Canadians are rightly upset about recent scandals involving the temporary foreign workers program. But let’s not fool ourselves: this program and its mismanagement are only part of a massive and stealthy reform to a system that may or may not need fixing.
Researchers at Ryerson University, in partnership with the prestigious Migration Policy Group, are updating the Migration Policy Effectiveness Index (MIPEX) for Canada. MIPEX compares and rates countries based on their immigration policies. Canada placed among the top three in 2011, but the Ryerson team was shocked by their discoveries about what has been happening since then.
Canada’s once path-breaking immigration policies are being transformed into a system that mainly serves employers, treating immigrants not as future citizens or members of Canadian communities and families but merely as convenient or cheap labour. This is a clear shift from previous policy.
Following the immigration act of 1967, Canada began selecting immigrants on the basis of characteristics such as education, work experience and proficiency in English or French. The points system made immigrant selection transparent, and it overcame the racism that had heretofore dominated the system. The point system’s blend of pragmatism and equity has gained the respect of other countries; more than a few are considering it as a model for their own immigration policies.
If the current government has its way, the points system will be gone from Canada by 2015 and replaced with “Express Entry,” which is essentially a job bank serving government and industry, matching prospective immigrants with employers seeking workers. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the program will select “the best candidates … rather than the first person in line.” Ironically, the same government accuses refugees of being “queue jumpers” and denies status to people most in need of Canada’s protection.
We haven’t seen such naked pragmatism since the Railway Act of 1925 gave Canada’s two railroad companies virtually full sway over immigration. This almost century-old triumph of pragmatism enabled Canada to admit people and let them stay only as long as the country needed their labour. If they did overstay their welcome, practices like the infamous Chinese Head Tax prevented them from reuniting with their spouses and children.
Canada’s 1967 immigration act emphasized the importance of family by ensuring that immigrants could sponsor a spouse, dependent children, parents, and grandparents. This policy cornerstone is now under attack. As of now, Canada defines children under the age of 22 as dependent, but the government plans to change the age limit to 19.
In 2012, the government placed a two-year moratorium on the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. Although the moratorium was lifted earlier this year, a dramatically different system now requires a 30-per-cent higher minimum income from immigrant families who wish to sponsor people. Whereas immigrants were previously required to support sponsored family members for 10 years, the new requirement is for 20 years. In addition, the number of permitted sponsorships is capped at 5,000 per year.
The Conservative government has not only made it more difficult to enter Canada, but also to stay and become a citizen. Citizenship Bill C-24, currently before Parliament, increases the residency requirement from three to four years, triples the application fee, removes the right to appeal a negative citizenship decision, revokes citizenship from naturalized persons if an official believes that the person never intended to live in Canada, and strips citizenship from dual citizens if convicted of certain crimes, even if those convictions occurred outside Canada. Oakland Ross of The Star recently reported that the last provision “ would very likely have prevented Nelson Mandela from gaining residence in” Canada .
Radical change to immigration policy, so definitive of Canada’s identity, should require full and transparent national debate. Do Canadians really want pragmatism to assume absolute precedence over ethical considerations in immigration policy? Should economic contribution be the only criterion for selecting immigrants? Why would Canada make it difficult for immigrants to become Canadians? Unfortunately, a public debate — beyond the current outcry over temporary foreign workers and denying health care to refugees — is not occurring.
Instead, Canadians are being blindsided to a de-facto revolution in our immigration system: an accumulation of incremental, seemingly innocuous changes that are slipped into marginally related bills and procedures as if they have nothing to do with ethics, justice and the kind of society Canadians want to build for the future.
Canadians may not notice that this revolution is happening until future MIPEX results show that Canada’s immigration effectiveness, compared to that of other countries, is dropping down on the list — way down.