The US President Barack Obama announced historic immigration reforms last week, which allow millions of illegal immigrants in the country (about 4.7 million) to avoid deportation and take steps to obtain citizenship.
As per the new reforms, any person who has been living in the US for five years or is a parent of a citizen or permanent US resident can now apply for citizenship and avoid getting deported.
While the reforms have generated criticism from the Republicans, immigration activists feel these changes are not enough. The issue of illegal immigration is a matter of concern in Canada as well, although it is debatable whether reforms similar to those announced by the US would be beneficial here.
Colin Singer, a Canada immigration lawyer from Montreal, views the US reforms as a positive step and says that the Harper government should follow Obama’s example by implementing similar reforms. According to Singer, there are 200,000 undocumented immigrants in Canada, with the majority of them resident in Greater Toronto. “I believe that an amnesty program could be introduced under a joint agreement between Ottawa and each of the provinces as they all have immigration agreements with Ottawa,” says Singer.
According to the 2009 House of Commons Immigration Committee Report, there are significant differences between the Canadian and American illegal immigrant populations. While most of the undocumented immigrants in the US have illegally entered through its southern border, most of the immigrants in Canada entered the country legally, whether as a tourist or on a temporary worker’s visa.
The report states, “Different people react differently to being without status in the country. Some seek to take advantage of Canada’s refugee and social system by filing false refugee claims or fraudulently seeking social benefits. Periodically the media reports stories of people here illegally who repeatedly commit crimes and yet avoid deportation. Less often do we hear the stories of the untold thousands who find jobs under the table and quietly toil for years, often at jobs Canadians refuse, while they raise their children and integrate into Canadian society.”
The report highlights that these invisible immigrants and their families are subject to more abuse than temporary foreign workers and they quietly tolerate substandard working conditions for fear of being deported.
Singer believes that illegal immigrants who are currently employed in Canada could be given temporary work permits by the Canadian government. Those who remain in good standing could apply for permanent residence after a period of 12 to 24 months.
Almost a quarter of Canada’s illegal immigrants could make use of such a scheme and bring in significant tax revenue, Singer adds. “This could represent some $150 million in direct annual taxes and ER contributions in the first year alone. Plus, these individuals would eventually be able to sponsor their immediate family members and this would further increase income taxes, ER payroll taxes and HST consumption tax expenditures far beyond the income tax revenues.”
Canada has offered amnesty to illegal immigrants before but there has never been anything significantly successful. Such programs have often met with criticism that they encourage foreigners to evade rules and hence encourages illegal immigration.
Singer however does not agree with this argument. “The last amnesty in Canada I believe was in the 1980s. So a ‘clean up’ once every 30 years or so will in my opinion, not serve to increase illegal immigration. We have enough safeguards and visa restrictions under the current government that will ensure the status quo for quite some time,” he argues.
According to a report by the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS), McMaster University and the Globalization and Autonomy Project, Canada launched eight ‘regularization’ programs between 1964 and 2004. The report states, “However, nothing was implemented and non‐status people in Canada currently have almost no opportunity to regularize their immigration status. Today, the only official option for non‐status immigrants to get status is through a Humanitarian & Compassionate application. With an estimated 5 per cent success rate, however, this process is obviously far from adequate.”
Source: Yahoo News
The Government’s proposed citizenship bill is ringing alarm bells for the Canadian Bar Association, which feels that some of the more controversial measures included in the bill could be unconstitutional, thereby contradicting the government’s own evaluation of the bill.
In February, the Government had proposed some drastic changes to the Citizenship Act by introducing Bill C-24. However, three contentious measures have earned it the ire of the Canadian Bar Association, which submitted a 30-page response to the House’s citizenship and immigration committee recently.
While the bar association welcomed some of the new measures proposed in Bill C-24 (such as granting citizenship to “lost Canadians”), the three parts that it wants the Government to amend or scrap altogether concern:
- The new eligibility requirements for becoming a citizen
- The requirement that wants prospective citizens to show an intent of residing in Canada and,
- Expansion of the grounds for the revocation of citizenship
Under the proposed changes to the Citizenship Act, the Government would have the authority to strip dual nationals of their Canadian citizenship, if the individuals were “members of an armed force or an organized armed group engaged in armed conflict with Canada”. In addition, the Government could also revoke the citizenship of those individuals, who have been “convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or spying offences, depending on the sentence received”.
The current Citizenship Act only authorises the Government to revoke naturalised Canadians of their citizenship, if the individuals obtained their citizenship via fraudulent means. In addition, such individuals would have the right to attend a full hearing before a judge of the Federal Court.
However, according to provisions made in Bill C-24, the Government could eliminate the right to a hearing in most cases, but not in all the cases. For instance, the immigration minister has the authority to make a decision without needing to conduct a formal hearing.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander appeared before the citizenship and immigration committee and informed the MPs that all the proposals listed in Bill C-24 are constitutionally sound. However, this had no effect on the bar association, which urged the Government to modify Bill C-24 by considering their 20 recommendations that included:
- Deleting the requirement that prospective citizens would need to declare their intent to reside in Canada if granted citizenship
- Amending the rigorous residency requirements needed for becoming a citizen
- Removing the requirement that applicants would need to be present for 183 days during four of the six years before applying for citizenship
- Scrapping the requirement that applicants would need to submit their tax returns for four of the six years before applying for citizenship and,
- Removing the requirement that applicants would need to provide knowledge tests in one of the two official languages
Source: CBC News