Economies shift, tides turn, and in the immigration world, sweeping changes to a major national program is announced on a Saturday. In the summer.
That’s right, on June 26, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced sweeping changes to the nation’s current Federal Skilled Worker Program that became effective immediately. There wasn’t even a “post-marked by” provision to cover those poor souls who filed on Thursday from British Columbia, but who’s package wouldn’t be received in Sydney, N.S., until the following Monday or Tuesday.
By way of background, the Federal Skilled Worker Program is one of the ways Canada vets its intending immigrant applications. Professionals who wish to immigrate to Canada submit these applications in order to gain permanent residence status in Canada.
The rules are always changing, as they must. Making sure the current system responds adequately and efficiently to the (changing) demands of the economic reality of Canada is one of the most important jobs. It secures the future of the country and ensures workforce levels are maintained and the economy does not stagnate.
Admirable. But the changes, when they occur, should make sense and allow for transition periods.
The first major changes announced on June 26 relate to general eligibility. The government had previously instituted a much-maligned list of occupations that would “qualify” for immigration to Canada. Essentially, the applicant had to show he or she had at least one year of work experience in one of the enumerated occupations, as well as meeting a minimum points threshold on an assessment scale. A short form was sent to a central intake office with fees, and a file was created. The application was given a cursory review for eligibility and sent on the visa post abroad for processing.
On June 26, Kenney announced the enumerated occupations were being changed. Drastically. Effective immediately. Nineteen occupations were removed from the list, with only 11 new ones added.
Kept on the list? Cooks, restaurant and food-service managers, and plumbers. Removed from the list? Financial managers, computer and information systems managers, and managers in health care. Added to the list? Social workers, biologists and related scientists, and insurance adjusters.
And then there were “format” changes. Gone were the simple application forms and quick applications. Replacing them was the requirement that a complete application, including all documentation such as police clearances and language test results, is to be forwarded to the central intake office at the outset.
Another new requirement is that all applicants must undergo either English or French language testing. Americans, British, and the French are now required to submit tested proof of fluency in their mother tongue. This requirement has received a lot of press, with many questioning the logic of making skilled professionals from an English-speaking country show proof of their English-speaking ability by way of a written test. I suppose making the requirement universal causes one less area for discretion with an officer, but it seems a very costly step.
And taking away discretion seems to be the idea. The intake officers at the CIO are now responsible for the intake and forwarding of these documents to the applicable visa post abroad. They must review a package and determine whether or not Applicant X is qualified to go forward. Is this a more efficient system? Perhaps studies show it will be, but from my point of view, it just seems like an added opportunity for mistakes and loss of documents.
While the effort to streamline and eradicate a never-ending backlog is important and much needed, these changes appear to be more administrative fumbling the ball.
As an immigration practitioner, I work primarily with corporate clients, individuals who have come to Canada at their employer’s request. Sometimes, in the course of dealing with their temporary mobility, the decision is made to file a permanent residence application, or the employer looks at who will qualify when making long-term project planning decisions.
These types of changes make it extremely difficult to advise clients on long-term solutions. Lawyers are approached by clients, be they corporate or individuals, who are looking for pathways, plans, and strategies for getting what they want in the most reasonable amount of time possible. It is our job to advise them, to help them focus on what is possible now and to plan for what can be possible. These types of sweeping changes make it harder to make these plans because you don’t know when or how these changes will be made.
I can almost guarantee that the week after the announced changes, immigration lawyers the country over were scrambling to review files, requesting language tests from everyone, gathering more documents, and trying to find alternative ways of immigrating for those financial managers who no longer qualified.
And maybe that’s the plus side to the changes themselves. Lawyers are more necessary to this process than ever. Any company or individual must have at their disposal a qualified competent immigration practitioner who understands these changes, is on top of their effect, and will guide them through the minefield. The sea of changes brings uncertainty, without doubt. But in the end, understanding legal changes is the job of the practitioner. These amendments were a nice reminder of the importance of counsel.
Jennifer Nees is president of the Canadian chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a senior associate at business immigration boutique firm, the Bomza Law Group. She can be reached at [email protected].