Simons: For hopeful immigrants, a promise of faster citizenship
EDMONTON There's an old story about a legendary Italian postal strike that created a huge backlog of undelivered mail.
According to lore apocryphal or otherwise the frustrated postal minister found a novel solution. He had the undelivered mail thrown into the Tiber.
Uproar ensued. The official was replaced. But there was still a backlog of mail. So his successor came up with another plan: he had the mail burnt.
A colleague mentioned that anecdote the other day at an editorial board meeting with federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
It was apt.
Kenney has found a similarly creative solution to deal with Canada's backlog of immigration applications from skilled workers.
There's a backlog of approximately 280,000 people waiting to have their immigration forms processed some waiting five or six years. Many are highly educated, healthy and hard-working, already fluent in English or French or both, exactly the people we need and want here.
Under the old system, says Kenney, people filled out paper forms that languished in files for years. He's voiding them all. Those on the waiting list will have their application fees worth about $130 million refunded. But their applications will be, metaphorically speaking, tossed in the Ottawa River. People can reapply under our new points system that Kenney's promising to unveil later this month. But they won't get preferential treatment. Kenney estimates fewer than half of them will qualify under the new assessment rules.
The rejection of those 280,000 would-be immigrants was just one small part of C-38, the Harper government's omnibus budget bill.
It's a national embarrassment. We invited these very people to come to Canada. They, in turn, honoured us by choosing us as the place they wanted to make their new lives, as the country where they wanted to invest their human capital and start their families. In many cases, they've paid money to immigration brokers, enrolled in English upgrading classes, turned down other opportunities, put their lives on hold, while we left them dangling in Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo.
I'd call it a con job, except that would imply our Immigration department acted with motive or purpose. This was no con. It was a global demonstration of Canadian incompetence. It's a humiliating disgrace.
Angry though I am about the shameful way we've treated these rejected applicants, Kenney's radical solution might just be the best one on offer, like amputating a gangrenous limb to save the patient.
Kenney didn't create this absurd backlog. His government inherited it from the Liberals. There probably is no sane or practical way to handle those paper applications and still process new ones in a timely way.
From now on, Kenney says, people will be allowed to apply online, which means that if one local immigration office is backed up, say in New Delhi or Manila, applications can be handled in other offices, be they in Ottawa, Vegreville, or Warsaw. Canada will now limit the number of applications, instead of accepting 500,000 applicants for 250,000 openings. By the end of this month, Kenney says, his department will produce a new point system to fast-track applications from the most employable, skilled, and fluent would-be immigrants, including those already in the country as post-secondary students or temporary foreign workers. With such changes, Kenney vows, his department will cut waiting times from years to months.
Certainly, Kenney seems intent on speed. He unveiled a one-year pilot project Monday to fast-track temporary work permits for Alberta-bound qualified welders, ironworkers, carpenters, estimators, millwrights, and heavy duty equipment mechanics. Workers with valid job offers from Alberta employers, from counties whose nationals can enter Canada without a visa, including the United States, Germany, Greece, Poland, Singapore and South Korea, will be able to enter Canada right away, and get work permits at the airport. Once they have sufficient Canadian work experience, they can apply for permanent residency without leaving Canada.
Kenney's cool, pragmatic focus on immigrants with the specific skills and language ability to succeed in Canada makes short-term sense, though that will be cold comfort those who wasted five or six years already, just waiting for a chance to come here.
The real test, though, will be to see if Kenney's new strategy actually works or whether there will just be a new backlog of applications for a new minister to set on fire 10 years from now.