Immigration Year in Review

Well, it has been a whole year since I started writing this column and just under a year since the Conservatives came to power in Ottawa. So I thought I would use my first column of the New Year to take a look back at the previous 12 months and some of the issues, reforms and changes that emerged in the field of immigration. First the good news:

  1. International Students in Canada can work off-campus and have more opportunities to become permanent residents after they finish their studies. The federal government and many of the provinces are finally beginning to understand the value that international students who come from all over the world to study here offer to Canada as long-term workers and residents. Earlier this year the feds finally gave many international students the opportunity to obtain work permits so that they can work part-time while they study at the university and college level in Canada. Even better, the advent of Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) across the country have given many of these same students the ability to qualify for permanent residence if they have an employer who is seeking to keep them permanently in the province in which they studied. Rather than mindlessly sending these educated and motivated individuals back to their home countries as soon as they have completed their studies, as we once did, Canada is finally grasping the incredible potential that exists within our foreign student population and is introducing easier routes to work and permanent status for them.
  2. The Foreign Worker Program has been streamlined for companies seeking to bring in high-demand skilled workers. The feds have also recognized the need to improve the functioning of the foreign worker program to allow Canadian companies to bring in the skilled people they need to fill critical shortages. Over the course of the last several months, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), the two federal ministry responsible for the administration of this program, announced the creation of two Foreign Worker Unit offices, in Vancouver and Calgary respectively, as well as the publication of regional demand lists for the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Employers seeking to bring in workers appearing on these lists will be able to apply for “Labour Market Opinions” without having to engage in expensive advertising first. Although this is not the answer to all of the problems that beset the entry of foreign workers into Canada, it is a step in the right direction and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Monte Solberg, should be commended for doing something to make the program more user-friendly to employers who, especially in Western Canada, are increasingly desperate for skilled workers.

Now the not so good news:

  1. Another year passes without an Ontario Provincial Nominee Program. Ontario remains the only province that has not established a provincial immigration program allowing it to select its own immigrants. The problem is not that Ontario does not get its share of immigration to Canada. Our largest province gets over 50% of all immigrants to the country. But Ontario still does not have a way to identify the skilled workers and business immigrants it needs most and ensure they get into the province as quickly as possible. As a result, the province’s employers and its rural communities are not getting the results they should from our immigration system.
  2. Passports to be required for all air travelers to the United States. Starting January 23, 2007, all air travelers, including Canadians, will require passports to enter the U.S. This requirement will come into effect despite considerable efforts on the part of our federal government to exempt Canadians from this 9/11-inspired reform. As it stands now, unless a special exemption is made for Canadians, the passport requirement will apply to all those traveling by land as well starting June 2009.
  3. No answer in sight to lengthy overseas processing times. Skilled workers, business immigrants, parents and grandparents, among other classes of immigrants, are still experiencing extremely long processing times in many Canadian visa offices around the world. So far, the Conservative government has offered no solutions to this vexing problem. The Simplified Application Process introduced last September was an acknowledgment of the fact that it doesn’t make sense to ask applicants for a detailed application package if it is just going to sit on a visa office shelf for several years. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are losing many skilled and desirable immigrants because they are not able to put their lives on hold for 3-6 years while our government decides whether to admit them or not.

So, as 2007 begins, there are still a few things that can still be done to improve our immigration system. Let’s hope some of them are among our governments’ New Year’s resolutions.