I thought I would close out the year 2009 with a little “feel good” story involving Canadian immigration.
This is about the Viviers family, who hail from sun-soaked South Africa. Unfortunately for them, three of the four family members suffer from a rare genetic skin disorder that makes exposure to direct sunlight extremely painful. As a result, they set out to find a reliably cloudy environment to move to. This prompted them, eleven years ago, to visit Prince Rupert, British Columbia, a place that holds the Canadian record for the least number of sunny days, pretty much every year.
Depending on their nationality, Canadian landed immigrants receive different treatment when it comes to residency requirements.
You would expect the Government of Canada to treat all of its landed immigrants (permanent residents) equally and certainly not to discriminate against some of them based on their country of origin. The facts, however, tell another story, at least when it comes to complying with the residency obligations that are, supposedly, incumbent on all landed immigrants, no matter the country they came from.
Over the past few years, there has been a gradual but steady shift in the ways that people qualify for a Canadian permanent resident visa. More and more, the Canadian government is relying upon the 13 provinces and territories to come up with their own immigration strategies (Quebec and Provincial Nomination Programs), using selection criteria that best suit local interest. To counterbalance this change in direction, the Canadian government has stifled the national Federal Skilled Worker program by making it available only to individuals with work experience in a short list of 38 occupations or to people who have a Canadian job offer. So what we have now in Canada is an immigration selection system that resembles a patchwork quilt of more than 60 separate and distinct immigration programs that lead to Canadian permanent residence. Talk about confusion!
Some immigration consultants in Montreal are helping landed immigrants bypass the residency requirements for Canadian citizenship, by offering “life in Canada simulation” services, according to an investigation by the CBC, Canada’s national news network.
In order to qualify for Canadian citizenship, a landed immigrant (permanent resident) must spend the better part of three years in Canada within a four-year period. Almost all permanent residents want to become Canadian citizens and obtain a Canadian passport. The problem, though, is that not everyone is willing or able to spend the requisite time in Canada in order to qualify, and a small percentage (one hopes) of these individuals is seeking out shortcuts to Canadian citizenship.
“The pot calling the kettle black” is an expression, which refers to criticism that could equally apply to the critic. Interestingly, similar idioms can be found in more than 30 languages, across as many cultures and so we can assume that this particular human disposition is universal in nature. It most certainly applies to the people pulling the levers at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).
Each month, we receive and review communications between and among Canadian immigration program managers and their counterparts at CIC National Headquarters, in our nation’s capital. Their inter-office memos are public information, and are available to all Canadians under the Access to Information Act. It’s a good way to keep abreast of what’s on the collective minds of the people charged with administering the various Canadian immigration programs.
About a year ago, I was privileged to appear before parliamentary committees that were charged with examining proposed changes to Canada’s immigration selection system. The government of the day claimed that urgent modifications to the law were necessary in order to streamline the immigration process and reduce the backlog of pending skilled worker (economic) applications. At the time, I felt there was more to it than that. For, if the government really just wanted to shorten the immigration queue, it could have easily accomplished this goal by exercising its authority within the immigration regulations as they then existed. Clearly, they had more in mind, and in the end the government got the changes they desired.
We Canadians take our hockey seriously. And why not? It is, after all, our game and no other country can match us over the long haul in international competitions. Hockey for us is a source of pride and many of us follow our favourite teams with the fervour you would expect from a religious devotee.
The two most storied Canadian franchises in the National Hockey League (NHL) are, without a doubt, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs and neither team has distinguished itself of late. The Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup, the symbol of hockey supremacy, in more than 40 years, while the Montreal Canadiens have been mired in mediocrity for a good 15 years.
Around this time last year most Canadians were relieved to learn that Ms Brenda Martin, a Canadian Citizen, had been brought back to Canada after having languished for more than two years in a Mexican Prison.
Ms Martin had been incarcerated in Guadalajara in 2006 and charged with receiving illicit funds from a massive investment scam involving her former boss. The ordeal was difficult for Ms Martin as Mexico’s prison accommodations leave a lot to be desired. This we gathered from Ms Martin’s regular heartfelt pleas for repatriation via Canadian media outlets.
Over time, public pressure mounted and in the spring of 2008, in response to parliamentary opposition members’ accusations of abandoning a Canadian abroad, our then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was quoted as follows:
If you were to ask me what I consider to be the greatest benefit of being a Canadian, I’d say it’s that I get to pass citizenship on to my children. While it’s still true for me, its no longer the case for one of my kids who happened to be born in the U.S..
My son was born in Boston because we knew that he would require a life-saving operation right after birth and my wife’s Canadian obstetrician recommended a surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Thankfully, everything worked out and our 10 year old child is perfectly healthy today. However, the fact that he is foreign-born means that he will not be able to pass on Canadian citizenship to his children. If his children are to be Canadian citizens, they will have to be born in Canada or their mother will have to be Canadian-born.
First, a bit of good news: Canada will likely weather the current economic storm better than any other Western nation. As the Prime Minister recently pointed out, Canada has a low debt burden, an efficient inflation regime, a diversified economy, flexible labor markets and proper fiscal management going back for more than a decade. Canadian banks have not needed the government bailouts that have become a necessity in the US and many European countries. In fact, Canada has the world’s soundest banking system according to a survey by the respected World Economic Forum. To top it off, many economists predict that Canada will be the first advanced country to emerge from this worldwide economic downturn.
On most days, I truly love what I do. Many lawyers spend their working lives locked in adversarial battles, where one side wins and the other loses. Not much fun, if you ask me. In my job I get to work in an environment, where most of the time, there are no losers. Our clients almost always get what they want…Canada gets what it needs…and I get to make a decent living from it all.
But some days, my work is not much fun at all. Take last Thursday for example. That’s when we received notification from the provincial government in Alberta that, effective immediately, candidates, who apply under the special nomination program for H-1B status holders in the U.S. would have to maintain their H-1B status and U.S employment up until the time that the provincial nomination certificate is issued, a process that can last 2 to 6 months. Before last Thursday, applicants only needed to be employed at the time the application was submitted and if they lost their U.S. job after submission of the application it would not negatively affect their Canadian immigration plans. So there you have it…no warning and the rules change.
I have previously written about what I perceive to be the missing link in Canadian immigration. My grandfather’s story illustrates it best. When he arrived in Canada many years ago, my grandfather had nothing but the name of a man in Montreal who once lived in his town. My grandfather was eternally grateful when, after tracking the man down, he was given a small space to fix shoes in the corner of the man’s store. This social support, given through a random act of kindness, enabled my grandfather to begin a new life in Canada. This is the link not common enough in the fast-paced reality of Canada today. The notion has kept coming back to me, that there must be some way to facilitate connections like the one that helped my grandfather to successfully settle in Canada.