Mar 17, 2008 04:30 AM
Immigration Minister Diane Finley patted herself on the back last week for admitting more than 429,000 foreigners in 2007 – the highest number in history – as a way of emphasizing that the Conservatives really do like all kinds of immigrants.
But behind the touted numbers, which include just 251,000 permanent residents and a 12 per cent jump in temporary foreign workers, was a controversial move by the government to limit the number and type of immigrant applicants accepted and processed each year.
The reason for the move is ostensibly to deal with a backlog of more than 850,000 applicants already waiting in the system, which the Conservatives mostly inherited from the previous Liberal government of Paul Martin.
Amendments in the budget implementation bill introduced by the government on Friday give the immigration minister sweeping powers to pick and choose types of immigrants, to cap the number of applicants “by category or otherwise,” and to reject any applicant already approved for admission by immigration officers.
The measures are needed, Finley told Canadian Press, because it now takes three to six years for someone to get an application even seen. “That’s not fair to them, it’s not fair to their families and it’s not fair to the employers who want to hire them,” said Finley.
Nor is it fair, however, to close the door to would-be immigrants who want to come here and have the necessary qualifications. And last week’s move raises questions about whether the government plans to use the new powers as a way to favour certain groups, such as “economic class” immigrants, at the expense of others, or to discriminate on the basis of country of origin. Already some immigrants wait far longer than others to be processed because of their country of origin or their immigration category.
If the government really wants to speed up the immigration application process, it could start by hiring more staff to deal with a backlog instead of slapping a cap on new applications.
And the measures introduced last week belie Finley’s stated goal to “bring more newcomers here to fill the jobs and be reunited with their families.” That depends, of course, on what category of immigrants that the minister chooses to let in.
To its credit, the Conservative government is creating a new category of immigrant called the Canadian Experience Class. This will allow temporary workers and foreign students to apply for landed status without first returning to their home countries. And it is creating SWAT teams of workers to process files from countries and immigration categories where the waits are longest. But clearly more needs to be done, and that doesn’t mean denying family reunification immigrants or discriminating against certain countries of origin.
By 2012, immigration is expected to account for all net labour force growth in Canada due to our aging work force, declining birth rate and growing labour shortages. And there will be fierce competition for talented workers abroad.
The government, then, should be doing everything possible to welcome eager and talented newcomers, not giving itself new powers to slam the door in their faces.