The following are some priority concerns in response to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s 2013 national consultations on immigration levels planning.
Rebalancing the three pillars
Canada should rebalance immigration levels in order to establish greater equality between the three pillars, giving more space once again to the important priorities of family reunification and refugees.
The proportion of overall immigration taken up by economic immigration has increased significantly in recent years – from 55% in 2005 to 66% in 2010. Over the same period, Family Class has shrunk from 28% to 21.5% and over a longer period, Family Class has decreased even more dramatically, from 43.9% of all immigration in 1993, to 21.5% in 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of refugees decreased from 14% to 9%. It is important that the refugee program continue to be a humanitarian program, giving first priority to protection needs and maintaining an emphasis on refugees with medical and other high needs.
Increase immigration levels to 1% of the population
Canadians, many private and public stakeholders, and the federal government agree that Canada needs immigrants to sustain its current prosperity and it is widely accepted that immigration has strengthened Canada’s multicultural and multifaith fabric. Despite the need for immigrants to offset demographic changes, Canada is attempting to fill considerable proportions of its labour needs through temporary rather than permanent migration. In previous years Canada has at times received immigrants in excess of 1% of the population and become stronger as a result; however, the current yearly immigration level of 250,000 is well below that amount. The government of Canada should set immigration levels at a minimum of 1% of the population and invest the resources needed for successful settlement and integration.
Canada’s international legal obligations must be respected
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is explicit that it is to be applied in a way that complies with Canada’s international legal obligations. These obligations, whether in regard to protecting refugees or respecting the rights of children, cannot be diminished to satisfy other objectives. Bill C-31, passed at the end of June 2012, will result in the detention of children, separate families for many years, and arbitrarily detain some asylum seekers for 6 months without independent review. It also contains timelines that are too short for refugees to properly prepare for their hearings. The government must ensure that Canada’s international legal obligations are respected. It should also speak out clearly and consistently in support of those obligations, in order to educate the Canadian public about them.
Reasserting the objective of “seeing that families are reunited”
The importance given to family reunification has been reduced in recent years. The Family Class now makes up a much smaller proportion of overall immigration and has decreased in absolute numbers. This spring the government announced its intention to restructure the Parent and Grandparent Immigration Program by reducing the numbers of accepted applicants. Other barriers and delays are increasing, including for family members of refugees. Canada needs to return to a greater commitment to achieving timely reunification of families, especially when children are involved. The definition of family should be expanded to reflect the realities of Canada’s diverse cultural communities, and barriers to reunification must be removed by allocating the resources needed to process applications in a timely manner. Other unnecessary obstacles need to be eliminated: for example, many applicants are confronted with demands for expensive and time-consuming DNA tests, often years after their application is submitted, when there is no evidence to suggest any doubt of family link. Removing barriers to family reunification is not only in the interest of the families themselves, but also of the country as a whole: strong, united families contribute to a strong Canadian society.
Ensuring immigrants are full members of society
In the past CIC has noted that Canada is “a leader in granting newcomers the full range of rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship”. It is important to maintain this tradition. However, there have been trends in the opposite direction in recent years, notably an increase in newcomers admitted as Temporary Foreign Workers. While these newcomers pay taxes and contribute to the Canadian economy by filling jobs that are often not temporary, they do not enjoy the “full range of rights”, and are thus subject to exploitation and abuse, of which numerous cases have been documented.
Regrettably, some recent proposals and legislations will create further categories of newcomers with significant restrictions on their rights, including the proposal for “conditional permanent residence” for some sponsored spouses,which is slated to be implemented soon, and Bill C-31, which will prevent some refugees from receiving permanent residence for five years after their claims are accepted. The government should return to the traditional Canadian policy of granting permanent status to newcomers.
There is concern that the fundamental principle of equal treatment for all people is not currently being respected in Canada’s immigration program. Huge variations in processing times from one visa post to another and from one region to another are highly problematic. While these disparities remain, it is of note that processing times for privately sponsored refugees at the Nairobi visa office have recently been improving, which is a very positive sign.
Increasing levels for Privately Sponsored Refugees
There is the capacity and willingness among Canadians to do more to offer a safe and permanent future for refugees. Private sponsorship is cost-effective because it depends on private contributions by Canadians to support refugees. The government’s commitment to increase levels for privately-sponsored refugees through blended initiatives and visa-office referred cases is welcome. However, Canada’s commitment to resettling Government-Assisted Refugees should be increased independently of numbers of privately sponsored refugees.
The immigration program is not working for children in important ways. Children often wait years in immigration processing to be reunited with their parents. Also, children are routinely held in immigration detention, for weeks and even months at a time. Despite this distressing situation, there is no evidence that efforts are in place to give a higher priority to children. Canada has legal and moral obligations towards children; urgent attention must be focused on taking measures to ensure that the immigration program meets those obligations and is responding effectively to the needs of children.
Canada has been a leader in promoting gender equality. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act includes a requirement that there be a gender-based analysis of the impact of the Act. In considering levels, careful attention should be given to differential impacts by gender and decisions must promote gender equality.
Stateless persons are vulnerable because they are not recognized as citizens by any country, and are thus not protected by any state. Canada should ratify the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Personsand also amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to include statelessness as a ground for protection, making a commitment to protect and resettle stateless persons.
Canada’s responsibility to integrate newcomers
Integration is a two-way street, and both Canadian society and newcomers have responsibilities. Some newcomers struggle financially due to systemic barriers facing racialized newcomers. We need to increase efforts to dismantle these barriers and allocate sufficient resources for effective newcomer settlement and integration.
Promoting support for Canada’s immigration program
Canada’s ability to successfully maintain and increase immigration levels depends in part on the level of public support. The federal government, in turn, plays an important leadership role in ensuring that Canadians support the immigration and refugee resettlement programs. The government must promote positive newcomer contributions and avoid discourse that feeds misconceptions and prejudice against immigrants and refugees.