(The following opinion was written by Colin R. Singer and appears in the May 21st, 2008 edition of the National Post – Financial Post Commentary section
By Colin R. Singer
Immigration Minister Diane Finley argues that the Harper government is promoting its new immigration bill because of a commitment to reducing the backlog of some 900,000 applicants for Canadian permanent residence and reduce wait times.
She also claimed in a recent letter to FP (May 16, 2008) that Canada welcomed 429,000 “newcomers” last year, the highest number in history. This is incorrect. Newcomers, even in the government’s own literature, are comprised of only permanent resident visa holders. The number 429,649 includes approximately 195,000 temporary permit holders, including study visas and work visas.
Current immigration levels, moreover, are actually lower than they were in the early 1990s as a percent of population. Ms. Finley is the first to lump all three categories into one statistical measure. Why would she do this?
More important, the immigration backlog she refers to is grossly exaggerated and highly misunderstood. Here is why. The 900,000 backlog is largely derived from countries where the government intentionally allocates insufficient resources. Each year, the immigration department informally establishes quotas and staffs government offices so that its missions cannot process more visas than its established quota.
For example, the overall annual quota, expressed by the government as “target numbers” of visas, for the Buffalo, N.Y., office is about 24,500. The Buffalo mission currently has an inventory of approximately 45,000 applicants. On the other hand, the Canadian mission in New Delhi, India, has an annual quota of only 10,500 against a pending inventory of approximately 135,000 cases.
At missions in India, China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Syria, processing delays of 4 to 8 years exist. These are clearly the “under performing” missions. They are under performing because their resources are strategically allocated by Ottawa to ensure underperformance.
Aside from the underperforming missions, most visa offices process applications in about 18-24 months. Most applicants outside the underperforming offices do not complain of long processing delays. Applicants who are highly motivated can come to Canada sooner by making use of the Provincial Nominee Program and the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program if they are being sponsored by a Canadian employer.
Current immigration legislation also provides ample authority for the government to establish limits on the number of applications that may be processed or approved in a year, the number of visas that may be issued in a year, and the measures to be taken when that number is exceeded. There is therefore no valid reason to provide the minister with highly discretionary power to select immigrants.
Furthermore, the rule changes cannot possibly address the backlog of skilled workers because the new law will only take effect from February 28, 2008, onwards.
The system needs fixing. But Canadians should be concerned with the federal government’s claim that it aims to reduce the backlog. The credibility of this department is highly dubious.
In 2003, in the leading federal court decision of its time, the department’s most senior bureaucrat was admonished for misinforming Parliament on the effects of new legislation. The following year, a former immigration minister came under fire over her office’s decision to approve a Canadian permanent residence application ahead of the queue to a Romanian stripper who volunteered on her re-election campaign.
Last week, the majority (Liberal, Bloc and NDP) members of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration proposed that implementation of the new immigration rules be delayed pending further study “with a view to finding a consensus on preferred alternative means on addressing identified challenges”.
Canadians should be asking: Why is this government trying so hard to convince us that it must pass such a controversial law without any meaningful study of its purposes and possible effects?
In law, when the government exercises a discretionary authority legally delegated to it by Parliament, no one can question the rationale for its decision making. Who knows what thinking will influence policy makers in the future? I have no evidence for this, but such authority could give a party in power a valuable tool at the grass roots level. Party organizers could approach ethnic groups in Canada’s largest immigrant communities and hold out the promise that the federal immigration minister will be able to quickly bring their family and friends to Canada, ahead of others in the queue at the under performing missions.
Logic and reason dictates that further meaningful study must be conducted before an important legislative initiative of this magnitude takes hold–especially since the stated objectives will not be achieved through these reforms.
Colin R. Singer is immigration counsel for www.immigration.ca.