Canada Immigration Blogs by Attorney David Cohen


Out with the old, in with the new

December 31st, 2014

It is fitting that the Canadian government has chosen the first day of a new year for the launch of the Express Entry immigration selection system.

Gone are the days when most economic immigrants were selected by a supply-driven, first-in first-out system. That has been replaced by a shiny new demand-driven expression of interest model named Express Entry that aims to issue Canadian permanent resident visas within six months of submitting a full application.

Like it or dislike it, it doesn’t matter. Express Entry is here and knowing how you can make it work to your advantage is key to maximizing your chances for a successful application.

On the surface, the Express Entry process looks simple enough. First you upload your profile on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) portal and if you meet the requirements of one of three federal immigration programs you will be admitted to the Express Entry pool. Once in, you will be ranked against all the other candidates in the pool and if you rank high enough you will receive an invitation to apply for permanent residence.

As we all know, looks can sometimes be deceiving. The Express Entry system is in fact somewhat more complicated than it looks. Much goes on behind the scenes and there are a lot of moving targets. For example, profiles are not static. Your comprehensive ranking score may increase or decrease over time. Besides, the make-up of the pool varies with each new entrant and after each selection draw. Fishing in the pool will be the federal and most provincial/territorial governments, as well as employers. Each of them holds tickets to Canada. How to appeal to one with alienating the others?

In time, the Express Entry system will not seem so mysterious. We can begin to demystify the process by highlighting certain misconceptions about Express Entry. Last month, CICnews published an excellent article on this very subject. Click here to read ‘Express Entry: Ten Misconceptions’.

Lastly, I would like to wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year. I look forward to continuing my blog in 2015.

Not So Fast

December 3rd, 2014

January 1, 2015 will see the start of the new Express Entry selection system that will priority process the permanent resident applications for the most desirable economic immigrants.

Express Entry is the result of years of tinkering by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, under a Conservative government that is determined to see Canada come out ahead in the global competition for top-tier foreign talent.

Some, like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, are in favour of the new selection system for the central role that employers can play. While not everyone who receives an invitation to apply under Express Entry will have a validated Canadian job offer, virtually everyone with a validated job offer will receive an invitation to apply.

Others, like some professors at Ryerson University, decry the coming selection model as one that mainly serves employers and for its lack of transparency. They call it a throwback to the Railway Act of 1925, which gave Canada’s two railways pretty much full sway over immigration policy.

No matter the side we’re on, there is a common issue that merits more discussion. I am referring to the concept of program integrity, or in other words, the ability of the new immigration selection system to thwart the inevitable fraudulent attacks that are sure to come.

Let’s put this in some perspective. A validated Canadian job offer in a skilled position is a ticket to permanent residence. In similar circumstances under the U.S. immigration selection system, would-be immigrants are paying middlemen upwards of $50,000 for a job that comes with a U.S. Green Card. Should we expect anything different?

People in this industry know very well that immigration and fraud go hand-in-hand, notwithstanding government efforts to crack down on perpetrators. Sure, we can have laws on the books in Canada, but they are of no use in the countries where money exchanges hands.

As the name implies, Express Entry means just that. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is aiming to issue permanent resident visas to invited candidates within six months of receiving a completed electronic application. Few candidates are ever interviewed. From a program integrity and security perspective, that worries me. I understand that big and small businesses want their labour here quickly, but at what cost to the rest of us?

There is a need for rigorous anti-fraud protocols as part of the new immigration selection system, and I, along with most Canadians, would like to hear more about that from the people in charge.

Caregivers Finally Catch A Break

November 5th, 2014

Talk about a change of heart.

A few months back my blog dealt with the negative commentary emanating from Canadian government officials and targeting live-in caregivers, also known as the extended Filipino community in Canada.

Lo and behold, last week the very same government announced significant reforms to the caregiver program that can only be seen as hugely beneficial to the caregivers themselves.

Changes to the program include ending the live-in requirement. It will remain an option, but will no longer be mandatory. No longer will caregivers be forced to sleep where they work and have their wages garnished for room and board. It’s about time.

Of utmost importance to caregivers is the length of time they are separated from their spouses and children back home. As it stands now, a caregiver must first complete two years of full-time work in Canada before applying for Canadian permanent residence status and including their immediate family members in the application. Processing times are long and, in some cases, extend well beyond three years. Currently, there are 60,000 applications awaiting a decision. The government has committed to clear the backlog completely by 2016. A cap of 5,500 applications per year has now been imposed, with the goal of processing permanent resident applications within six months. If this goes as planned, it will be a praiseworthy accomplishment.

As I have stated previously, caregivers are dedicated, hard-working individuals. They do the type of work that Canadians shun, at any reasonable wage. I, for one, am glad that they are finally getting their just due. Better late than never.

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy . . .

October 15th, 2014

The recent news that Postmedia had purchased the Sun Media chain certainly raised a few eyebrows, not least my own. Media commentators were quick to ask some obvious questions: Is this the print media’s last stand? A survival strategy? Will shrinking newsrooms result in a lack of diversity and poorer content? Can independent media in Vancouver, for example, truly thrive if three of the four dailies are owned by the same company?

But one question came to my mind immediately: Will this purchase change the editorial stance of the Sun Media titles? We live in hope.

When it comes to immigration, Canadian media organisations, much like the Canadian people, generally follow a progressive, open-minded and nuanced line of thinking.  Canada is known around the world as a country with a broad immigration policy, which is reflected in our ethnic diversity, sustained peace in our land, and economic security. Canada is, quite frankly, one of the most successful nations in history — and immigration has had a huge part to play in that.

If, however, Sun Media newspapers were your predominant, or indeed only, source of news on immigration to Canada, you would be left with the impression that Canada plays host to thousands upon thousands of immigrants for whom the only goal is to take welfare, then sponsor family members to join them in Canada and do likewise. You would be led to believe that the average immigrant is a scrounger, out to take the ordinary taxpaying Canadian for a ride. This is, at the very least, disingenuous and reactionary. At its worst, it is dangerous. Sun Media’s views on immigration lie somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun.

Take, for example, a news article published in the Vancouver Sun just last week. The article states that median employment earnings for men in B.C. have plummeted by a third since 1976, and that, according to economists, immigration is one of the principal reasons for this. But there is not a single direct quote from any economist to back up this claim.

A reader of the news sections of Sun Media publications could be forgiven for not noticing that lead statements such as that in the Vancouver Sun article are not backed up, but the mask truly slips when it comes to the Op-Ed sections.

In a Toronto Sun article titled Work? Why Bother!’ published on October 5, 2014, columnist Ezra Levant says that Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program is “Canada’s answer to illegal Mexican immigration in the U.S.” He then goes on to discuss the issue of Mexicans in the U.S. for the next four paragraphs. This is not just the very definition of a straw man argument; it also insidiously implies that temporary foreign workers have committed some sort of offence just by their very presence in Canada. It scapegoats people who have not carried out any crime.

Furthermore, an article by Salim Mansur published in the Toronto Sun in January, 2012, essentially says that immigration leads to acts of terrorism. Mansur cites the infamous “rivers of blood” speech given by British MP Enoch Powell in 1968, in which he urged Britain to significantly curb the number of immigrants it allows into the country. That speech referred to Powell’s conversation with a constituent who stated that “In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” Powell, expecting that his audience would fear such a scenario, made the claim that allowing visible minorities to immigrate is “like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre.”

And yet, the revisionist Sun Media Op-Ed pages are willing to reference Powell’s words as a vision for Canada. Indeed, Mansur says that “four decades later [after Powell’s speech], especially in the aftermath of the July 2005 suicide bombings in London and concerns over ‘homegrown terrorism’ many now view Powell’s Birmingham speech as prophetic,” drawing a direct line from immigration to terrorism. Canadians don’t fall for this kind of hysterical coverage.

I could go on and give other examples, but that could take me until Christmas. Postmedia, mainly through its National Post newspaper, has typically offered a more balanced editorial stance on matters concerning immigration. Let us hope this rubs off on their new acquisition.

Falling Through The Cracks

October 1st, 2014

For some reason, many individuals on open work permits in the province of Quebec are not eligible for medical coverage under the provincial health plan. It would make some sense to deny coverage to individuals on open work permits who were not gainfully employed, but why deny benefits to working tax payers?

Let me share an example of a family in Quebec, who I know quite well. They are a married couple with a five year-old Canadian-born daughter. The mom came to Canada on a study permit five years ago and is in graduate school at a prestigious university. The dad is on an open work permit and has been employed in a full-time job for the past four years. They have always maintained legal immigration status and applied for Canadian permanent resident visas four years ago. They received Quebec selection certificates a long time ago.

Through no fault of their own, the federal portion of their permanent resident applications have gone from one delay to another, with the end of the process still not in sight. Although the husband paid his fair share of taxes, neither he nor his wife are entitled to health benefits offered to Quebec residents and to individuals on work permits of a non-open variety. Worse still, their Canadian-born daughter is also not eligible for public health insurance in Quebec because of her parents’ status. How can that be justified?

La place des enfants est à l’école / Children Belong In School

September 3rd, 2014

Lettre ouverte aux :
L’honorable Yves Bolduc, Ministre de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, et
L’honorable Kathleen Weil, Ministre de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion

La place des enfants est à l’école

Madame la Ministre,
Monsieur le Ministre,

Pour la plupart des enfants, le mois de septembre marque le début d’une nouvelle année et la fin officielle des grandes vacances. Les feuilles commencent à tomber et une nouvelle routine redémarre. Le stress et l’excitation viennent alors se mêler à l’idée de devoir s’adapter à un nouvel environnement. L’école, avec toutes ses opportunités, ses longues amitiés à venir, fait de ces années les plus précieuses dans la vie d’une personne.

Pourtant, des milliers d’enfants à travers le Québec n’ont pas l’occasion de vivre cette expérience à cause de la situation de leurs parents dans cette province. Certains d’entre eux sont demandeurs du statut de réfugié ou demandeurs d’asile dont la requête a été refusée. D’autres sont de simples touristes ou encore des travailleurs temporaires ayant demeuré au Canada après l’expiration de leur visa. Les parents ne sont pas les victimes ici et ce sont les enfants qui se retrouvent sanctionnés.

C’est un fait établi maintenant que des milliers d’enfants ne peuvent pas aller à l’école au Québec. En effet,  la loi sur l’instruction publique du Québec mentionne que seuls les résidents en situation régulière et certaines catégories d’immigrants peuvent avoir accès à l’éducation publique. Nos voisins en Ontario ou encore aux Etats-Unis autorisent ces enfants à aller à l’école, quelque que soit leur situation et nous obligent à constater qu’en matière de bon sens, de compassion et de devoir, le Québec est à la traîne. Les conséquences sont ainsi reportées sur les nouvelles générations et une telle punition du fait d’autrui est injustifiée. Les enfants sont-ils censés être punis pour une infraction qu’ils n’ont pas commise ? Cela reflète-t-il nos valeurs en tant que Québécois ? Bien sûr que non.

Certaines personnes évoquent l’argument selon lequel les contribuables ne devraient pas payer pour les enfants dont les parents sont en situation irrégulière. Cependant, l’histoire nous a montré ce qu’il advient des enfants qui ne vont pas à l’école. Ces enfants sont désœuvrés et deviennent inapte à se conformer aux institutions ou aux personnes incarnant l’autorité, réagissant en conséquence par des actes de désobéissance civile. Pouvons-nous les accuser ? Ces mêmes institutions et ces mêmes personnes les ont déjà abandonnés.

L’étape suivante de ce cycle s’aggrave davantage lorsque ces enfants entrent dans l’adolescence et s’entraînent dans la petite délinquance. Or, faire appliquer les lois et offrir des services sociaux est bien plus coûteux que ce que l’éducation aurait coûté initialement.

Aucun argument économique ou humanitaire ne saurait justifier qu’un enfant soit privé de scolarité. Les contribuables perdent de l’argent, les enfants perdent l’opportunité, ou plutôt le droit à recevoir une éducation, les collectivités connaissent des difficultés sociales et les forces de police doivent agir sur des problèmes qui auraient pu être entièrement évités. Ainsi, nous créons une société qui se distingue, dès le berceau, entre les nantis et les démunis.

Soyons clairs : ces enfants n’ont violé aucune loi et sont néanmoins sanctionnés. Ils devraient pouvoir se sentir à l’aise au sein d’un environnement pédagogique sûr, nous devrions pouvoir accompagner nos enfants dans leur apprentissage et partager avec eux la patinoire pendant les entraînements de hockey. L’école pourrait, et devrait représenter un endroit de répit pour eux, contrairement à l’atmosphère qui règne à la maison, où les parents s’inquiètent à chaque fois que l’on frappe à leur porte. Laissons ces enfants aller à l’école, de la maternelle au CEGEP. Donnons à ces enfants les outils les menant à la réussite. Ne dénigrons pas leur droit fondamental tel qu’il est consacré par l’article 26 de la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Homme des Nations Unies, dont le Canada est signataire.

En tant que père, en tant que Québécois, en tant que contribuable, je pense que cette situation ne reflète pas les valeurs qui nous tiennent à cœur. Ce système mène à des situations désastreuses. Peut-on encore voir le Québec comme un leader progressiste au sein de la fédération Canadienne si une telle situation perdurait ? Je suis convaincu que les Québécois, s’ils avaient eu connaissance de cette situation, auraient souhaité que ces enfants reçoivent une éducation, quelque soit leur origine. Il est temps de leur en offrir une. Il est temps d’ouvrir les portes de nos écoles à ces enfants qui vivent au Québec.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame la Ministre, Monsieur le Ministre, l’expression de ma considération respectueuse,

David Cohen

An open letter to:

The Honourable Yves Bolduc, Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports
The Honourable Kathleen Weil, Minister of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusiveness

Children Belong In School

Dear Ministers,

For most children, September marks the beginning of a new year and the unofficial end of summer. The leaves start falling, the regular routine comes back, and a mixture of excitement and nervousness builds up as they wonder how they will adapt to new surroundings. School, and the opportunities and lifelong friendships it offers children, make those years some of most exciting in any person’s life.

Several thousand children across Quebec, however, do not get the opportunity to share in this simple right of passage. Their parents have no legal status in the province. Either they are refugee claimants or asylum seekers whose applications were rejected, tourists who overstayed their visas, or temporary workers who remained in Canada once their visas expired. But the parents are not the victims here. No, instead the provincial government has punished their children.

It is now known that several thousand children will be unable to attend school in Quebec because Quebec’s Education Act says that only legal residents and certain categories of immigrants can receive free public education. Our neighbours in Ontario and the United States allow children to attend classes regardless of their legal status. When it comes to compassion, common sense and doing the right thing, Quebec is falling behind. We are passing punishment on to new generations, and such vicarious punishment is unwarranted. Should minors be punished for offences they did not commit? Does this reflect our values as Quebecers? The answer is ‘no’.

There will be people who make the argument that taxpayer dollars should not be spent on educating children whose parents remain in Canada without legal status. But history has shown us what happens when children don’t attend school — they become bored and soon begin to resent the institutions and people who wield power over them, and react accordingly by way of civil disobedience. Who can blame them? Those same institutions and people have already abandoned them.

The next step in the cycle comes as these children enter adolescence and begin to commit petty crime. Law enforcement and social services then have to pick up the pieces, all of which costs far more than what an education would have cost in the first place.

There is no economic argument to be made for denying an education to children, nor is there a humanitarian one. The taxpayer loses money, the child loses the opportunity (sorry, the right) to receive an education, local communities experience social problems, police forces have to deal with entirely avoidable issues, and we create a society clearly demarcated, from the cradle, by haves and have-nots.

Let us be clear: These children have broken no law, yet they are being punished. That is wrong. These are children who ought to feel comfortable in a safe educational environment, learning with our own children and sharing the ice with them during hockey practice. School could, and should, be a respite for them — somewhere that stands in contrast to a no doubt distressing situation at home, where anxious parents worry about each and every knock at the door. Let these children go to school, from kindergarten right through to CEGEP. Give children the tools to succeed. Don’t deny them their human rights, as enshrined in article 26 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is signatory.

As a father, as a Quebecer, as a taxpayer, I believe this situation does not reflect the values that Quebecers hold dear. It’s a recipe for disaster. Can we still think of Quebec as the progressive leader in the Canadian partnership if such a scenario is allowed to continue? I bet Quebecers, if they knew about this, would feel strongly that children, regardless of their backgrounds, deserve an education. It’s time to give them one. It’s time to open up our schools to all children living in Quebec.

Yours Sincerely,

David Cohen

Punishing Spousal Sponsors

August 5th, 2014

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently boasted that “Canada has one of the most generous family reunification programs in the world”. Maybe so, but don’t ask Canadian citizens and permanent residents, who are sponsoring their foreign national spouses, to second that opinion, especially those caught in the quagmire of the in-Canada sponsorship process.

The current immigration regulations permit a foreign national spouse to be inside or outside Canada during the sponsorship process, so long as, in the former case, the foreign national is already legally in Canada when the process begins.

In the past year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has doubled the processing time on inland applications and there is feeling among many of the individuals affected that the additional delay has been manufactured. At best, it is seen by some as a deterrent to utilizing the inland option and, at worst, it may be a signal that CIC soon intends to put an end to the in-Canada sponsorship option.

Spousal sponsorship is a two-stage process for both in-Canada and outside-Canada applications. The first stage always occurs in Canada and it involves an assessment of the Canadian sponsor’s eligibility. The second stage is about assessing the foreign national and it includes health and criminal clearances. Last year, the first stage of inland applications was taking six months to complete and it now takes eleven months. To put this in perspective, the first stage of outside Canada applications is being completed in less than two months. There is no difference in the work being done. It’s purely a policy decision.

For in-Canada applicants, completion of the first stage of the process is significant. It is only then that the foreign national spouse is entitled to a work permit and a provincial health card. The longer wait is more than an inconvenience; it causes financial and emotional hardship. It doesn’t have to be this way. Canada grants open work permits to the spouses of international students and many temporary foreign workers, right from the moment they enter Canada. Nobody is saying this is wrong, but what is available to temporary foreign residents with few ties to Canada should also be given to spouses of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. After all, they are residents-in-waiting. Why punish them for doing what the regulations allow?

Next on the Government’s Hit List

July 3rd, 2014

First, it was the 280,000 Federal Skilled Worker applicants, most of them from Africa and Asia, whose files were terminated. Next, it was the 50,000 plus Federal Investor applicants, most of them from China, whose files were terminated. It appears that live-in caregivers are next in line.

Let’s be very clear. When you denigrate Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP), you attack Canada’s Filipino community.  The LCP has been around for 22 years and 90% of primary applicants are women from the Philippines. Most of the 625,000 Filipinos now in Canada can trace their arrival back to the LCP. You cannot separate the LCP from Canada’s Filipino community.

Recently, there has been a spate of national newspaper articles that have called into question both the value of the LCP and the bona fides of the Canadian Filipino community. The impetus for this negativity does not emanate from ordinary Canadians but rather from the Canadian government in the form of statements by cabinet ministers and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) reports.

Government-sourced information of a disparaging nature has been pushed out to the public-at-large at a fast and furious pace. The first news story I came across claimed that a CIC internal report showed that 40% of all LCP job offers were being made by Canadian Filipinos to their extended family members overseas. The take-away from this article is that the LCP is less about genuine Canadian employment and more about family re-unification. A few days later, another news story appeared, which raised the ante by claiming that up to 70% of LCP applicants were extended family members of their supposed Canadian employers. The final word on this matter came from Jason Kenney, current Employment Minister and former Immigration Minister. Minister Kenney let Canadians know about the time he went to Manila a few years back to give a seminar on nannies’ rights. According to the Minister, each and every one of the 70 caregivers in attendance was going to work for a relative in Canada. To boot, all they wanted to know about was the penalty they would be subjected to for working outside the employer’s home illegally. Really, Mr. Kenney? You want us to believe that caregivers would ask that question to the Immigration Minister before departing to Canada?

As if this propaganda weren’t enough to poison the minds of Canadians, we have also recently been informed that according to internal documents, fraud is an ongoing problem in the LCP and that the absence of mothers was causing infidelity in the Philippines. I am not making this up.

The problem with this unfavorable publicity is that it just doesn’t fit with Canadians’ perception of the Canadian Filipino community. The fact of the matter is that I have never met anyone in Canada, who had a bad word to say about Filipinos in our country, especially caregivers.

Live-in Caregivers are dedicated, hard-working individuals. They not only serve as nannies but also look after the elderly and disabled among us. The type of work they do would never be done by Canadian workers, no matter what the wage offered. We may call their work low-skilled but that is only because of the meager wages they earn. Just ask any Canadian whose elderly parent is being taken care of by a compassionate live-in caregiver if the work being done is low-skilled.

The main reason Filipino women caregivers are willing to work long hours for low pay in Canada is to gain Canadian Citizenship and sponsor loved ones to immigrate to Canada. That is the quid pro quo and it was never a problem until the government chose to make it one.

So what is behind the negativism and the not so veiled threat to do away with the LCP? I am not sure, but it is interesting that a suggestion being floated is that we ought to replace the LCP with an au pair program. This would allow mainly young European women to enter Canada temporarily and join the thousands of other Europeans already here under the International Experience Class (IEC).

Is the real issue then about identity?

Really the Best We Can Do?

June 3rd, 2014

When the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1956, Canada responded decisively to the plight of the 200,000 refugees who fled for their lives. Back then, the Canadian population was less than half of what it is today, and yet we managed to resettle almost 40,000 victims of the hammer and sickle within our borders. We stood tall in the world as an example of what a wealthy, developed society could aspire to.

In the ensuing years, albeit on a smaller scale, Canada continued to exhibit this generous spirit, as can be seen from the following figures on refugee resettlement:

  • 1979 – 4000 Vietnamese
  • 1992 – 5000 Bosnians
  • 1999 – 5000 Kosovar Albanians

Fast forward to today as the horrendous civil war in Syria grinds into its fourth year, leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake. Innocent Syrians find themselves defenceless against a sociopathic government, foreign militants and even their own neighbours. Millions have been tormented by chemical attacks, shootings, and kidnappings. It has been described as the largest human crisis of our generation. According to the United Nations, out of a population of 21.4 million people, 9.3 million are in need of assistance. Already, 2.6 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

Last week, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees met with Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander as part of a tour aimed at convincing international partners to help resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, in addition to the 30,000 the UN asked countries to accept last year. The Canadian government is considering the latest UN request.

Last summer, our government committed to taking in a meagre 1,300 Syrian refugees, which consisted of 1,100 private sponsorships, and only 200 government sponsored refugees. If that’s not mean-spirited enough, until now, no more than 10 have actually arrived in Canada.

Frankly, Canada’s response to date to the humanitarian crisis in Syria can best be described as stingy and cold-hearted, and stands in sharp contrast to the warm welcome offered to the 40,000 Central Europeans almost 60 years ago. To me, it is a shameful rejoinder to a plea for hope and charity. It says much about the Canadian ethos today. One has to wonder what has changed in Canada since the 1950’s. Have we become poorer? Perhaps not materially, but certainly in spirit.

*Photo from Ottawa Citizen, May 29, 2014

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship?

April 2nd, 2014

As noted in my most recent blog, the Canadian government is proposing to amend the current Citizenship Act in a way that will fundamentally transform the meaning, scope and processing of Canadian citizenship.  The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (C-24) is the first major overhaul of citizenship legislation in Canada in 37 years.

Some of the important changes include:

- The requirement to be physically present in Canada for 183 days per year in at least four of the six years preceding the submission of a citizenship application

- The requirement for naturalized citizens to intend to reside in Canada.  The current law carries no such residency obligation.
- The requirement to submit proof of income tax filings, if required to do so under the Income Tax Act.

- The requirement for applicants aged 14 to 64 to demonstrate proficiency in at least one of Canada’s two official languages.

- The possibility of revoking Canadian citizenship from dual citizens, who were members of an armed conflict with Canada or from Canadians who are convicted of terrorism, treason, or spying offences, depending on the sentence received.

- The proposed legislation covers a lot of ground and is complicated.  It is in need of clarity and many of its sections will likely face court challenges such that final interpretation is years away.

In my opinion, at least two aspects of the new law ought to be reconsidered.  The first concerns the notion that naturalized citizens must have the intent to reside in Canada at the time they apply for citizenship. The implication is that Canadians born in Canada are free to travel and reside wherever they wish, whereas naturalized Canadians risk revocation of citizenship status for misrepresentation in the event they live abroad after gaining Canadian citizenship.  Aside from contravening mobility rights guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it establishes two classes of Canadian citizenship.  That is not a good thing.

My second bone of contention has to do with the non-recognition of time spent in Canada prior to becoming a permanent resident .  This change is particularly unfair to foreign workers and students, who became permanent residents in recent years but do not yet qualify for citizenship.  Their journey to becoming fully Canadian will be considerably longer.  These individuals have been paying their dues.  They have worked hard on temporary work permits and study permits to prove their value to Canada before they earned permanent residence.  They have formed ties in Canada, socialized and paid taxes.  To remove the credit for time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident is wrong.  At the very least, the new law should not be applied retroactively to anyone who has already applied for or achieved the status of a Canadian permanent resident.

This is not to say that there are no positive aspects to the proposed legislation.   The government has stated that the changes will bring the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under a year.  As well, citizenship will be restored to individuals who had lost it or never received it due to outdated legislation.  These “lost Canadians”, though few in number, will benefit from the new law.

Time will tell whether the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act lives up to its name.

New Canadians – The Lucky Few

February 28th, 2014

Under the current Citizenship Act, the minister can grant fast-tracked Canadian citizenship to alleviate cases of special and unusual hardship or to reward services of exceptional value to Canada. The minister used this power to make instant Canadian citizens of certain athletes, who had a shot at making the recent Canadian Winter Olympic team. That gesture could not have sat well with the tens of thousands of Canadian landed immigrants, who have been waiting two or more years for their citizenship applications to be finalized. I understand that not many of our Olympians benefited from this preferential treatment, but that’s not really the point. The optics leave much to be desired. Moreover, compare our government’s favourable treatment of would-be Olympians to the lack of appreciation extended to Afghan interpreters who risked their lives by providing their services to Canadian Armed Forces in the field of action. Not only were these courageous individuals not offered citizenship, they had to threaten court action just to gain permanent residency.

Keeping with the Olympic spirit, if we are to be candid, our government’s handling of the citizenship portfolio in recent times has been less than medal-worthy. In 2012, the most recent full year for which statistics are available, 189,000 applicants were caught in the citizenship backlog compared to just 17,000 the year before. It may be true that the number of new citizenship applications increased by 94,000 in 2012, but at the same time the backlog grew by more than 160,000. So while the input of applications had gone up, the government’s output was stuck in first gear. The net result is that a huge number of Canadian landed immigrants live in a state of uncertainty, making it difficult for them to travel and impossible for them to vote. Hmm…

The government has defended its underwhelming performance by blaming the increase in processing times on its efforts to crack down on residency and citizenship fraud. However, as one of my colleagues pointed out, the government has taken a sledge hammer to a very small problem. The amount of paper work many applicants are now required to submit borders on the ridiculous. Having to provide three years of phone bills and credit card statements has become commonplace. No wonder applicants have begun turning to the Federal Court to force the government to process their applications.

Now the government proposes to amend the current Citizenship Act in a way that will fundamentally transform the meaning, scope and processing of Canadian citizenship. In my next blog, I will examine the new definition of Canadian citizenship and what it means for soon-to-be naturalized Canadians.

Time to Change the Rules

January 28th, 2014

I never knew Edna Aldovino. She passed away last August in Toronto. Nonetheless, this blog is dedicated to her memory because Edna’s determination and motherly love are deserving of tribute.

Edna was from the Philippines and she came to Canada in 2009, under the Live-In Caregiver Program. This particular Canadian immigration program is different from other programs in that live-in caregivers are not granted permanent resident visas upon arrival in Canada. They first have to complete two years of full-time employment in Canada before becoming eligible to apply for permanent residency status.

This often means leaving behind children, who can only rejoin their live-in caregiver parent at the end of the permanent residency application. Edna, like many other live-in caregivers, was willing to put in long hours and withstand being without her child in the near-term so that her child would eventually have an opportunity to join her and make a better life for himself in Canada.

After a year in Canada, Edna was diagnosed with breast cancer. She knew it would be a race against time to accumulate the two years of employment and become a permanent resident, along with her only child Kenneth, before cancer got the better of her. So desperate was Edna that she put off her medical treatment until she completed her two years of work in early 2013. By then it was too late.

As sad as this story is, it gets sadder. The application process takes time and at the time of Edna’s death she had not yet received her permanent resident visa. When a principal applicant is deceased, the entire application is terminated. Though her son, now 20, was visiting her in Canada, he had only been granted temporary status. So not only has Kenneth lost his mother, but also his chance to make a life for himself in Canada, which was what Edna’s hard work and sacrifice was all about in the first place.

I understand that as a general rule it makes sense to terminate a permanent resident application if the principal applicant dies before a decision is made. However, live-in caregivers should be the exception to this rule.

We know how important live-in caregivers are to the families who employ them. We understand the quid pro quo – put in two years of hard work and you and your immediate family can call Canada your home forever after. We know in Canada that a handshake is a handshake. Edna completed her end of the bargain. We should now complete our end and allow Edna’s son to become a Canadian permanent resident.

Edna deserves to rest in peace.