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Citizenship applications plummet as fees soar

Posted on 19 October 2016 by admin

The number of immigrants applying for Canadian citizenship has plummeted for the second year in a row in the wake of hefty application fee hikes Ottawa introduced in recent years.

The trend has prompted fears that the current citizenship costs — $530 per adult, plus a $100 right of citizenship fee — are creating a growing underclass of newcomers who can’t afford the fee and hence are prevented from full integration and participation in Canadian society, according to a report published in the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

According to the latest government data, only 36,000 citizenship applications were received from January to June in 2016, just more than one-third of the number for the same period last year.

In 2015, a total of 130,000 citizenship applications were submitted to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, compared to an average of 200,000 received in previous years.

“The decline is so significant that it cannot be ignored,” said retired immigration department director-general Andrew Griffith, who obtained the government statistics for policy analysis for the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.

“I had thought the citizenship fee increases would provoke a decline in applications, but I was surprised by the steepness of the decline.”

Griffith’s report came just as Canada is celebrating Citizenship Week that runs Oct. 10 to 16.

The former Conservative government raised the citizenship fee to $300 from $100 per adult in 2014, and again to $530 last year — to fully recover the processing cost of applications. The fee had been held constant at $100 for almost two decades.

Although immigration officials said at the time the fee hikes would have no impact on the number of immigrants applying to become citizens, Griffith said the data clearly shows otherwise.

Besides the fee hikes, the only major change to the citizenship program was the new requirement for applicants between the age of 55 and 64 to pass the knowledge test.

Griffith said the group only represents 6 per cent of the new citizen population and the current 2016 data provides a clear picture of the impact of the fee hikes on their own.

“As the government considers further increases to the number of immigrants, current fees mean that fewer will apply to become citizens. If the current 2016 trend continues, we will have 300,000 new immigrants and far less than 100,000 new citizens,” Griffith cautioned.

“This sets the stage for a growing portion of Canadian residents who are not citizens and are effectively disenfranchised. From both a social inclusion and social cohesion perspective, this risks the overall success of the Canadian model of integration.”

Griffith said the increase of the application fee to $530 from $300 appeared to be the tipping point as the full cost recovery puts the financial burden of the program on citizenship applicants.

“Citizenship isn’t just a private good. There are broader benefits to society,” he said. “When you have a larger share of the population that has little or no interest and ability to participate in political life, you run the risk of greater exclusion, less inclusion and less commitment to Canada.”

The Liberal government is currently reviewing Bill C6 to amend Canada’s Citizenship Act, but there is no mention of any adjustment to the citizenship fee.

Griffith said Ottawa should split the cost and reduce the fee to $300 or at least offer exemptions and support to groups who are most affected by the financial barrier.

To be eligible for citizenship, a permanent resident must have been physically present in Canada for at least 1,460 days during the six years prior to the application. Those between 14 and 64 must also provide proof of English or French proficiency, as well as criminal clearances and pass a knowledge test about Canada.

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Immigration detention of children and families must end

Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin

As a psychiatrist who works with children and families, I am not supposed to cry. As a researcher, I strive to engage but remain an observer.

Nevertheless, while sitting across from two parents incarcerated in an immigration holding centre, as they described the agony of being separated from their two young daughters, I felt my throat tighten and tears roll down my cheeks. Their pain filled the small interview room; my job could not insulate me.

The parents told me how they had tried to convince their girls the reason they had not seen them in a month was that the parents were both working overtime. But the Canadian-born children, who were staying with relatives so the girls would not be detained alongside their parents, knew something was wrong and were frightened. They had seen their parents taken away in handcuffs.

“We are never apart,” wept the girls’ mother. The father, defeated and hopeless, told me with shame that he thought of suicide because he could not bear what the family was living through and his feelings of powerlessness.

This was one of hundreds of families who face immigration detention in Canada each year. What happens to young children when their parents are sent to immigration jails? Luckier ones can stay with relatives. Some go into the child welfare system. Others join their parents in detention facilities.

Our research shows all these scenarios have negative consequences for children’s mental health. When separated from their parents, children — who have often lived through war and trauma in their country of origin — deteriorate. Being incarcerated alongside their parents is no better. Some children stop eating, others stop talking, and most have sleep difficulties and show signs of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic symptoms.

Last month, the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law (IHRP) released a comprehensive report, “No Life for a Child,” on the legal and psychological realities of immigration detention for children and families. The report proposes a way forward for Canada.

Canadians have the opportunity to lead the world, as we have done with our welcome of Syrian refugees, by ending immigration detention of children and families and making sure our own policies do not exacerbate the suffering of those who, in many cases, have already suffered more than most of us can imagine.

Immigration detention is a deeply flawed tool for securing our borders. Evidence shows that community-based alternatives to detention are effective, more fiscally responsible, and far more humane. These alternatives will serve families as well as adults, who, as the IHRP’s 2015 report illustrated, are often caught in a “legal black hole” of indefinite and unnecessary detention.

For these reasons medical, legal and community organizations from across the country endorsed a statement calling for the end of immigration detention of children and families.

The voices endorsing the cessation of this practice include the Canadian Paediatric Society, the Canadian Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, The Office of the Ontario Child Advocate, the president of the Canadian Bar Association, and many other organizations. Hundreds of individual health care providers, lawyers, and child advocates have also endorsed this statement.

The message is clear: stop detaining children, and protect them from harmful separations from their parents or guardians. As François Crepeau, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants asked last month: “Would I accept that my child be treated thus?”

Most Canadians do not face the prospect that their own children will experience incarceration or damaging family separation. What we do face is the question of whether we will accept it for some children in Canada, inflicted in our name.

A growing chorus of organizations — and health care professionals like me who see the consequences of detention up close — believe it is past time for this practice to stop. We call on the government to move quickly to end immigration detention of children and families to protect them from further harm.

Rachel Kronick is a psychiatrist with the child division at Jewish General Hospital and an assistant professor with the department of psychiatry at McGill University.

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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.

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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.

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IMMIGRATION MINISTER VISITS BRAMPTON FOR CONSULTATION

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.

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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.

 

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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.”

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Some dual citizens worry new rules stigmatize certain ethnic groups

Posted on 10 July 2015 by admin

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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.

 

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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.”

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‘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.

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