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.

 

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.