Thursday, November 22, 2012

Privatizing immigration

It all began with the rapid rise in the number of temporary foreign workers who have been coming to Canada to fill in labour shortages that cannot be addressed by Canadian workers. There is no quota for this type of workers, no upper limits.
There are more temporary foreign workers in Canada over the past decade, more so and rapidly since 2006. Today their ranks outnumber those of economic immigrants.
In 2010 alone, there were 283,096 temporary foreign workers in Canada, doing work that employers claimed there was no Canadian available to do. This is the highest on record, but only slightly higher than the number recorded during the worst of the recession in 2009.
The highest demand for temporary foreign workers comes from Alberta and Saskatchewan, the fastest-growing economies in Canada. But every Canadian province except Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut has at least doubled its number of “guest workers” over the years.
In an effort to modernize Canada's immigration process, the Harper government has
introduced several key proposals. The Agenda looks at what the proposals mean for
those coming to Canada. Click link to view "Realigning Canadian Immigration,"
Armine Yalnizyan, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has observed that this shift to temporary foreign workers or “guest workers” as others call them, is an indication of government’s off-loading of public policy to private sector interests. The public interest which is much broader than employers’ needs is increasingly being taken over by the private sector such as Canada Immigration’s plan to allow employers to define Canadian immigration policy.
While the involvement of employers can help reduce skill mismatches between local economic needs and immigration quotas set by Canada Immigration, there is a clear and present danger in allowing employers alone to determine the workers they are willing to admit because they are intuitively looking for average workers, not skilled labour. Employers are now taking advantage of the temporary work permit program to bring workers for hotels, fast food outlets, janitorial services and factories – typical Canadian jobs, albeit low-paying.
According to Naomi Alboim, Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University, “while the use of temporary foreign workers to address acute skill or labour shortages is justifiable, some employers are using them to fill ongoing vacancies without exploring more durable long-term solutions. This is an illustration of how federal policies which facilitate temporary entry to Canada sometimes have long-lasting detrimental effects.”
Temporary workers come to Canada practically as guests of the employer. Oftentimes, they have very few rights or which they are usually unaware. They have no access to services available to other immigrants, and rarely is there a path for them to permanent residency.
Yessy Byl, a lawyer who volunteers with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre describes the temporary foreign worker program as really about contracting out immigration. “In fact the government is setting the stage for a bizarre non-immigration program because those workers can’t immigrate,” Byl adds.
Now comes the Expression of Interest (EOI) program that Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenny proposes to install beginning January 2013. It’s a program borrowed from New Zealand and also adopted by Australia last July 2012, which builds a pool of skilled worker applicants that will allow employers to cherry-pick potential immigrants to fill regional labour shortages. By the end of 2014, Canada Immigration expects this pool of candidates to be made available to employers who can screen and choose the workers they would allow to immigrate.
Essentially, this amounts to privatizing immigration. Whether unintentional or not, the present Conservative government seems bent on passing to employers the responsibility for focusing the country’s immigration program towards meeting their labour market needs. To Minister Kenney, allowing employers to determine who they are willing to accept is needed to generate growth for the Canadian economy. In a statement issued last year, Mr. Kenney said “Employers are best positioned to decide who can best fill the open jobs rather than a passive and bureaucratic system.”
Based on the New Zealand experience, the Expression of Interest program is nothing but a paper review of an immigrant’s application, minus the required proof or documents needed to assess the application. An applicant can submit electronically or on paper an expression of interest to apply under the skilled migrant category. The questionnaire that accompanies the application is no different from the same standard questions an applicant needs to answer when applying for immigration. It’s still in a long format that asks for personal information, work experience, job qualifications and educational background. But the application appears to be biased in favour of those who have undergone post-secondary schooling or post-graduate studies in New Zealand, and those who have had work experience in New Zealand. If after a review the expression of interest is accepted, one must score at least 100 points to be included in the pool, then the applicant is required to submit all documentary proof of his or her answers to the questionnaire.
The pace and scope of change in Canada's immigration system in recent years leaves
one breathless. Click link to view
Prof. Naomi Alboim's "Shaping the Future: Canada's Rapidly Changing Immigration
How different is the Expression of Interest system from the current assessment of an application for any of the categories under Canada’s Immigration system? If New Zealand or Australia can accomplish its EOI assessment in 6 months or less, there is no excuse for Canada not to do the same. Except for one thing, there could be more Canadian applications than those submitted for New Zealand and Australia. But it’s not a good excuse if Canada Immigration is really sincere in its objective of reducing or eliminating the backlog of applications, which appears to be addressed by more efficient processing rather than by legislation or by a single ministerial decision.
Remember that all applications for immigration to Canada that were received prior to 2008 have all been wiped out from the backlog. More than 280,000 applications were affected, simply by a sweeping decision of an Immigration Minister, without comprehensive consultation, discussion and parliamentary debate. This also shows unpredictability in Canada’s immigration policy. The fact that changes in criteria can now be made unilaterally by a single minister and imposed retroactively indicates that the rules of the game are constantly changing.
Since the affected applicants had been waiting for seven years for their applications to be considered, they have refused to accept Minister Kenney’s decision to annul their applications. Lawyers for the applicants have asked the court for permission to bring a class action against the government. Lorne Waldman, a lawyer representing the applicants, has said that Mr Kenney's decision is unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s Bill of Rights.
The Expression of Interest system that is being proposed by Canada Immigration will not fully solve the issue of qualification and employment, especially if the determination is going to be left primarily to employers. While it is the federal government that regulates immigration, provincial and professional bodies play key roles in facilitating the employment of immigrants once they have settled in the country. Today, there is less coordination between professional bodies and industry and the government. Attracting qualified new immigrants with promises of good jobs would be misleading them, more so if they find out that it’s the provincial and professional bodies that really control access to jobs. The sad consequence is that these immigrants become deprofessionalized and are forced to accept jobs in the labour market that either underemploy or deskill them.
More to the point, Canada Immigration is increasingly becoming a slave to the labour market. The reliance on temporary foreign workers who are selected by employers based on their own short-term interests is headed towards a very troubling path. It is a policy that augurs well for the normalization of migrant labour in Canada, but doesn’t bode well for diversity, appalling for the workplace, and could potentially turn immigration into a source of social tension.
Privatizing immigration adds to the growing list of public services that the present Conservative government insists are better delivered and more cost-effective if transferred to the hands of the private sector. Health care, education, social services, utilities, even the prison system, are just a few of those targeted for privatization. The overhaul of Canada’s Immigration system is a clear sign that employers and the labour market are being given the primary responsibility to determine public policy to the detriment of national interest.
Throughout its history, Canada has been a welcoming nation to immigrants, unifying their families and providing citizenship and accepting their full participation in Canadian society. Canada’s radical shift in immigration policy from one that is based on the huge potential of human capital is reversing this trend and pushing Canada downwards to a troubling new direction.

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