BY WILLIAM MACINTOSH
ON July 15 Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointment of Chris Alexander, MP for Ajax-Pickering in Ontario, as the new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, replacing Jason Kenney. Mr. Kenney had been the Immigration Minister since October, 2008, the longest tenure for an immigration minister since Charles Stewart held the position in the 1920s.
Mr. Alexander has publicly acknowledged that he has “big shoes” to fill, as Mr. Kenney has left large imprints on the immigration ministry and immigration policy. Mr. Kenney hasn’t left the field entirely as he will still have an impact through the implementation of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as part of his responsibilities as the new Minister of Employment and Social Development.
During his tenure Mr. Kenney was responsible for several significant legislative changes to immigration legislation and regulations, many under the guise of public safety and crime protection issues. In 2010 Parliament passed the Balanced Refugee Reform Act which tightened the procedures for determining refugee claimants and removing failed claimants. Amendments in 2011 provided for greater regulation of immigration consultants. Under the 2012 Safe Streets and Communities Act immigration officers are empowered to refuse work permits to workers in vulnerable occupations subject to abuse.
The Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act in 2012 made further changes to the determination of refugee claimants in Canada and imposed restrictions on persons who arrive in Canada through organized smuggling. Finally, last month Parliament passed the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act which makes it possible to deport permanent residents without appeal if convicted of serious criminal offences and sentenced to at least six months in prison.
Much of immigration policy is carried out through regulations. Under Mr. Kenney’s watch the regulations have been amended for various reasons, including eliminating some health services for refugee claimants and the creation of conditional visas for spouses in an attempt to reduce marriage fraud. He has been responsible for changes to eliminate the backlog of permanent skilled worker applications, wasting years of wait for many applicants.
The restrictions on health services for refugee claimants generated significant backlash, particular in the healthcare community. Fraud has been a major focus of the Immigration Department and the Canada Border Services Agency for the past few years, whether it be marriage fraud, misrepresentations made during immigration applications, and fraudulent claims of residency in citizenship applications.
Mr. Kenney’s last significant act was to announce proposed rule changes, to come into effect in 2014, that will restrict the ability of citizens and permanent residents to sponsor parents, and to limit the age of dependent children who may accompany immigrants to Canada under all categories to age 18 and younger.
THE government’s purported priorities are job creation and the economy. Immigration policy, particularly under the current government, has changed – to use immigration as a means of meeting Canada’s economic needs. There has been less emphasis on family and humanitarian immigration categories. There has been a shift to meet short-term employment needs through temporary foreign workers. Some critics argue the changes have gone too far, with not enough public resources spent on job retraining of existing Canadian workers. They wonder why Canada continues to import more temporary foreign workers when the unemployment rate for young Canadians remains high.
The government faced political heat over two cases in the news since last year, with the proposed hiring of Chinese miners at the HD Mining site in Northern British Columbia and the Royal Bank of Canada’s training of foreign workers in Canada for future outsourcing of jobs. The government has yet to announce the results of its review of the temporary foreign worker program undertaken as a result of public outcry over these two cases.
Part of the problem is that job retraining is considered a matter of provincial responsibility and the provinces have not agreed what role the federal government should play. Until that is sorted out and political decisions are made on spending public monies to retrain Canadians, the federal government will probably continue to use temporary foreign workers as a solution for worker shortages in many occupations or to meet regional economic requirements.
While the immigration department and the border agency have increased resources for enforcement issues, the government has downloaded the cost of immigration selection to provinces by allowing them to select more immigrants. The government has centralized more immigration processing to fewer offices. Federal selection programs require applicants to spend more money to provide objective proof of their occupational and language qualifications. In an attempt to operate more efficiently there is less face-to-face contact with applicants.
There continue to be problems with citizenship applications and legislation. Conflicting decisions of the Federal Court over the residency requirement for grants of citizenship have existed for the past 20 years creating uncertainty and unfairness for applicants. Parliament has twice failed to pass a new citizenship law in the past 14 years. The government faces calls to restore or grant citizenship to persons born before 1947, who would otherwise be citizens if they were born after 1946.
Mr. Alexander will face all of these issues as the new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Some issues, such as the use of temporary foreign workers, require agreement with several federal departments as well as the provinces and is not something he can resolve alone.
I expect he will face a growing backlash over the proposed age limits on dependent children. The rule change will result in decreased parental sponsorship and a shift in the age range of potential economic immigrants, as fewer immigrants in their 40s with children older than 18 will likely apply to come to Canada. Given Canada’s aging demographics that may be the government’s intention.
Mr. Alexander will have to use his skill as a former diplomat to navigate his way through the public perception that the government’s immigration policies are too focused on economic goals.
William Macintosh started practising as an immigration lawyer in 1984. You can reach him for advice at 778-714-8787.