Discretion can lead to discrimination

April 1st, 2008

The Conservative led minority government has recently introduced a bill in Parliament that contains significant changes to Canada’s immigration law. If passed, the proposed amendments will empower the immigration minister to instruct visa officers to take certain candidates quickly, hold some applications for consideration at a later date, and return others without any consideration at all. No clue is given in advance as to which type of applicants will be favoured and which will be spurned.

What we do know for certain is that this new discretionary power the Minister seeks is diametrically opposed to the central principle of the current immigration law, namely, that anyone who submits an application for Canadian Permanent Residency is entitled to be considered fairly, according to the same objective criteria that apply to everyone else who applies at the same time. No ifs, ands, or buts.

The government argues that the changes are required, in part, to deal with the backlog of approximately 600,000 would-be economic immigrants currently waiting to be considered for Canadian Permanent Residency. Expressed in this manner, one has the impression of a single line of applicants stretching as far as the eye can see. However, this isn’t really the case. In fact, there are more than 40 Canadian visa offices located throughout the world where individuals can submit their applications. Some visa offices consistently complete the processing of applications in 12 to 18 months and other visa offices can take five or more years to conclude an application. Put another way, people who apply to come to Canada from the Americas and many Western European countries get to Canada quickly; whereas people from India, the Philippines, and the Middle East wait a long time. Why is this?

The wait is longer in certain regions, not only because there is a great demand for Canadian immigration from those areas, but also because of the immigration minister’s decisions regarding the target number of visas (quota) to be processed at each visa office annually. For example, in 2007 the visa office in Buffalo had an inventory of 43,000 skilled worker / business applications and a target number of 24,500 visas to be issued. At the same time, the visa office in New Delhi had 135,000 skilled worker / business applicants in line and a target number of 10,500 visas to be issued. Are you starting to get the picture?

Just so as you know, our office submitted 2 skilled worker simplified applications to the visa office in Buenos Aires in August 2007. Today the visa office notified us that they would like all supporting documents within the next 4 months as that is when they intend to assess the applications. The applicants will, in all likelihood, become Canadian permanent residents in less than a year from the time their applications were submitted. Some backlog !

So really, the only way to solve the backlog issue is by “shutting the door” to applicants at certain visa offices. Is this what the government is proposing? It’s fair to ask. And if it is, then it is surely worthy of open debate.

Right now, the proposed modifications are included in a budget implementation bill and as such, will see little, if any, discussion prior to vote. The Conservatives know that a majority vote against this bill will trigger an election and they are counting on the Opposition’s unwillingness to face the electorate to see the amendments through Parliament.

Talk about playing politics on the backs of immigrants.

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