Saunders: How Canada learned what’s wrong with its immigration system – by slamming its borders shut

Usual thought provoking column by Doug Saunders, even if I am more sceptical regarding the government’s approach:

How do you find 401,000 immigrants to become new Canadians when nobody’s even allowed to enter the country? That was the puzzle Ottawa faced at the beginning of the year, after the federal government set admirably high annual immigration targets in 2020 that will bring in 1.2 million people over the next three years in a bold effort to build economic growth through population expansion.

Air and land borders have been shut tight because of the coronavirus pandemic, and neither immigrants nor refugees have been arriving – 2020′s immigration intake was the lowest since the 1990s. The new targets, representing more than 1 per cent of Canada’s population per year, would produce immigration rates Canada hasn’t seen since the 1960s – but begin during a border-closing pandemic. Opposition and business critics said our immigration bureaucrats could never meet that target.

Two weeks ago, those bureaucrats announced a solution that was surprising and potentially ingenious. But it also revealed some of the deep flaws in an outdated and overcomplicated immigration system that was designed for restriction rather than growth, and that leaves hundreds of thousands of families in Canada unable to participate fully in its economy.

In essence, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino recognized that most of those 401,000 immigrants are already living and working in Canada, and often have been for years – they just don’t have the right kind of visa, or haven’t accumulated right number of points along our Byzantine immigration pathway, to qualify for permanent-residency status and eventual citizenship.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, as it does every few weeks, the Immigration Department sent out invitations for selected temporary immigrants, all of whom have worked in Canada for at least a year, to apply for permanent-resident status. Instead of the usual 3,000 to 5,000 invitations, though, it sent out more than 27,000, and hinted that this high rate would continue for some time. In order to find enough current residents to invite, the number of points needed was lowered dramatically. (Canada’s long-established points system, properly known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, awards points toward permanent status for such things as work experience, education and language skills.)

Immigrants who expected to have to wait months or years longer, and to jump through dozens more bureaucratic hoops, suddenly learned they were on a pathway to become Canadians. Immigration lawyers, who found themselves deluged with clients last week, said the supply of qualified high-quality people was always here; it just took a crisis for the government to see it.

“Yes, they can hit the 400,000 target because there are half a million temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada right now,” says Raj Sharma, a Calgary-based immigration lawyer. “I think they’re going to meet the target, and it’s going to have repercussions on the way they do things – they always should have prioritized people already living in Canada.”

Drawing on immigrants with lower point scores is not a case of “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” as Mr. Sharma notes, because the great majority of those in Canada on a temporary basis (with only a few possible exceptions, such as seasonal agricultural workers) are able to be here, for study or work, precisely because they have skills and are fluent in a Canadian language. What has denied most of these people and their families access to citizenship is not a lack of actual skills or experience, but a complex and often self-contradictory set of rules and classifications.

For example, a temporary worker employed for a year as an accounts-receivable clerk does not earn enough points to qualify under normal rules; the same worker employed as a bookkeeper does. In some provinces, an immigrant employed caring for elderly and disabled people in their own homes is ineligible to apply for permanent residency, while an immigrant doing the same work in a long-term care facility is.

At root are two decades-old assumptions behind our immigration system, both of which have been challenged by the pandemic. The first is that highly skilled, educated and fluent immigrants are a comparative rarity and a lengthy weeding-out process is needed to find them. The second is that immigrants divide neatly into two groups of very different people: temporary and low-skilled, and permanent and high-skilled.

That hasn’t been true for decades. Not only are most “temporary” immigrants to Canada people who are educated and considered middle-class in their countries of origin, but temporary low-wage work is most often used as a stepping-stone to permanent work in professions or skilled trades, or to small-business ownership. A high proportion of temporary-immigrant women employed as live-in caregivers and nannies, for example, have postsecondary diplomas and degrees from their home countries.

These assumptions have exacted a high cost on Canada’s economic prospects, by leaving large numbers of newcomers in a limbo state, unable to invest in their communities, start legal businesses or set down family roots because they’re not eligible to become Canadians – even though they’re here because the economy needs them. In the early 2000s, under prime minister Stephen Harper’s earlier policies, a majority of immigrants in Canada were temporary foreign workers without access to permanent residency.

The later Harper years and early Trudeau years saw pathways to permanent residency created for most classes of temporary workers and students. In the prepandemic years, several thousand people per month were making this transition, though few of them were lower-wage immigrants from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who face difficult bureaucratic hurdles regardless of their skill or education level.

The pandemic shone a light on this problem. The jobs deemed “essential” – and thus the jobs that expose employees to the greatest coronavirus risk – are very often the ones held by immigrants who have the least possibility of becoming Canadians.

“I do think that COVID-19 provides an opportunity to rethink our immigration policy, given what we have seen in terms of essential workers, traditionally undervalued and underpaid,” says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department. He doesn’t believe it will be necessary for the government to permanently lower its points-score requirements for permanent residency, especially during a pandemic recession. Even though there are many labour shortages in low-skill fields, much of that demand is filled not by primary immigrants but by their relatives – the family members who accompany them, and who they later sponsor.

This crisis may have come along at just the right time. If Canada wants to reach a level of population density that provides the most ecological, economic and cultural benefits – especially in a world whose borders and markets are becoming less open – it doesn’t have much time. As recent academic analyses have pointed out, Canada’s projected peak population this century (double its current level) may be difficult to reach because many of our chief countries of immigration are watching their own population growth levels collapse and are trying to hold onto their own populations.

What the pandemic has shown us is that newcomers are not guaranteed to be available when we need them, and might not always be willing to jump through all our hoops – not when other wealthy countries, including warmer ones, may be willing to make better offers.

An immigration policy designed for a growing, educated population needs to do three things.

First, it needs to keep families intact – an immigration system built on unaccompanied individuals is bad for immigrants and bad for Canada, as it leaves out the long-term population benefits of immigration.

Second, it needs to avoid leaving people stuck in Canada for a long time without a clear pathway to citizenship. This is true for both refugee applicants and immigrants – it is a huge wasted opportunity to have hundreds of thousands of ambiguous-status individuals knocking around the country, unsure if they should invest in this country or some other one, or when they’ll know for sure.

We wrongly think of our “points system” as assessing the intrinsic worth of an individual, but in fact most immigrants build up points during the time they spend in Canada. Might it make more sense to allow them to accumulate those points not before but after they earn permanent-resident status? That way, the earnings and savings they build up during that time will be used to build a stake in Canada’s society and economy.

But the flip side of a generous and large-scale controlled-immigration system is that removal of non-qualified people should be quick and decisive – ideally through economic incentives rather than far more expensive deportation. Immigration and citizenship should be valued and treated as precious accomplishments, and that means making decisions quickly and fairly.

And finally, the system should allow rapid movement between categories and classes of immigration – ideally without changing anything. Someone in Canada as a temporary medical-industry worker should be able to become a university student, or a permanent-residency applicant, without having to pay lawyers and questionable immigration agents to navigate a labyrinth of applications, waiting lists, lotteries and restrictions. The number of immigration categories, and steps, could easily be cut in half without any detriment to the system.

Canada will never be an open-borders country, and it will never need to return to the era of mass immigration, as we experienced a bit more than a century ago. We can double or triple our population this century within current immigration rates, and without lowering our standards – but we need to start taking advantage of the immigration assets we already have. If nothing else, the pandemic’s border closings have taught us that we need to do things differently.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-canada-learned-whats-wrong-with-its-immigration-system-by-slamming/

ICYMI: ‘They were very persistent’: CBC finds more cash-for-jobs immigration schemes

Good article on one of the fraud schemes, appears largely related to Saskatchewan’s provincial nominee program:

An ongoing court case suggests this sort of thing may have been going on for years in Saskatchewan.

In December 2015, Qi Wang and Yujuan Cui, a couple from White City, Sask. — a bedroom community of Regina — were charged with violating the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act for allegedly creating fake job offers or inducing others to do so.

The husband and wife, who now live in Roberts Creek, B.C., are set to stand trial in January for their actions related to hundreds of immigration files in Saskatchewan.

Wang and Cui have been on the radar of immigration authorities since 2008.

In its fact statement filed in court, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) says from 2008 to 2010, the province of Saskatchewan had suspended Wang from using its Immigrant Nominee Program because “he had been offering jobs from Saskatchewan companies that were not in existence and offering positions from a company for which authorization had not been received.”

Then, in 2012, CBSA was tipped off by provincial officials about some more suspicious activity.

During the two-year investigation that followed, from 2012 to 2014, CBSA seized material including “documents containing signature blocks and business header information taped onto job offers as well as documents with the employer’s email address portion cut out or taped over with a new address.”

Investigators allege that Wang and Cui made fake job offers to Chinese nationals, sometimes using non-existent companies. They also theorize that the couple approached and counselled “legitimate Saskatchewan companies to provide fraudulent job offers to Chinese nationals” and promised “to compensate legitimate Saskatchewan companies for providing fraudulent job offers.”

In all, CBSA says the couple “illegally received $600,000 from Chinese nationals” and “paid out approximately $95,000 to seventeen different Saskatchewan business owners.”

In documents seized from the couple, investigators found the names of 1,229 people. The province had received immigration applications from 422 of them.

CBSA found that 27 of those had their applications rejected, but 78 had already become permanent residents.

The court document says “CBSA did not have the capacity to ascertain with certainty the number of applications that were fraudulent.”

Permanent residency marketed as ‘commodity’

None of this is surprising to Raj Sharma, a Calgary immigration lawyer who used to work for the immigration refugee board as a hearing officer.

“Wherever you have this hot economy and favourable immigration climate, you’re gonna see this type of action,” he said.

He said this is precisely the sort of thing they’ve been seeing for years in Alberta.

Sharma said he knows it goes on because he regularly gets calls from people wanting his firm to find them a job in exchange for money — which he says is illegal.

“We respond and say that’s not what we do. But obviously they make that inquiry because there are others who do,” he said.

He said those who are willing to flout the law can command “five to 10 to 100 times more than our fees.”

“Canadian residency is a sought-after commodity and an asset,” he said.

He insisted in order to stop people from exploiting that fact, enforcement needs to be tougher and the rules need to be strengthened.

He said that’s especially so in Saskatchewan, where the program “is looser and more generous than Alberta.”

When asked about CBC’s Vstar investigation, the Saskatchewan premier’s office responded with a brief written statement, saying, “Saskatchewan has the strongest nominee program in Canada and we are determined to make sure that it remains the strongest.”

“As always, the government treats any suspected immigration infractions very seriously. Government officials look into information provided by anyone showing potential evidence of wrongdoing.”

When asked, the premier’s office didn’t explain what it meant by “strongest.”

Sharma said Alberta prioritizes approving the immigration applications of people who already live in the province and work or study there, whereas Saskatchewan “will still allow someone to come directly from overseas and I think perhaps that should be tightened up.”

He said it’s implausible that someone from China with weak language skills would be able to land a job in Canada without assistance.

And he said there are many who are willing to “help.”

“It is inevitably fostering fraud,” Sharma said.

Source: ‘They were very persistent’: CBC finds more cash-for-jobs immigration schemes – Saskatchewan – CBC News

Reaction to Calgary cab video shows progress in fighting racism, says immigration lawyer

Raj Sharma on how Calgary is changing, using the example of a taxi driver who filed a complaint over the racist rant of a passenger:

One way to measure how this city has changed is the public response to a dash-cam video that recently surfaced, which has been seen and shared by many. It shows an enraged drunk inundating Sardar Qayyum — a meek, deferential, Pakistani émigré and Canadian citizen — with a racist diatribe.

Unlike those who preceded him, Qayyum felt that he could go to our law enforcement agencies. He didn’t necessarily have to turn the other cheek.

…The perpetrator in this case has been identified, shamed and has lost his job. Having run the gauntlet of the internet, he and his family will move on after the mob finds their next target.

The public reaction to the video has shown his behaviour is not condoned, it is condemned. That’s a good sign and the support that Qayyum has received is heart-warming.

Racism appears to have progressed. You no longer commonly hear the generic slur of “Paki” being smeared over all South Asians. Unfortunately, racist attacks and tirades against Muslims appear to be increasing. A network of women’s centres is reporting an alarming rise in intolerance, racism and violence against Muslim women in Quebec tied to the proposed Charter of Quebec values, which thankfully remained inchoate.

Violence against Muslim women on the rise, group says

The rant against Qayyum centred around his religion; this incident is merely a symptom of the overall disease wherein the vast majority of Muslims are being tarred and feathered for the actions of a tiny minority. Muslims are “terrorists” or “sympathizers,” but since 2001 nearly twice as many people in the United States have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than radical Muslims. Racists, by their very nature, rarely let the facts get in the way.

As a result, it’s been a chilly few years for ordinary Muslims living in the West, including Canada. However, “ordinary” Canadians with their condemnation of one man’s unacceptable actions have spoken loudly. This should be celebrated in moderation for the concerns expressed above.

I am optimistic that, while it may well be chilly right now for Canadian Muslims, the beauty is that in Calgary, the next chinook is already on its way.

Reaction to Calgary cab video shows progress in fighting racism, says immigration lawyer | CBCNews.ca Mobile.

Should the Canadian government revoke the citizenship of dual-nationals who fight for ISIS?

Good CBC Radio interview with Raj Sharma, an immigration lawyer, who was scheduled to testify during the parliamentary hearings on Bill C-24 revisions to the Citizenship Act and revocation.

One of the better plain language explanations of the shortcomings of the Government’s approach:

Should the Canadian government revoke the citizenship of dual-nationals who fight for ISIS? – The 180 – CBC Player. (about 6 minutes)