by Anne McDonagh
originally published in the 2013 Winter Issue
Every year about 250,000 newcomers
arrive in Canada for many reasons. There
are four categories: family class (relatives
of people already living in Canada,
economic immigrants (skilled workers
and business people), others (people
accepted as immigrants for humanitarian
or compassionate reasons) and refugees
(people who are escaping persecution,
torture or cruel and unusual punishment).
Since coming to power in Ottawa, the Conservative government has made a number of changes to the legislation governing many aspects of immigration. The most significant, both positive and negative, include the refugee and economic classes. The new laws seem to be about building the economy, making the system efficient and protecting the country from fraudulent newcomers.
The Toronto Star recently published a story of a family who in 2008 were refused refugee status in Canada and deported to Libya where the father was imprisoned and tortured. They escaped to Malta where they lived in a shipping container in a refugee camp. Eventually the immigration officials were ordered by a Federal court to let the family come back to Canada as refugees. However, immigration officials told them they had to pay back the government the over $6,000 it had cost the government to deport them to Libya! (After this story appeared in the Star, the repayment was canceled.) Although it is an extreme example, this story illustrates lack of compassion. Canada used to have a reputation for compassion towards the refugees of the world.
When the Conservatives took over government in Ottawa, the number of people claiming refugee status was overwhelming. The many changes in refugee law that the government has since enacted have been partly the result of trying to deal with this backlog and prevent backlogs in the future. At the same time, there are far too many changes which alarm many Canadians.
One of the biggest criticisms is the speed of the refugee claimant process. It greatly lessens the time from applying for refugee status to the time of a hearing, and introduces a limited appeal process. In fact, the number of successful claims by refugees living in Canada fell to less than half of what it was when the Conservatives came to office.
The government has labeled certain refugees (like the Tamils who arrived by boat in 2009 and 2010) “irregular arrivals”. If they are so labeled, they will be arrested and can be held for up to a year. Moreover, they cannot apply for permanent resident status; sponsor family members or acquire refugee travel documents for five years even if their refugee claims are accepted.
Another troubling practice is the use of the Designated Countries of Origin list. The government has compiled a list of democratic countries who look after their citizens; therefore, the government assumes there should be no refugees from those countries. As a result of this assumption, most refugee claims from Designated Countries of Origin (most of the EU) are rejected almost from the start. However, there are the Roma of Europe, who are persecuted in Hungary and other European countries just as the Jews were in pre-war Europe.
The persecution is real, but the Roma are from DCO countries and, therefore, according to the government, anyone from one of the DCOs claiming to be a refugee must be making a fraudulent claim. Since the reform of the refugee system, 95% of refugee claims from DCO countries have been denied.
There are many more changes to the laws regarding refugees. The most heartless is the denial of healthcare to refugee claimants.
For would-be economic immigrants, a point system has been in effect for many years. To be eligible to emigrate in the economic class, you need 67 points out of 100. There are six elements in the point system. The number of points for each of these elements has changed from time to time usually for political or economic reasons but the total adds up to 100 and 67 points is the pass mark. The six elements in the point system are: skills in English and/or French, education, work experience, age, a job offer and adaptability. The Conservative government is looking for young skilled tradesmen who are ready to work, and so emphasis in several areas of the point system has changed. Here are some of the important changes:
Greater emphasis (more points) on facility with French or English. More points will be given for good language skills. This change will not be welcomed by ESL teachers; however, it will save a lot of money for the government which will not have to finance as much language training as in the past and will also avoid a lot of anguish for immigrants who have not mastered the language and will live in poverty until they do.
More points allotted to the young up to age 35. After age 35, fewer and fewer points are allotted for age until no points are awarded after age 47.
Whether you have employment to come to: The government has determined that our greatest labour market need currently is skilled tradesmen/women and so most points are given to applicants with that skill set. Employers will be able to choose “potential candidates from a ready pool of pre-screened skilled workers”. (Pre-screened in their own countries.) In the past, skilled immigrants did not have to have a job offer in order to emigrate.
The government has streamlined the system in such a way as to develop and use immediately a younger workforce to replace the aging workforce Canada currently faces. Ideally these skilled tradesmen/women will start their jobs the day after they land in Canada. As Minister Kenny said recently, “They will hit the ground running.”
Similar requirements are made for the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), that is, temporary foreign workers or students who want to become permanent residents.