Shaping the future of Canada’s immigration system

Filed under: Headlines,Immigration News,Top Story |


Having inherited an immigration system plagued with backlogs and heavy-handed enforcement, the Liberal government says it’s keen to hear what you think needs to be done about Canada’s immigration future.

Since the beginning of the summer, Immigration Minister John McCallum and his parliamentary secretary, Arif Virani, have held more than two dozen roundtable meetings across Canada with settlement services organizations, businesses and community groups to get their thoughts.

Although the meetings are by invitation only — more are coming in August — the public can submit ideas by email to the minister. Since early July, more than 2,500online submissions have been received. Submissions end Aug. 5.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will be reviewing the feedback from Canadians to help guide decisions on how many people we will welcome in the coming years and the future of immigration in Canada,” said a department spokesperson.

While the final report won’t be ready till at least the fall, the Star interviewed a group of immigration experts to weigh in on the national dialogue by identifying gaps in the system and offering solutions.

Meaningful and accessible citizenship:

Andrew Griffith, a former director general at the immigration department, said Canada largely has its immigration policies and programs right, but an independent review by a royal commission would be helpful.

He said the consultation questions are biased towards economic class immigrants and miss out on important areas such as citizenship.

“Most immigrants choose to become citizens as part of their integration into Canadian society. If we believe in immigration integration, we should support political integration, in addition to economic, social and cultural,” said Griffith.

“The main instrument for doing so is citizenship, given that allows for full participation in the political process.”

Canada’s naturalization rate has been declining, from the peak of 93.3 per cent for immigrants who came before 1971, to just 36.7 per cent among those who arrived between 2006 and 2007.

Griffith said Ottawa must set targets for naturalization as a benchmark, to assess whether its policies strike the right balance in making citizenship accessible and meaningful.

Officials must also regularly review citizenship requirements to ensure that different ethnic groups and immigration classes (economic, family and refugees) have comparable outcomes. Reducing the hefty application fee from the current $530 would make citizenship more financially accessible.

Family reunification one key to immigrants’ success:

Debbie Douglas, of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, said Canada’s immigration program should be guided by the principle of nation-building. And the best way to support newcomers is to support family reunification through faster processing.

“Family reunification numbers have been cut back over the last several years. Between 2005 and 2014, except 2013, family reunification has been less than 30 per cent of overall immigration numbers,” said Douglas.

“We believe family reunification should be increased to 40 per cent of total immigration numbers. Canada should also prioritize refugee family reunification and invest the needed resources to reduce processing delays in refugee family sponsorship.”

She said Ottawa must also ensure all newcomers can access settlement programs regardless of length of time in Canada or immigration status, and invest in social and employment programs such as healthcare, affordable housing and childcare — all could benefit immigrants.

“The over-representation of highly skilled and educated racialized immigrants among the under- and unemployed should be a cause of concern,” said Douglas. “Immigration should never been viewed as a cheap labour solution for Canadian businesses.”

Foreign workers, migrants need access to permanent residence:

Harald Bauder, director of Ryerson University’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies, said the success of Canada’s annual intake of immigrants depends on the government’s willingness to fund the settlement sector.

With proper resources, he said, Canada could welcome far beyond 1 per cent of its population annually.

“The Temporary Foreign Workers Program should be converted into a permanent settlement program. If Canada requires workers, then it should provide these workers with the same rights and prospects of remaining in Canada and acquiring citizenship that all Canadians possess,” Bauder said.

“This is not only a moral responsibility. If some workers have fewer rights than others, then it will undermine wages and labour standards for all.”

Bauder said Canadians should ask themselves if they want “affordable labour” that discourages business from raising wages. He is also critical of suggestions that Canada should charge higher fees for an expedited process.

“It seems grossly unfair to speed up the process for those who are able to pay more. How about adjusting the speed based on need, faster admission of refugees and split families?” he asked.

Bauder believes Canada can again lead the way in designing progressive refugee and migration policies, given the country has the luxury of being protected by geography sharing the border with an affluent America.

“For those who have overcome the geographical barrier and have been able to enter Canada, Canada should also do more to include and offer the prospect of permanent residency and eventually citizenship to newcomers who are de-facto members in our communities and are making important contributions to our society, but who lack full status.”

Program improvement means more investment:

Jeffrey Reitz, a sociologist with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said securing employment has remained a top challenge for newcomers, despite Ottawa’s recent attempts to encourage employers to offer good permanent jobs to prospective immigrants before they come.

There are formal credential-assessment, bridge training and mentorship programs to help address the issues, but they need to be expanded and better resourced, he said, and officials need to encourage more “buy-in” from employers.

“Even though Canada officially celebrates its diversity, independent resume-testing show that many employers still prefer applicants with Anglo names to those with Asian names, even when the Asian applicant is Canadian-born and Canadian-educated,” Reitz said. “Many misperceptions of immigrants and minorities still need to be addressed.”

Reitz also questions whether there should be more programs for businesses to permanently hire foreign workers if they can’t find Canadians to fill the job.

“When an employer says that they have failed to find available Canadians for certain jobs, it is necessary to check: what wages were offered or should have been offered? How were applicants’ relevant skills assessed? How extensively was the job advertised across the country?” asked Reitz.

“To do a proper independent assessment means bureaucratic review, and that means more staff, and it means higher cost.”

The 1% solution for Canada’s growth and prosperity:

The Conference Board of Canada said immigration is the backbone of the country’s population growth and Canada could admit up to 1 per cent of its population in immigrants each year, for its economic prosperity.

“To go beyond the 1 per cent annual level of immigration, Canada would need to rethink its allocation of resources and strategic plans for helping to spread settlement across the country and outside of major cities,” the board said in a response prepared by vice-president Michael Bloom and research associate Kareem El-Assal.

Pre-arrival information about whether their credentials will be recognized, the employment market and settlement support is crucial for newcomers’ successful integration, they say.

“Canada should continue to monitor the operation of its immigration system to ensure it is efficient and effective,” the board said. “This includes tracking job acquisition and retention, pay levels, credential recognition and retention rates of immigrants in Canada.”

Bloom and Al-Assal said Canada was the first country in the world to introduce a skills-based points system in 1967, and the only country to date to receive the Nansen Refugee Award — in 1986 — for its efforts in assisting refugees.

“Canada’s success in immigration largely stems from our open minds and hearts towards immigrants, who end up reciprocating by making immense contributions to the country,” they said. “Canada could export this approach to the rest of the world.”



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