizations, and family members in Canada should be consolidated to assist in the matching process. Private sponsorship would also be enhanced by creating a community organization modelled after Operation Lifeline and Lifeline Syria, which formed during the Indochinese and Syrian crises respectively to train sponsors and match them to refugees. Now is the time to create Lifeline Afghanistan with the leadership of Canadian Afghan organizations, like the Afghan Women’s Organization, working closely with other civil society organizations.

Another lesson from previous refugee movements is that Canada’s commitment must be long-term. The dangers abroad do not stop once Canada has reached its initial target for refugees, and the need for reunification with extended family members can take many years to resolve. Canada is still accepting Syrian refugees, although considerable frustration exists due to lengthy processing lags now that this movement is no longer a top priority.

Canada has responded to refugee crises before and we can do it again. We have the infrastructure on the ground, a robust settlement sector, an engaged Afghan community, and above all a Canadian public with a history of coming forward to do their part. We are in the middle of another federal election. It is time to speak up.

Naomi Alboim is the senior policy fellow at the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University and was actively involved in the Indochinese and Syrian refugee movements. Karen Cohl is a consultant specializing in access to justice and immigration policy issues.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-ordinary-canadians-can-help-afghans-settle-successfully-in-our/

More agricultural workers should become permanent residents

Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl make the case. It would have been helpful to have the breakdown between those who are seasonal (growing and harvesting season) and those who are not (e.g., meat packing plants).

Will see if any moves in this direction in the forthcoming immigration plan:

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the essential nature of agricultural work in Canada and our reliance on migrant workers to get the job done. Despite restrictions on travel to Canada, work permits continue to be issued for agricultural workers because of the indispensable role they play in ensuring Canadian food security.

The pandemic has also highlighted the vulnerabilities and insecure status of these temporary workers. Inspections of their housing and working conditions have been inadequate in the face of COVID-19, exposing workers to the tragic spread of this deadly virus.

In 2019, temporary foreign workers accounted for 20 percent of employment in the agricultural sector. This amounts to approximately 55,000 jobs in farming, food and fish processing. The majority come to Canada from Mexico and Caribbean countries for up to eight months under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, a longstanding program created in 1966. Others come for up to two years under the Temporary Foreign Worker Agricultural Stream. People with other types of work permits may also choose to work in the agricultural sector, as do undocumented workers, who are the most vulnerable of all.

Shifting to more permanent residency

We propose a major policy shift in which more agricultural workers will be selected as permanent residents. This removes much of the vulnerability associated with temporary status. Workers would have full rights in Canada, with the exception of voting, and would not feel compelled to tolerate unsafe conditions in order to avoid deportation.

An agricultural workforce comprised mostly of permanent residents also makes sense because much of the work – such as animal production, food product processing and manufacturing, greenhouse, nursery, floriculture and mushroom production – takes place on a year-round basis. And it would help employers to maintain a stable workforce without the need for annual expenditures on recruitment, Labour Market Impact Assessments, transportation and training.

An important additional benefit is that families would come to Canada together, aiding integration into their new communities. This would avoid the social isolation and outsider status experienced by many temporary agricultural workers, mostly men, who have to leave their families behind. By selecting experienced and committed agricultural workers to work in welcoming, supportive, rural communities, immigrant families would be motivated to build their futures there, strengthening the vibrancy and viability of communities facing population decline.

Canada’s current economic immigration programs primarily allow only highly skilled people and their spouses and dependants to arrive as permanent residents, which has not included agricultural workers. Canada’s new Agri-Food Pilot and some provincial nominee programs offer a pathway to permanent residency for individuals with relevant work experience and a non-seasonal job offer from a Canadian employer, but the language and education standards are too high for many migrant agricultural workers to meet.

One promising option that we recommend is to build an agricultural stream into the Municipal Nominee Program. This is a new program under development by the Government of Canada where communities can sponsor permanent economic immigrants. Temporary agricultural workers already in Canada are a logical place to start for potential nominees because they have demonstrable skills and work experience, and many may welcome the opportunity to become permanent residents.

A wider search could be undertaken in countries with a significant agricultural base to identify clusters of additional nominees abroad. These workers would come as permanent residents from the start.

Refugees with agricultural experience are another potential source of municipal nominees. This has the added benefit of providing durable solutions for refugees identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency, over and above the levels selected through Canada’s humanitarian refugee resettlement stream. And it is consistent with Canada’s commitment as a signatory to the Global Compact on Refugees. In the compact, participating states agree to provide labour mobility opportunities for refugees with skills that they need.

In designing a mechanism to identify refugees under an agricultural stream of the Municipal Nominee Program, Canada can learn from the Economic Mobility Pathways Project. That project selects highly skilled refugees as permanent residents through provincial nominee and other economic immigration programs.

Ideally, clusters of refugee families with agricultural backgrounds will be selected for the new Municipal Nominee Program, preferably from the same world area. This would improve the integration and retention of families in rural areas, along with providing economies of scale for the provision of targeted settlement services. The selection process will need to involve three levels of government, employers, civil society organizations abroad and in Canada and the UN Refugee Agency.

A bottom-up, community-wide approach should be employed. Employers and the rural municipality identify needs for agricultural workers and population growth. Stakeholders develop and implement plans to welcome and support clusters of nominees and their families. Additional support will likely be necessary for people who come as refugees.

Fortunately, there is growing experience in offering specialized settlement support, for example through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and the new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. Ideally, supports should also be available for temporary foreign agricultural workers who need to know their rights, including how to apply for permanent residency.

An agricultural stream under the municipal program would be meaningful, but it should not be viewed as the sole pathway to permanent residency. We recommend that other ways be explored by reviewing and modifying the criteria of existing programs and pilot projects under the economic and other immigration classes.

Protecting temporary workers

Even if permanent residency becomes more accessible, Canada will need some temporary foreign workers, especially for truly seasonal work and some may prefer a more temporary situation. Changes are urgently needed to better protect these workers as well.

As an example, the employer-specific permits received under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Agricultural Stream make workers vulnerable. Their status in Canada is dependent on working for the employer who brought them here, leaving them open to potential exploitation, abuse and dangerous work environments with no real recourse. Complaints are rare because of their fear of being fired and deported. We recommend a move to sector-specific permits that allow people to work for any employer within the agricultural sector.

Additional problems arise due to the lack of sufficient accountability and coordination. Multiple federal, provincial and municipal government departments and agencies are involved in different aspects of these programs. And each jurisdiction establishes its own standards and enforcement policies, with little in the way of national standards, coordination or overall accountability.

We propose that the federal government lead a consultative process with provinces, municipal bodies, employers and workers. The purpose would be to develop national standards for health and safety, housing and employment, to establish clear roles and responsibilities and to improve coordination among government bodies for temporary agricultural workers.

Another issue relates to the Labour Market Impact Assessments employers must obtain from the federal government before being allowed to hire a temporary worker from abroad. These assessments include assurances by employers that there are no local residents available to do the job but include little to demonstrate safe conditions and fair compensation for foreign workers. We recommend that national standards be incorporated into these assessments.

Finally, as the recent pandemic has dramatically reminded us, rigorous inspections of worker conditions are essential to ensure safety and fair treatment. Unfortunately, inspections are rarely done proactively without advance notice to the employer. They are often conducted by telephone and may not occur at all in the absence of a formal complaint. Gaps can occur due to different parts and levels of government being responsible for different issues. We recommend the creation of a strategic, coordinated inspection process that would involve collaboration among all relevant departments. The focus would be on proactive monitoring and ensuring compliance with national standards and related requirements of all levels of government.

An opportune time for action

The federal speech from the throne of September 2020 recognizes the value of both migrant and Canadian workers’ contribution to Canada’s food security: “The Canadian and migrant workers who produce, harvest, and process our food – from people picking fruit to packing seafood – have done an outstanding job getting good food on people’s plates. They deserve the government’s full support and protection.”

This level of commitment, along with the government’s objectives for immigration, the economy and rural communities, sets the stage for moving to better protect temporary foreign agricultural workers and to offer more permanent residency options for the people who do this fundamentally important work.

Source: More agricultural workers should become permanent residents

Eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada: Adelman, Alboim, Molloy and Cappe

Best and most comprehensive advice I have seen so far from Howard Adelman, Naomi Alboim, Mike Molloy and Mel Cappe:

1. The government should authorize the admission of Syrian refugees under a special program without the need for individual determination by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another state. This has been done for other major refugee movements in the past. This one step would expedite the selection of refugees and reduce the paperwork burden for sponsor groups.

2. The actual number and time frame will have to be negotiated or determined by the government when elected in October, but the method for speeding up the process must be introduced as soon as possible. We believe that it is not unrealistic to call for 25,000 government-assisted and 25,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees to be admitted each year for the next two years.

3. The vast majority of Syrian refugees should be resettled to Canada from four target countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt . This will relieve the pressure on these countries of first asylum and will reduce the desperation that is compelling people to risk their lives to get to Europe.

4. First priority should be given to displaced Syrian families with children in the four target countries. These would include families with significant Canadian connections, which would include relatives of Canadian citizens or of permanent residents. The fundamental rule (applied during the Indochinese movement) would be that extended family groups that have fled or taken refuge together would be processed and travel to Canada together. Families would not be broken up.

5. In addition to those with significant Canadian connections, the new program should target (but would not be restricted to) cases referred by the UNHCR.

6. Canadian visa offices in the field should be reinforced significantly and instructed to accelerate the selection rate for refugees referred by the UNHCR or with Canadian connections so that they can be referred to both the large umbrella sponsor groups (sponsorship-agreement holders) and local sponsor groups (groups of five) in large numbers expeditiously.

7. An increased number of government-assisted refugees should be selected from the pool of refugees referred by the UNHCR or other reputable agencies and should be destined to communities with reinforced agencies providing immigrant and refugee services. Humanitarian considerations should be paramount and provision should be made for hardship cases and those most in need.

8. Early outreach to employers will be essential; the temporary foreign worker program for low-skilled workers should be severely curtailed, freeing up jobs for incoming refugees.

Now is the time for all political parties to demonstrate to Canadians that they can work together to address a crisis of enormous proportions and to reclaim our leadership role on the world stage that reflects our values as a caring and compassionate society. We have the experience and expertise. We did it before and we can do it again. All we need now is the political will.

Can Canada duplicate its boat people rescue with Syrian refugees? | Toronto Star

Fascinating history of Canada’s response to the Vietnamese boat people and the people involved from both the government and non-government sides. Well worth reading and reflecting upon, and their suggestions for refugees by connecting sponsored cases with businesses relying on low-skilled Temporary Foreign Workers:

Three and a half decades later, Adelman, Molloy and Alboim wondered if the courage and leadership that characterized the boat people rescue effort could be transferred to the Syrian refugee crisis.

They established a three-person task force to develop new strategies for refugee resettlement in Canada and crisscrossed the country talking to a variety of experts. In three reports discussing possible policies, they outlined projects that might revitalize refugee resettlement.

Their goal was ambitious: “to improve family reunification for refugees already in Canada, expand the pool of Canadians willing to sponsor refugees, improve the quality of support for government-assisted refugees and enhance labour market integration of refugees admitted to Canada under various resettlement programs.”

A core concern is the fact private refugee sponsorships, so successful in the “boat people” crisis, have atrophied and become the preserve of faith-based communities, ethnic and cultural groups.

They want to expand the base of people involved in sponsorships, creating more opportunities for groups such as book clubs, neighbourhood associations or unions, to become involved.

Can Canada duplicate its boat people rescue with Syrian refugees? | Toronto Star.

Naomi Alboim: Less Access to Citizenship Means a Worse-Off Canada

Naomi Alboim: Less Access to Citizenship Means a Worse-Off Canada.