Monday, August 27, 2012

A question of fairness

Reviewing the performance of his cabinet portfolio for the past 12 months, Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says “It’s been a busy time, but we are not done yet.”
Indeed, Minister Kenney has his hands full these days overhauling Canada’s immigration system. Before Kenney’s term is over, don’t be surprised if we have a system cloned after the Australian model or an entirely new one that no one could even recognize as Canadian.
On top of these immigration reforms, Minister Kenney wanted all prospective immigrants to pass a very high level of proficiency in English or French, which he said is the surest predictor of success in the labour market and in integrating with Canadian society. While mastery of English or French might produce better economic outcomes for some immigrants, it could however also negatively impact Canada’s immigration targets if no sufficient number of people is found with the required levels of fluency. While this language requirement does not aim to discriminate, it may have the unintended consequence of targeting favoured nationalities. Based on the Australian experience from which Minister Kenney borrows many of his initiatives, today’s immigrants in Australia are predominantly from the United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand, all English-speaking nations.
Minister Kenney provided a litany of accomplishments—all the regulatory and program changes his department has initiated or implemented during the last 12 months, from eliminating backlogs in the application system to detecting and cracking down on immigration fraud. In addition, Kenney has also introduced reforms which will take effect in January 2013 that will totally revamp the 20-year-old point-grid system, modify Canada’s Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), and create a new Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC).
Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney shouts for a living, according to the Toronto Star. Photo courtesy of  Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press. Click link to view "Jason Kenny on transforming Canada's Immigration system,"
There is one way to evaluate Minister Kenney’s immigration reforms, and this is by ascertaining their fairness. By fairness, we mean if these initiatives simply are reasonable, even-handed, or just. Whether applicants for immigration and their families and eligible relatives are given a fair shake. Not by any pompous or high-falutin standard of fairness.
Although Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act does not mention the word “fair” in its objectives under Paragraph 3-Objectives and Application, until it reaches Paragraph 3(2) which pertains to the objectives of the Act with respect to refugees. The said paragraph provides for “fair and efficient procedures that will maintain the integrity of the Canadian refugee protection system.” By extension, we could also argue that these “fair and efficient procedures” also apply to immigration applicants. After all, they are also entitled to respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms just like refugees. Everyone for that matter has a right to a modicum of fairness.
Arbitrary backlog reduction
In his departmental review, Minister Kenney claimed he has reduced by over three-quarters, from 640,000 to close to 150,000, the total number of people in the Federal Skilled Worker backlog of applications prior to February 27, 2008. Kenney wiped out this backlog by cancelling all applications submitted prior to February 27, 2008, for which an immigration officer has not made a decision based on selection criteria by March 29, 2012. Close to 280,000 applications, mainly from China, India and the Philippines are affected by this decision.
In exchange for eliminating these prior applications, applicants will be reimbursed for their fees, and the federal government thinks this is fair. On the contrary, it would never be fair. The Canadian government has dashed their hopes and dreams. They gave up other options and, for some, opportunities for personal advancement which are no longer available after waiting so long. Others have postponed marriage or raising their families, so how can you be fair to these people? Their applications were never refused but only languished in the backlog because of bureaucratic incompetence. Now, Canada Immigration faces a class action suit from these affected applicants.
Capping family reunification
Minister Kenney also claimed in his review that he has reduced the backlog for sponsored parents and grandparents. To achieve this, Canada Immigration capped the number of applications for family reunification, thus denying the hopes of many new immigrants to bring their families to Canada. To allay the fears of these immigrants that they would not be able to sponsor their families, Kenney sweetened the cap by allowing parents and grandparents to come to Canada as temporary visitors under an expedited application process—8 weeks versus 8 years if they apply for permanent residence.
Whenever he has the chance, Minister Kenney has stated publicly that the parent and grandparent super visa, valid for up to 10 years for visits of up to two years, has been a great success with nearly 3,700 successful applications in its first six months. But not according to many parents and grandparents who have submitted their super visa applications.
Toronto Star ran a story about Jose Alfredo Canizales Giron and his wife Emma Luisa Fonseca de Canizales from Honduras who wanted to visit their three adult children in Canada. They have been previously sponsored by their daughter Ana but the application was caught in the immigration backlog. But Ana was thrilled to learn of Canada Immigration’s new super visa that would facilitate her parents' visits.
Canada Immigration denied Ana’s parents citing their “family ties in Canada and in your country of residence” and “length of proposed stay in Canada.” She paid $6,000 for her parent’s health insurance coverage in Canada and $2,200 for their return flight, which were requirements under the new super visa.
In the case of Liza Parekh, a story also ran by Toronto Star, her mother Meena’s application was approved under the new super visa. She was shocked, however, when border officials limited her mother’s stay to six months. Liza was hoping her mother could help her with the birth of her first child. So her mother’s super visa turned out to be not super at all but just like a temporary visa which was good only for six months, not for two years as originally announced by Minister Kenney.
The Winnipeg Free Press also reported that the “new super visa is super disappointing” and that the changes made by the Conservative government were meant to keep families apart. Fred de Villa, a prominent Filipino community leader in Winnipeg, has criticized the onerous requirements for the new super visa application which he said were obviously put in place to prevent families from reunification.
Under the new super visa, sponsoring children are required to purchase health insurance coverage for $100,000 for one year for parents who are 55 years and older. De Villa, who works in the insurance industry, said that the required health coverage costs at least $1,200 a year and there’s no monthly payment plan. There are no refunds if the parents stay for just a few months and the medical insurance covers nothing except emergencies like a stroke or one that requires hospitalization.
A tale of broken promises
Canada’s super visa is fast becoming a tale of broken promises. As of March 2012, rejections for super visa applications have gone up, contrary to Minister Kenney’s claim that the super visa is a great success. In May this year, Minister Kenney boasted that more that 3,500 parent and grandparent super visa applications were approved since it was introduced on December 1, 2011. In the excitement of almost everyone about the new super visa, no one thought people would get blindsided.
Among the new immigration reforms that will take effect in January 2013 is the revised Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP). As pointed out earlier, the new FSWP makes proficiency in English or French as the most important selection factor, with new minimum official language thresholds. The total number of points for language has also been upped from 16 to 24.
There is also an emphasis on younger immigrants who will more likely acquire valuable Canadian work experience and remain in the workforce longer. Against an aging population, this is a smart and selfish economic decision to select younger people who will contribute longer and replenish Canada’s pension, employment insurance and health plans.
Foreign work experience will no longer have much weight. Those who have Canadian work experience will get more points. Obviously, if one wishes to acquire Canadian experience, the best way to do it is by applying for a temporary work visa and work from 2 to 4 years before applying for permanent residence. This emphasis on Canadian work experience works as a disincentive for applicants for permanent residence who have never worked in Canada before.
Canada Immigration is also introducing a mandatory requirement that FSWP applicants have their education abroad assessed against Canadian education standards by designated organizations. Points will be awarded according to how an applicant’s foreign educational credential compares to a completed educational credential in Canada. However, it does not necessarily guarantee that they would become licensed to practice in a regulated occupation. This goes without saying because Canada Immigration has no jurisdiction on professions which belongs to the respective societies that govern the different professions such as law, medicine, accounting or engineering.
Instead of recognizing foreign credentials, Canada Immigration is again raising the false hopes of immigrant professionals that they can continue working in their fields of expertise.
Acceptance under the new class for skilled tradespersons (FSTC) will largely depend on an offer of employment and a certificate of qualification from a provincial authority. Judging from the past, this is an area ripe with fraud and employment practices that are exploitative. Immigrant applicants might also be enticed to enter this new class if they lack the high level of language proficiency and Canadian work experience.
Canada’s Minister for Immigration Jason Kenney keeps on rationalizing his reforms as necessary for a “faster, more flexible, responsive and secure immigration system that will better meet Canada’s economic needs while continuing to uphold our humanitarian commitments.” Nowhere did he mention or emphasize the fairness of the system. Everywhere he is invited to speak, Minister Kenney sidesteps any talk about whether the new immigration policies will be fair to immigrants, obviously a matter that is not high in his list of priorities.

1 comment:

  1. Joe,

    Did you notice this from the Globe & Mail regarding the latest Census on languages spoken at home?

    “The word has spread around that Canada is some kind of a promised land,” Mr. Gatan said in an interview. “Filipinos used to flock to America because the U.S. is our mother country, our former colonizer, but have discovered there’s a better pasture north of the United States.”