BY CATHERINE SOLYOM, THE GAZETTE JULY 23, 2011
MONTREAL - Canada could soon stop accepting applications for immigration in an attempt to clear the backlog of more than a million people currently awaiting processing around the world, Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Friday.
In Montreal to hold consultations on how many immigrants should be accepted into Canada per year - and just as importantly what kind of immigrants - Kenney told an audience at the Armenian Community Centre that clearing the huge backlog is one of the main challenges faced by his department as it plans for the years ahead.
"There's an unlimited number of people who want to come to Canada," Kenney said, adding that about 254,000 would be accepted this year, down from 281,000 in 2010.
"We used to have hundreds of thousands of applications more than we could process, and it's stupid and unfair to make people wait seven, eight, nine years for their application to be even looked at. That's the rationale for limiting the number of new applications."
Two years ago, Parliament modified immigration laws to give the minister the authority to place a cap on applications, and this year Kenney has so far chosen to limit the number accepted in the Federal Skilled Worker program, for example, to 10,000. He emphasized, however, that Canada would still be accepting 65,000 skilled workers into the country, most of them chosen out of the backlog of applications.
It remains to be seen which other categories may be capped, and at what level.
Stakeholder consultations across the country on the right "mix" or "balance" of immigrants for Canada began two weeks ago, with employers' associations, immigration lawyers, refugee advocates and other interested parties. Friday's session
in Montreal was postponed until October, however. Public consultations will be held online starting in August.
Apart from dealing with the backlog, Kenney said he is looking for solutions on how to deal with an impending labour shortage as the population ages, without overburdening Canada's housing, health care and education systems with too many newcomers.
Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees worries the minister will place too much emphasis on economic immigrants at the expense of refugees.
More than 35,000 refugees - government-assisted and privately sponsored - are already on the waiting list to come to Canada, and the numbers, especially in Africa, are growing day by day.
Kenney said he has recently added resources to deal with the huge backlog at the Nairobi mission, which serves 18 countries in East Africa, most of them in conflict, and now also struck by famine.
But he also put a cap on the number of privately sponsored refugee applications out of the Nairobi office, Dench said.
- Q&A: Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on the war crimes wanted list (news.nationalpost.com)
- The newcomers numbers game: Jason Kenneys balancing act (theglobeandmail.com)