Thursday, November 10, 2011

New priorities are changing immigration


By Carol GoarEditorial Board
Driven by economic pressure and political ideology, Jason Kenney is transforming Canada’s immigration system. But he is doing it so gradually and in such carefully crafted installments that most people are unaware of the magnitude of his ambition.
The immigration minister’s latest announcement is a good example. Last week he imposed a two-year moratorium on applications to bring parents and grandparents into the country. During the freeze, he will consult the provinces and the public about how to change the family reunification system permanently.
“If we leave the program open for applications during that period of consultations and redesign, we know what will happen,” Kenney said. “We will get absolutely flooded, as immigration lawyers and consultants anticipate changes. We’ll never be able to deal with the backlog.”
He softened the blow by offering a “super visa” to visiting relatives that would allow them to stay up to two years at a time, provided they are covered by private medical insurance.
There were grumbles from new Canadians who had hoped to sponsor their parents or grandparents. At the same time, there were plaudits from the business community, which wants younger, more productive immigrants. The imbalance protected Kenney from any serious backlash.
That is how the minister works: Change the system incrementally, ensuring that each announcement has more supporters than foes. Kenney’s makeover is still a work in progress. But the outlines of the transfigured system are coming into focus:
 • The government will be much more selective about the “skilled workers” it admits. Each year, the minister will issue a list of 30 or so favoured occupations. Immigrants in those fields will be whisked to the front of the line. Everybody else will have to wait.
 • The role of the provinces in recruiting immigrants will continue to grow. Since 2005, the number of provincial nominees has increased from 8,000 to 40,000.
 • The temporary foreign worker program, which waives Canada’s normal admission criteria for short-term immigrants, will keep swelling. And more of the people brought in that way — especially caregivers, foreign students educated in Canada and workers with high-demand skills — will be encouraged to stay here and become citizens when their visa expires.
 • Refugee claimants, except those selected by the government and those sponsored by private groups, will find it much harder to get in. The government will turn back anyone from a country deemed safe with a cursory hearing. Those who arrive on a rickety ship will be detained on suspicion of involvement in people smuggling.
 • Family reunification will become more restrictive. Spouses and dependent children will still get in. Parents, grandparents, siblings and other relatives may not.
Two options won’t be on the table. Kenney will not raise Canada’s immigration level (254,000 a year). He admits it would be beneficial to have more young immigrants to pay the nation’s bills. But he says his department lacks the resources to integrate more newcomers into the workforce. He also argues that opening the floodgates would “jeopardize the generally very positive and welcoming attitude towards immigration” among Canadians.
Nor will he yield to lobbying from humanitarian groups to restore Canada’s reputation as a beacon of hope for the needy and oppressed.
From an economic perspective, Kenney’s approach makes sense. Recruiting the brightest and most employable immigrants will make Canada more competitive and better able to support an aging population.
But from a social perspective, his reforms will further unsettle Canadians who see self-interest trumping compassion at home and abroad.
If Kenney is right — and he generally reads public opinion well — he will be able to persuade a nation that once prided itself on being open and generous to look after itself first.
Carol Goar’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Source: The Start.com