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.

 

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.