As the conclusion of the first quarter in 2006 quickly approaches, many applicants seeking permanent admission to Canada may have noticed a resumption of activity in their permanent residence applications at Canadian visa offices. This is contrasted with the inactivity that typically occurs at visa offices in the last quarter of a given year. Indeed, these are busy times at Canada’s overseas missions whose operating budgets have been replenished to meet the processing demands and the annual planning estimates and targets set by Ottawa for the calendar year.
Planning estimates and targets refer to the annual numbers of immigrant visas that are projected to be issued by each Canadian overseas visa office. The Department of Citizenship & Immigration releases its projections at the end of each year. But exactly how these numbers are established and maintained has been the subject of ongoing debate. Practitioners have long claimed that although Canadian immigration policy makers have avoided the Q word, it is widely believed that our immigration system is designed to administer an annual quota system.
Here is how the immigration quota system operates in Canada. Rather than establishing a specific number of visas that will be available for issuance in a particular category and from a particular region in a given year, as is done in the United States, Canada’s immigration officials establish annual target levels for the economic (Skilled Workers, Entrepreneurs, Investors, Self-Employed, Provincial Nominees, and dependents processed abroad of in-Canada landings of Live-in Caregivers) and non economic (Family Class, Refugees and Refugee dependents) Class of immigrants. Resources are then allocated to each mission so that annual target levels will be reached but not exceeded at a visa office. Regardless of how many new applications are submitted to a visa office in a given year, or previous years, output is effectively “frozen” in accordance with the annual target levels set by Ottawa. In fact, the personal performance evaluation of an immigration program manager at each overseas immigration processing office is directly linked to the annual target levels assigned to that mission. Towards the end of the third quarter, as annual targets are being met, most if not all immigration processing activity related to visa issuance slows to a crawl at Canada’s missions and program managers must obtain permission to exceed the assigned target from national headquarters in Ottawa. Immigration officials steadfastly deny that Canada operates under any form of quota system. But experienced practitioners believe otherwise.
In 2003 Canada introduced a regulation whereby applicants seeking admission to Canada, must apply from the visa office that serves their country of nationality or exceptionally, the country of their residence, if the applicant was lawfully admitted to that country for a period of one year. This rule was designed in part to render it more difficult for applicants from countries with the longest delays and with the greatest numbers of applicants to Canada such as China, India, Philippines and Pakistan, to submit their applications at missions offering faster processing routes. Immigration officials denied the Q word was involved and maintained that this rule change was related to a security enhancement to ensure program integrity.
The authority for Canadian immigration policy can be found in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its attendant regulations. It requires that policies and programs are applied in a manner that promotes accountability and transparency by enhancing public awareness of immigration and refugee programs.
As is required by the Act, on November 1 of each year, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration tables before Canada’s Parliament an Annual Immigration Plan of projectedadmissions of newcomers to Canada, broken down only by category, for the subsequent calendar year. The 2005 annual report to Parliament provides for between 225,000 and 255,000 newcomers to be admitted in 2006. But within the Immigration Act, there is no stipulation for any reporting to take place on how the numbers of admissions are to be established in the Economic and Non Economic Classes or from where newcomers are to be selected. What actually occurs in practical terms therefore is that immigration officials, without any legal obligation to account to Parliament, decide by themselves on the numbers of immigrant visas that will be issued by each visa office, within each category, each year. Government funding is then obtained to permit the delivery of such projections on a mission by mission basis.
Thus while Canadian immigration law is seemingly based on the requirement for the Immigration Department to conduct its activities in a transparent manner, the determination of how many immigrants and from where they are selected is entirely decided by a process that is conducted behind closed doors and without meaningful parliamentary reporting.
A review of documentation obtained from the Immigration Department that was published after the November 1, 2005 announcement on annual immigration levels, reveals the numbers* of projected visas to be issued within the Economic Class and Non Economic Class at each of Canada’s overseas visa offices in 2006. The total targeted projection of immigrant visas to be issued in 2006 is 215,500 compared to 216,670 for 2005. There are allowances of approximately 10% of this projection for “over runs”, to ensure that Canadian visa offices reach the broad terms of the Annual Report to Parliament.
Within the Economic Class of immigrants, the projected numbers of visas to be issued for each of the two-year periods, 2006 and 2005, is about the same at 136,000 and 136,940, respectively. The region of Africa & Middle East is expected to deliver a 20% increase in the number of Economic Class immigrant visas in 2006 from 2005 (15,240 from 12,710) with the missions in Accra (71%), Abidjan (54%), Rabat (39%) and Damascus (28%) accounting for the largest increase.
The region of Asia & Pacific is expected to incur a modest reduction in the overall number of Economic Class immigrant visas in 2006 from 2005 (52,320 from 55,280) with the missions in Beijing (31%), and Hong Kong (15%) accounting for the largest declines. The mission in Taipei will incur a doubling of projected visas for permanent residence under the economic class.
The regions of Europe (37,650 from 38,200) and the Americas (30,840 from 30,750) are expected to incur a negligible change in the overall number of Economic Class immigrant visas to be issued in 2006 from 2005. Among the affected missions in Europe, Vienna, Rome and Moscow are projected to incur declines in 2006 from 2005 of 43%, 39% and 37.5% respectively. In the Americas, Kingston (44%), Guatemala (40%) and Port-au-Prince (30%) are expected to deliver fewer economic class visas in 2006 from 2005.
Immigration to Canada is often the subject of lively political debate and frequent controversy. Immigrant groups in Canada seek to promote their agendas and Canadian politicians are often faced with trying to appease many diverging interests, especially during elections. But surely our immigration program, one of the largest of its kind in the world, should be subjected to a more transparent, and rigorous reporting process than what currently takes place, in terms of the numbers of who gets in to Canada and from where they are selected. Such important decisions, which affect the demographic makeup of our country, should not be left to the discretion of the unelected.
* 2005, 2006 Planning Estimates & Targets, Ottawa