Immigration Whiskey Tango Foxtrots Part 3 – A podcast? Why not!

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Mark Holthe, an immigration lawyer in Lethbridge, Alberta was kind enough to invite me to be a guest on his latest podcast. It was a super fun experience and great to speak to a fellow Albertan. Thanks Mark!

Immigration Whiskey Tango Foxtrots Part 2: The [not so] wonderful wizards of IRCC

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Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has an uncanny way of implementing systems meant to simplify things – that end up obscuring the process and driving applicants bananas.

It’s so irksome (or IRCC-some? HA!)

Crummy puns aside, this system and process can be incredibly stressful. People’s lives and futures depend on the information IRCC has about their applications.

A Toronto Star story provides a good example of what happens when you try to get a simple answer over the phone from the IRCC call centre agents.

IRCC eliminated front-counter services several years ago. This forced clients to rely on the Call Centre and online systems.

Also remember IRCC is a service department of our federal government. The same government operates other service-oriented departments much more smoothly (one hopes.) I never have this much trouble talking to someone at CRA about my taxes.

In our office, we gave up calling the Call Centre years ago.

Even if you get through, you rarely get any helpful information about your case. You cannot speak to a supervisor or manager. I confess, when one of my children was younger and wanted to play telephone, I would dial the Call Centre number and let her push random buttons, confident she would never ever reach a human being.

Instead of the Call Centre, we prefer the case-specific enquiry process these days. Using that system, you can make a request in writing, upload an additional document and (fingers crossed), get some sort of a response within 30 days.

The responses are still sometimes comical, such as this string of responses we received about a file we’ve been working on for over a year. IRCC had previously contacted us about it as the client’s representative.

Reply #1: Thank you for contacting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I am pleased to follow up on your request: We have verified the file of AB and there is no information stating that you are their representative.

(So we uploaded the representative form again and made a new inquiry.)

Reply #2: Thank you for contacting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I am pleased to follow up on your request: This message is to inform you that we have received the Use of representative (IMM5476) or the Release of Information to an Individual (IMM5475) form. The appointed representative has authorization to access the file.

(So we sent the inquiry again, for the 3rd time.)

Reply #3: Thank you for contacting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. I am pleased to follow up on your request: To find answers to your questions, please visit the online Help Centre. Please note that you can also search by typing keywords.

It took over a month to get to that point. So they sent us to the IRCC website for answers, as if it hadn’t occurred to us to look on the website in the first place. Super.

Imagine you were the client on this file. Imagine the frustration of dealing with an unseen, labyrinthine bureaucracy when you are new to Canada, trying to reunite your family or just want to know the status of your file. It’s like dealing with a booming voice behind a sparkly curtain with no chance of insight into the status of your application.

This is just one example. I cannot count the number of times we have received “Your application has been withdrawn at your request, ”when we did not request any such thing or “your information has been noted,” with no reference to the client’s name or file number so we have no way of knowing who it relates to.

I know there are larger issues with the GCMS system and e-process IRCC uses. These are probably just minor hiccups compared to the massive task of managing and allocating the data IRCC collects. But it still drives us around the bend and causes unnecessary headaches.

Oh well, I guess there’s just no place like home Canada.

Immigration Whiskey Tango Foxtrots – Part 1: the shelf-life of LMIAs for PNP applicants

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Sometimes immigration files go off the rails, and that is going to be the focus of my next few posts.

LMIAs and the Nova Scotia Nominee Program: the shelf-life of LMIAs for PNP applicants

“Packaged on” and “Best before” are 2 different things, right? Wrong.

One of our Nova Scotia Provincial Nominee Skilled Worker (PNP) applicants was refused for lack of recruitment because his Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) was “expired”. Even though he had a valid LMIA-based work permit when he applied.

The refusal was puzzling to us. We have always understood that people with valid LMIA-based work permits qualified for this stream, and that evidence of recruitment wasn’t necessary. The forms even say this explicitly:

If the employer has received a positive LMIA opinion from Employment and Social Development Canada (Service Canada) for this position, attach a copy of the LMIA in which the applicant is named. No other recruitment documentation is required. [page 6]

This makes sense. LMIAs are usually valid for about 2 years and who better than Service Canada to assess and issue an opinion (LMIA) on whether the worker’s skills are needed? And once an employer has the LMIA in-hand, why on earth would they re-advertise for a job they just filled? Anyone who is familiar with the LMIA process these days knows how difficult they are to get – in the last 3 years this option has gone from the “go-to” route for employers to the absolute last resort.  So it defies logic that employers would have to re-recruit if their worker (and prospective permanent resident) has a valid LMIA and work permit.

But in our case, the file was refused because the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration (NSOI) deemed the LMIA “expired” 6 months after it was issued. The LMIA was therefore too stale to support an application under the PNP program. This is despite the “validity” period of the LMIA, which was the usual 2 years (i.e. the same as the work permit).

Crazy, right?

(Ok, maybe only crazy to immigration lawyers, and that one client who now understands the difference between expiry, duration and validity when it comes to LMIAs.)

The cause of this headstand-logic is a single sentence in the Skilled Worker manual, which is appended to the passage I quoted above:

The LMIA’s opinion expiry date must be later than the date of application to the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration (NSOI).

Expiry, duration, and validity: the distinction between these terms is simple but nuanced. Once an LMIA is issued, a worker has 6 months to apply for a work permit. The end of that 6 months is the “expiry date”. However, work permits can take anywhere from 1 day to 9 months to get, so rather than prejudice people who are from certain visa-required countries with slow processing times, once the permit is issued it will be for the two-year duration stated on the original LMIA. Otherwise, workers from a country such as Vietnam would arrive with work permits that expire in a week. That two years (or one or five) is the validity period.

We are questioning the decision and hoping the province reopens the matter based on the fact that (1) Service Canada is clear about this distinction – a LMIA is still valid after the 6-month expiry date as long as the work permit application has been made; and (2) we have got in the past  -and continue to get – nominations for people in the exact same situation – towards the end of their work permit (and LMIA validity period).

In response, the NSOI has told us that it considers LMIAs that are still valid – but close to the end of their duration – to be expired. Back to the grocery metaphor: you know that carton of milk you bought that expires in 2 weeks? It’s no good, so chuck it now.

What the NSOI cannot tell us is when, during that 2-year period, they consider the opinion to have gone sour. Apparently the decision as to when an LMIA has turned is up to whichever officer happens to be working on that file.

At this point, we are left advising clients that depending on the age of their valid work permit, they may or may not have access to the NS programs.

It will be a shame if the province doesn’t reconsider its refusal in this case. In the meantime, we definitely aren’t tossing anything out.

UPDATE: in the end, the province agreed with us that the validity period of the LMIA and work permit is the critical date, not the 6-month (or some other arbitrary) expiry period. Hooray for the province! 

NS: a little less conversation, a little more immigration

Nova Scotia tends to punch above its weight when it comes to national news stories, and the topic of immigration is no exception. #cbiftrumpwins took the Internet by storm earlier this year and is going to be a running joke for a while, if not a real solution if he seriously actually wins. And this month, we have the distinction of making it onto the paranoid/racist/conspiracy theorists’ radar with the unfortunate (and now deleted) article in the Chronicle Herald concerning trouble on a local school playground that anonymously, anecdotally and, therefore most likely unreliably, pins some very unacceptable behavior on refugee kids. The fall-out continues and people are still lit up about this. Everyone has an opinion. It’s only been 1000-ish newcomers and 2-ish months and this is where we’re at. <sigh>

Meanwhile, in our line of work, things appear to be moving along nicely for the province with its new Entrepreneur Stream (word on the street is 33/50 invitations so far and a lowest score of 108 to date). Although our clients haven’t been overly excited about a temporary-to-permanent program that will take 3-4 years to complete, obviously some people are interested. The NS Skilled Worker Stream continues to be one of our favorites for enabling people who are already here and working full-time access to a permanent residence program. In terms of federal programs, positive changes are already in the works (age of dependents for immigration and citizenship rules), and we are heavily involved in some interesting pro bono projects to assist with private sponsorship and family reunification applications for refugees.

Despite its national profile and obvious attributes, there is an undercurrent of futility in Nova Scotia that can get you down. In our work, we spend a lot of time talking to people who are new to Canada and who see the potential of this place. Every week, I hear new immigrants talk about the opportunities they see here and they wonder why no one else sees them. Although I feel the same way, I often try to temper their optimism by warning them that there is a lot of negativity in NS when it comes to new things, new ideas and new people. Want to buy a business? Expect HR trouble when you take over. Want to get a job here? Expect interview questions along the lines of “how do we know you will stay?” Want to start something new? Expect a lot of naysayers. Lots of problems get pointed out but there is not much in the way of solutions. As a law firm that is bucking trends with our structure and approach (flat rates, agile processes, focus on service and results), we feel it too. Our modus operandi is always to be clear and precise in what we do and why we are doing it and just ignore the haters. I tell clients the same thing – a little less conversation and a little more action is sometimes the only thing that gets you through.

Film, fisheries & Francophones: easing access to Canada

For the past 2 months, I have been on a bit of a blog hiatus – busy with things like getting the Halifax Refugee SSP up and running and a little vacation to Guadeloupe. The nice thing is, there’s lots to write about, and it’s mostly positive.

In 2016, the feds have made some major changes in who can get a work permit, when, and for how long.

In January, the film industry was granted a “significant benefit exemption” from LMIAs, meaning it is now easier foreign directors and producers to work in Canada. Sadly, this month is the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the end of the NS Film Tax credit which has gutted the industry in NS at a time when it could have been thriving with the favourable exchange rate, deep pool of talent and solid infrastructure. So the NS film industry likely won’t benefit from this exemption, at least in the short term.

In February, restrictions on the hiring of seasonal workers was lifted to enable more fish processing (and other seasonal) workers to come here for longer periods. This is great for employers who experience a chronic shortage of workers in the Maritimes. Unfortunately, seasonal workers are still completely shut out of permanent residence programs which is wrong on all levels.

Yesterday, the feds also made this curious announcement: “Starting June 1, 2016, the Mobilité Francophone stream will exempt employers from the Labour Market Impact Assessment process when they hire francophone workers in managerial, professional and technical/skilled trades occupations from abroad to work in francophone minority communities outside of Quebec.”

This could be really great news for parts of the Maritimes and also really great news for people from French-speaking African countries who are looking for opportunities in Canada but are largely shut out because of the impossibilities employers encounter in trying to hire foreign workers from visa-required countries. But the details aren’t clear, so for now, we wait and hope it will be a boon for NS and NB.

The feds are moving quickly on immigration. I hope the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration keeps up the momentum by enabling people who are here working in those programs access to the NS permanent residence streams. It is no-brainer that anyone with a full-time employment who is working and established here should be able to qualify for permanent residence. Unfortunately, there are so many barriers that the people who are most committed to smaller provinces are often shut out of the very provincial programs which should be enabling them to remain here long term. <sigh>

But I said positive news, so I’ll save the griping for next week.

Refugee Sponsorship Training Notice – 2 seminars this weekend!

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UPDATE: JANUARY 30 SESSION WILL START AT 12:00 NOON DUE TO WEATHER.

The Nova Scotia section of the Refugee SSP is launching in Halifax this weekend! Our firm is one of the local organizers. We are holding two training sessions at the law school this weekend, one on January 30 for lawyers and law students and one on January 31 open for the public to register.

If you are a lawyer or a law student and are interested in attending the January 30 session, please email ewozniak@nsimmigration.ca for registration details.

Click below to view the January 31 details:

RefugeeSponsorship_HalifaxJan31-2

Introducing North Star Immigration Law Inc.

We have been known as Elizabeth Wozniak Inc., Canadian Immigration Lawyers, since I incorporated in 2010. That name was never meant to be permanent and really, it always made me uncomfortable because the practice isn’t all about me: Lori Hill and I have been working together since 2007. Cam MacLean was with us as a paralegal before he even went to law school. Lara Green has been with us for only a year and a half but she has proven herself invaluable and indefatigable. They are all amazing lawyers, and all people I would hire in a second if I was in an immigration jam. But the old name stuck and lingered because, to be honest, it didn’t seem important. We have always believed that our approach to practicing immigration law is so distinct that we could have called ourselves Triple A or Acme or XYZ Immigration Law and it wouldn’t really have mattered.

But, as they say, there is a lot in a name. So we started talking about a new name a couple of years ago. Actually, we mostly just went in circles. For a bunch of people who find all kinds of creative solutions to complicated immigration and refugee matters, what we came up with was totally pathetic:

–  Hill, Wozniak, MacLean, Green… [we are not a partnership and anyway, the traditional law firm name format is not at all suitable for us]
–  Hypotenuse Law [cool idea but way too obscure, and sounds too much like obtuse]
–  Nova Scotia Immigration Lawyers [if that’s really the best we can do something is terribly wrong…]

Sometimes collaboration works and sometimes collaboration just results in the least imaginative, most watered-down and safest choice (the new Halifax library versus the new convention centre come to mind, for example). So I finally decided that name change by committee wasn’t getting us anywhere.

With the help of a couple of people outside the firm (read: spouse and friend) who are decidedly not lawyers, I started thinking about the idea of navigation. It’s an important theme in this part of Canada and it’s a lot of what we do in our day-to-day work: mapping out and managing the immigration path for people.

North Star jumped out immediately. And, bonus: it works with our existing url.

So there you have it and here we are: a group of 8 talented, smart and committed people in which no one’s name is more important than another’s and in which the sum of the whole is way more important than any individual part.

And as for the star, it’s definitely a traditional theme:

          So when at times the mob is swayed
          To carry praise or blame too far,
          We may choose something like a star.
          To stay our minds on and be staid.*

But it also sparkles.

 

*From Robert Frost, Choose Something Like a Star

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#refugeecrisis : Group of 5 is back!

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Information on sponsoring Syrian refugees 

Two significant things have happened recently to resurrect the G5 option:

  1. CIC removed the requirement to have a proof of UN refugee status document for Syrians who are outside Syria. This makes the process considerably more streamlined because refugees no longer need to wait years for a UN interview. Of course, all screening processes are still in place, including for security, medical and criminal admissibility.

2.      CIC has started allowing G5s to select from the BVOR list.

This should make the G5 option considerably more streamlined and accessible for anyone interested in sponsoring Syrian refugees.

Out with the bogus, in with the new

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Complaining and commiserating are so mid-2015. It’s time to make the immigration system work. No one expects flood gates to open, but we do hope for a well-thought out and practical immigration, citizenship and refugee strategy. Here are some quick thoughts on what the new government should consider:

  1. Re-staff immigration offices and processing centres to full capacity of permanent positions.
  2. Double the numbers: parent sponsorships, inland refugee quotas and provincial immigration allocations for those provinces who need it (ahem)
  3. Either fix or cancel the bogus (a word I learned from Jason Kenney, and by which I mean total bullshit) processes that have been put in place. Such as the “conditional permanent residence for spouses” restriction that is impossible to enforce. Or the fake “are you an abused caregiver?” hotline that accomplishes absolutely nothing unless you want to talk to an unsympathetic and ineffectual agent who promises to call you back in half an hour, and then never, ever calls you back. Or the totally broken “urgent PR Card renewal” process that is for people who need a new PR Card in less than the 6-12 months it currently takes. But urgent means nothing when all you get back are letters from immigration saying you have to follow the urgent processing steps and when you follow the steps, they write and say you have to follow the steps, and then you do it again and then you give up because your sick grandma who you were trying to visit is already dead.
  4. Fix what’s obviously broken. Some things are so pathetic they make my eyes water in verklempt irony. Like when the government froze the parent sponsorship process in 2011 to get rid of the backlog. At the time it closed, it took 5 or 6 years for a file to be processed and everyone agreed that was far too long. After being shut down for 2 years, it reopened on January 1, 2014 to 5,000 applications per year. Guess how long it takes now? Roughly 10 years. It’s almost funny until you realize the feds process permanent residence in Express Entry in less than 6 months. Hmmm…
  5. Rethink the sparkly new online filing systems that barely work. Such as being down all day. Or such as taking longer to process than using the paper process. 133 days for a visitor extension online right now, really CIC?
  6. For the love of God, reinstate the refugee health care provisions to what they were before the massive cuts in 2012.
  7. Make the idea of “temporary to permanent” a reality for foreign workers.
  8. Stop frivolous litigation (the refugee health care cuts and widespread appeals of citizenship approvals come directly to mind)
  9. Allow the provinces more latitude to choose their nominees and programs.
  10. Follow tried and true methods Canada has used in the past in order to get vulnerable Syrians out of harm’s way immediately. 25,000 would be a great start.

It is going to take a while for the dust to settle for those of us in the immigration field – we don’t quite know what we have been through for the last 10 years. Whatever it was, it wasn’t easy.

NOTICE – Free consults for friends and family of overseas Syrians

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Effective immediately, we will be offering free consultations for family and friends of Syrians who are overseas and need information on their immigration and refugee options.

Please contact Liz at ewozniak@nsimmigration.ca to schedule an in-person or telephone consultation.