The following are some priority concerns in response to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s 2011 national consultations on immigration levels planning.
Rebalancing the three pillars
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 22% and Refugees from 14% to 9% (see Canadian immigration - changing priorities).
We 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.
Our international legal obligations must be respected
Respecting our international legal obligations (including towards refugees and towards children) is among the objectives of the immigration program. These obligations cannot be balanced, as other objectives may be. It is important that the government speak out clearly and consistently in support of our legal obligations, in order to educate the Canadian public about them.
Reasserting the objective of “seeing that families are reunited”
Family reunification appears to have been downgraded as a priority in recent years. Family Class now makes up a much smaller proportion of overall immigration and has decreased in absolute numbers (down from 69,000 in 2005 to to 61,100 in 2010). There are also increased barriers and delays, including for family members of refugees.
We need to return to a greater commitment to the value of families and the imperative of achieving timely reunification of families, especially when children are involved. This is not only in the interests of the families themselves, but also of the country as a whole: strong, united families contribute to building Canadian society.
The immigration program is not working for children in important ways. Despite this distressing situation, there is no evidence that efforts are in place to give a higher priority to children. Canadians will all agree that it is completely unacceptable that children routinely wait years in immigration processing to be reunited with their parents (see Family Reunification).
We have legal and moral obligations towards children. Urgent attention must be focused on taking measures to ensure that the immigration program is responding effectively to the needs of children.
Canada has been a leader in promoting gender equity. 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, we need to give careful attention to differential impacts by gender, and make decisions that will promote gender equity.
The fundamental principle of equal treatment for all people is not currently being respected. There should not be huge variations in processing times from one visa post to another, or from one region to another. In particular, Africans are being treated unfairly – processing times in that continent are much longer than the global average. The situation is the worst of all at the Nairobi visa office. See Nairobi: Long delays.
Ensuring equal treatment in all regions must be a key priority.
Reducing processing barriers for refugees and immigrants
CIC’s background document makes significant reference to fraud. While this undoubtedly is a real issue deserving of attention, it is only one side of the coin. The other side is that Canada frequently creates unnecessary barriers for people who have done nothing wrong. For example, many people are confronted with demands for expensive and time-consuming DNA tests, often years after their application is submitted, and where there is no evidence to suggest any inconsistencies.
Increasing levels for Privately Sponsored Refugees
The government’s commitment to increase levels for privately sponsored refugees is welcome (although we believe linking it to changes to the refugee determination system is inappropriate and reflects poorly on Canada). Private sponsorship is cost-effective because it depends on private contributions by Canadians to support refugees. There is the capacity and willingness among Canadians to do more to offer a safe and permanent future for refugees.
Canada’s responsibility to integrate newcomers
Integration is a two-way street, with both Canadian society and newcomers having responsibilites. Part of the reason some newcomers are struggling economically is that there are systemic barriers facing racialized newcomers (and citizens). We need to increase efforts to dismantle these barriers.
Ensuring immigrants are full members of society
As noted in CIC's background paper, 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, notably an increase in recent years in newcomers admitted as Temporary Foreign Workers. These newcomers do not enjoy the “full range of rights”, a situation that results in an increase in cases of exploitation. We also note some recent proposals regrettably would create further categories of newcomers with significant restrictions on their rights: the proposal of “conditional permanent residence” for some sponsored spouses, and Bill C-4, which would place some refugees in long-term limbo.
We urge the government to return to the traditional Canadian policy of promoting permanent status for newcomers.
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 government in turn plays an important leadership role in ensuring that Canadians support the immigration program.
We urge the government to give renewed priority to this role, by promoting the contribution of newcomers and by avoiding discourse that might feed prejudices against immigrants and refugees.