Archive | Travel

Eyes on this border crossing are 700 kilometres away

Posted on 21 September 2016 by admin

Morses Line is one of those places where the Canada-U.S. border is truly just an artificial stop on a country road.

In the late 1800s, it was a literal line established by a distant government that was crossed by villagers from the province of Quebec and the state of Vermont going about their business, which was mainly farming.

It has developed, but remains today as one of the smallest, most remote of the 117 crossing points along the 5,000-kilometre Canada-U.S. land border— one where populations on both sides share names, blood and a French mother tongue.

But after surviving threats of closure in Washington and absorbing budget cuts ordered by Ottawa, Morses Line has become ground zero for what could be the future of border management.

Where there was once a bucolic, white building welcoming people to Canadian soil and a century house next door that the head agent called home, now there is a state-of-the-art security structure loaded with cameras and defended by a guard located 700 kilometres away in Hamilton.

The Remote Traveller Processing program — a one-year pilot project — has been underway since February but the Canada Border Services Agency already has plans for similar operations at 19 other points-of-entry across the country if the program is deemed a success.

It works much like a high-tech drive-thru. Those seeking to enter Canada at Morses Line enter into a closed garage and park next to a kiosk that allows them to communicate with a border agent, show their passport and even pay duties on alcohol, tobacco or other goods with the swipe of a credit card.

“Are we letting our guard down?” said CBSA spokesperson Dominique McNeely. “The building was designed with enhanced security in mind. There are additional gates, there are many cameras and, compared to other border crossings nearby, there’s much more technology here to secure the border.”

That includes impact-resistant gates, a garage door that doesn’t open unless the border agent is satisfied there is no risk, and plenty of powerful cameras.

“We can see small writing on documents and we can actually zoom in very close and detect any type of signs,” McNeely said. “It’s like your classic interview at the border but it’s done remotely.”

If the agent has doubts, a traveller will be directed to the nearest staffed border crossing, which is 13 kilometres away. If there is something more nefarious, nearby agents are dispatched to conduct a more thorough search.

The potential national program is being tested at Morses Line for very local reasons.

In 2011, the United States Department of Homeland Security proposed the closure of its border post, which was built in 1934, processed about 40 vehicles each day and would cost $5.5 million (U.S.) to modernize.

Around the same time in Ottawa, the cash-strapped Conservative government decided to cut daily operating hours to between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

On both sides of the boundary, citizens, local politicians and businesses warned about the potential ramifications.

It would split up families and friends, impede first responders who regularly dash across the border to help out with emergencies and imperil the local economy, Saint-Armand Mayor Réal Pelletier told a parliamentary committee in November 2010.

The Morses Line crossing was due for a renovation. The work was extensive and involved demolishing the old structure, digging out a new basement facility for the imposing new superstructure and paving a nearby field for parking and vehicle traffic.

The project was also in line with joint Canada-U.S. border infrastructure plans. An April 2013 document on the subject speaks about equipping such stations with radiation detectors and limiting remote inspection to one side of the border to make sure there are “officers present on the other side, should an incident occur.”

The changes are a bigger problem for Canadian border agents, who could find themselves increasingly going to work in the equivalent of distant call centres far from the physical crossing points if the pilot project is expanded to some of the 75 other posts defined as small and remote points of entry.

Comments (0)

Contractor wanted for surveillance of immigration detainees upon release

Posted on 04 August 2016 by admin

Wanted: An operator who can supervise migrants released from detention.

According to a tender notice posted on a government website by Canada Border Services Agency, the successful bidder must also be able to enforce bail conditions, offer substance abuse programs, provide accommodation and hook up clients with jobs and education.

“The CBSA has been engaged in discussion with stakeholders on program renewal for alternatives to detention,” said CBSA spokeswoman Line Guibert-Wolff. “Our goal is to identify non-government areas of interest and expertise that may be able to provide enhanced alternatives to detention in the form of community-based services and programming.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has been under fire in recent months after a series of deaths of detainees held in immigration custody, including Chilean Francisco Javier Romero Astroga, 39, at Maplehurst Correctional Complex in Milton; Melkioro Gahungu, 64, a Burundian migrant at Toronto East Detention Centre, and an unnamed 24-year-old man in Edmonton Remand Centre.

More than 50 immigration detainees at Lindsay’s Central East Correctional Centre and Toronto East began a hunger strike on July 11 demanding a meeting with Goodale.

So far, Goodale has refused to hear from the inmates and said his office has been exploring other alternatives to detention and trying to reduce the use of maximum-security jail to hold immigration detainees.

However, he has been mum about the alternatives under consideration and the tender notice provides a glimpse into the minister’s vision.

While critics welcome the alternatives to detention, concerns have been raised over the broadening use of surveillance on migrants without status who are awaiting deportation.

“Though clearly better than detention, electronic monitoring remains an infringement of liberty and privacy. And I hesitate to embrace this alternative when the CBSA remains without independent oversight,” said Toronto lawyer Subodh Bharati, who has represented more than 50 immigration detention cases.

“What mechanisms will safeguard the potential for abuse and overuse, especially since it is easier to implement than detention? How will we ensure that vulnerable persons are not further stigmatized with electronic ankle bracelets currently reserved for criminals on parole?”

The End Immigration Detention Network has been asking Goodale to impose a 90-day limit on immigration detentions and an end to maximum-security imprisonment.

“The only alternative to detentions is freedom,” said Karin Baqi, the advocacy group’s spokeswoman. “Electronic monitoring or bail program assumes that detentions are legally fair and judicially rigorous. They aren’t. Minister Goodale must meet with the detainees now, not allow CBSA to go off and create a private out-of-jail prison system.”

CBSA runs three of its own immigration holding centres in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but uses provincial jail facilities in the event of an overflow, or if an inmate is a flight risk, poses danger to others, has medical needs or is not likely to be deported anytime soon. On any given day, some 400 migrants are held in detention in Canada, including more than 200 in Ontario jails.

Currently, immigration detention is costing Canadian taxpayers $239 per detainee per day and alternatives to imprisonment will be at a fraction of that cost.

A study by the National Immigration Forum cited the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s own estimates of the alternatives as costing between 70 cents and $17 (U.S.) per person per day compared to the $159 detention cost.

However, critics note that finding an operator to monitor released migrants is a tall order, hence the CBSA had to issue a second procurement notice after an earlier call made in May yielded no results.

The challenge, said Canadian Council for Refugees’ Janet Dench, is securing a service provider that has a national reach as stipulated in the tender, which closes on Friday.

While immigration detainees can currently access the Toronto Bail Program as an alternative, it is only available to those in the GTA and the acceptance rate is low.

“We welcome any alternative to detention, but we are concerned more measures will be used to put constraints on the liberty of migrants, with more reporting requirements, more curfews and surveillance,” Dench said.

Comments (0)


Posted on 21 July 2016 by admin

The Hon. John McCallum, Minister for Immigration, refugees and citizenship had a meeting with all the MPs and stake holders of Brampton and discussed the most relevant issues with view to bring about essential changes as per the promise made by the liberal party of Canada during the election campaign last year.

The minister consulted the stakeholders regarding the number of new comers to be welcomed in 2017 and beyond and how best they can be supported to become successful members of the community. The minister also asked the participants about their views on priorities of stream for Canada’s immigration planning.

He emphasized the point that immigrants do help in bringing jobs, innovation and economic growth. They build many successful businesses and organizations. With aging population across Canada, immigration is a possible solution. He asked the views of participants about the role of immigrants in economic growth and innovation. What is the right balance between attracting global talent for high growth sectors on one hand and ensuring affordable labour for businesses that have historically seen lower growth, on the other hand? There was an active participation both from the members of parliament and the invited stakeholders.

Canada is a destination choice for students and workers from all over the world. There is need to integrate international students and temporary foreign workers who come here to study or work. After their successful innings, they should graduate to be the permanent residents ultimately becoming citizens thereby becoming integral part of the Canadian communities said – “MP Ramesh Sangha for Brampton Centre”.

The minister brought out that success of immigration system depends upon system we use to process the applications and service we provide in 21st century. There is a need for modernizing the system of processing in an efficient way. The minister sought the suggestions on this issue as well as assured the audience that the government working to address all these issues and by end of the year, will definitely come out with the programmes and technology that will meet the requirements of future in efficient ways.

Comments (0)

Couple rejected over South Asian ‘stereotypes’ caught in immigration appeals backlog

Posted on 15 June 2016 by admin

It took immigration officials 27 months to process — and reject — Rehnuma Yusuf’s spousal sponsorship, in part because the visa officer questioned the legitimacy of their marriage, because she is older and a divorcee. Now, the Toronto woman will have to wait 18 more months just to have her appeal heard.

Is it beyond belief that an older divorced South Asian woman could fall in love with a younger man?

Yes — at least in the eyes of one Canadian visa officer who questioned the legitimacy of their marriage and shattered their plans to be together.

In what their lawyer calls a case of cultural bias, Rehnuma Yusuf, 29, and her Bangladeshi husband, Munim Ahsan, 27, are now caught in a bureaucratic nightmare, fighting to reverse an immigration decision to reject their spousal sponsorship application — and facing another unbearable, lengthy wait.

“The officer had this old idea of cultural norms and based the assessment on the stereotypes of how the South Asian culture should work, but not based on the reality,” said lawyer Aadil Mangalji. “We need these prejudicial findings overturned.”

Yusuf, an administrative assistant, met Ahsan, a sound engineer, through relatives while Yusuf was visiting Bangladesh in March 2012. They got married at the end of that year, and she applied to sponsor him to Canada in May 2013.

It took immigration officials 27 months to process and reject Yusuf’s application on the grounds the marriage was not genuine, noting the bride is a divorcee and older than the groom — both presumably “against” the South Asian culture and tradition, according to Mangalji.

Recently, the Toronto woman was told she will have to wait another year and a half just to have her appeal heard at the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD), an independent tribunal that reviews these cases and deals with disputes between applicants and immigration officers.

The reason: According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, the number of adjudicators handling such cases fell from 164 to 86 amid immigration reforms introduced in 2012 by the former Conservative government.

“We waited more than two years for a decision on our sponsorship. Now we have to wait 18 months for a hearing. It could take another year even if we win our appeal, and there’s no guarantee we’ll win,” said Yusuf, who came here from Bangladesh with her family when she was 11.

“We have been married for four years but we still haven’t been able to live a married life. It is causing a lot of problems in our relationship. My husband thinks that I’m not working hard enough to get him here.”

According to the IRB, which administers the appeals tribunal, the average processing time for these appeals now stands at 17.8 months nationally — 26.8 months in Eastern Canada, 16.4 in Central Region and 9.4 for British Columbia and the Prairies.

IRB spokesperson Anna Pape said a period of high intake for cases and a reduced number of decision-makers resulted in a growing backlog of unresolved immigration appeals, such as refused sponsorship applications and removal orders, along with an increase in average processing time.

“During this period, the IRB has been dealing with a backlog of refugee claims and had to assign more members to deal with those cases. As a result, there were fewer decision-makers available for assignment to the Immigration Appeal Division,” said Pape.

“The cases the IAD adjudicates have also become more complex. This has caused hearings to take longer than they used to. Wait times in the IAD are too long, but the division is addressing this problem.”

Mitchell Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said the backlog is not just a result of dwindling resources but a conscious political decision not to appoint enough independent adjudicators to fill the tribunal’s capacity.

As of March of this year, there were 10,400 cases in the backlog.

Although the IAD offers alternative dispute resolution to settle cases before a full hearing, Goldberg said it is a “mixed bag” — about 40 to 45 per cent of all appeals are resolved without going to a full hearing.

“Our clients are already separated from their spouses, and sometimes their children, while waiting over two years for their sponsorship processing. They wait to get a hearing for the appeal. Even if an appeal is accepted, they have to wait again for further processing of the sponsorship,” said Goldberg. “It’s just unacceptable.”

The IRB’s Pape said the tribunal would like to cut the processing time to 10 months by reducing the backlog to 7,000 by the end of next year. More adjudicators will be joining the tribunal, she said.

The tribunal will also pilot an “early informal resolution process” and electronic case filing system soon, as new ways of processing appeals, Pape noted.


Comments (0)

Gloomier future seen for Canadian immigration

Posted on 09 June 2016 by admin

With 35 per cent of male newcomers returning home and a growing middle class in developing countries less inclined to migrate, an internal government review is calling the future of Canadian immigration into question.

The report by Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada also points to the challenge of reconfiguring an immigrant-selection system in a rapidly changing labour market where a growing number of jobs are temporary and there’s “increasing mismatch” of available skills and the skills in demand.

“What changes, if any, does Canada want to make to its current ‘managed migration,’ ” asked the 23-page study, titled Medium-Term Policy: Balanced Immigration and stamped “for internal discussion only.” “To what extent is the current overall immigration level appropriate and/or necessary?”

With major changes made in the last decade under the former Conservative government, legal and immigration experts are calling on Immigration Minister John McCallum to have a “national conversation” on the future of Canadian immigration.

“Ottawa must take a step back to do a review of the whole immigration program and reach a national consensus in moving our country forward as a nation-building exercise rather than as an economic imperative,” said Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

“This is the most thoughtful brief (on Canada immigration) I’ve seen in 10 years,” said Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken. “It’s asking all the right questions that are useful starting points for a wide-ranging discussion of the future of our immigration system.”

The internal report, obtained by the Star, also devotes attention to the estimated 2.8 million Canadian citizens — 9 per cent of the population — who live abroad, including a million people in the United States, 300,000 in Hong Kong and 75,000 in the United Kingdom.

Some 35 per cent of male immigrants to Canada return home, many within the first year. Between 1996 and 2006, the annual exit rate for citizens born in Canada was 1.33 per cent compared to 4.5 per cent for naturalized citizens.

“There has been a rather negative view of these expatriate Canadians, as they have been regarded as evidence of ‘brain drain,’ Canada’s lack of competitiveness in retaining high-skilled professionals and business leaders, and our insufficient success in integrating new arrivals,” the report noted. “Canada could choose to take a more proactive stance with expatriates.”

Measures implemented by other countries include: extending voting right to expats, providing non-resident representation in the national legislature, facilitating business and research networks, doing outreach to communities abroad to promote ties as well as creating tax treaties with other countries to facilitate work abroad.

The report also points to the greater emphasis the former Tory government put on selecting economic immigrants based on in-demand occupations in a so-called “project economy” marked by limited length of employment based on the duration of a contract or project.

“This environment makes it a significant challenge to target occupations and industries that are priorities for addressing through immigration,” it said.

While the report forecast does mean potentially lower immigration to Canada in the longer term, University of Toronto professor Jeffrey Reitz said global migration is still driven by “inequality” from poor to rich countries.

Although Ottawa introduced the Express Entry system in 2015 to let employers pick prospective immigrants from a pool of candidates to ensure newcomers are quickly employed, Reitz said the uptake of candidates outside the country has been small.

 “Anything that improves the employment situation contributes to immigrant retention, but there is an aspect of retention in the family class. When you lose your job and you have no family, you move. A support group gives people a reason to stay,” explained Reitz, the director of ethnic, immigration and pluralism studies at U of T.

Hence, the immigration report raised the question over the strict differentiation of “economic” and “social” immigration in the current system, which channels applicants into the skilled and nonskilled streams.

“Regardless of how their application was accepted, immigrants make many contributions to Canadian society; economic migrants make social contributions; social immigrants make economic contributions,” it said.

“Given the somewhat artificial distinction between social and economic immigration, there may be grounds for giving greater weight to ‘non-economic’ criteria and on criteria related to the success of subsequent generations.”

Ryerson University professor John Shields said recent immigrants are caught up in the same “new economy” faced by young Canadians entering the workforce.

“All immigrants including the refugee class contribute to the society economically. They pay dividends economically in five, ten years as integration is a long-term process that can take a lifetime,” said Shields, whose research focuses on labour markets and immigrants.

“Recent immigrants and young Canadians face a different kind of roadblock from those who are already established in Canada. The issue we need to deal with is creating higher quality employment in Canada and educate Canadian employers of the values of one’s work experience from somewhere else.”

McCallum’s office declined to comment on the study but said the immigration minister is committed to improving family reunification, humanitarian efforts, citizenship reforms and creating economic opportunities through immigration.

“The minister is always looking at ways to make the system more fair and compassionate while making improvements to client services,” said Camielle Edwards, McCallum’s spokesperson.

“At the end of the day, the aim is to have an immigration system that contributes to Canada’s overall strength as a country and society.”

Comments (0)

Some dual citizens worry new rules stigmatize certain ethnic groups

Posted on 10 July 2015 by admin


Dual citizens alarmed by the potential longer-term implications of revoking Canadian citizenship from those who commit terrorism or treason.

 OTTAWA—A new law allowing the government to revoke the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens convicted of certain serious crimes is prompting fears among some ethnic communities that they’ll be unfairly stigmatized.

Those from countries that don’t allow dual citizenship told government focus groups last year they had no issue with the law stripping of Canadian citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, treason or spying offences.

But other participants said while they agreed people convicted of such offences should be punished, they were alarmed by the potential longer-term implications of the measures.

“For participants from places where dual citizenship is permitted, such as India or the Philippines, there were clear concerns that dual citizens as a whole were being stigmatized and singled out,” says a newly published report on the Citizenship and Immigration department sessions.

“…It also left many wondering whether they should still consider retaining dual citizenship with their original home country out of fear that their Canadian citizenship could be revoked more easily by virtue of the fact that they are dual citizens or out of fear that with time, the criteria for revoking citizenship for a dual citizen is expanded.”

The ability to revoke a dual national’s Canadian citizenship was contained in a law passed last year that overhauled many elements of the Canadian citizenship program. The revocation provisions only came into effect last month.

The government has given no indication that the Strengthening Citizenship Act would be expanded to apply to other crimes; the revocation measures were explained as a direct response to ongoing global terrorist threats.

“For these serious crimes, we think there is a need to send a very clear message that citizenship is a responsibility that we all have, and in the case of dual nationals they can lose the privilege of being a citizen if they engage in these signal acts of disloyalty,” Immigration Minister Chris Alexander told the immigration committee last year.

But human rights groups have argued the new provisions effectively create two tiers of Canadian citizenship, one for those born in Canada and one for those born elsewhere.

Several have included the issue as part of their briefs to the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s scheduled review this week of how well Canada is meeting its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In the focus groups, however, what seemed to be more on participants’ minds were the other changes to the citizenship process, including the longer residency requirement and new fees.

So they wondered why, in a proposed television ad they were asked to review discussing the changes, the government was focused elsewhere.

“The main criticism participants had about the television concept was the reference to protecting all Canadians from dual citizens who commit terrorist acts. This was seen as out of place in an otherwise ‘feel good ad,’” the report said.

“On a related note, participants questioned why the advertisement provided detail regarding the revocation policy, which applies to the few, while being vague on other changes that would impact on more individuals who are applying for citizenship.”

The series of 14 focus groups were held in December in B.C., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec to solicit the views of those who have been in Canada less than 10 years on a range of issues.


Comments (0)

Lack of federal resources fails international student strategy

Posted on 03 June 2015 by admin

Canadian officials are finding it difficult to keep up with the increasing demand from international students, leading to waiting times for visas that are weeks longer than those in Britain or the United States, and reducing the program’s competitiveness.

The lengthy timelines are contained in a report from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), obtained by The Globe and Mail through freedom of information legislation. While the federal government wants to double the number of students from abroad by 2022, it has not provided sufficient resources to process the increased numbers, the report says. CIC blames this “lack of coordination” between federal departments for an increase of 30 per cent in processing times for study permits and a doubling of the time for temporary resident visas.

Colleges and universities say the government must address the gaps in its international student strategy.

“The question of visa processing times is a critical one in terms of attracting top students. If our competitors are able to turn around visas faster, all the marketing efforts, all the recruitment efforts, all the offers of scholarships fail,” said Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada.

The report also recommends clarifying what role international students play in Canada’s overall immigration strategy. The goal of doubling student numbers was set by a 2012 panel as a way to fill labour-market shortages and increase global economic links. But those economic needs can’t be met without government co-ordination, said the panel’s chair.

“Our biggest challenge on this file is a structural one: It’s not having a department in Ottawa that champions education. As a result, there is nobody from my point of view that has responsibility for it, and the departments that are involved, it’s not a major issue for them,” said Amit Chakma, president of the University of Western Ontario, who led the 2012 panel.

Much of how international student policy is decided depends on winning over key politicians, he added. “Jim Flaherty championed the panel. That was more of an accident than anything else, he took a personal interest in it. And that gave us momentum in Ottawa. With his [death], we lost that.”

Released at the end of April, the CIC report comes only months after the government introduced its new Express Entry immigration system. Express Entry ranks potential immigrants based on their age, education and skills, and has been promoted by the government as a way to expedite the entry of highly qualified immigrants.

Every few weeks, those with top scores receive an invitation to apply for permanent status. But some international students have said they are concerned they lack the number of points that have led to invitations.

Before the introduction of Express Entry, students who had graduated from Canadian postsecondary institutions and had Canadian work experience were almost certain to be able to stay in Canada.

One graduate of George Brown College, who wanted to remain anonymous because she is afraid she could lose her job, does not think she will have enough points to stay in Canada under the new system. She may continue working after her work permit expires this summer.

“I can’t stay here if I’m not working. … I came here as a visitor for 15 days seven years ago and decided this is the place I want to live. Going home is my last option,” she said.

The CIC report cautions that some within the department are uncertain of the labour-market impact of increasing the number of international students.

Doubling the number of students and “providing some applicants with the ability to work off campus without a work permit may impact Canadians’ access to employment and study opportunities,” the report says.

At the same time, the report stresses the positive impact of international students, including billions in GDP annually.

Dr. Chakma said the report shows that in spite of the lack of sufficient resources, the international student strategy is succeeding. Last year, CIC issued more than 120,000 study permits, the highest number on record.

“We’ve had double-digit growth,” Dr. Chakma said. “I would say this is a growing pain.”

Comments (0)

‘High error rate’ found in Canada’s immigration processing

Posted on 08 January 2015 by admin

Internal government reviews find CIC employees often fail to use correct form letters or provide accurate timelines.

 Internal government reviews have identified a “high error rate” in immigration processing, from permanent resident applications to refugee work permits, prompting fears over the system’s integrity.

The human errors — staff failing to use correct form letters, address missing documents and provide accurate timelines, among other shortcomings — could not only cost individual applicants a chance to live and work in Canada but affect the “efficiency of the system” and create unnecessary backlogs.

“An important area of concerns resides with the letters. The number of request letters not sent, sent incomplete or unclear at initial stage and later on create a negative impact on both clients and the Case Processing Centre (in Vegreville, Alta.),” said an evaluation of operations at Vegreville. It was one of three internal reports obtained under an access to information request.

“It delays the processing, causes more waiting times for clients and increases the work for staff. It also increases the amount of whitemail received at (Vegreville) when clients reply to unnecessary requests or seek clarification. The number of same request letters sent over time also creates unfairness for clients whose applications got refused after one request.”

Immigration applicants have complained about inconsistencies and a lack of fairness in the application processing — and sometimes the decision-making — by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) officials.

The three so-called “quality management” reviews obtained by the Star focused on applications in three areas: permanent residence, refugee work permits and Canadian Experience Class.

The reviews give the public a rare glimpse into the extent of these official errors, which authorities have never admitted to.

While the rank and file of the immigration department blames the errors on the rising number of “casual employees” hired to replace well-trained permanent staff, the government insists that has not compromised the integrity of these programs.

“Since the (Stephen) Harper government came into power, Citizenship and Immigration has seen too many cuts and lost many qualified employees,” said Steve McCuaig, national president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

“You have casual employees brought in within a short time with little training while qualified people are shown the door, and the public is left with people who are not on top of their job,” he said.

According to the union, casual employees make up half the workforce responsible for the reviews of permanent residence applications. These employees, mostly students, are given three days of training on the department’s global case management system (GCMS) and rotate on three shifts.

Immigration department spokeswoman Sonia Lesage insisted the system’s integrity was not compromised and officials regularly carry out quality monitoring exercises to evaluate programs and review procedures.

“As a result, the department is able to improve programs and provide faster and better services. CIC is focused on making our application processes and our correspondence with clients simpler and clearer,” she wrote in an email.

“We have moved to a system of ensuring perfected applications are handed in at the beginning of the process. With this practice, we have been able to identify missing or invalid information, earlier.”

However, the union’s McCuaig said the casual employees are not up to the task and some of the mistakes “are not fixable,” leaving applicants’ lives in limbo.

“The government keeps changing its policies. It is a challenge to keep up with all the changes that come every other week,” he said. “And you have to meet the quota and process X number of applications during your 7.5-hour shift.

“This is not like working in a bank and you either give or deny a loan. We are dealing with people’s lives and dreams here.”

According to the review of 996 files handled between Nov. 1 and Dec. 6, 2014, at the Vegreville operation, which deals with permanent residence applications, the quality management team found these shortcomings in the 617 request letters sent:

 13 per cent did not address all missing items.

 23 per cent had no timeline or an incomplete one or did not mention the consequences of failing to reply.

 6 per cent were either “not professional” or chose the incorrect template form.

Of 426 files that received a second review during the five weeks, decisions were pending for 149 owing to errors made by decision-makers at an earlier stage.

While the 2013 review of the Canadian Experience Class — a pathway for those with Canadian work experience and education to obtain permanent residence — found 23 per cent of the decisions had “significant” eligibility concerns, the evaluation of refugee permit applications identified 113 errors in 88 files.

Torontoresident Bashar Kassir said he was not surprised by the many errors identified within the immigration system. His sponsorship for his parents in war-tornSyriawas denied in August because officials said he failed to respond to letters the family claimed it never received.

“When mistakes are made, they need to recognize it and have recourse to address them,” said Bassir, whose file was finally reopened after his story appeared in the Star in October. “They should not force people to go to endless appeals for their mistakes.”

His parents received their permanent resident visas in December — more than three years after Bassir submitted his sponsorship application.

Comments (0)

Ottawa urged to remove citizenship by birth on Canadian soil

Posted on 21 August 2014 by admin

Officials recommend Ottawa removing citizenship rights to babies born to non-citizens and non-residents even though costs outweigh benefits.

Immigration officials have recommended that Ottawa remove citizenship rights to babies born in Canada to non-citizens and non-residents even though the small number of cases doesn’t justify the costs.

The proposal, marked “secret” and with inputs from various federal departments, found fewer than 500 cases of children being born to foreign nationals in Canada each year, amounting to just 0.14 per cent of the 360,000 total births per year in the country.

The issue of citizenship by birth on Canadian soil once again raises concerns among critics over the current government’s policy considerations being based on ideologies rather than evidence and objective cost-benefit analyses.

“An impartial observer would conclude that the evidence supports no need for change, given the small number of cases. Yet the recommendation supports the government’s public rhetoric and anecdotes on the need for change,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director general for citizenship and multiculturalism at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias.

The Conservative government overhauled the Canadian Citizenship Act earlier this year by further restricting eligibility. However, the “birth on soil” provision was left intact and required further studies.

“Eliminating birth on soil in order to ensure that everyone who obtains citizenship at birth has a strong connection to Canada would have significant cost implications,” said the 17-page report prepared for former immigration minister Jason Kenney, obtained under an access to information request.

“The challenge of communicating this change would be convincing the public that restricting the acquisition of Canadian citizenship is worth that cost, particularly in a climate of deficit reduction.”

The office of Chris Alexander, Kenney’s successor, confirmed that the government is still reviewing citizenship policy with regard to the issue of “birth tourism” — a term referring to foreigners travelling to give birth in Canada so the baby can claim automatic citizenship here.

Dubbed “anchor babies,” these children are eligible to sponsor their foreign parents to Canada once they turn 18. It is unknown how many of them actually return to their birth country with their parents, but it’s believed the number is low.

“As provinces and territories are responsible for birth registration, consultation and co-ordination with the provinces is required,” said Alexis Pavlich, a spokesperson for Alexander.

“Canadian citizenship is an honour and a privilege, and our Conservative government is committed to increasing its value. Birth tourism undermines the integrity of our citizenship program and takes advantage of Canadian generosity.”

Currently Canada and the United States are the only countries to have birth on soil provisions. The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and most European countries restrict citizenship by birth on soil to children born to parents who are either citizens or permanent residents.

“The potential costs . . . of enforcing this provision, the potential challenges with children being born stateless in Canada and the uncertainty of their status may outweigh the benefits linked to limiting citizenship by birth on soil,” said the government report, which also suggested that the number of anchor babies could be underestimated.

“Discussions with CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) have indicated that limiting citizenship by birth on soil would likely impact the removals program. It could be more challenging to remove families which have a child born in Canada in terms of getting access to travel documents for that child, regardless of whether or not the child is stateless.”

With input from the Department of Justice, Passport Canada, Foreign Affairs, CBSA and Public Safety, the report suggested Ottawa could issue proof of citizenship to persons born in Canada or have provinces modify birth certificates to indicate citizenship status.

Nevertheless, it recommended the removal of the birth rights by suggesting “there may be some support for a restrictive policy” despite the “significant operational and cost implication” for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

In the 1990s, the then Liberal government also toyed with the idea of removing citizenship as a birth right but was met with public opposition, and a letter campaign to then immigration minister Lucienne Robillard opposing the plan was launched.

“Canada has signed international conventions that commit us not to make people stateless. There is a very real risk that some children will be stateless as a result of this proposed change,” said the letter signed on by more than 230 national organizations.

“A move to end automatic citizenship for babies sends xenophobic messages to the public,” the letter said. “Such a legislative change would send a message to newcomers about whose children count and whose children are not welcome. It would reinforce feelings of exclusion and marginalization making integration even more difficult.”

Reached regarding Ottawa’s renewed attempt to change the law, Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees said, “Citizenship by birth in Canada is an important part of the Canadian identity and makes us a better society. When the previous government suggested changing that principle in the 1990s, we found that many Canadians agreed with us that it was a bad idea. It is still a bad idea.”

Comments (0)

Foreign spouses trapped in Canada due to sponsorship backlog

Posted on 03 July 2014 by admin

Ottawa has doubled the time to process immigration applications for foreign spouses already living here, fueling fear of the end of inland sponsorships.

Ottawa has doubled the time it takes to process immigration applications for foreign spouses already living in Canada, prompting fear that the “inland sponsorship program” would eventually be eliminated.

Currently, Canada allows a foreign national married to a Canadian to apply for sponsorship in the country if they are already here legally with valid temporary status.

They can also go back to their home countries and apply from there, but most couples prefer the in-Canada route so the Canadian spouses don’t have to give up their jobs and careers or be separated from their wives or husbands for years while an application is in process overseas.

Both inland and overseas applicants have to pass a two-step process: initial assessment of the sponsor’s eligibility and then an examination of the sponsored spouse, which includes criminal and health clearances.

In-Canada applicants now have to wait 11 months — up from six months — to get past the first stage, which, if approved, will let the foreign spouse work in Canada and access health care while phase two is being finalized.

The recent unexpected delays in inland sponsorship processing have caused both emotional and financial hardships for thousands of these Canadian couples because the foreign spouses lack full status here.

It is not known how many inland spousal applications are backlogged, but more than 8,000 new in-Canada applications — or one-fifth of all spousal cases — are processed each year.

Kathryn Abercrombie, 41, married James Bordwine, 35, in March 2013 and applied in October to sponsor her American husband to stay with her in Toronto. Back then, she said, the immigration department website said it would take only six months for stage-one processing.

The two have lived on Abercrombie’s income as a civil servant while Bordwine, a computer network security specialist, is idle at home. In February, Abercrombie got a $50,000 second mortgage to help pay off the bills.

“I could afford a home and scrape by with my single income. It would’ve been so much easier if James could work. It’s not cheap to live in Toronto,” said Abercrombie. “A few weeks ago, he cut his fingers. Instead of going to the hospital to get stitches, we just had them wrapped.”

Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, blamed the former Liberal governments for cutting immigration levels and creating massive backlogs that the Conservatives have been “working diligently to fix” since it came into power eight years ago.

“Family reunification is an integral part of our immigration program. Canada has one of the most generous family reunification programs in the world. . . . Shamefully, under the Liberals, families had to wait decades to be reunited,” said Pavlich. “Our government is actively working to shorten wait times.”

Adel Karsou, 34, who applied for his Jordanian wife, Rana Shiha, 27, last summer, is not convinced, arguing that temporary foreign workers seem to be the real priorities for the government.

“There is a common feeling that this delay is manufactured in order to deny people their rights,” said the Winnipeg lab technician, a member of an online group calling for improving processing time for inland spousal sponsorship.

“We have so many temporary foreign workers in Canada. Why deny our foreign spouses from working now? They are going to be permanent residents one day,” said Karsou, whose wife is due on July 18 and doesn’t have public health care to cover her unexpected pregnancy.

Anna Drozdowska, 30, who is married to Marcos Carvalho, 37, said she has lost many job opportunities because her sponsorship, filed last July, is still awaiting initial assessment and she doesn’t have a work permit.

“I need to be busy. I’m going crazy,” the chemical engineer from Poland said from their home in Fort McMurray, Alta. “I need a purpose in life. Do they want Canadians to leave the country, move somewhere else so they don’t have to be apart from their spouses?”

Time is running out for Aussie Carmen Ostrander, 42, who married Brendan Ostrander, 48, last October and moved to Burnaby, B.C., after she graduated from a postgraduate program in art therapy in Melbourne, Australia.

She needs 100 practice hours by December to get her licence but that is proving impossible to achieve because she can’t even volunteer to make the hours without the work permit that comes with the phase-one spousal approval.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the initial assessment of spousal sponsorships filed overseas takes 55 days, compared to 11 months for the in-Canada applicants.

However, the second-phase screening of the sponsored spouses can take anywhere from nine months in the Beijing office to 32 months in Islamabad — versus the average eight months for inland applicants — making the overall processing times for both pretty much at par.

Although immigration officials have said applicants are free to choose whether to apply in or outside Canada, a letter from Alexander’s office obtained by the Star clearly stated the government’s preference: “It is always in the client’s best interests to apply abroad.”

The letter to a disgruntled Canadian sponsor dated in May went on to say, “There are distinct disadvantages to applying from within Canada, including noticeably longer processing times, lack of status, inability to work and ineligibility for provincial/territorial health insurance coverage.”

Natalie Crawford Cox of Edmonton, 26, said she and her Cameroonian husband, Daniel Anubondem, 32, chose to apply inland because it would take more than two years for the Senegal visa post just to process phase two of the sponsorship.

“We wanted him to be able to start his life here quicker. This is delaying his settlement,” said Cox, a family support worker. “How do you expect to feel welcomed when you are starting off with such negative treatment from the process and having your life put on hold for no reason?”

Justin Laufer, 40, said his American wife, Kirsten Laufer, 33, could not visit her father after he was hospitalized for a seizure earlier this year because her sponsorship would be deemed abandoned if she’d left Canada.

“She’d like nothing more than to see her father,” said Laufer, a computer network administrator in Vancouver. “These sponsored spouses may be foreigners now, but they are on track to be future citizens. Kirsten is going to be a voter one day and she will remember her treatment by our elected officials.”

Comments (0)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here