New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 04 April 2017 14:35

Feeling Like a Stranger at Home

Commentary by Laska Paré in Toronto

“If you were born in Canada, you won!” was the catchphrase that came to mind during my flight's turbulent descent into Toronto airport. The next thing I knew, flight EK 241 was making harsh contact with the runway, followed by the pilot’s announcement: “Welcome to Toronto Pearson International Airport.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Am I really here? After twenty-nine months, am I finally back?

I stood up slowly, as you do after a 14-hour flight and let out a big sigh of relief.

I was back in Canada, my home and native land.

As I trudged through the airport, I considered how elated my grandma would be. During my time away, she always made it a point to end our calls by reminding me that people around the world were dying to get into Canada, hoping to create stable opportunities for themselves and their families.

And there I was, instead, gallivanting to every developing Asian country I could locate on a map. 

The birthright lottery

Having won the birthright lottery, that is, a Canadian passport, I've always felt as if it was my duty and responsibility to understand the value of my citizenship. My grandma was right – people risk their lives for a chance to have a decent life in Canada.

But, I've also always wanted to know more about the struggle of newcomers and perhaps gain a better understanding of how immigrants and dual citizens identify once they are in Canada. Do they identify as strangers? Does Canada ever truly feel like their home?

Two and a half years have passed since I set foot on Canadian soil. For some, that seems like a lifetime to go without seeing family, friends, or a house pet.

But after living across Asia and witnessing the sacrifices people make to provide for their family – seeing their spouses and children on a short holiday once a year, if that, for example – my absence and sacrifice seem very brief and insignificant.  

Defining Strangers at Home

A "stranger" is an individual who does not belong as her position in a group is determined by the fact that she has not belonged to it from the beginning. A "home" may be understood to be a place where individuals experience a sense of security and are comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Therefore, feeling like a stranger suggests that an individual does not identify with the people around him, and consequently, does not belong or does not feel accepted in the place that he identifies as home.

As I took my place in the "citizen" queue in the customs hall, I couldn’t help but feel as if something was wrong.

By now, I knew bits of several languages, had become accustomed to eating rice with my hands, greeted people by saying “Namaste” and mastered the skill of washing my hair upside-down in a bucket. My norms, customs and mannerisms would come across as abnormal to the rest of my native, Canadian comrades. For the first time, I felt like a stranger at home.

Understanding the Other

The customs officer signaled that it was okay for me to approach the counter. He flipped through my passport – pages now filled with stamps and visas – and without a question about my two-and-a-half-year absence, waved me through with a jaunty, “Welcome home.”

I looked back at the long line of anxious visitors, hands filled with papers and documents. Not only had I travelled all over Asia without struggle, but I was able to come “home” after an extended trip and not be questioned about my absence.

It was in that moment that I understood why all the sacrifice and risk was worth the chance in Canada.

Now settled in Toronto, not a day goes by when I don’t feel grateful for my citizenship.

While I’m still adjusting to life in the city, there’s no question I’ve gained a better understanding of how new immigrants and dual citizens may feel upon their arrival in Canada, as I now identify with countries and ethnic groups not part of my country of origin.

After so much sacrifice in the hopes for a better life, the ambiguity around identity and desire to identify with one’s new “home” must be difficult for new residents. Building a new life is one thing; however, reconstructing one’s sense of belonging to a nation must require time. 

As I greeted my uncle in the arrivals hall and looked around at the room filled with diverse faces, I realized that to identify as a stranger is to empathize with all Canadians – because diversity has built our land.

An experienced mentor to women in business and the youth, Laska has an unshakeable passion for writing. Inspired by helping people realize their human potential, when not coaching a client or sitting at her computer creating engaging content, you will find her outside seeking adventure.

Published in Arts & Culture
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:00

Listening to our International Students

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
 
Canada’s international students, particularly those in major metropolitan cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, have been subject to intense criticism over the last year.
 
The students – over 363,000 of them – have been blamed directly or indirectly for a range of social problems, such as overheated rental markets, unaffordable housing, burden on public services, cheating, and bizarrely, even driving pricey cars.
 
The bulk of these criticisms are based on anecdotal accounts, in the absence of any strong statistical evidence. These accounts come from professors who study and interview as part of their work, and anonymous, retired institutional administrators who can now share stories freely, without needing to validate their assertions.  
 
These accounts also come from journalists looking to report on the latest cross-cultural phenomenon. At the end of the day, while they may capture some of the reality and part of the story, they are ultimately one-sided.  
 
Outsider narrative
What bothers me, as the Canadian-born son of a 1980’s international student and as someone who is now married to an international student, is that this outsider narrative represents only one side of the story. In drawing many of our conclusions, we have not been good listeners of international students, the true insiders.
 
In reality, we have generally silenced their perspectives and ignored their challenges, and taken for granted our own privileges while laying blame and assigning motives.
For starters, it is worth noting that an overwhelming majority of international students are bona-fide, meaning they are genuine, immigration law-abiding students.
 
In 2014, Canadian Bureau of International Education counted 336,000 international students, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (as it was then called) estimated that 20,000 of them were considered “high risk”, that is, likely to violate immigration law.
 
This accounts for only about six per cent of all international students admitted into Canada.
 
Jumping hoops
Next, it is important to hear from international students themselves to learn about the challenges and barriers they face, and for often understandable reasons do not feel like sharing them publicly. In my own practice, I have found that there are three major barriers.

Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies.  The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.

Once a student is here, Canada currently has a restrictive requirement that students ‘actively-pursue studies.’ Educational institutions now have two-tiered policies, under which international students are subject to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the institution, international students have to take a certain number of courses and maintain a certain attendance rate, while domestic students do not. Students with family emergencies, mental health episodes, poor grades, or who simply want to explore a different area, are often hamstrung.
 
On the back end, once they are ready to graduate, these same international students have difficulty obtaining post-graduate work permits based on their study history. Without the work experience from these permits, the already difficult pathway to permanent residence is mostly closed.
 
Societal barriers
Secondly, there are major societal barriers against international students. I have worked with many international student advisors at universities and colleges who recount anecdotal stories of students breaking down as a result of mental health issues. Without family and often inadequate knowledge or language ability to seek professional help, these students are particularly vulnerable.
 
Institutions, I am told by these students, have not always done the best to accommodate their cultural differences or to eliminate discriminative practices or advise without implicit biases. These issues are almost never reported in the media.
 
Finally, there is an underbelly of inadequate (often unethical) third-party services being offered and provided to international students. Many of these purported advisors are untrained and unqualified educational consultants and agents. Inevitably, if not sooner rather than later, students advised by these individuals find themselves personally liable in situations akin to fraud or misrepresentation, for which there are severe criminal and immigration consequences.
 
Seat at the table
Regardless of the economic and political questions raised by student immigration, we must not forget that international students need to have a seat at the policy-making table. We have seen the example from down south about what happens when immigration law is mandated by public opinion, fear, and top-down orders.
 
If we continue down this path of blaming and not understanding, I foresee only increased fracturing within our already increasingly fragile mosaic.
 
Ultimately, international students can only become an important asset when we as a society stop viewing them solely as cash cows or visitors. We should be viewing as prospective future citizens.
 
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former New Canadian Media Board Member. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
Published in Education

by Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa

The federal New Democrats are demanding action from Ottawa after hearing the Chinese government is refusing to recognize Canadian citizenship when granting visas to those with roots in Hong Kong or Mainland China.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she is sending a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion after speaking to travel agents in Toronto and Vancouver who report Beijing is denying Canadian citizens of Chinese origin the right to obtain visas using their Canadian passports.

Instead, they are reportedly being issued travel documents as Chinese nationals, which means they won't have the protection of the Canadian embassy while travelling in China.

Kwan said until June 2, Canadian citizens born in Hong Kong or Mainland China could choose to travel as Chinese nationals or Canadian citizens. Now Beijing is apparently forcing them to travel as Chinese nationals.

"It's a major shift in practice from what it used to be and is of big concern to people," she said.

Even Canadian citizens born here to Chinese parents must apply for Chinese travel documents if they have not travelled to the country as Canadians before, Kwan said.

One Toronto travel agent, who spoke to The Tyee on the condition of anonymity, said his company arranges visas for visitors to Mainland China. Applications have been denied for people born in Hong Kong, Mainland China, or Taiwan, the agent said. The Beijing government has also denied visas to Canadian-born children of Chinese origin parents, he said.

The rejections have come with notes directing the applicants to go to a Chinese consulate in person to apply for travel documents.

Many people have opted to cancel their trips to China rather than travel as Chinese nationals, said the agent.

Tightening controls?

China expert Charles Burton, a professor at Brock University, said the move appears to be part of Beijing's attempt to tighten control globally to mute dissent against the ruling regime.

Burton pointed to a recent case of a Hong Kong bookseller with a Swedish passport who was arrested in Thailand and sent to China for "interrogation" as an example of Beijing's actions.

He said the reported policy would be in line with China's policy of considering anyone with Chinese heritage as subject to Beijing's authority.

"I think it does have a chilling effect on people of Chinese origin who felt that acquisition of foreign citizenship gave them a degree of protection," Burton said. "It goes against international law; it's part and parcel of China's refusal to acknowledge the authority of international regimes in general."

He said the policy could be considered discrimination because Beijing is issuing visas based solely on people's ethnicity.

Burton said Canada must raise the issue with China at the highest levels.

The revelations come four weeks after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a tantrumwhen a Canadian reporter in Ottawa asked him about China's detention of Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt, aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and the disappearances of merchants in Hong Kong selling books critical of the Chinese government.

Following the outburst Ottawa faced criticism for its declaration of plans to deepen ties with China.

Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of the visa situation and intends to raise the issue with Beijing, but would not grant an interview with Dion.

** Story update, June 30: Since NDP MP Jenny Kwan's initial complaint, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa has issued a statement saying it has not changed its policy, but gives no explanation for why it was asking people to apply for Chinese travel documents.

"It should be noted that we welcome visit to China by Canadians of Hong Kong origin," read the statement. "There is no such a thing as China tightening its travel document-related policies."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei also addressed the issue in his regular press briefing in Beijing.

Kwan released a statement in response suggesting that people who had problems apply once again and to bring the full Chinese statement from the Chinese embassy with them when they do.

Republished with permission from The Tyee. 

Published in Top Stories

 MICHELLE Rempel, Official Opposition Critic for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, on Thursday slammed the Liberal government for ignoring the Conservatives’ calls for a formal visa exemption review on Mexico. Referring to reports that the government plans to lift visa requirements on Mexican nationals in December 2016, she added: “During a committee meeting on May 5, […]

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Published in Politics
Thursday, 16 June 2016 14:06

Visa Officers Largely Bias-Free: Author

by Howard Ramos in Halifax, Nova Scotia 

In a country where over one in five people are immigrants and far more are children and relatives of immigrants, questions of who gets into Canada and how decisions are made on immigration matters are of central concern. For instance, does the immigration system profile people from particular countries or specific ethnic or racial backgrounds? How is family sponsorship evaluated? And why do some people get visas to visit while others don’t?

Questions like these are tackled head-on by McMaster sociologist Vic Satzewich in his prize winning book Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In. He offers a comprehensive overview of Canada’s immigration system by looking at the overall social and political context driving immigration, the organizational structure of the Immigration department, and most interestingly, how immigration officers on the ground make decisions on individual applications and prospective immigrants. [We have excerpted a section of the Introduction to give readers a flavour of the kind of dilemmas visa officers face.]

Biases in the system

The professor visited 11 visa office abroad between 2010 and 2012 across all regions and also met with officials in Ottawa several times. In his visits he tagged along with visa officers to see how they do their jobs, reviewing field operating notes and discussing with them about how they make their decisions.

He was particularly interested in examining the discretion that immigration officers have in their decisions, and their role as, what he calls, street-level bureaucrats. Their discretion and ability to make on the ground decisions have led some to question whether there are biases and hidden agendas in Canada’s immigration system.

Satzewich found no direct evidence of discrimination in approval and refusal rates across visa offices around the world, nor did he observe it through the practices of immigration officers. In fact, he found little variation in rates across regions and source countries, with officers very aware of the need for consistent application of policies. He drilled down into specific visa categories by looking at decisions made around spousal and partner sponsorship, decisions on those applying under the skilled worker program, as well as those seeking visitor visas.

Satzewich found no direct evidence of discrimination in approval and refusal rates across visa offices around the world, nor did he observe it through the practices of immigration officers.

Continual change

His analysis of the family pathway offers important insights on the Canadian government’s concern with marriage fraud. His analysis is vivid and colouful, with descriptions of what goes into case processing and an explanation of how immigration officers identify anomalies they want to investigate and then ultimately the interviews they conduct with prospective immigrants and their sponsors.

His analysis of skilled workers offers a similar level of insight.

During his field research, Canada’s immigration system was in a period of rapid and constant change. Former immigration minister Jason Kenney tweaked how the system worked on a regular basis, ultimately leading to fundamental changes to the immigration system. Satzewich tracked those changes and how it affected the system and on the ground decisions by immigration officers.

One significant change documented is the increased importance of visitor visas over permanent residency with the introduction of a super visa for parents and grandparents, the rise of temporary foreign worker applications, and a move towards attracting more international students.

Another important change was the previous government’s move to rationalize the processing of immigrants and speed up the processing time.

Increased pressure

Rather than finding overt bias and discrimination in the immigration system, what Satzewich found was an increased pressure on immigration officers stemming from a move towards immigration processing targets, faster deadlines, increased use of impersonal evaluation criteria, the auditing of their decisions and a move away from interviews and discretionary autonomy.

... Satzewich found was an increased pressure on immigration officers stemming from a move towards immigration processing targets, faster deadlines, increased use of impersonal evaluation criteria, the auditing of their decisions and a move away from interviews and discretionary autonomy.

Despite all the changes, Satzewich did not find a nostalgic longing for “old times” among the immigration officers he spoke with. In part, this is because of generational turnover, with fewer and fewer officers having worked in the immigration system when their on-the-ground decisions carried more weight in the evaluation of files.

His research ultimately shows that Canadian immigration officers are highly dedicated to their jobs and recognize the weight of the decisions they make on a daily basis.

CLICK FOR EXCERPT:

  • Maria enters the interview booth with a broad, confident smile. Brenda, the visa officer responsible for reviewing her application, smiles back and asks her to close the sliding door behind her. There is no chair on Maria’s side of the small, six- by eight-foot interview booth, so she takes a few seconds to put her bag on the floor and try to get comfortable for the interview. She ends up leaning against the small ledge in front of the bulletproof glass window that separates visa applicants from visa officers. A few years ago, Canadian embassies installed the special glass in their interview booths because of safety and security concerns. People sometimes get angry when their visa application is refused, and in this day and age, you can never be too careful.

    Brenda points to the telephone on the wall and gestures to Maria that she should pick it up. She welcomes Maria and introduces herself as “the visa officer responsible for your case.” She asks Maria in English if she can understand what she is saying. Maria nods in agreement, but Brenda asks her to please say “yes” or “no.” Maria says “yes.” Brenda needs a verbal response because she has to document her decision-making process by keeping notes of the questions asked, Maria’s replies, and her own assessment of the answers. Brenda then asks if she is comfortable conducting the interview in English, and since Maria lived in the United States for several years, she says “yes” but asks that Brenda “speak slowly.”

    Brenda already knows a lot about Maria and her circumstances from the spousal application for immigration that she and her Canadian sponsor submitted eight months ago. Maria’s husband wants her to join him in Saskatoon, and as part of the application, couples are asked to tell the story of their relationship. Brenda reviewed the application about a month ago, but something about the couple’s story did not add up. Her program assistant contacted Maria to schedule the interview so that Brenda’s concerns could be addressed.

    Visa officers do not interview every applicant for admission to Canada. In fact, headquarters in Ottawa likes them to keep the number of interviews down and encourages them to make their decisions solely on the basis of the information in the application. Interviews take a lot of time, and time in a visa office is in short supply. Officers are trained to make their decisions to approve or refuse visa applications relatively quickly. Brenda has two or three dozen files stacked on the corner of her desk and on top of two filing cabinets in her office. Her program assistant is working on a couple dozen other files at various stages of processing. Globally, there are thousands of applications in what Citizenship and Immigration euphemistically calls its “inventory,” which is its code word for “backlog.” The more time Brenda spends on one file, the longer other applicants must wait for a decision.

    Officers must also meet their yearly visa issuance targets. It is early December, and Brenda’s office has not yet met its target for family class spousal visas. If Brenda fails to meet it, this will reflect badly on her and on her boss, the immigration program manager. Headquarters in Ottawa will also be unhappy because it will have to find another visa office to pick up the slack. All the other offices are also working hard to meet their own targets, so a last-minute request to increase a target because another office has not met its own quota means that something has gone awry. If no other office manages to fill the gap, the overall target for family class admissions will not be met, and the immigration minister will want to know why. The minister announced the targets the year before in Parliament and will be held accountable by the Opposition if the number of visas falls far below, or far above, them. Since politics are politics, Opposition colleagues can be rather unforgiving in their assessment of a cabinet minister’s performance and will relish any opportunity to cast the minister as incompetent or as failing to control his or her department.

    In a family class spousal sponsorship case, such as that of Maria, Brenda must be “satisfied” that the relationship between Maria and her husband in Canada is “genuine” and that its primary purpose is not for Maria to gain permanent resident status in Canada. Upon reviewing the file a month earlier, Brenda suspected that this might be a marriage of convenience. She uses the interview to figure out whether the relationship is real and whether its primary purpose is immigration.

    After asking a few simple, factual questions – Maria’s full name, date of birth, and other matters that already appear on the application – Brenda starts to focus more closely: “It says on your application that you lived in the United States for fifteen years and that you returned to Guatemala three years ago. Why did you return to Guatemala after living for so many years in the United States?” Maria explains that she missed her family and returned to Guatemala to be closer to them. This sounds odd to Brenda, who thinks to herself, “Why would someone voluntarily leave the United States to go back and live in Guatemala?” She suspects that Maria is concealing something, so she pointedly asks, “Were you deported from the United States?” After pausing for a moment to reflect on her answer, Maria admits that she was slated for deportation but chose to leave before the American authorities put her on the plane. She does not explain why she was going to be deported, but Brenda puts two and two together and surmises that Maria probably overstayed her original visa and then somehow caught the attention of US immigration authorities. For Brenda, Maria’s original evasive answer to the question of why she left the United States confirms her concerns and prompts her to dig deeper.

    She moves on. “How did you meet your husband?” Maria explains that they first met at the birthday party of a mutual friend when they were both living in Los Angeles. They dated a few times, but nothing really came of the dates. A few years later, they met again at another birthday party of a mutual friend, this time after she had returned to Guatemala.

    Brenda also knows a fair amount about Maria’s husband. She has access to the Field Operations Support System database, which contains information about the application history of everyone who has applied for admission to Canada in the past several years. Before the interview, Brenda pulled up the file for Maria’s husband, which told her that he, too, is from Guatemala and that seven years ago he submitted a successful refugee claim in Canada. He had lived in the United States for several years but then crossed the border into Canada at Surrey, British Columbia. She suspects that he, too, was scheduled for removal from the United States and that rather than return to Guatemala, he decided to take a chance with the Canadian refugee determination system. When he crossed at Surrey, he must have uttered words to the effect that “I am a refugee.” As soon as Canada Border Services Agency staff heard the word “refugee,” a complex refugee determination process came into play. Ultimately, Maria’s husband convinced the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board that he was genuinely in fear of his life in Guatemala, so he was granted permanent residence status in Canada.

    After this, he returned to Guatemala to visit some old friends, where “by chance,” he met Maria again. Since he planned to be in Guatemala for a month, they started dating, and this time they fell in love. Within two weeks, they were married at a small civil ceremony. A few close friends attended. Though his mother and two brothers lived in Guatemala, they were not at the wedding. Maria explains that they lived “far away” and could not travel to Guatemala City for the wedding. She adds that her mother and sister stayed away because they thought that her husband was not “good enough” for her.

    As Maria explains the circumstances of how she met and married her husband, Brenda looks through a pile of thirty or forty photographs that the couple included in the application to support the story of their relationship. The photos show the marriage ceremony and the small reception that followed it. One shot shows about twelve guests seated at a large restaurant table, all happily toasting the bride and groom.

    The other pictures are of the wedding night and the honeymoon. The wedding night photos show the couple in the bedroom. She is wearing lingerie; he is in a bathrobe with his chest exposed. They are lying on a bed, smiling directly into the camera and toasting with champagne. Brenda looks at these pictures and cracks a barely visible smile. She thinks to herself, “Why on earth would they have a photographer in their bedroom on their wedding night?” The honeymoon photos show the couple on a beach in Panama. Maria explains that they chose Panama because they got a good deal on a package offered by a local resort. Shortly after their honeymoon, Maria’s husband returned to Canada and began the process of sponsoring her for permanent resident status.

    Brenda then turns to the issue of children. “It says on your application that you have a child in the United States.” “Yes, she is grown and goes to college.” “Were you ever married before?” “No, this is my first marriage.” Finally, Brenda moves on to questions about Maria’s relationship with her husband. “It says on your application that you talk to your husband every day for about twenty minutes.” Also included in the file are a stack of phone cards that Maria says she uses to call her husband in Saskatoon. The cards provide no information about the numbers that were dialed or the length of the calls. Since, in themselves, they are not evidence of much, Brenda asks, “So what do you talk about with your husband when you call?” Maria says that they talk about how much they love and miss each other, and how they can’t wait to be together again. Brenda smiles, but then asks, “Okay, but you can’t talk about love all of the time. What else do you talk about?” “We talk about our lives and our future life together, things like that.” At this point in the interview, Brenda starts to drill down, to look for specifics. In her view, real couples talk about more than just love: genuine partners have some knowledge of each other’s past and everyday lives and circumstances.

    “Where does your husband work?” “A trucking company; I think its name is On Time Trucking, or something like that.”

    “What is the name of your husband’s boss?” “I don’t know.”

    “What are the names of some of the people he works with?” “He does not really have any friends at work.”

    “What are the names of his non-work friends?” “He sometimes talks about a guy named Sam, who lives in the same apartment building.”

    “What kind of apartment does he live in, and how many bedrooms does it have?” “I don’t know.”

    “What is his favourite meal?” “Hamburgers.”

    “What does he like to cook for himself?” “Hamburgers.”

    “What was the last movie he saw?” “Friday the Thirteenth.” “So, he likes scary movies?” “Uh huh.”

    This back-and-forth about Maria’s knowledge of her husband and his life in Canada lasts about ten minutes, and then Brenda asks, “Are you looking forward to moving to Saskatoon?” “Yes, very much.” “What is Saskatoon like?” “I don’t really know, but it seems it is a lot like California.” Brenda, visibly surprised by this answer, says, “Really? What makes Saskatoon like California?” Maria pauses for a moment and replies, “There is shopping there, it is clean, things like that.” “Have you ever seen any pictures of Saskatoon in the winter?” “No.”

    The interview lasts for about an hour, and after the last question Brenda takes a few minutes to review the overall application and digest Maria’s answers. She then tells Maria that she is not satisfied that her relationship with her husband is genuine, and that she believes that the primary reason for her marriage is to gain permanent resident status in Canada. She details the “concerns” that have led to her assessment. Maria listens with apparent surprise that her story is not believed and spends the next few minutes trying to address each of Brenda’s concerns by repeating what she has already said. After listening intently, Brenda says, “Thank you, I am ready to make my decision.”

    In the end, what decision do you think Brenda made? Did she grant Maria her family class spousal visa, or did she refuse the application? Was Maria in a real relationship, or was it a fake? Did she get married primarily because she wanted to become a permanent resident in Canada or because she loved her husband and wanted to start a new life with him?

    Canadian visa officers must answer these kinds of questions every day. They make decisions about who should, and should not, be issued a visa to enter Canada, both as permanent and temporary residents.

    Excerpted with permission from Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In, by Vic Satzewich, 2015, UBC Press, Vancouver and Toronto, Canada.

Howard Ramos is a Professor of Sociology at Dalhousie University. His research focuses on issues of social justice including the non-economic elements of immigration and examination of family and non-economic streams of immigration to Canada. 

Published in Books

JACKSON, Mississippi: United States Attorney Gregory K. Davis and Special Agent in Charge Raymond R. Parmer Jr., of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations – New Orleans Field Office, announced last week the unsealing of two federal indictments charging multiple defendants with U-Visa fraud and marriage fraud.

In the 16 count U-Visa Fraud indictment, it is alleged that Law Enforcement Certification forms purporting to certify that aliens were victims of certain crimes, were submitted to the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) along with the U-Visa applications.

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in International

  WASHINGTON – Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday told the US that recent hikes in H-1B and L-1 visa fees for foreign workers were discriminatory and “largely targeted at Indian [...]

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Published in India

Newark, New Jesrsey:  Twenty-one brokers, recruiters, and employers – 10 of whom are South Asians – were arrested Tuesday from across the United States, who allegedly conspired with more than a thousand foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain student and foreign worker visas through a “pay-to-stay” New Jersey college.

The arrests resulted from an extensive probe led by U.S. Immi

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Published in India

by Eva Salinas in Toronto

Mexico’s former Ambassador to Canada, Francisco Suárez Dávila, says Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will likely refuse to attend Justin Trudeau’s proposed North American Leaders' Summit this summer unless the visa requirement on Mexico is revoked — a promise Trudeau and members of his cabinet have reiterated several times since forming government.

“I find it very difficult to concede that President Peña will come to Canada if he has to subject himself to the visa requirement,” Suárez said in an interview from Mexico City, where he retired following the end of his Canadian post in December. “It's a pity because we really could be in the beginning of a golden age of a really grand relationship.”

Trudeau indicated North American relations were a top priority on the campaign trail last year, when he first promised to revoke the visa if elected. He has repeatedly underscored the importance of regional cooperation, most recently in Washington earlier this month, where he emphasized working together on environmental policy and invited U.S. President Barack Obama to a North American Leaders' Summit in Canada this summer. 

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Published in International

by Will Tao in Vancouver 

Dear Hon. Minister McCallum:

I want to take this opportunity to share with my thoughts on family reunification.

Attending an early platform-planning conversation you organized in 2014, it became clear that family reunification and the challenges faced by new Canadian immigrant families formed the central issue of stakeholder concerns with the immigration system.

A year later, in September 2015, I was not at all surprised when the Liberal party released its immigration platform focused on family reunification as a core priority.

I applaud your party’s pledge to give spouses immigrating to Canada immediate permanent residency and drop the current two-year waiting period.

Rather than protect sponsors from being victims of marriage of convenience schemes, this rule trapped foreign national spouses by tying their statuses completely to their sponsors.

Foreign national spouses were left with little recourse in the case of psychological abuse, adultery, or other types of marriage breakdown.

Foreign national spouses were left with little recourse in the case of psychological abuse, adultery, or other types of marriage breakdown. While some channels were available to report wrongdoing, the law put applicants in a difficult and vulnerable situation.

Along a similar line, the return of the maximum age of a dependent child to 22 from 19 is good for Canadians. This rule prevented several families from uniting due to the fact their children were too old and several years away from any possibility of their own economic immigration.

Canadian families and their reunification concerns

Before writing you, I thought I would survey several stakeholders – sponsors and applicants – who are currently in the process of sponsoring spouses and family members.

You may be interested to note that backlogs and processing times are not the overwhelming source of concerns.

Instead, the way immigration authorities are handling their inquiries and applications, and their lack of short-term options in Canada topped the list.

While Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) provides several instruction guides, they are unavailable in non-official languages and often list only minimum requirements.

Because of this, Canadian families have to spend money hiring lawyers and consultants when their applications are refused or when further information is requested by immigration officials.

I believe today’s families deserve more from immigration authorities in terms of greater transparency and better technology.

If unlucky, they will hire an unqualified practitioner that could ruin the family’s entire future. Many of these individuals operate abroad with little oversight by Canadian regulatory bodies.

Once applicants apply, they have a difficult time tracking the process of their applications.

The Electronic Case Application System (eCAS) does not often provide the necessary detail when missing documents and/or information are an issue.

Letters from CIC asking for further information are unnecessarily vague. Call centre agents, who are understandably under significant pressure due to the high volume of calls, are often prevented from providing updates.

For most applicants, who are without professional help, the only solution, Access to Information Requests (ATIPs), are a challenge to navigate.

I believe today’s families deserve more from immigration authorities in terms of greater transparency and better technology.

Often, during the time of application processing, the applicant cannot even visit or reside with their Canadian family member.

Given that processing times can take up to several years, this has the effect of separating families. This is particularly true with permanent resident sponsors, who simultaneously must meet their own Canadian residency obligations.

There is currently a pilot project providing open work permits to eligible spouses and common law partners living in Canada.

To qualify for an open work permit, a foreign national spouse must have be in Canada on a visitor, student, or worker visa prior to making their in-Canada sponsorship and work permit applications.

This program needs to be expanded to include all applicants who are found eligible to be sponsored. A spouse that has overstayed his/her Canadian visa for a legitimate purpose – such as to be with a Canadian partner – should have some options to work legally in Canada.

Canadian families want nothing more than to be here together and start contributing to the struggling economy earlier.

A closing thought 

As you begin your term, Mr. McCallum, please direct your promises at giving Canadian immigrants and their families a greater peace of mind.

Canadian families want nothing more than to be here together and start contributing to the struggling economy earlier.

Yes, we as Canadians, may endure some short-term costs in facilitating this, but these individuals – wives, husbands, partners, children, parents and grandparents – are the foundation of this country and its future. They will pay it back.

Canada is a great country, an attractive country and personally, one that my foreign national fiancée and I hope to call our permanent home. However, it is not our only option and, as my fiancée reminds me on a daily basis, not our easiest option.

Like many other aspiring Canadians, she has an uphill battle to first earn the right, and then find the limited opportunities available, to work or study here. Anything your ministry can do to make our lives easier, and reduce the unnecessary fears engrained by the previous government, would be most welcome.


Will Tao is a Canadian Immigration Lawyer at Larlee Rosenberg, Barristers and Solicitors, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He would like to thank his Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers British Columbia mentee and University of British Columbia law student, Maria Qian, for her helpful edits.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Commentary
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