Douglas Todd: Canadian officials battle dozens of migration scams

Good overview of the major scams. Thanks again to Richard Kurland for making the ATIP request:

Canadian immigration officials around the world face a wave of immigration scams.

Many of the schemes feature people claiming to be in marriages that turn out to be phoney. Others involve fraudulent letters about escorting Saudi Arabian princesses, counterfeit passports and forged job offers, or people pretending to be journalists.

An internal Global Affairs Department document shows Canadian consular and customs officials invited anti-fraud experts from European countries to a meeting to learn about the wide range of inventive scams that people are using to try to emigrate to Canada and other Western nations.

The federal email correspondence came to light in the same month that the federal NDP immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, criticized Canadian immigration officials for asking a couple “offensive and insulting” questions, which were aimed at determining if a Pakistani woman was in a bona fide marriage with her male sponsor, who had been in Canada for 13 years.

It was “completely inappropriate” for immigration officials to note the female applicant for Canadian permanent resident status is three years older than her spouse, said Kwan, the MP for Vancouver East. She called on Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to look into what she calls a “systemic” problem with the way staff handle the popular spousal-sponsorship program.

However, a detailed email from a senior official at Global Affairs, which was obtained through an access to information request, indicates that fake marriages are among the most common fraudulent methods used to obtain permanent resident status in Canada.

The email, sent last year to about 50 Canadian officials after a meeting in Cairo, describes a common deception in which Arabic couples enter into so-called “Urfi marriages,” which are customary under Islamic law but not recognized by the Egyptian government. Urfi marriages are often for convenience, including to travel or migrate. In Sudan, meanwhile, many officials are giving out suspicious marriage documents to citizens of other African nations.

The widespread problem posed by fake marriages was confronted in 2013 by then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, who began a crackdown on “marriages of convenience,” which included a public video featuring real victims of marriage-migration scams. The federal Liberals continue to use videos to warn people against being abused by a marriage scheme, but the government has eased some rules for Canadian spouses sponsoring foreign nationals.

With Gallup pollsters finding that roughly 45 million people around the globe want to move to Canada, another growing scam has been emerging in India, where people are posting newspaper ads that seek “marriage” with a young person who has been accepted as one of this nation’s 500,000 international students.

The Global Affairs email shows that Canadian officials uncovered other creative schemes, one of which they called “the prince or princess scam.”

At their meeting in Cairo, they found seven cases of married Egyptian or Sudanese males “applying for a visitor visa to accompany a prince or princess of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on their visit to Canada. The applicants were to serve as personal maids, cooks, drivers or waiters.” The university-educated applicants provided fake letters, purportedly written on the letterhead of Saudi royal families.

A different ruse, says the Global Affairs email, is to apply to enter other countries as journalists. Another is for an applicant to buy a rundown house in a Western country, then claim they require a visa to work on it. In addition, corrupt officials in Africa, including clergy,  are issuing fake birth certificates. Forged passports and bank statements are also common. So is buying fake jobs. And a new approach is to present immigration officials with fraudulent invitation letters to pilot-training schools in Canada.

In response to Postmedia questions, Kwan acknowledged that marriage and other migration frauds exist, adding that “the overwhelming majority of interactions” that Canada’s immigration and border officials “have with people are done with a commendable level of expertise and professionalism.”

However, Kwan said an “inappropriate line of questioning can have serious impacts for genuine families.” The border official’s initial suggestion that the Pakistani couple did not appear “well matched,” in part because she was older, would not have been asked, Kwan said, of Prince Harry, 33, and his new wife, the Duchess of Sussex, 36.

Even though the Pakistani-Canadian husband’s sponsorship of a wife in Pakistan was approved, Kwan emphasized that border officials should never deal in “outdated stereotypes” about traditional foreign cultures. She wants immigration officials to take “cultural sensitivity training.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the internal Global Affairs email under an access to information request for his newsletter, Lexbase, said it’s legitimate for the NDP’s immigration critic to “push back” as a check on the power of Canada’s visa officers.

But Kurland also recommends Kwan take what he called “the cure.” That is, Kurland suggested it would be beneficial if she learned more about the many kinds of “real cases” that Canadian anti-fraud units are dealing with in places such as Delhi or Beijing.

“While the overwhelming majority of cases are genuine, we must be vigilant to prevent that small number of bad cases becoming a big number of bad cases. It is a difficult challenge that seasoned visa officers lose sleep over. The stakes are high (for would-be immigrants}. And for Canada.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Canadian officials battle dozens of migration scams

Douglas Todd: Who cares for Canada’s 71,000 minor international students?

Looks like some opportunity for a more systematic study and evaluation to guide current and future policy. Potential for abuse clearly present:

The client strode into George Lee’s office believing the veteran immigration lawyer would automatically notarize the federal government document that would confirm the client was the legal “custodian” of 10 international students who are minors.

But Lee wouldn’t approve the client’s business plan. The Burnaby immigration specialist knows the intense pressure and loneliness experienced by many young foreign students, who tend to come to Canada from the ages of 12 to 15. Since they’re vulnerable to isolation, depression and suicide, he realizes many need real care.

“I asked the person who wanted to be custodian to 10 minor students: ‘Why do you do this for so many children? What are your responsibilities to them?’ In the end I refused to sign. I refused. I couldn’t do it. This is a burgeoning business in B.C.,” said Lee, who is concerned about the rapidly expanding cohort of early teens coming as foreign students to Canada.

The number of international students in Canada last year reached 500,000, with more than 71,000 being minors, double the total in 2009. B.C. has an out-sized proportion of those aged 17 or less — 24,000, according to the federal immigration department. That is more people than attend an average Whitecaps or Lions game at B.C. Place Stadium.

Since last year’s suicide in Richmond of 17-year-old foreign student Linhai Yu, a little more attention is being focused in B.C. on the thousands of minors trying to make a go of attending the country’s public and private elementary and high schools, while living thousands of kilometres away from their fathers and mothers.

With roughly one third of all foreign students in Canada (about 40 per cent of those in B.C.) hailing from China, the country’s consul general in Vancouver acknowledged more students are arriving before university and many have been involved in “incidents” in the past two years. An informal group led by SFU international student Jialin Guo, who himself came to Canada as a minor, has arisen to try to raise awareness of students who are struggling.

The federal government has few stipulations about who can become an official custodian of a minor foreign student, a service for which offshore parents pay roughly $2,000 to $4,000 a year. All the immigration department asks is that “a custodian is a responsible adult (a Canadian citizen or permanent resident) who takes care of and supports the child.”

There is no requirement the custodian resides with the minor, who normally ends up renting on their own or boarding with a host family. The custodian is supposed to be a kind of legal surrogate parent, meeting with school officials, paying school fees (which typically cost $10,000 to $18,000 per year), monitoring the students’ health and taking over in emergencies.

“There’s a lot of psychological issues with minor students. They have a lot of pressure. Loneliness,” said Lee, who travels frequently to China and generally wonders about the wisdom of children being separated from parents at a young age.

“They need love, devotion and attention from their parents, not to be sent away to a foreign country to reside mostly with strangers. Many foreign students from China know that, culturally, they cannot report negativity to their parents back home because they have spent a lot of money investing in them. If they report negativity, they can be scolded. Their parents generally think if other children can excel in a foreign land, why can’t you?”

Lee and Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland believe one of the latest migration trends in China and other countries is for parents to send their children to Canada, which has no cap on foreign students, to attend high school and even elementary school so they will be at a competitive advantage when later applying to immigrate.

“Since they are coming as young children,” said Lee, “their parents believe they will adapt much easier to Canadian culture and language and the workplace” and thus be ranked highly when they apply for permanent resident status. Most Chinese foreign students who are minors, Lee said, have the added pressure of knowing their parents, many of whom invest in property in Canada’s major cities, expect them to eventually sponsor them to immigrate.

Gary Liu, a scientist who tutors many minor-age foreign students in Coquitlam and Surrey, said there is a great deal of variation in how such students are faring with learning English, being largely unsupervised and adjusting to Canadian culture and people.

“The situation for each child can only be described as ‘case by case,’” Liu said. While some young students appear to get quite a bit of attention from various caregivers, he knows some adult custodians who are coordinating three or four different students, all of whom live separately.

“I’m not sure if ‘abuse’ is the right term for such situations,” Liu said, “but some of the (custodians) are definitely pushing the boundaries.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Who cares for Canada’s 71,000 minor international students?

Government has pocketed $1-billion since 2013 increase in passport cost

Good ATIP work by Richard Kurland. Usual bafflegab responses. Should demand decrease because of 10 year passports, presumably so should the size of Passport Canada with unit costs remaining stable.

Particularly hard to see how the fee structure, and surpluses, comply with the Service Fees Act implemented by the current government in 2017:

The federal government has made more than $1-billion in profits from its passport program since significantly increasing the cost of a Canadian passport five years ago, according to newly released documents.

Canadian adults pay anywhere from $120 to $160 for an adult passport, despite the fact that it only cost the government $69.23 to produce the 36-page travel document in the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to immigration documents provided to The Globe and Mail by Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland. The price increase appears to have contributed to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual surpluses for the passport program from 2013 to 2017, totalling more than $1-billion over four years.

Mr. Kurland, who obtained the data under the Access to Information Act, said it is inappropriate for Ottawa to profit off the backs of Canadian taxpayers.

“A billion dollars made in just four years is a lot of money and the money comes directly from individual Canadians who are overpaying for their Canadian passports,” Mr. Kurland said in an interview.

“Instead of keeping the profit, they should be lowering the passport fee.”

Former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government increased the cost of passports in 2013 in an effort to cover the nearly $5 it was losing every time it issued a passport. In addition to boosting the cost of a five-year passport from $87 to $120, the government also started providing a 10-year passport at a cost of $160, increased the cost of a child’s passport by $20 to $57 and introduced a $45 replacement fee for lost or stolen documents.

Canadians ordering passports from outside of the country face the biggest fees today – $190 for a five-year passport or $260 for the 10-year document.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said in a statement that the passport program operates on a “cost-recovery basis,” meaning it finances its operations entirely from fees charged for passports and other travel documents. IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron said the program is currently in the middle of its 10-year business cycle, which started in July, 2013, and plans to use revenues from the first half of that period to offset the anticipated drop in demand for passports as a result of the 10-year passport option.

“No changes are currently planned to the passport fee structure. The passport program closely monitors its financial status to ensure that it is in compliance with all relevant authorities governing the program,” Ms. Caron said.

However, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan called on the government to conduct a full review of the passport-fee structure.

“The cost of the processing fees for passports should reflect the actual cost itself,” Ms. Kwan said.

Ms. Kwan said high passport costs limit the ability of low-income Canadians to obtain the important travel document. For instance, she said, many seniors in her Vancouver-area riding have complained about the high cost of a passport on a fixed income.

The Conservatives declined to comment on the passport-program profits.

Comparatively, American adults pay US$145 for a new 10-year passport, while British citizens are required to pay the equivalent of about $115.

via Government has pocketed $1-billion since 2013 increase in passport cost – The Globe and Mail

Douglas Todd: Here’s how to end migration scams by the global rich in Canada

Todd continues his series of articles on immigration scams involving wealthy immigrants, including the issue of taxation, particularly those who ‘park’ their family in Canada while continuing to live and work in their country of origin.

I am currently analyzing citizenship take-up by immigration category and business immigrants (entrepreneurs, investors) have the largest gap between relatively low principal applicant naturalization (mainly men) and secondary applicants (their families):

Canada could crack down in many ways on the scams performed by “ghost immigrants” who avoid paying their share of Canadian taxes while driving up housing prices in Vancouver and Toronto.

Immigration and tax specialists are pressing Ottawa to adopt numerous proposals they believe would put an end to widespread illegitimate migration schemes, such as those employed by two rich families from China, whose tactics were exposed this month in B.C. Supreme Court.

The case of Fu versus Zhu revealed how the wealthy families, who had together bought three expensive homes on the west side of Vancouver, had been engaging in illicit plots involving Canadian real estate, tax avoidance and lying about their immigration status.

“The problem is that there is large-scale immigration of relatively wealthy people to Canada who are not contributing significantly, if at all, to the Canadian tax base,” said David Lesperance, a specialist in Canadian tax and immigration law.

“They have bid up the housing markets in Vancouver and Toronto. They are also receiving the benefits of Canadian permanent resident status, including excellent schooling, free medical care, security and (eventually, as citizens) an excellent visa-free passport.”

Noted Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland shares much of the unease of Lesperance – including frustration that Canadian authorities are not enforcing the country’s rules when would-be immigrants fail to declare their worldwide income, pretend to spend time in Canada and obscure the real owners of their properties.

The two specialists have appeared before politicians in Ottawa to offer their ideas on fighting such scams. They agree problems have been created by Canada welcoming so many investor families, in which the breadwinners often become “ghosts immigrants” with little connection to Canada other than engaging in property speculation.

A recent investigation by the South China Morning Post, for instance, found that more than 40 per cent of the breadwinners for recent millionaire migrant households in Canada appear to have left Canada, although some left family members behind. It’s a widespread phenomenon, said the newspaper, among rich Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese migrants.

Lesperance and Kurland maintain their proposals would be especially helpful in dealing with the increasing number of trans-national “astronaut” migrants who use Canadian real-estate primarily as a place to park their capital and sometimes their offspring.

The specialists would especially target the rapidly growing number of would-be Canadians who are renouncing their permanent resident status, which some are using as a way to avoid paying taxes in Canada while still visiting often on 10-year visas.

“Unfortunately, the perception of too many (wealthy) immigrants is that cheats are not sought after or detected” by Canadian tax or border officials, said Lesperance. To eliminate the problem of ‘ghost immigrants,’ the Canadian Revenue Agency must change this perception.”

Both experts emphasize how important it is for the CRA to do far more tax audits of investors, domestic and offshore, who buy up numerous properties. Authorities should particularly focus, they say, on the dubious techniques accountants have cooked up for avoiding paying taxes on their capital gains.

In the complex world of immigration law, perhaps the most radical idea for reform comes from Lesperance, who says it would reduce foreign speculation in Canadian real estate and curtail the tax evasion illustrated by clothing manufacturing mogul Quoqing Fu in the B.C. Supreme Court case.

The judge mocked Fu’s testimony after learning he had told the CRA his worldwide income, which is subject to taxes in Canada, was just $97.11.

Instead of authorities trying in vain to determine whether would-be immigrants are physically present in Canada, Lesperance recommends rating them mostly on whether they pay significant income taxes in Canada — regardless of which country in which they spend most of their time.

There is not much wrong with rich people travelling the world to work, invest and run businesses, argues Lesperance, who is based in Europe. Many would be satisfied, he says, to hold two passports while still paying their share of taxes on their global incomes to Canada, in return for “a stable and safe place for their global operations” and their children.

Canada is losing out on these entrepreneurial newcomers, he says, because its immigration policy focuses on migrants having a sustained “physical presence” in the country. The major resistance to this idea, Lesperance said, comes from those who believe newcomers “must rub elbows at Tim Horton’s to become Canadianized.”

The trouble with Canada’s current residency-based approach to immigration, said Lesperance, is that it often doesn’t work and “we get people like the Fu family abusing the tax system, but we scare away the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world.”

Even though Kurland strongly believes Canada needs to stop exploitation of the country by high-net-worth tax-avoiding newcomers who speculate in real estate, the Vancouver immigration lawyer continues to believe there is value in immigrants integrating into the country by “rubbing shoulders” with Canadians.

Kurland, author of the Lexbase newsletter, also worries that, unless wealthy would-be immigrants who are not often present in the country simply write Canada a big cheque in exchange for citizenship, too many would have their accountants find ways to hide their riches in a trust fund.

Alternatively, one of Kurland’s more innovative recommendations is for the federal government “to very visibly invite Chinese tax collectors to Vancouver,” a move which would dramatically remind cheaters to submit to the rigours of Canada’s tax and security treaties with China, which is launching its own crackdown.

Kurland also believes that, in this new era “in which global computer systems can carefully track individuals’ travel,” it is fast becoming easier and less costly for Canadian authorities to catch people who are not following the country’s immigration and tax rules.

Ultimately, however, like Lesperance, Kurland believes the following is the most important thing that will lead to a clampdown on migration scams in Canada involving false tax claims and real-estate speculation:

“It’s a pure question of political will.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Here’s how to end migration scams by the global rich in Canada

Immigration officials find own website ‘confusing and not user friendly’

From earlier experience with similar issues at Service Canada, the issue is not limited to website design or organization but more significantly reflects the intrinsic complexity of programs and processes. A more productive approach often involves simplification and streamlining of programs rather than trying to address more fundamental issues through web redesign:

It turns out Canada’s immigration officials are as confused as prospective immigrants and travellers by the information provided on their own department website.

“We expect clients to know just what to do because ‘it’s on the website,’ ” says an internal Immigration Department document from last year.

“Yet, even for immigration officers like ourselves, we often find the website to be confusing and not user-friendly.”

The document, prepared for an immigration management retreat last winter, shows senior officials grappling with how to improve communication with clients, including ways to simplify government response “to make it more responsive to the client’s actual needs.”

Also on the meeting agenda was a discussion about ways to combat the misinformation that clients face in bulletin boards, by immigration consultants and fraudsters.

Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland, who obtained the document through an access to information request, said he was not surprised by management’s concerns.

“Reducing correspondence is good for everyone. All that needs to be done is to allow (applicants and their lawyers) more access to their own file information,” said Kurland in an interview.

The ride-hailing service Uber, which allows users to follow the driver’s route on a phone app, should inspire change, he added.

“You should be able to see what is happening in your case all along the processing journey.”

The managers also complained about the huge workload created by people applying for visas to visit Canada. Many were initially refused because they were confused what documentation was required. However, they do get approved in their second attempt.

“While it is obvious to officers what we need to see, there is very limited information available on our official outlets helping to point applicants in the right direction,” said the immigration management’s meeting agenda.

Canada processes more than a million visitor visa applications a year and one out of five is rejected. Someone applying for a visa may just state the purpose of the visit as “travelling,” for example, without specifying he or she is here to see a Canadian sibling.

The department’s “vague and generic” refusal letters is the main cause of repeat applications from confused people over Canadian requirements, according to the document.

Kurland said the document underscores the need for immigration officers to be more flexible when processing applications that may include mistakes.

“How is the public supposed to get it right when these managers struggle?” he asked.

Source: Immigration officials find own website ‘confusing and not user friendly’

Billionaire got Canadian citizenship after renting a Montreal basement

I would not be surprised if more cases like this emerge given the abuse of the business immigration program and the imprecise definition of residency, both fixed by the Harper government through the termination of the former and specifying physical presence in its C-24 Citizenship Act changes:

Among the most curious revelations contained in the Paradise Papers is the question of Wafic Said’s Canadian citizenship, and how he obtained it, given his tenuous ties to this country.

Said, a Syrian-born, Monaco-based billionaire, was the broker of the 1985 Al-Yamamah arms deal to sell British warplanes to Saudi Arabia, in which £6 billion in “corrupt commissions” were allegedly paid to members of the Saudi royal family.

The longtime friend of Brian Mulroney also donated $4 million to the soon-to-open Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University, where he received an honorary degree in 2015 and was announced as a Canadian citizen.

But how did this Saudi-Syrian businessman pick up a third passport?

It’s not clear exactly when, but at some point in the 1990s, Said received Canadian citizenship. To fulfil the three-year residency requirement, public records show that instead of living in a luxury building, as he did in London, U.K., Said rented a basement apartment in Montreal.

“I am a Canadian citizen and am proud to be one,” wrote Said in an email to the Star and CBC/Radio-Canada. “I took appropriate professional advice about my entitlement to Canadian residency and citizenship. I followed this advice to the letter, met the relevant qualifications and was granted citizenship.”

A spokesperson for Said later added: “Mr. Said lived in Canada for three years thus complying with the immigration residency requirements.” He was only “absent” from Canada for a few weeks in 1989 and 1990, the spokesperson wrote.

The first trace of Said in Canada shows up in 1988, when he registered a numbered company in Canada that would later be renamed Safingest Inc. and declared himself president and sole shareholder.

In public filings, Safingest states its business is “indeterminate and imprecise.” Its office shares a Montreal address with the office of his lawyer, Annie Kenane. Said’s personal address is listed as an apartment in a building also owned by Kenane.

And it was not the kind of apartment where one would expect to find a wealthy international businessman. According to public records, for three years, Said appears to have been a billionaire in a basement.

The basement apartment is in a three-storey walk-up in the gritty Montreal neighbourhood of Côte-des-Neiges.

Elaine Gloutnez, who lived on the third floor of the same building from 1987 to 1991, said she had never heard of Wafic Said. When shown a photo of Said and his wife, Gloutnez said she had never seen them at the house.

“He’s not the type that would live here,” she told Radio-Canada. “Here it is simple people, young families, students . . . It’s not luxury housing. We’re not in Westmount here.”

“I’ve been in this area since ’85 and I’ve never seen a billionaire here,” Gloutnez said.

In his statement to the Star and the CBC, Said wrote that the apartment was “rented for me but when I was there with my family it was easier to stay in hotels.”

A representative for Said later added: “Mr. Said paid rent under the terms of the lease for the apartment at Légaré Street and used it often.”

Public filings in the U.K. show Said also stated he was living in the prestigious London neighbourhood of Mayfair at the same time, in 1990 and 1991.

In 1990, Said purchased a penthouse in a more upscale Montreal neighbourhood for $1.5 million. In 1999, he sold it for $825,000.

Said did not clarify when and where he received his Canadian citizenship.

The earliest trace of Said’s Canadian citizenship is a Canadian passport issued in Paris in 1996.

From 1986 to 2014, Canada had an immigrant investor program that granted permanent residency to wealthy foreigners who made large investments in the country. At the end, in order to qualify, an applicant had to have $1.6 million in assets and commit to invest $800,000 in Canada.

The program was shut down by the Harper government in 2014 and replaced with a one-year pilot program that raised the mandatory investment to $2 million. Quebec continues its own program that requires $800,000 is invested.

“Investments enabled me to qualify for permanent residence and then for Canadian citizenship,” Said’s statement reads.

Said said he made a “very successful investment” in a company called Jordan Petroleum Ltd., whose shares were held by Safingest Ltd. His Bermuda-based offshore company, Said Holdings, which counted Brian Mulroney among its board members from 2004-2012, “has continued to invest substantial sums in Canada,” he added.

Andrew Feinstein, the executive director of the group Corruption Watch in the U.K., has investigated Said for many years. He had no idea Said was a Canadian citizen.

“What on earth would he want a Canadian passport for? And how would he be granted one, because I’m not aware of . . . when he would have spent any meaningful time in Canada.”

Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland says the Canadian government can waive normal residency requirements and grant citizenship in “very special” cases.

“The special treatment to issue a national interest Canadian citizenship comes in two flavours,” Kurland said. “It’s direct in the open, the way we give it to the Dalai Lama. Or it’s behind the red curtain in Ottawa.”

“You don’t have to tell parliament you’re doing this. You don’t have to apply the normal way. If they don’t give it to you directly, they will tell you: ‘Just apply. Put it in the system. And our folks in the system will take your case and process it no questions asked.’ That’s how it’s done.”

Canadian citizenship is one of the most sought-after assets for Middle Eastern billionaires, Kurland said.

“Billionaires like two things: There’s the money and the freedom . . . A Canadian passport is the golden ticket,” he said.

“You’re not taxed in Canada because Canada taxes on residence, not on citizenship. And you can travel visa free, no questions asked, in almost every country in the world.”

via Billionaire got Canadian citizenship after renting a Montreal basement | Toronto Star

Josh Dehaas: Government should provide information on fate of failed asylum seekers

Valid points raised by Dehaas and Richard Kurland:

So what’s the truth? Are fake refugees really being encouraged to cross into Canada where they can sign up for welfare or a work permit, knowing they can ride off the backs of Canadian taxpayers for months or years? Or, as the Liberals make it sound, will they be put on a plane and sent packing?

The government is failing to provide basic answers

The truth is, we don’t know. It’s difficult to answer these types of questions because the government won’t provide basic answers about what’s happened to failed asylum seekers. Their failure to provide this data leaves Canadians to fill in the blanks. That’s dangerous, because it could lead to irrational public demands to close the door.

Right now, what little the government does report about failed asylum seekers doesn’t instil confidence. The Canada Border Services Agency’s goal in the 2015-16 fiscal year was to remove 80 per cent of failed asylum seekers within a year of a rejection of their claim, including appeals. In fact, they managed to remove just 47 per cent. In 2016-17 (year ended March 31), CBSA claims they did better, at 63 per cent. Either way, these figures suggest a large number of failed asylum seekers have decided to stick around indefinitely.

One would assume CBSA knows where they are and is trying to track them down. But neither Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale nor the the CBSA’s Jacques Cloutier would answer that question when it was put to them in a parliamentary committee in October by Conservative MP Larry Maguire.

The CBSA will not say how many warrants have been issued

One might also assume there are warrants out for their arrests; they’re supposed to be issued whenever removal orders come into effect. But the CBSA won’t say how many warrants there are. They did tell the Toronto Sun in March that there were 44,773 outstanding warrants for individuals who are supposed to be deported, but claimed they couldn’t say how many were failed refugees.

Richard Kurland, a veteran immigration lawyer, says he has been asking the CBSA for years to release data showing how many people have been removed, which countries they’re from, and how many warrants are active. Last year, he used the Access to Information Act to try to get details out of the CBSA, but the response arrived approximately nine months later and incomplete. It showed that there were 9,724 failed refugee claimants in the “removals working inventory” in September 2016, but didn’t really answer his questions.

“CBSA is just not providing basic reporting information, even though it’s instantly accessible literally at the push of a button,” Kurland says. Without such details, he adds, “it’s hard for us to have an intelligent, evidence-based discussion on policy.”

How are we supposed to get ahead of new challenges without basic information?

Kurland, for the record, says he believes most asylum seekers are coming here “in good faith” and that, even if they’re rejected, most are willing to self-deport. He also believes that the refugee system is working well compared to a decade ago when he says there were large numbers of illegitimate asylum seekers from eastern Europe coming to Canada to take advantage of our generous social assistance. Back then, he says, the wait for a refugee hearing was as long as four years, with another two or three for appeals. The Conservative fixed that problem, in part by speeding up the process for people from countries that don’t normally produce legitimate refugees.

But how are we supposed to get ahead of new challenges with the system, if we can’t even access the numbers needed to assess how well the CBSA is doing its job?

The government shouldn’t be leaving Canadians to fill in the blanks, because it will only generate suspicion. The people who will suffer most if Canadians lose faith in our immigration system are legitimate refugees.

via Josh Dehaas: Government should provide information on fate of failed asylum seekers | National Post

Customer service a new concept for Canada’s Immigration Department

Good and long overdue. Nice to see some of the ideas behind the creation of Service Canada being implemented. As always, small changes make a difference, particularly providing information and avoiding the feeling that applications are in a “black hole.”

Will be interesting to see whether this initial approach will continue to be sustained, supported and expanded given the degree of culture change required (Richard Kurland’s scepticism noted):

What began as a friendly challenge between immigration officials and university students has brought on a fundamental shift in how the Immigration Department deals with applicants.

For example, now when people contact the department’s Montreal-based client support centre for help, the first thing they hear is no longer a warning that disgruntled callers should not verbally abuse the agent.

People also won’t be brushed away quickly for their questions simply because their application has not reached the minimum processing time that officials think should warrant concern.

The cultural shift from an enforcement mindset to a client-centred approach could mark a new era at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which has long faced complaints about poor customer service, long processing times and failing to provide timely and accurate information to applicants.

In January, the department quietly launched a client experience branch and appointed Michelle Lattimore, a longtime civil servant, to head the new unit, which is responsible for the client support call centre, service strategy and a new “service insights and experimentation division” of 10 staffers to make dealing with immigration a more pleasant experience.

An improved customer service, advocates say, can make Canada a more attractive destination for visitors, students and immigrants in the increasingly competitive world of global migration.

“I support the initiative but it may take years before it really happens,” said immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland. “What (Lattimore) needs to do is bring down the blinders. The department has information and does not disclose it to people, forcing them to use call centres. It is a core problem.”

Lattimore has been involved in the Immigration Department’s restructuring of the client services functions since the spring of 2015 but the work was sidetracked by the new Liberal government’s resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees.

With an 85 per cent client satisfaction rate found in a department survey, it baffled Lattimore why there were still 5.2 million inquiries a year by email and phone from people looking for information on their cases.

Last year, the department received 5,000 complaints and the top three concerns related to processing times, the call centre and the operation of the applicants’ online accounts.

In May 2016, Lattimore spearheaded the “Family Class Design Challenge” — in partnership with the Treasury Board, Privy Council and the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University — to explore ways to improve customer satisfaction with the spousal sponsorship program, which has always been a sore point of the immigration system.

The design competition pitted a team of civil servants from the across the department against OCAD graduate students. The teams hit the streets to do random interviews about Canadians’ experience with the family sponsorship program.

“We did street intercepts. We went out and actually talked to people on the streets. Eighty per cent of the people they stopped and had an experience with immigration wanted to talk about it, not all family class but they all wanted to talk about it,” said Lattimore.

One surprising finding was that those interviewed said they were more concerned with the department’s reluctance to disclose information during the waiting period then they were with the actual length of the processing time.

“This was the most important revelation for the department. To learn from them saying, ‘we can live with 12 months, but what we really want to know is what’s happening over the course of the 12-month period’ and the sense of assurance they are seeking from us is something we hadn’t anticipated,” noted Lattimore, who worked at Service Canada and Passport Canada before joining the Immigration Department’s program integrity branch in 2010.

“They have no clue what’s going on. They don’t know if we’ve forgotten about them. They don’t know if we need other information. They are worried they’ve missed an email or a letter. Processing times take what they take and we don’t need to get in touch with clients every week but that paralysis impacts their lives more significantly than processing time itself.”

Both teams in the design challenge came back with similar recommendations: get rid of the taped warning in the call centre greetings that sets the conversation in a negative tone, improve officials’ response to callers and provide better information to questions.

Last fall, to boost transparency, immigration’s 300 call agents started pulling out a caller’s file and responding to questions even if the application has not reached its standard processing time.

And to improve consistency, immigration agents received additional training to ask the right questions to figure out what the caller really wants and provide the correct information they need.

Although the handling time for each call went up by 16 per cent, said Lattimore, the number of repeat calls dropped by a whopping 30 per cent in less than eight weeks, freeing immigration agents time to provide better quality information to callers.

While the agents may be better equipped to answer callers’ questions, getting through to one is a challenge.

Recently, Ahmad Hematyar spent 25 minutes waiting on the line hoping to talk to a live agent to inquire about the private sponsorship application of a Syrian family. The Toronto man gave up because the computer-recorded guidance didn’t lead him anywhere.

“I followed the instructions and pressed all these buttons. It didn’t have the information that we were looking for. It tells you to go to the immigration website to check the status of your application and for processing times. You press zero and it says all the agents are busy,” said Hematyar, president of Canada Newcomers and Immigration Associations, whose group has more than 600 refugee sponsorship applications somewhere in the process.

“We have tried to email their processing centre, but you don’t get any reply. Is our case still in the queue? Has it been transferred to a visa office? Have they lost our files? On a scale of 10, our frustration with immigration is 10 out of 10. Where’s the government accountability?”

Another initiative introduced by the immigration department was texting spousal sponsorship applicants as soon as their full application package of love letters, photos and other proof of the relationship arrives at immigration’s mailroom.

“Tiny investments make a big difference in people’s lives,” said Lattimore, who plans to roll out more “challenges” for ideas to improve immigration client service. “It’s not new for us to view immigration as a service. What’s new is we are looking at service from a client’s perspective.”

Queen’s University immigration and refugee law professor Sharry Aiken said it’s too early to tell if the cultural shift for better client services at the department is genuine.

“It is more important to have an ombudsperson at the federal immigration level. We don’t need somebody to review the experience of the consumers to tweak how the department engages with its client base,” said Aiken.

“What we really need is an office in place with the authority to do systemic reviews and provide remedies when service standards are not met. That would really make a difference.”

The challenge for the immigration and OCAD teams was a tie and each received a small token trophy for their great ideas, said Lattimore. The Immigration Department will conduct its next client survey in 2018.

Douglas Todd: Immigrants prosper in Canada’s small towns

Interesting commentary as always by Todd. After correctly rejecting a “sticks” approach (unenforceable given Charter mobility rights), he discusses possible “carrots.”

Not convinced that the “carrots” will necessarily make a major change to settlement patterns:

  • Awarding extra points to immigrants who settle in rural areas, whether through Express Entry or Provincial Nominee Programs,  doesn’t guarantee they will remain;
  • The StatsCan study mentioned that immigrants settling in smaller centres do better may reflect that they had a job offer attracting them to that community, and a smaller immigrant pool. For example, visible minorities in Newfoundland and Labrador have higher median incomes than elsewhere, likely reflecting the small immigrant labour pool concentrated in the professions.

There may be some lessons to be learned from previous efforts, whether with respect to Atlantic immigration (where retention has been an issue) or efforts to encourage Francophone immigrants to settle in official language minority communities in English Canada:

It’s been done before. From the 1870s to 1930s Ottawa offered free land to immigrants and refugees, much of it on the Prairies or in B.C.

The raw land was given to newcomers after they proved over several years they were developing it for homesteading, farming or logging.

A carrot approach is being tried in parts of Scandinavia. Sweden, for instance, has experimented with offering more generous social housing and welfare rates to immigrants and refugees who move to its smaller towns.

It wouldn’t be complicated to offer some carrots in Canada, especially to the one million people living here as permanent residents.

What about fine-tuning Canada’s immigrant point system — which favours those with high educational and skill levels — to grant extra points to newcomers who settle in Canada’s hinterlands?

That’s a suggestion from Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who frequently advises the federal government.

A points system that favours permanent residents who have shown (in part through their income-tax statements) they are committed to making a life in Quesnel, Timmins or St. John’s could do a lot for those cities. The small cities’ schools would fill and their housing and retail markets would strengthen.

Rather than Metro Vancouver and Toronto experiencing unaffordable property and rent ­costs —­ in large part because of high in-migration ­and offshore real-estate speculation — smaller cities and rural areas could enjoy modest boosts from the foreign-born.

Pressure would also ease on Metro Vancouver’s and Toronto’s over-stretched transit systems, as suggested by a StatsCan study that shows immigrants and foreign students rely on taxpayer subsidized transit at double the rate of Canadian-born residents.

A hinterland-related immigration points system is not far-fetched, even in Canada.

Kurland says it’s already virtually in place, in various ways, in B.C.’s provincial nominee program, which oversees a portion of the province’s skilled and educated immigrants.

Citizenship court judges dealing with people who are applying to be accepted as immigrants on compassionate grounds, Kurland adds, have also been known to treat favourably migrants who live in small towns.

The carrot approach would not only breathe new life into the hinterlands, it would give a leg up to immigrants themselves.

A little-known Statistics Canada study by Andre Bernard found that most immigrants who settle in Canada’s small towns do better financially than the majority who choose Canada’s 13 largest cities.

His report, “Immigrants in the Hinterland,” found newcomers who move to small towns and rural areas not only more quickly learn an official language, they soon earn more than other immigrants and those born in Canada.

That not only benefits the immigrants and their children, it does the same for our increasingly struggling small towns.

Source: Douglas Todd: Immigrants prosper in Canada’s small towns | Vancouver Sun

Children applying for Canadian citizenship face hefty fee

As I note in my comments in the article, charging independent minors the adult processing fee undermines the policy intent of making independent minor applications possible:

Ottawa is treating minors like adults when it comes to charging them for their citizenship applications.

Although recent changes to the citizenship act allow those under age 18 to make an application without their parents, they must pay the same fee as adults — $530.

By contrast, the fee is $100 for minors who apply for citizenship together with their parents.

Critics say children applying for citizenship on their own are probably unaccompanied minors who came to Canada alone for asylum or are estranged from their family and in such difficult situations that they can’t afford the application fee.

When the Liberal government tabled the motion to move forward with the Senate-amended citizenship bill that was passed in June, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen highlighted this particular change on minors, saying easier pathway to citizenship helps newcomers “build successful lives in Canada.”

“The government . . . supports the amendment to make it easier for children to obtain citizenship without a Canadian parent and has made changes to clarify who can apply for citizenship on behalf of the child,” the minister said at the time.

Conservative Senator Victor Oh, who put forward the amendment in the Senate to allow children to apply for citizenship on their own, said no fee-specific provisions were made in his motion at the time because he was told setting processing fees did not require legislative changes and fell within the immigration minister’s discretion.

“I was advised that would take a simple regulatory amendment by the minister, who has the authority to do that,” the Ontario senator told the Star.

Oh said he sent a letter to Hussen in early July and asked him to lower the fee to no more than $100, but he has yet to hear back from the minister.

“We can’t discriminate and penalize the minors who apply on their own,” Oh said. “These children are the most vulnerable and they are not making it easier for them to become citizens.”

Immigration officials said the $530 application fee was put in place to reflect the increasing cost of processing. Over the past three years, an average of 29,740 children under age 18 applied for citizenship per year, the majority of them with their parents.

“As part of its ongoing review of the impact of changes to the citizenship program, consideration will be given to this processing fee difference created by the amendment,” said Julie Lafortune, a spokesperson for the Immigration Department.

Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland said the government should make public the cost to process a minor’s citizenship application before setting the fee.

It is meaningless for Ottawa to relax the rule on one hand but impose a higher fee on the other, Kurland said. “What is that about?” he asked.

Andrew Griffith, retired director general of the Immigration Department, said the hefty citizenship application fee for independent minors defeats the purpose of the citizenship amendment.

“It was likely driven by somebody thinking bureaucratically without thinking about the policy’s intent to make it easier for minors to become citizens independently,” Griffith said.

“That’s a lot of money, particularly for this vulnerable population. The government has removed the legal barrier to citizenship for them but has now set up a new financial barrier. Theoretically, more young people could become citizens. In practice, they will find it a lot harder.”

Passport Canada currently charges those 16 or older $160 for a 10-year passport and $57 for children younger than that for in-Canada applications. Immigration lawyers expect the number of unaccompanied minors applying for citizenship to be fewer than a couple hundred a year.