Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Shutting the doors

Canada swears in about 160,000 new citizens every year and during the Canada Day celebrations on July 1st, a total of 1,500 people took their allegiance to their adopted country. This is the biggest day in terms of the number of individual ceremonies held across the country on a single day.
Canada Day, July 1st, is celebrated with fireworks at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto.
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view, "Peter Russell - How to Become a Canadian."
But even as Canada offered its welcome mat to its new citizens on July 1st, the doors to aspiring new immigrants under the federal skilled worker and investor program have been slammed shut by Citizenship and Immigration Canada until July of next year. Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, in a speech before a C.D. Howe Immigration conference, announced it’s about time to put a moratorium on the country’s skilled labour program in order to “reset the button.” Kenney’s decision put the brakes on new applications under the two programs popular with skilled workers wanting to come to Canada from abroad, which he stressed is part of the government’s backlog elimination strategy.

Kenney said it will be just “a temporary pause on new applications for the federal skilled worker program,” to “ensure that improvements to the program have time to be put in place which will give new applicants the opportunity to be even more positioned to succeed in Canada.”

But he cautioned that the moratorium will not amount to a drop in immigration levels. According to Minister Kenney, the only way to make the system run faster is to get rid of the backlog in immigration applications and at the same time give the government the opportunity to revise the much-criticized selection criteria for accepting new immigrants.

Under this year’s budget, the Conservative government has already scrapped all applications prior to 2008 as a way of eliminating a backlog of 280,000 applications. Even after removing all those applications, there would still be plenty of others waiting, thus “there’s just no point in any longer stockpiling people in the back of the backlog,” Kenney added.

What additional changes Ottawa will make to the federal skilled worker program are not known, but Kenney said he’d like Canadian employers to have more say in selecting immigrants under a system where they can choose potential job candidates from a ready pool of pre-screened skilled immigrants.

Last year, Kenney capped the number of applications for the investor program to 700 spots and doubled the minimum investment requirements from $400,000 to $800,000. The quota was filled in 30 minutes. There are currently 25,000 investor applications representing 86,000 principals and dependents in the backlog.

Currently, the federal skilled worker program has an inventory of 463,214 people waiting for a decision. Ottawa is hoping the new law would enable Kenney to return and dispose the files of some 280,000 people submitted before Feb. 28, 2008. This has raised the ire of affected applicants who have filed a class action lawsuit against Ottawa, which has agreed not to destroy or return their applications within 90 days of the bill’s passage until the lawsuit is certified by the court. The court is yet to hear or set a hearing date in September.

Judging by his official pronouncements, Minister Kenney is apparently casting a huge precautionary tale.

First, in revising the rules for temporary foreign workers allowing them to enter and work in Canada for four years but leave thereafter, the government shows bias and preference to temporary status rather than giving them a chance to stay as permanent residents.

Second, in declaring a moratorium for sponsorship of parents and grandparents of already landed immigrants, Kenney has effectively set aside the objective of family reunification under the law.

Third, in eliminating all previous skilled worker applications prior to February 2008, Kenney has unfairly and unjustly shut closed the system to these people without the benefit of a review and assessment of their applications, which is probably a violation of their fundamental right to natural justice.

And now, with this recent suspension of all applications under the skilled worker and investor program, the government is further squeezing the door ever so tightly that those who wish to enter Canada are being excluded.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada Minister Jason Kenney. Photo by The  Canadian
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A recent poll conducted by Ipsos Reid for Postmedia News and Global TV in time for the celebration of Canada Day, shows that almost three-quarters of Canadians don’t want the federal government to increase the number of people the country allows to enter every year. However, four in 10 people feel those immigrants are having a positive effect on the country.

The message from the survey is clear: that while immigrants are being tolerated to enter Canada, there is a feeling among Canadians that there are an awful lot of them coming in right now.

Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos Reid, said that Canadians don’t seem to realize the dramatic transition in the government’s immigration policy since the 1960s. He argued that fifty years ago, the government was trying to convince Canadians to welcome the “poor and huddled masses and refugees who made up most of the immigrant population at the time. Now, it’s about attracting people who are going to drive our economy.”

If the poll survey would be taken as a basis for government policy, then Canada should not let more immigrants come into the country as it currently allows. The survey shows that 72 per cent of the respondents said no to more immigration. This is in contrast to population projections based on the 2011 census that showed a rapid decrease in fertility rates in Canada, and if this trend continues, Canada’s population growth could be close to zero within the next 20 years. It behooves that without a sustained level of immigration, Canada’s zero population growth could become a reality.

The policy changes the Canadian government has adopted in the last few months appear to be short-sighted as they are merely aimed in attracting people who are immediately needed by industry or employers. These policies are based on the disposability of people, not on their potential contributions to the economy on the long haul. Thus, employers might be able to hire their workers needed for short-term periods and could be disposed of when they’re no longer necessary.

The treatment of immigrants that these policy changes by the Conservative government seem to augur is bereft of the respect for the fundamental humanity of temporary foreign workers. They harvest our fruits and vegetables, care for our children, clean our houses, perform the most backbreaking and perilous work in our oil and tar sands. They fill all the labour needs in jobs which are unappealing to Canadians or which Canadians refuse to take. They come to us, as the Swiss playwright Max Frisch wrote, “as menial labourers, and somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that they are also human beings.”

This way of treating immigrants is very un-Canadian like. It parallels the immigration system of our neighbour in the south where foreign workers are denigrated after they have been exploited of their usefulness to society, where they are stripped of their basic humanity, and branded as aliens who are deemed as “illegals.”

The decision by U.S President Barack Obama to stop deporting young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, despite its humanitarian element, has been criticized and lambasted by the Republican Party as pandering to the Hispanic vote. Arizona’s “Show your papers” in cracking down on undocumented immigrants has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court while part of the law was declared unconstitutional. What the U.S. Supreme Court decision and Obama’s stop-gap measure have achieved is merely to highlight the continuing inability of the United States to wrestle with its immigration mess. Former U.S. President George W. Bush tried immigration reform but was scuttled by his own party in Congress. President Obama has hardly begun to try his hand at immigration reform but already the Republican Party has spoiled his efforts.

Too much of the debate in the United States has been focused on the legality of immigration, deflecting the more fundamental issue of the positive effects of mass immigration on American society.

In both the United States and Canada, study after study has shown immigration has been beneficial to society in general. There is enough social evidence to debunk the notion that immigrants have worsened social ills, or that they have reshaped the social fabric in harmful ways.

Writing for the Harper’s Magazine in March 1871, Louis Bagger compared the Castle Garden on New York’s Battery, where ships from Europe deposited immigrants who flooded America after the Civil War, to an absolute immigration depot. Among those who came in 1869, according to Bagger, were 99,605 from Germany, 66,204 from Ireland, 41,090 from England, and more than 35,000 from the Scandinavian countries. Millions of people afterwards would immigrate to America, making it a nation of immigrants. The same can be said of Canada, especially after the 1960s.

Yet, both countries have become wary of immigrants today. Every time immigration comes to the top of the public agenda, a dark shadow prevails -- the dark shadow of racism. Racist demonization always begins the hysterical rhetoric, and it’s not a new phenomenon. The racism in this debate is more pronounced in the United States, with its epicentre in Arizona. Canada may not be too far behind if the ruling Conservative government is allowed to continue singlehandedly, without a robust public debate, with its sweeping policy changes under the pretext of eliminating the immigration backlog and reforming a broken system.

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