Regina Chamber and Federal Immigration Minister Back Stricter Saskatchewan Immigration Laws

The Leader Post, Saskatchewan’s largest newspaper, reports that the influential Regina Chamber of Commerce has backed tighter rules recently introduced for the family sponsorship category of the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP):

The Regina & District Chamber of Commerce said it “empathizes” with individuals and families affected by changes in the program, but added that federal immigration rule changes permitting SINP were intended not as a family reunification vehicle, but as “an economic program that allowed provinces, including Saskatchewan, to access skilled workers”.

Chamber CEO John Hopkins said there’s another factor at work: with the number of people allowed sponsorship into Saskatchewan capped at only 4,000 per year, employers “need each and every nomination they can get”.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's largest city. Changes to the province's nominee program have been widely criticized by those who had pinned their hopes of bringing family members to Canada on it. The Regina Chamber said the new rules were necessary to leave space in Saskatchewan's immigration quota for skilled workers. (Government of Saskatchewan)

Earlier this month, Saskatchewan’s Immigration Minister, Rob Norris, announced that new rules for SINP would limit the number of family members a household could nominate at a time to one, and require that the nominee have a job offer to be eligible under the program.

Mr. Norris said at the time that the federal government had urged the Saskatchewan government to tighten rules for SINP, which had been considered one of the easiest provincial nominee programs for those looking to get sponsored for immigration by a family member living in Canada.

Federal Immigration Minister Defends Changes to Province’s Family Sponsorship Rules

The changes to SINP have been criticized by many of those who had been planning to nominate their family members to immigrate to Canada under the program, with several protests being held in Saskatchewan against the changes in May.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney defended the new provincial rules, arguing that immigrants who want to live with their extended families can do so in their own country, and that the changes aren’t unfair to immigrants as those who have immigrated to Canada didn’t do so expecting to be able to nominate other family members later on.

New Canadian EI Rules Could Affect Number of Work Permits Issued to Foreign Workers

The Harper government is planning to change the federal Employment Insurance program to encourage the long-time unemployed to take available Canadian jobs, which could reduce the demand for foreign workers in Canada’s resource and service industries.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced changes to the EI program on Thursday (Human Resources and Skill Development Canada)

Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had earlier noted the anomaly of regions of Canada with high unemployment rates being forced to bring in foreigners to fill vacant jobs primarily in the resource sector due to too few Canadians being willing to do them.

The new EI rules could remedy this situation by increasing the incentive for unemployed Canadians to take up resource-sector and menial labour jobs. Minister of Human Resources, Diane Finley, in an announcement introducing the proposed changes, said the purpose of the new rules was to “connect Canadians with available jobs in their local area”.

The changes could also mean that foreign workers could see a drop in demand from Canadian firms for their labour and be less likely to be granted a Canadian work permit.

New Rules Explained

Under the new changes, EI recipients will be divided into three tiers:

  • Long-tenured workers – Canadians who have paid into EI for seven of the preceding ten years and over the preceding five years have collected EI for 35 weeks or less
  • Frequent claimants – Canadians who have had three or more claims and received benefits for more than 60 weeks in the preceding five years
  • Occasional claimants – All other claimants

Long-tenured workers will receive benefits for 18 weeks without having to expand their job search to different occupations. In this period, they will lose their EI benefits if any job that pays at least 90 percent of their previous earnings and is the same occupation as their previous job is available to them and they refuse to take it.

After 18 weeks, they would lose their benefits if there is any job that pays at least 80 percent of their previous earnings and is in a similar industry as their previous job is available to them and they refuse to take it.

Occasional claimants will receive benefits for six weeks without having to expand their job search to different occupations. In this period, they will lose their benefits if any job that pays at least 90 percent of their previous earnings and is the same occupation as their previous job is available tot hem and they refuse to take it.

After six weeks, they would lose their benefits if there is any job that pays at least 80 percent of their previous earnings and is in a similar industry as their previous job is available to them and they refuse to take it. After 18 weeks, they would lose  they would lose their benefits if there is any job in any industry that pays at least 70 percent of their previous earnings available to them and they refuse to take it.

Frequent claimants will receive benefits for six weeks without having to expand their job search to different industries. In this period, they will lose their EI benefits if any job that pays at least 80 percent of their previous earnings and is in a similar industry as their previous job is available to them and they refuse to take it.

After six weeks, they would lose their benefits if there is any job in any industry that pays at least 70 percent of their previous earnings available to them and they refuse to take it.

The new rules also require claimants to travel up to an hour to work an eligible job.

Uncertain Economic Impact

It remains to be seen how effective the coming changes will be in reforming EI to encourage Canadians on it to find jobs.

Amela Karabegovic, an economist for the Fraser Institute, believes that the changes are relatively minor tinkering and don’t fix the fundamental flaws of the current Employment Insurance model.

In an interview with CICS, Ms. Karabegovic said that the major problem with federal Employment Insurance is that the premiums employers and employees pay are a fixed percentage of income, that isn’t adjusted for risk, making it unlike any other type of insurance.

“The incentives are such that some individuals may over-use it. To give you an example, imagine having car insurance where no matter of how many claims you make, you pay the same premium. Regardless how many accidents you get in, regardless of your age, and so on.

Similarly with Employment Insurance, unless the premiums are adjusted to reflect risk, obviously some individuals are going to over-use it,” Ms. Karabegovic said.

“Instead of making marginal changes, there has to be a more fundamental change in order for the system to work properly, to do what it’s supposed to do which is to provide temporary assistance to those who unexpectedly lost their jobs”.


Census Data Shows Canadian Retiree Population to Rapidly Increase in Coming Years

The majority of baby boomers are on the verge of entering retirement, which puts Canada's social programs in jeopardy

Results from the 2011 census show that Canada’s population has reached its peak in terms of productivity, and that the population of retirees will explode in coming years as the main bulk of baby boomer generation reaches retirement age.

The census shows that Canada’s population has increased by 5.9 percent, to over 33.46 million, since 2006, the last time the census was taken.

With the ratio of children to adults at a record low, the number of dependants per worker is also at historic lows, but the low number of children will mean that the working age population will shrink relative to dependents as today’s workers begin retiring in greater numbers and an insufficient number of children reach working age to replace them.

Funding the Old Age Security (OAS) program and Medicare as their costs increase without a sufficient increase in tax revenue will consequently be a major problem for Canada in the coming years. Solutions proposed by commentators to the revenue shortfall include increased immigration, cuts to government spending, and creating personalized pension accounts that invest in the private sector to increase returns on social security payments.

Judge Denies Injunction to Prevent Applications in Backlog From Being Closed

A federal court judge has rejected a request by over 800 applicants for immigration to Canada whose applications will be closed as part of the wipe-out of the 280,000 Federal Skilled Worker program application backlog, and who are suing the federal government for its delay in processing their files, for an injunction to force the federal government to keep their immigration applications open until the case is decided upon.

A federal court judge denied a request by 800 immigration applicants for an injunction against the federal government. (UNODC)

The judge said that the court doesn’t have authority to decide on legislation that has not yet passed, and deny the Immigration Ministry powers that it does not currently have. The case is set to be decided upon next month, after the legislation, Bill C-38, which is expected to be passed in June, is in effect.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said that the government was pleased with the decision and expects the legislation to stand up to all legal challenges.

Canadian Visa Office in Buffalo to Close

The Canadian consulate in Buffalo, which handles visa applications for international students, temporary workers and visitors in Canada, and permanent resident applications for residents and citizens of the US, will be closing.

The Canadian consulate in Buffalo is one of Canada's oldest and largest diplomatic offices in the US. It is being closed due to budget cuts and its services are being transferred to other offices in the US and Canada. (City of Buffalo)

About 75 consulate staff will be relocated to the Canadian consulate in New York, and many of the visa processing services will be transferred to CIC offices in Canada, eliminating the need for non-Canadians residing or staying in Canada to travel to Buffalo for interviews required for Canadian visa extensions and renewals.

Many visas are also having online application processes being made available for them, reducing the need for a physical office in a jurisdiction to provide visa services for those in the region.


Visible Minority Population of Canada Increasing

A Toronto Star story reports that the visible minority population in Canada is growing, and at a rate faster than the general population:

StatsCan projects that the visible minority population in this country will continue to be bolstered by sustained immigration and slightly higher fertility rates in the next 15 years or so.

By 2031, Canada could be home to 14.4 million people belonging to a visible minority group, more than double the 5.3 million reported in 2006. The rest of the population, in contrast, is projected to increase by less than 12 per cent during that period, the federal statistical agency projects.

Immigration has drastically changed Canada's major cities. Nearly 20 percent of the Greater Vancouver Region's population is of Chinese origin. (City of Vancouver)

The StatsCan projections predict that by 2031, South Asians will make up the largest visible minority ethnic group in Canada, with a population of 4.1 million, and the Chinese population will be the second largest, at 3.5 million.

Immigration has transformed Canada’s major cities in recent decades. Chinese immigration has increased the percentage of the Vancouver metropolitan area’s population that is of Chinese origin to nearly 20 percent.

In Canada’s largest city, Toronto, visible minorities now make up nearly 47 percent of the total population, and nearly 50 percent of the city’s residents are foreign born.

BBC Article asks “What does it mean to be Canadian?”

An article published last Thursday in the BBC asks what it means to be Canadian, and explores the role immigration plays in it:

Canada is anything but a homogenous Commonwealth state; nearly one million indigenous people rub shoulders with immigrants from around the world, including many from Asia. What does it mean to be Canadian now? What are the traits which help make up modern-day Canada?

Canada's regional differences and ethnic and linguistic diversity make finding a common Canadian trait elusive. Image of Canadian Parliament (Library of Parliament / Tom Littlemore)

The piece, by Lorraine Mallinder, describes Canada’s unique identity as a heterogeneous nation, with vast regional differences and multiple large linguistic and ethnic minorities. Mallinder asks: what does a French-speaking Quebecer have in common with a West Coast Anglophone Vancouverite?

It quotes John Ralston Saul, an author of books on Canadian culture, who says “[Canadians] accept that difference is actually quite interesting. What makes it possible to live together is agreement on things like ethics and public policy. Not agreement on accents and religion”.

Mallinder describes Canada’s situation as a bilingual nation, with 200 additional languages being added to the mix due to immigration, largely from Asia. Canadians are generally tolerant toward immigration, writes Mallinder, but views have become more mixed recently, with more Canadians preferring a US-style melting pot, with a unified culture, over Canada’s more mosaic multiculturalism.

Canadians have a generally high standard of living, continues the article, with a large percentage of them connected to the internet and involved in social networking sites. Crime is low, but Canadians on the average have grown more concerned about crime, with about half supporting the Harper government’s plan to build more prisons.

The issues that are most important to Canadians now are the economy and jobs, ahead of healthcare and the environment, which has helped the Conservatives win elections on a platform promising economic growth and more jobs, writes Mallinder.

She adds that Canadians are generally generous, with the adult population having given more than two billion hours to volunteer work in 2010.

The article quotes Noah Richler, author of a book on Canadian identity, in its conclusion on what defines Canadians: “The defining trait of being a Canadian is understanding our good fortune, knowing that we’re not actually better than anybody else”.




Immigration Applicants Sue Canadian Government for Wipe-out of 280,000 Application Backlog

A group of former applicants for immigration to Canada are suing the Canadian government for its decision to wipe-out the backlog of approximately 280,000 applications filed under the Federal Skilled Worker program before February 27th 2008.

Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman is representing at least 40 people from China and Hong Kong who had their applications closed in the wipe-out. The legal action seeks to force the federal government to process their applications. The hearing for the case will be on June 5th.

A group of at least 40 immigration applicants are suing the Canadian government for closing their applications (UNODC)

Waldman is also seeking an injunction to force the federal government to keep his clients’ applications open once bill c-38 passes, and the backlog wipe-out is legally put into effect, until the case is decided.

The federal government argues that the wipe-out of the 280,000 applications was necessary to implement a new immigration assessment system, as the processing of old applications was taking focus away from processing applications filed under more recent rules that better meet Canada’s needs.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says he’s confident this latest legislation will stand legal challenges, but the federal government’s attempt to wipe-out a backlog ten years ago legislatively through a retroactive change in the assessment system failed due to legal challenges.

Private Companies to join Federal Internship for Newcomers Program

The FIN program seeks to match new immigrants with internship and permanent positions at Canadian organizations (Federal Government of Canada)

The FIN (Federal Internship for Newcomers) program is a Citizenship and Immigration Canada-led initiative that seeks to place new Canadian immigrants in internship positions in Canadian organizations. On Friday, CIC announced that private companies would be joining the program as employers for the first time.

CIBC, one of Canada’s largest banks, and the CGI Group Inc, a technology and business services company, will become the first private-sector partners in the immigrant internship program, and will receive information on newcomers who have applied to and been found qualified for employment by the FIN program.

CIC has been looking at ways of improving immigrants’ economic state in recent years, as data has emerged showing that newly arrived Canadian immigrants have higher average unemployment rates and lower average incomes than natural-born Canadians and longer-term immigrants.

The FIN program is part of CIC’s Foreign Credential Recognition Office (FCRO) initiative, that seeks to better integrate immigrants in the Canadian job market.

Globe and Mail Argues Canada Needs Millions of Immigrants

An article published on Sunday in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest national newspaper, argues that Canada needs millions more immigrants, and that the federal government should go even further in the changes it is making to the country’s immigration program and increase the number admitted into Canada each year.

The piece, by Joe Friesen, summarizes the argument for immigration as:

Between now and 2021, a million jobs are expected to go unfilled across Canada. Ottawa is making reforms to the immigration system but isn’t going far enough. We need to radically boost immigration numbers. With the right people, Canada can be an innovative world power. Without them, we’ll drain away our potential.

It provides several cases where immigration helped local communities and enriched the Canadian economy.

Winkler Manitoba was the first community to admit foreign skilled workers under a provincial nominee program (City of Winkler)

In the first example, it describes the experience of Steinbach, a small Manitoba town, which was seeing its population dwindle in the 1990s, until it borrowed a solution from another small town, Winkler Manitoba, and began admitting skilled worker immigrants under Canada’s first provincial nominee program, that a member of Winkler’s Chamber of Commerce, Adele Dyck, had helped trailblaze.

Steinbach experienced a 60 percent increase in its population since the mid 90s thanks to immigration, and is now a bustling and growing multi-cultural community, with 900 immigrants being admitted last year alone.

Friesen explains that the problem that Steinbach faced exists all across Canada, for example in the Alberta oil sands, Saskatchewan potash mines, secondary towns in Ontario, and in Atlantic Canada, with its aging population.

The federal government’s current plan for immigration “falls short”, writes Friesen, because it doesn’t boost the number of immigrants admitted each year, “despite demands from nearly every provincial government.”

The article argues that the aging Canadian population requires higher immigration numbers to maintain a sufficient tax base to support retirees’ pensions and health care services. Friesen writes that given the support among the Canadian population for immigration, an expansion of the immigration program would be politically possible, unlike in other countries which have greater public resistance to immigration.

It’s not just funding pensioners’ retirements that provides an argument for higher immigration numbers, argues Friesen, but also realizing the ideal of Canada becoming a world power. He quotes University of Toronto public policy professor Irvin Studin as stating that Canada could reach a population of 100 million with enough immigration.

The article argues that Canada could overcome the problems that arise with immigration, like difficulty for some immigrants to integrate, and culture clashes, and points out that “immigrants under Manitoba’s provincial-nominee program have education levels three times higher than the provincial average”, which bodes well for their likelihood of future success.

High immigration levels have been typical in Canadian history, notes Friesen. He explains that from 1903 to 1913, annual immigration was over 2 percent of the Canadian population, and before the First World War, it reached 400,000 per year, over 5 percent of Canada’s population.

In the 1960s, some racial restrictions on immigration were lifted, and immigration numbers continued to increase with Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives, and then later with the Liberals.

The recommendation from late economist Alan Green, to peg immigration at 1% of the population, became a central part of the Liberal party’s platform, but immigration numbers never actually reached those proportions, and as a percentage of the population, have decreased since 1992.

The article explains that several prominent organizations, including the Royal Bank, have urged the Canadian government to increase annual immigration to 340,000 and more, but that Immigration Minister Jason Kenney points to opinion polls showing that Canadians do not want higher immigration levels as reason to not boost them.

If the composition of total immigration numbers changes to increase the percentage of economic immigrants from 60% to 75%, the economic success of the typical immigrant (who at the moment have significantly lower average incomes than natural born Canadians for the first few years after they immigrate to Canada), and with it the perception Canadians have of immigrants, could improve, argues Friesen, and this could make it more possible to increase immigration numbers from the current 250,000 to 400,000.

A larger labour force is not the only benefit of more immigration described in the article. The Canadian economy could also see higher levels of innovation, due to the infusion of highly educated immigrants from diverse cultures. Supporting this theory is the fact, relayed by Jonah Lehrer, an American author specializing in the implications of neuroscience, that for each percentage increase in the number of immigrants with college degrees, the number of patents increases by 15 percent.

Hi-tech industries benefit from immigration, Friesen writes. He describes the multi-ethnic workforce at Communitech Hub, a tech incubator co-organized by the University of Waterloo, and the start-up, Antvibes, founded by Iranian-born Vigen Nazarian. Vigen believes that “people of different backgrounds take different approaches to problem solving, and with unusually successful outcomes”.

Friesen suggests that the best approach to immigration is to allow younger immigrants, meaning those in their mid-30s, encourage immigration to smaller towns, rather than larger population centres, and let individual communities participate in the selection process for immigrants.

The article is the most comprehensive argument for higher immigration levels seen in national Canadian media in recent history.