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.

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.

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.


Lots to stay on top of over the next 6 months in terms of changes to Canadian immigration law and policy.

First up, yesterday, CIC announced changes to the live-in caregiver program
So, it’s no longer live-in. And there is an annual cap on the number of permanent residence applications that can be submitted in the program. Finally, CIC is going to try to speed up the PR applications currently in process to get rid of the 30K backlog. All good, right? Right?! Right….

Next, I got the Ebola visa blues
As of October 31, 2014, processing of all visa applications of people who are in or have been in Ebola affected countries is being suspended. The “countries affected” now include Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. I assume the US is not on the list even though it, too, is affected. Hmmm….

Finally,  yesterday, the Federal Government lost its application for a stay pending appeal of this decision:
This means that health care cuts to certain refugee claimants will be reinstated as of Tuesday, while the appeal is in process. Health care to refugee claimants seems like such a drop in the bucket compared to other cost-cutting measures that could be made, if cost was the only issue. Is it really ok to deny pregnant refugee claimants prenatal health care? Really?

In the coming months, we can expect more big changes, including:

  • Express Entry
  • Immigrant Investor Venture Capital Pilot Program
  • Business Skills Pilot Program
  • Nova Scotia’s Regional Labour Market Demand Stream
  • Nova Scotia’s “TBA” Business Immigration Program

Can’t wait. It’s all music to this immigration lawyer’s ears.

The Chronicle Herald published a story today warning that University enrollment will be impacted by the restriction of schools from providing immigration advice to prospective and current international students.

I have seen the letter CIC distributed to universities that has caused the uproar.  To be fair, the letter is dense and confusing.  However, I think there is a misunderstanding about what CIC is restricting and why.

International student centres and advisors have always provided information and guidance to students on a no-fee basis. That is not changing. Universities cannot (and never could) provide immigration advice for a fee.

The problem, as I understand it, is that some international student centres have been providing immigration advice and representation to students for a fee. Unless the people giving that advice and/or representation are licensed consultants or lawyers, that’s illegal under the new rules. As it always was under other rules (unauthorized practice of law) and as it should be. If the universities want to hire or contract licensed consultants or lawyers and charge students for that service, they can do that. If they want to keep providing that help for free, they can do that too.

I don’t think there is anything particularly controversial about this new rule.  The controversy is in how it is being interpreted in the media.

And if you read the rule carefully, you can see that it isn’t even stepping on anyone’s toes. Check out section 91 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, to see for yourself:

In this case, CIC is doing the right thing. It is trying to protect people from paying for bad immigration advice.

When it comes to immigration, bad advice is always worse than no advice at all.

As CIC cuts categories and quotas, the census underscores the importance of immigration to sustaining Canada’s population growth.

In the past 2 years, CIC has:

– reduced the number of refugees granted PR status in Canada by 25%

– reduced family class immigration by 15%

– shut down the parents & grandparents category for 2 years all the while issuing a press release saying CIC was shutting it down in order to speed up processing

– shut down the entrepreneur category

– introduced a quota on independent skilled workers in 2010 and then in 2011, cut that quota in half

– introduced a quota on investor immigrants in 2010 and then in 2011, cut that quota in half (the annual quota filled up in 2 weeks, effectively shutting the category down the for rest of the year)

– Jason Kenney has hinted at new policies to tighten up provincial nominee programs. Read: fewer immigrants in those categories and less discretion on the provinces to determine which  immigrants it selects

link to G&M article:

link to data:



This is easily the worst news from CIC so far this year, disguised as a good news press release. Thanks CIC for waiting until after 5pm on a Friday afternoon to release it.