Commentary by Howard Ramos in Halifax
With a rapidly aging population and low birth rate, Canada’s Atlantic provinces have turned full force towards immigration.
Nova Scotia, for instance, has nearly doubled its allocation of provincial nominees and Premier Stephen McNeil has been a vocal supporter of immigration as a solution to the province’s problems.
This being the case, it is worth asking how immigrants fare there.
Individuals such as Globe and Mail columnist, John Ibbitson, believe that, “Immigrants avoid the Maritimes because of the lack of economic opportunities and because they tend to gravitate toward communities that already have newcomers.”
However, a recent report for Pathways to Prosperity (P2P) by Yoko Yoshida, Madine VanderPlaat and myself of Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities, in partnership with the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), suggests that immigrants do well in Nova Scotia.
The report busts a number of myths. The first is that immigrants don’t find work in the province.
This may have been the case a couple of decades ago, however, recent economic immigrants who arrived in Nova Scotia between 2010 and 2012 out-performed newcomers in other parts of Canada.
Immigrants to the province actually have higher rates of employment one year after arriving (76 per cent) compared to Canada as a whole (73 per cent).
Another busted myth is that immigrants will be underemployed compared to other parts of the country.
The report finds that one year after landing in Nova Scotia, economic principal applicants’ average earnings are $44,000 compared to $36,000 nationally.
Changes in policy and the success of settlement organizations, such as ISANS, have clearly worked at better integrating recent cohorts of immigrants to the province. This is largely because of the work they do in terms of language training, employment and interview coaching, and bridging programs that link immigrants to specific job sectors.
One more busted myth is that immigrant spouses and partners do not fully contribute to the economy.
The report shows that 96 per cent of spouses and partners who come with economic immigrants and 91 per cent of family sponsored spouses and partners are of “prime” working age, between 20 and 55 years old.
The majority of spouses and partners are also employed one year after arrival and over a third have a university degree.
When spouses and partners immigrating to Nova Scotia are compared to immigrants settling across Canada we find that rates of employment are about the same, however, when earnings are examined the report again shows an advantage for family sponsored spouses and partners in Nova Scotia.
For those landing between 2010 and 2012, average earnings were $26,000 one year after arriving compared to $22,000 for immigrants across Canada. Policy makers should not underestimate the economic potential of sponsored family immigrants.
Such findings show that the federal government’s decision to increase the cap on immigrants to the province is well justified and that Nova Scotia is right to continue to ask for more immigrants.
If the trends identified in the report continue, more autonomy in crafting immigration policy to the region with a broader mix of immigration pathways could be a way to stem population pressures and even grow the economy.
The report, however, also identifies some trends that should be examined further and that need policy attention.
In particular, when a comparison is made between economic and family-sponsored stream immigrants, interesting findings emerge.
For instance, among cohorts of immigrants landing in Nova Scotia in the 1990s and early 2000s, family-sponsored spouses and partners rivalled and even outperformed economic-stream principal applicants, which suggests that there is an important role for the family stream in the immigration mix. This is a trend unique to the region and one that has shifted in recent years.
Also worth policy attention are the noticeable differences identified in the report between economic versus family-sponsored spouses and partners.
The economic successes have been greater for spouses and partners coming through the family pathway rather than those who come with economic principal applicants. It is unclear why this might be the case and this should be a focus of future analysis.
A need for more research
Questions like these mean that it is important for Nova Scotia to continue to invest in researching immigration.
It is through investigation and critical review that strong evidence-based policies can be developed.
Such policies combined with quality efforts by settlement organizations are what have led to the dramatic shift in how immigrants fare in Nova Scotia.
Premier McNeil and Immigration Minister Lena Diab, who is the daughter of first generation immigrants herself, are right to encourage immigrants to come to Nova Scotia. They will likely be successful in integrating into jobs and making meaningful contributions to the province.
It is now time to let the rest of Canada in on the secret: immigrants do well in Nova Scotia.
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.
Dear Minister John McCallum,
We are reaching out to you as a group of Canadians and immigrants with a vested interest in seeing improvements made in the immigration system, a system we know all too well, is broken.
Our group is called Canada Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners. We are an advocacy and support group of more than 3,000 spousal sponsorship families.
The group began as a response to the painfully slow process of sponsoring a spouse for permanent residency; to campaign for improved processing of inland spousal sponsorship applications.
In parallel, we also provide support via the sharing of information and guidance through what is an intensely difficult process. However, our main goal is to address the difficulties we face at the source, with improved processing times and improved conditions for Inland sponsored spouses.
Program allows families to survive
We would like to bring your attention to the upcoming expiration on Dec. 22, 2015 of the one-year pilot program that allows spouses of Canadians under spousal sponsorship permanent resident applications to apply for open work permits.
Processing times for the first stage of the spousal sponsorship application are currently at an unbearably long 17 months, and no lasting improvements have been seen.
With the continuation of the work permit pilot program, Canadian families will be better able to endure this punitive wait without falling into crippling debt and suffering the lasting damages of great emotional stress.
The Canadian Bar Association, as well as several immigration experts, has raised this issue before. In a letter sent to Mike MacDonald, Director General of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on May 6, 2015, the Bar expressed the following:
“… [W]hy is the Open Work Permit Pilot Program limited to those with valid temporary status in Canada? Those without valid status are often in the most desperate need of a work permit.”
Also, in an interview for the documentary The Backlog, Life Doesn’t Wait, immigration lawyer and a former senior manager at CIC, Klaudios Mustakas, said:
“If the person is out of status, then give them status because, at the end of the day, whether you do it in four months or whether you do it in 26 months you’re still going to give that person permanent status, so why put the family through the financial hardship that is involved? If the sponsored person is the breadwinner, how is that family supposed to survive? From a humanitarian point of view, we are doing them a disservice by having to wait that long. You’re giving them a two-year conditional visa anyways, so if you’re worried about fraud, you have two years to determine whether that case is fraudulent.”
The many benefits for Canada at large
The open work permit pilot program has provided many benefits to Canadian families and to Canadian society:
These benefits would be made even greater by the inclusion of all sponsored spouses.
For the aforementioned reasons, we feel that it would be beneficial for sponsorship couples and their communities for the pilot program to not only be continued as a permanent policy, but also extended to include all inland sponsored spouses, regardless of immigration status.
We humbly request that this be done before the expiration on Dec. 22.
Canada Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners
This letter was sent by members of the Canada Spousal Sponsorship Petitioners group to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum, the Parliament Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Arif Virani, and members of Parliament for the ridings where these Canadian families live.
This letter has been edited for clarity and published with permission here.
by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given his Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship a list of top priorities to work on in the coming months.
While leading efforts to resettle 25,000 refugees in the coming months was number one on the list, John McCallum was also asked to work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act [Bill c 24] that gave government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.
These goals were set out in a mandate letter sent to McCallum along with similar ones to each of the 29 other cabinet ministers. The initiative is seen as part of the Prime Minister’s promise to provide open and transparent governance.
The letter to McCallum did not provide any details about the refugee resettlement efforts, stating: "Lead government-wide efforts to resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria in the coming months." On Thursday, the minister had said he and the rest of the cabinet had a "very good discussion" on providing "quick and substantial help to some of the most distressed people on the planet."
While the priorities draw heavily on the Liberal’s election platform commitments, McCallum was told that his overarching goal will be “to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to its success.”
Refugee health care
Another priority listed in the letter is full restoration of the Interim Federal Health Program that provides limited and temporary health benefits to refugees and refugee claimants.
McCallum had said that the Harper government’s 2012 decision to cut refugee health care was “economically foolish” and ended up costing more in the long run.
“It might have saved a few dollars for the federal government, but people who are really sick don’t just die in the streets. They go to the emergency (rooms) and hospitals, and the cost of that is greater than the cost of what they would have received alternatively,” McCallum told CTV.
On the family reunification front, the mandate letter talks of bringing forward a proposal to double the number of entry applications for parents and grandparents of immigrants to 10,000 a year as part of the Annual Immigration Levels Plan for 2016.
It also spells out giving additional points under the Entry Express system for applicants who have Canadian siblings and increasing the maximum age for dependents to 22, from 19, to allow more immigrants to bring their children to Canada.
McCallum was asked to bring forward a proposal regarding permanent residency for new spouses entering Canada and develop a plan to reduce application processing times for sponsorship, citizenship and other visas.
He was also asked to establish an expert human rights panel to help him determine designated countries of origin (from where refugee applications will be discouraged), and provide a right to appeal refugee decisions for citizens from these countries.
Modifying the temporary foreign workers program to eliminate the $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee to hire caregivers was another priority on the list. McCallum was told to work with provinces and territories to develop a system of regulated companies to hire caregivers on behalf of families.
The Caregiver Program had come under fire by the previous government for its alleged misuse as a proxy family-reunification program.
But given Canada’s ageing population and the program’s appeal to both caregivers and families, Ratna Omidvar, the executive director of the Global Diversity Exchange, had in a column suggested that “rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” the government should retain the program and strengthen its integrity.
Omidvar said the government itself could become the first player in recruitment, assessing candidates to create a pool of qualified caregivers in the same way it was proposing to create a pool of job-ready skilled immigrants.
Other mandates for McCallum included him leading efforts to facilitate the temporary entry of low-risk travelers, including business visitors, and lifting the visa requirement for Mexico.
Also telegraphed were restoring the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and not requiring new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.
In his letter, the Prime Minister said the government’s agenda will be further articulated through Cabinet discussions and in the Speech from the Throne when Parliament opens.
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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. 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.
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.
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.
by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver
In my work assisting senior lawyers at my firm with their immigration appeal division and federal court cases, I have found myself increasingly handling cases where Chinese-Canadian and Indo-Canadian sponsors have had their sponsorship applications for spouses living overseas rejected due to the inability to prove the ‘genuineness’ of their marriage. (See Storify here)
‘Genuineness’ is a term used by the Canadian government to measure the validity of a marriage – in other words is it real, or is it a sham?
Last year, my colleague, Steven Meurrens, actually filed an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He wanted access to the training manuals immigration officers used to assess the ‘genuineness’ of marriages, in which a request to sponsor a spouse to Canada was being made.
As a result of Meurrens request, a document surfaced that was used at CIC-Vegreville, the CIC office that was responsible for assessing spouse-in-Canada sponsorships up until February 2014. This is the same category currently stuck in a much-maligned 26-month backlog that has devastated several Canadian families.
I find the document he received, titled APR Training Module 9 - Spouse-Common-Law Partner in Canada Handout #5, to be troubling in many ways.
Among the indicators of a ‘non-genuine’ marital relationship listed:
An additional concern listed later in the document states:
To provide context, when CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.”
The marriage is analyzed for 'genuineness' and then also to determine whether the primary purpose of the marriage was to obtain a privilege or benefit under immigration legislation. The finding of a marriage to be fake is grounds to deny the application.
Without divulging too much personal detail, I am in the process of proposing to my own foreign national girlfriend. We met on academic exchange and were just one of several relationships formed between non-Chinese international students and Chinese foreign national students.
Our favourite date night activity, because neither of us is wealthy, happens to be buying vegetables and cooking creative dinners together.
Also, if my future wife and I are unable to host a traditional marriage in China, and we choose to marry in Canada, it will be small affair with a few of my closest friends and colleagues, likely in a Chinese restaurant.
As my own parents reminded me not too long ago, their marriage took place in a Chinese restaurant in Shanghai, where there were no rings, no photographer, and I can imagine, no lip kisses. My two sets of grandparents met, shared a nice dinner, and took respective bus rides back home.
For my many friends who, in the beautiful cultural mosaic that is Canada, are in mixed-race, interfaith, common-law or LGBTQ2+ relationships, the CIC list simply does not reflect their cultural ideals of marriage and ‘genuineness’.
Are Indicators Attainable for Most Canadians?
Many Canadians, and particularly new immigrants, have to make economic sacrifices that prevent them from having fancy marriages and long honeymoons.
Many immigrants with unrecognized degrees must start in low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet.
Having large weddings is further complicated by the fact many Canadians are unable to have their extended family and friends living abroad attend their weddings due to obstacles in obtaining Canadian visas. Many of these weddings are understandably small with few guests in attendance.
When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples (mostly older, non-immigrant, Caucasian ones) that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.
I also found several younger individuals, who say they are considering skipping the white dress, diamond ring approach for something simpler or more creative. One of my high school friends even reached out and told me that the ring for her immigrant marriage would be blue sapphire.
Too Far in Scrutinizing Immigrant Marriages?
While marriage fraud is indeed a concern, I believe there are more than enough punitive measures in our immigration legislation to punish those who engage in sham marriages.
For example, there is currently a five-year bar in place for misrepresentation on immigration applications. There are also severe criminal sanctions against those who set up for-profit fake marriages.
This CIC list, on the other hand, punishes all Canadians who wish to sponsor their significant other to come here, placing on them culturally and economically insensitive standards for proving the ‘realness’ of their marriage.
Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.
It is my hope that CIC will ultimately come out to say that this list is not being used, and further to publicly state, on record, the full list of indicators that will be considered and the rationale behind them.
A graduate of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Will Tao is an Articling Student at a leading boutique Canadian immigration law firm in Vancouver where he will begin as an Associate in June 2015. He is the product of Chinese immigrant parents and has a significant other overseas whom he hopes to sponsor to Canada in the near future.
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The federal government is considering imposing language and education requirements on people whose husbands or wives want to sponsor them as immigrants, the Star has learned.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit