Mourning the loss of a tradition of transparency

Mourning the loss of a tradition of transparency
As a business immigration lawyer, my days and nights are spent discussing and strategizing around the world of global migration. Getting person X from country A to country B quickly and efficiently in order to meet a business’ goals is a large focus of much of my work. While the big news in immigration this year has dealt with somewhat draconian changes the government is making to the refugee system, big changes are coming for the economic programs as well.
In fact, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has been making the rounds touting his massive immigration overhaul. Offices around the world are being shuttered to promote greater efficiency, applications are being rejigged in order to be able to be submitted online, and he has announced that major changes are coming with respect to Canada’s federal worker system.  

On paper, it sounds great. At a recent speech at the Empire Club, Kenney spoke about the need to “foster an immigration system [that] can fill significant labour shortages across the country and help us meet our economic needs more quickly and efficiently.” Who doesn’t want that type of system?

The minister also addresses an issue I have long felt passionately about: the need to ensure new immigrants are not underemployed or unemployed. I couldn’t agree more. Why bring a doctor to Canada to have her work at Wendy’s?

Again, it all sounds good and reasonable. But looking more closely at the talking points, there becomes a lack of transparency under the guise of extensive government control over the system.

For example, much has been made of the ministry’s intent to eliminate the pre-2008 federal skilled worker backlog by closing all of the nearly 300,000 applications in the queue and returning the applicants’ fees. Now the government has long railed against perceived queue jumpers who file under the refugee system to bypass the proper system. Now, though, Canada is punishing those who went by the book, and, after years of waiting, is refusing to further process their applications.

This sets a dangerous precedent and one that will surely be litigated if/when it comes to pass. Class actions are already in the air. It is in exceedingly bad faith for the government to decide, after taking money and having individuals incur fees for document gathering, etc., that an applicant is no longer worthy of immigrating to Canada because of a backlog that is in no fault of the applicant. Of course, they can re-apply if they fit into Canada’s new occupations-in-demand list, and are otherwise of the right age, language ability, etc. Many will no longer qualify and will have wasted years placing their bets on and faith in Canada.

Kenney states that once there is no backlog, the country can move to a system where it creates a “pool of skilled workers” that will allow resources, as he stated on May 25, to “be put towards actively matching the best recently qualified applicants to current economic needs and even to specific companies, who can use the pool of applicants as a pool of prospective recruits.”

This sounds remarkably close to a dating service to me: a pool of applicants that can be evaluated only by skills, and can equally be eliminated based on criteria such as their country of origin. The process should be fair, but it shouldn’t be based on a reality show premise of “pick who looks the best to you.”

This type of system also does away with any type of transparency. Applicants would not know whether or not they would be matched with an applicant and picked from the pool for a little orphan Annie-like trip to Canada.

Two areas where I agree massive reform is needed are with respect to bringing in more skilled tradespeople to Canada and the recognition of foreign credentials. While a solid plan for tradespeople has not yet been articulated, I do hope it will encourage foreign tradespeople with high-level skills to come to Canada to help train and transfer that knowledge. There are many trades that have significant shortages in this country, and bringing in foreign nationals as permanent residents to allow them to have a vested interest in staying here is of vital importance.

Foreign credential recognition is a particularly vexing issue. Trained professionals often come to Canada and find it very difficult to commence working. Kenney’s suggestion is to make applicants have their educational credentials assessed by a designated and qualified third party to determine their equivalency to Canadian qualifications. He acknowledges this is a plan for an “ideal world,” and I agree. Equivalency processes (like the one I did when I came to Canada as a U.S. qualified lawyer) can be very expensive and time-consuming. However, it is equally important to know that new immigrants will be able to have fulfilling professional lives in addition to fulfilling their dreams of starting a new life in Canada.

In the almost 10 years that I have been practising law in Canada, I have never seen so many significant changes come through so fast. It’s exciting as a practitioner to see conversations about business immigration taking on such a lively tone. Kenney has more than proven himself to be an intelligent and articulate man, and it is heartening to see that he has moved forward with such gusto. I don’t agree with all of the changes, but it’s made coming into work a new adventure every day!

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