“A Backwards Step” - Proposed Canadian immigration changes

Monday, July 20, 2009 |

The latest publicity about the anticipated changes to the way Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) handles immigration applications is coming under fire from many different parties. The Canadian Bar Association calls it “a major step backwards in the evolution of Canadian immigration law.”

The association's Stephen Green said, “The amendments are not necessary to meet Canada's immigration goals. The changes would fast-track highly coveted immigrants - such as doctors and other skilled laborers - while others would be forced to wait in the queue.” Immigration Minister Diane Finley said in a statement, "If nothing is done, it will soon take 10 years for an application to be processed. That's unfair to immigrants and their families who want to come to Canada, and to Canadian employers who want to hire them."

The bar association recommended that Ottawa by now has the power to decrease backlog by allocating more staff to the visa offices where applications are processed. Green added, “The amendments could lead to an erosion of the rule of law – a principle whereby everyone, including governments, are subject to the law, and the law itself must be fair and free from the influence of arbitrary power.”

Coming in a wide-ranging budget implementation bill, the proposals contain two key changes effective for applications received after February 27th 2008:

• The government would produce a list of skills that Canada desperately needs, then fast-track applicants who have those skills.

• The government would limit the number of applications Canada looks at in any given year. The recent federal budget also included $109 million to help reduce immigration wait times. Concern has been expressed that the bill is being rushed without proper consultation or thought to the impact on existing applicants.

The government has yet to clarify which categories of applications it will prioritize, but it is expected to fast track applications in the so-called economic class of immigrants, which includes skilled workers.

Ed Komarnicki, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Diane Finley, said the proposed bill will prevent the backlog from growing. The government will then work to reduce the backlog through additional funding of $109 million over five years.

"What this is doing is ensuring that we're not adding more applications to a system that's already clogged," said Mr. Komarnicki. "First of all, you prevent it from growing. Then you deal with the backlog itself." Immigration Minister Diane Finley said, “The new bill will allow employers to get skilled workers more quickly. The current system, if left unchanged, is on track to collapse under its own weight. The system needs fixing,"

However the government has not said which types of workers will be fast- tracked, or who would go the bottom of the line. There are also questions about who would determine priorities.

Finley stressed that the immigration system would be "universal and nondiscriminatory." Finley said countries like Britain and Australia are able to process would-be immigrants much faster – sometimes in as little as six months – putting Canada at a disadvantage as it tries to lure skilled workers to come here. She added that the current system requires every application to be processed and said this is like a hockey team only being able to pick the first 25 applicants, regardless of their skills, even if this left the team without a goalie.

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