Refugees Welcome! (Now what?)

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Immigration and refugee policy had been conspicuously absent from the Canadian campaign trail until last week when, on a day when many children were heading back to school, the body of 2-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey. He had drowned with his mother and brother while trying to cross the Mediterranean in a dinghy.

There has been a lot said and written in the last few days, and more to come, to be sure. Lots of blaming. Lots of politicizing. Lots of hand-wringing.

Obviously the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrians (not to ignore other chronically displaced populations such as Eritreans, Afghanis and Iraqis) is a complicated problem. No one is going to solve it in one Tweet. But for those paying even peripheral attention to the situation in Syria, it was a slow-mo train wreck. And the dust hasn’t even started to settle.

Countries such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are shouldering a disproportionate burden of the displaced populations. Meanwhile the Gulf States, masters at doing nothing to pick up any slack or provide anything other than token funding and marginal lip-service, haven’t stepped up in the slightest. No surprise there, as they have become really good at not helping the most perpetually displaced population on the planet: Palestinians. And it’s been decades. But you know what? That’s on them. It’s no excuse for the rest of the world to do nothing.

When I was in Malta in 2012, I couldn’t help but notice that, right there, in the middle of the Mediterranean, the population was strikingly ethnically homogenous. Where were the Somalis? Where were the Iraqis? I didn’t get it. And yet, the local newspapers had a lot of opinion pieces about the “threat” of “migrants” from Africa. I wondered where the fear was coming from.

Eventually, it was explained to me by the locals: Historically, the EU paid Libya to police the Mediterranean, and intercept refugees and migrants, returning them back to Africa via (no doubt) horrific methods and treatment. Libya wasn’t a signatory to any UN conventions on human rights and could “clean up” the Mediterranean with impunity. And in fact, be paid to do so.

This is one of the most shocking things I have ever heard, and there isn’t a lot of proof of it, so I hope my understanding is wrong or exaggerated, but that is how it was explained to me. Once Gaddafi’s regime fell, there was no one to do the EU’s dirty work. And once Gaddafi was gone and there was little structure left in Libya, it stopped with the rendition model and became all about the smuggle.

By 2012, the fear of large migrant populations had made it into the collective conscience in Malta.

Cut to 2015.

By this spring, the increasing numbers of people ending up on the shores of Greece and Italy has become a crisis. The UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants was interviewed in the Guardian and had these words, which resonate very sadly today:

We should do for the Syrians what we did 30 years ago for the Indochinese, and that’s a comprehensive plan of action where all global north countries – and that includes Europe, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand and probably other countries – offer a great number of Syrians an option so that they would line up in Istanbul, Amman and Beirut for a meaningful chance to resettle, instead of paying thousands of euros only to die with their children in the Mediterranean.

[Around the same time, Citizenship and Immigration Canada issued a press release boasting that it had finalized its first set of permanent residence applications under Express Entry in less than 3 months.]

The problem with the #refugeecrisis today is that there is a massive bottleneck in processing overseas applications, to the point of paralysis. Group of 5 Sponsorship applications take years to finalize and require near-impossible documentation. The processing centre in Winnipeg is taking months just to open the envelope and enter the application into the system to begin processing. If you have missed a document, the application will get returned to you unprocessed and you have to resubmit anew. By then, the immigration forms will have changed, meaning new signatures and updates have to be prepared, just to get the thing placed into the queue. And private sponsorship is no substitute for what the government can and ought to be doing.

Compounding the problem is that Canada has clearly dropped the ball on its plans to offer asylum to Syrian refugees. Instead of taking meaningful steps to inform Canadians and fix the problem, our Immigration Minister has chosen to deflect blame and criticize the media and other political parties. It has been profoundly disappointing to see a seasoned diplomat, who served in Afghanistan, and who is rumoured to be smart, principled and competent, react with more vitriol than compassion.

Worse, we still don’t know the numbers. As of writing, there have been no recent updates on the CIC or Government of Canada website on exactly how many Syrians are being processed and have actually arrived in Canada in 2015. Incidentally, there is an update of September 2, 2015 regarding Canadian military operations in Syria. So it’s not like the government is too busy to post updates on what it’s up to overseas.

There are quite a few suggestions floating around on what Canada can do to expedite processing and bring people here faster. Calgary immigration lawyer, Raj Sharma, makes some good suggestions on how the overseas process can be streamlined. Others recall how Vietnamese and Kosovar refugees were brought to Canada and processed inland, rather than languish years overseas while the paperwork is finalized. Why can’t we fly a few military planes of refugees to Greenwood like we did in 1999?

Finally, perspective is important. The world is mostly a peaceful place. And people are mostly healthy, educated, safe and protected. So there is plenty of room for compassion and aid. When faced with a crisis of this magnitude and geographic breadth, Canadians feel generally helpless.

What can we realistically do? Do we really believe that some of those people who risked their lives in rubber dinghies may be extremists who have gambled that they won’t drown in the Mediterranean and will be granted entry to a northern/western country only to turn rogue and attack us? Or are we prepared to offer safe haven to our fair share of the most vulnerable?

My humble suggestion is that we err on the side of informed generosity and global responsibility.

And do it quickly.

Nice place to visit and we really want to live here

Everyday, I help people who have fallen in love with Nova Scotia make it their permanent home. Often, they come as tourists, and eventually seasonal residents, and then want to make it official and finally immigrate. On a global level, the attraction of Nova Scotia can be summarized as (1) being safe and stable with a natural, unspoiled beauty; (2) it is geographically convenient; (3) there are opportunities here, if you can spot them.

Here are my ideas for making Nova Scotia more hospitable to newcomers:

  1. More people. It’s no secret that NS suffers from its “CFA” mentality. It’s not easy to wipe out an idea, but it is easy to dilute it. Nova Scotia needs more people and more diversity (and not just racial diversity, but diversity of ideas, cultures, people). Cue the ubiquitous commenters: “They are taking our jobs!” No: They are taking jobs Canadians don’t want or they are creating jobs.  “They are undercutting Canadian’s pay!” Actually no: that’s illegal. “They are on welfare!” If they are, it’s because they are broken souls who have likely won their refugee claim, in which case, good for us for continuing the humanitarian tradition Canada is so proud of. To quote my husband: resist the fallacy of the vivid example.
  1. Nova Scotia should play to its geographic location. It should be easier and cheaper to get to and from here. I am no aviation expert but other “remote” destinations attract visitors by low-cost flights. Hawaii, for example. If Nova Scotia can subsidize a ferry service, why can’t it work towards making flights more affordable?
  1. Don’t ignore the rest of the history of Nova Scotia. “Scotland” may be built right into the name, but that’s not the end of the story. We have generations from other countries, cultures and ethnic groups. Those groups often get short shrift or we assume that a handful of individuals (usually male and older) speak for the whole community.
  1. Don’t ghettoize people from other places. It’s easy to have a weekend festival once a year, it’s hard to be genuinely inclusive for the remaining 51 weeks. The idea of locating ethnic food merchants to the second floor of the Seaport Market is a recent example. It’s important not to be careless: the feeling of being welcome is so fragile. If someone makes a careless decision or comment, the sense of inclusion erodes quickly and it’s really hard to replenish it.
  1. The importance of actions over words. Make no mistake, Pier 21 is lip service to the history and value of immigrants. And it’s not a completely happy or proud story. Taking the time to befriend or hire or simply meet and interact with newcomers is what shows we are welcoming. Learning about their religion, culture and community counts for a lot. We need to talk less and listen more. It is not easy to speak up as a newcomer, especially when you are bombarded with superficial and facile talk about how welcome you are.
  1. Recognize that Nova Scotia is more than its “official culture”. When a place is portrayed as homogenous and exclusionary, it is less welcoming. And by the way, the official culture needs to be more diverse and inclusive.
  1. Value newcomers for the opportunities they create: Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of opportunities here. Higher taxes and the cost of living do make it hard. But Nova Scotia has proven itself to be a perfect location for back-office and mid-office services. It’s a great place for a European company looking to get into the North American market. It’s also a great place for a European or American company to create a second office to service its global clients. Newcomers are pioneers and should be trusted to choose places where they can be successful. As of now, even if you have done your research and chosen Nova Scotia, it’s difficult to get permanent residence status here.

It sounds too simple, but it is human nature to want a safe and secure future for yourself and your children, and to feel like you belong in a place that also values you.

 

Option A is not available: the new Canadian business immigration program that nobody is talking about

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  1. Owner-operator LMIA
  2. Express Entry
  3. Permanent residence in 6 months

Too simple? Too good to be true? We beg to differ.

Lawyers hate change and we are a nostalgic bunch. So it is no surprise that many of us are still lamenting the end of the old federal business class programs and complaining about the quagmire of the start-up visa and investor pilot programs.

But in our office, we have realized there is no point in bothering to resist change and longing for the good ol’ days. Instead, we are busy helping people who want to start a business in Canada that will create opportunities for themselves and Canadians. No minimum investment required. No sectors excluded. No insane wait times. No uncertainty. You either qualify or you don’t.

There is just no point in holding out for a new stream that is either never going to happen, or like the start-up visa program, is unveiled to much fanfare but when the dust settles, you realize it only applies to unicorns.

As Sheryl Sandburg has written recently in reference to a far more profound circumstance, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Sounds like a plan.

Express Entry: Not cute and fluffy. But not so bad, either.

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It’s been 7 draws and 15 weeks:

Draw # Date # Invitations to Apply (ITA) Min. CRS Points
1 Jan 31/15 779 886
2 Feb 7/15 779 818
3 Feb 20/15 849 (CEC only) 808
4 Feb 27/15 1187 735
5 Mar 20/15 1620 481
6 Mar 27/15 1637 453
7 Apr 10/15 925 469

And already, at least 3 people have become permanent residents through the express entry program. Consider that a temporary work permit takes on average around 5 months to be processed, it’s pretty amazing that people are becoming permanent residents through express entry in mere weeks.

Yes, the program requires a few months of preparation before you can qualify and get into the pool. And yes, it’s blatant cream-skimming that Canada has been criticized for, favouring under-40s with post-graduate educations, stellar language skills and work experience. And yes, international students in Canada are being disadvantaged by the program, since Express Entry puts the kibosh on the assurance of a means to become permanent after finishing Canadian studies and working for a year. It used to be a guarantee. Now, not so much.

But it is pretty amazing to be able to tell a client that they can become a permanent resident in under a year (hell, under 6 months) and it is so great to have some certainty and transparency to the process.

Although a lot of clients (mostly international grads) have been profoundly disappointed, many others have been pleasantly surprised to hear that express entry actually works.

And given the number of inquiries we are getting, I think the word is spreading.

 

 

 

 

Gutted by Express Entry

If you stood on your porch at around 10pm last night, you may have heard the sound of collective hopes being crushed.

Around that time last night, CIC issued its first set of Invitations to Apply in the new Express Entry Program. Only people with LMIA-based job offers AND points above 886 (out of 1200) were given invitations. Worldwide, only 779 invitations were issued. That’s not really a drop in the bucket, it’s more like a kick in the pants.

The Express Entry program is not a new immigration stream. It’s a new way to administer the existing federal skilled worker programs. It’s not that complicated, but it is less than intuitive. Here’s the process:

  • first you have to qualify for one of the 3 federal programs (Federal Skilled Worker, Federal Skilled Trades or Canada Experience Class)
  • “qualify” means you have to have a minimum of 67 points in order to be allowed to create a profile on the Express Entry system. You also need to have taken a language test and had your credentials assessed prior to creating a profile.
  • Creating a profile is also called “entering the Pool”
  • Once you’re in the Pool, you will be assigned a score (out of maximum 1200) based on your profile.
  • Depending on your score, you may get invited to apply (ITA). If you have a LMIA-based job offer, you are guaranteed an ITA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be issued an ITA at the next draw.
  • Once you are issued an ITA, you can submit your application for permanent residence online and processing will take 6 months.
  • CIC has projected 65,000 ITAs per year in this program (of its ~250,000 overall annual immigration target)

People who are in the Pool without job offers must be feeling bitter this morning. Many of them are people who have lived here for 4-6 years as international students and who have 1 year of work experience to qualify for Canada Experience Class (CEC). They may not have a permanent full-time job offer because their work on their post-graduate work permits was on a term-basis only, or they have an employer that couldn’t be hassled to support a LMIA or PNP application (big banks are notorious for having this policy). So they hinged their hopes for staying in Canada on CEC. Until last night.

The only solace is that 779 ITAs out of an annual 65,000 is nothing. It really looks like a test-drive of the ITA/EE system as bugs continue to be worked out.

Logic dictates that CIC will have to make a deeper “scoop” into the Pool if it wants to make Express Entry a success and is serious about its projections.

Now is not the time to lose hope completely. But it is the time to come up with some creative strategies for working within the Express Entry system, such as the owner/operator LMIA. If you can’t beat ’em…

Nova Scotia Regional Labour Market Demand Stream – Post Mortem

Sadly, we received the last of our RLMDS applications back in the mail last week. Unprocessed due to the program being full. It was for a family of 6 – a physician, her spouse and their 4 young daughters. We had submitted it on March 12, just 6 days after the program opened. We submitted it with scanned copies of the signed pages as we knew the province was receiving heaps of applications everyday, and we wanted to get it in process as quickly as possible. On March 21, we resubmitted the whole thing again with the originals, suspecting the March 12 package would be returned due to the signatures being photocopies. The clients were from a remote area where courier service is unreliable and it took a full week to get the package of originals delivered to my office.

If the March 12 application contained the original signatures, my clients would have been nominated. It appears that all complete applications were approved between March 6 and March 13. It didn’t matter if the applicants had ever been to Nova Scotia, or if they had ever even heard of it before. It didn’t matter if they had family members here. It didn’t matter if they had ever worked or studied here. All that mattered is that their application was complete (with the forms filled out, copies of identity documents, photos, etc, and of course, original signatures). The criteria was so wide open that the overseas immigration consultants were right in capitalizing on the opportunity: this was obviously a flawed program. The bar was set far too low and Nova Scotia allocated 150 of its precious 700 nominations to this program. [Before the program shut down April 28, it apparently received 4500 applications in total]

The pendulum has swung in the other direction now with Nova Scotia’s replacement stream (NSDEE), with near-impossible eligibility criteria. “Physician” is off the list of eligible occupations in the new program, so my client, her spouse and their four daughters are out of luck as far as Nova Scotia goes.

Too bad. We would have been lucky to have them.

 

 

CIC service standards: the elves have left the building

There has been crazy stuff happening in Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) processing centres lately. And not crazy-good, crazy-incompetent. It’s way worse than usual. Inland applications have been sent overseas for processing. Overseas files have been sent through inland processing. Complete applications get sent back for being incomplete. Applications get refused because applicants did not respond to an email from CIC that they did not receive. Applications (with proof of delivery) disappear with no apology or consideration.

When any of those things happen, the only official recourse is to call the CIC Call-Centre. The problem is, as everyone knows, the Call Centre is very hard to access and when you do get through, you can never rely on the information you receive. But not everyone knows that the CIC Call Centre has a service target of attending to 75% of the calls. A CIC policy mucky-muck let that slip at one of the 638 info sessions I attended earlier this year. This means its goal is to hang up on only 25% of calls. What other service-delivery organization could have that kind of target? Way to reach for the basement, CIC.

And when you call the Call Centre, it makes you go through 15 different menus before you get hung up on. Sometimes, it even lets you sit on hold believing you are going to get through to a human and then wham! After 10, 15, 20 minutes, you get cut off. To get to the human option, the system asks you to input nonsensical information, such as “type in your application number”. Hey, CIC, what the hell is an application number? Do you mean form number, file number or UCI number? Unless you are overseas processing, you don’t have an “application number” and if you are and you do, guess what? The Call Centre can’t give you any information on your file because – you guessed it – it’s overseas.

This would all be comedy gold if CIC was in charge of something banal like socks or hamsters. But its not that funny when we are talking about people like the live-in caregivers I have seen who have had their files closed and futures ruined because CIC says it sent an email they never received. Or the person on implied status who was waiting for his work permit extension when CIC neglected to match up his LMIA with his application, refused it and he lost his implied status through no fault of his own and now sits and waits for his  restoration application to be processed. Or the numerous spouses who have submitted inland applications only to find out their paperwork has been sent to some random embassy overseas.

In the 639th info session I attended (via webinar) yesterday, CIC talked about the fabulous new Express Entry system. LMIAs will take 10 days! PR applications will take 6 months! Everything will be up and running tickety-boo as of January 1. Well, maybe a bit later. Well, actually, maybe more like the 25th.

I seriously cannot wait to see this.

 

Miss Jackson if you’re NSDEE

The new Nova Scotia Demand Express Entry (NSDEE) is set to open the first week of January. We don’t know much about it yet, but from what we understand, the new stream will be a more focused version of the Nova Scotia Regional Labour Market Demand stream (RLMDS) which was open for 6 weeks earlier this year and closed due to overwhelming popularity.

Some things we do know about NSDEE:

– it will be a pilot program and run through the new Federal Express Entry program
– it will require a very high level of English or French
– it will require applicants to have their credentials assessed
– applicants will not need a job offer but must be qualified in one of the designated occupations (occupation list to be published soon, we hope)
– it will require some sort of third-party endorsement  (NOTE: this makes me lose sleep because it sounds like the old loosey-goosey Community Identified program in disguise, which I was never a fan of. How about instead requiring an exploratory visit or sworn proof of a connection here?)

Beyond this, we have little information. In the meantime, we still have not received any word on the RLMDS applications we submitted in March and April. Processing times in other NS streams have slowed considerably. The province is still issuing nominations, so we know the 2014 quota of applications has not been reached yet.

Furthermore, the new (federal) Express Entry portal has not gone live yet. Despite crashing every possible info-session we heard about over the past year, major details are still missing. Like, how often will CIC issue invitations to apply?

Just to recap: 3 weeks from now,  a new provincial program opens and the overhauled federal economic immigration process begins, and yet we still don’t have enough information to advise anyone on whether they qualify for Express Entry or NSDEE.

If that’s not a solid reason to get into the eggnog, I don’t know what is.

 

Getting Ready for Express Entry!

Our office is abuzz with interest and inquiries about the new immigration programs starting in January. There are still more questions than answers, but here is what we know as of now, and a few things that should help people who are considering applying in the new Express Entry Stream.

Opening in January 2015, Express Entry is not actually a new program. Instead, it is a new way of processing skilled workers (including Canada Experience, Skilled Trades and Skilled Workers and some provincial nominees – more about that in next week’s blog).

People who want to apply will submit an online profile on CIC’s Express Entry website, which will include details about their employment, education, language skills and credential assessments. This is called “the Pool”. On a “frequent basis” (CIC has not told us exactly what that means), candidates will be selected from the Pool and will be invited to submit their permanent residence application (fees, forms and documents such as police checks and proof of medical exams). CIC promises a 6-month processing time. Meaning, from the date you submit your application, you will become a PR within 6 months. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to know if you will be invited out of the Pool to apply. You could be swimming around in there for months. After a year of being in the Pool, if you have not been invited to apply, your profile will expire.

However CIC promises that if you have a valid LMIA (formerly LMO), and meet all the other requirements (including language and credential assessments), you are guaranteed to be invited to apply for PR. If you have a current, valid LMIA and are interested in becoming a permanent resident of Canada, below are two things you can do NOW to enable your profile to be put in the Pool as soon as the program opens. We have also been told that LMIA applications for permanent job offers will have no government fee and a processing time of ten days.

Things to do:
1. Take a language test. Here are some links to information about the language level you must attain in order to qualify in the various programs:

Skilled Workers (i.e. University-educated, professionals)

Skilled Trades

Canadian Experience Class

2. Get your credentials assessed/certified:

Skilled Workers

Skilled Trades

Although it sounds daunting, I am of the view that anything is better than what we have now, which are limited programs for limited people in limited occupations, with unreasonable processing times. Not a great way of attracting immigrants to Canada.

We will continue to update our clients and website periodically as new information becomes available.

In the meantime, whEE! and EEk!

The unicorn of TFW policy: Owner/Operator LMIAs

Under the Temporary Foreign Worker rules, if you are a minority shareholder of a Canadian business and need a work permit to perform an integral role in the operations, you can apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) without having to jump through the usual advertising hoops.

This is sensible: we know a disproportionate number of immigrants are entrepreneurial. Starting a business in Canada is often the first-generation’s main strategy to integration. Think: the neighborhood grocer, specialty restaurant or, at least in the case of Halifax, residential and commercial property development. Allowing owners and operators access to work permits encourages start-ups and expansions in the Canadian market and provides an option for existing businesses that may be looking to sell or expand.

I have been wondering for a long time why this is such an obscure and seemingly underused opportunity. Really, it should be a first step to permanent residence for entrepreneurs. Wouldn’t provinces, notoriously paranoid about retention, benefit from running a provincial business stream in tandem with this type of work permit? The current policy is to avoid passive investment programs so people aren’t just buying their way into Canada. Isn’t an owner/operator work permit the best proof you can get that prospective permanent residents have the capacity and intention to be actively involved in a viable business?

Oh, right, there’s a catch.

Although this type of LMIA has been around for years, one of the main problems is that there is no corresponding permanent residence program. So while you can buy a business and qualify for a work permit as an owner/operator, that only gives you temporary status. The Canada Experience Class is the main federal program for people to go from temporary residence to permanent residence, but it does not apply to anyone who is self-employed. There is no way for a business owner to get permanent status under any federal programs. And the last thing a business owner wants is to deal with annual work permit renewals and the uncertainty of not knowing if your status will be renewed.

A recent CBC article about the new Express Entry program, which is opening in January 2015, mentioned that it will include a Business Class. There is no indication of how that will work but it would be fantastic if someone with an owner/operator LMIA could qualify for permanent residence through the Express Entry program. It would also be great if owner/operator LMIAs were available to majority shareholders.

So we know what they are but will we ever see one in real life? Until owner/operator LMIAs have a pathway to permanent residence, they will continue to be majestic and mythical and mostly abstractions.