Changing migration management

| September 30, 2013 | 0 Comments

Canada’s experience with managing migration has a long history, beginning with the powers assigned to provinces and the federal government under the Constitution Act of 1867. The federal government assumes leadership in the policy arena although Quebec has its own program and provinces are becoming more engaged in admissions.
The most recent federal act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act 2002 (IRPA) reaffirms the three main principles of admissibility for permanent residents: family reunification, humanitarian and economic. However, in the past decade, broad transformations occurred in the management of migration and in admissions criteria. The most fundamental is an altered process of federal management. But significant changes have also occured in determining which migrants are admitted and how, including tighter regulations governing entry in family and humanitarian classes, growth in the admissions of temporary workers, increased provincial and employer roles in the selection of economic migrants and the creation of a portal to admit skilled trades workers. By late fall 2013, the federal government will have completed its review of the temporary worker program and an expression of interest program (described below) is expected. As a consequence, Canada’s immigration management and admissions programs will be very different from those of the 1970s and 1980s.

Managing migration
Between the 1950s and 1960s, the public service took the initiative in devising policy and advising the ministers of various portfolios; during the 1970s and 1980s, consultations with the public become part of policy-making. However, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, power is increasingly centralized within the executive. The formulation and management of immigration policy by the executive branch of the Canadian government became a reality in 2008 with Bill C-50, the Budget Implementation Act, which contained amendments to the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This lacked precedent. Rather than tabling amendments as a stand-alone parliamentary bill subject to debate, consultation and the involvement of all political parties, amendments were inserted into a budget bill that was unlikely to be defeated, as defeat would represent a vote of non-confidence, causing the dissolution of the Conservative government.
The amendments gave total discretion to the minister of immigration on how to process applications made after February 2008. Further, the minister is authorized to give instructions to visa officers on processing applications, establishing categories of applications, prioritizing order, setting the number of applications processed and providing for repeat applications. Today, policy developments frequently are announced by the minister and posted in the Canada Gazette. Giving authority to the minister and embedding changes in budget bills facilitate the alteration of immigration regulations and immigration policy. This also minimizes parliamentary and public scrutiny on those issues.

Family and humanitarian admissions
For persons seeking admission on the basis of family ties, three major changes in 2011 and 2012 are (1) the amendments to IRPA targeting marriage fraud, (2) the pausing of parental re-unification, to resume in January 2014 using higher income levels and extending the sponsorship from 10 to 20 years, and (3) the creation of a super visa for parents and grandparents which allows temporary residence for up to two years at a time.
Each change has its supporters and critics. Supporters argue marriage fraud is on the rise and represents an abuse of Canada’s immigration system; similarly, elderly immigrant parents may be high users of welfare and health-care services. Critics see the requirement that the sponsored spouse or partner must cohabit in a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for a period of two years following receipt of the permanent resident status as creating reluctance to leave abusive partners. Further, critics suggest discussion on welfare and health care of elderly relatives casts a negative light on family reunification.
Many changes also have occurred to criteria governing the admission of refugees and others entering on humanitarian grounds. Refugee claimants, those who arrive in Canada and seek permanent residency on humanitarian grounds, are the focus of the most changes. In June 2012, the federal government cut funding to the interim federal health program, effectively denying health care to many claimants.
Bill C-31, which came into force Dec. 15, 2012, modified IRPA to allow the government to designate large groups that arrive in Canada as “irregular arrivals.” These “designated foreign nationals” can face mandatory detention and a ban on applying for permanent residency for five years. Additionally, the minister can designate a country of origin as a generally non-refugee-producing country, one that respects human rights and offers state protection (examples are Australia, Ireland and Italy).
Refugee claimants from these countries have an expedited review process and may not appeal negative decisions from the refugee appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Again, reaction is varied. For some, refugee claimants seek a quick entry and take advantage of welfare and health programs. For others, the risk of restricting humanitarian access to those in need outweighs the costs of assisting all refugee claimants.

Expanding temporary migrants
Without question, recruiting labour has been and remains a major focus of immigration policy changes during the past decade. Migrants explicitly recruited to meet Canadian labour market needs on a temporary basis usually enter under three programs developed and managed by Citizenship and Immigration Canada — the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, the Live-in Caregiver Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which is by far the largest.
Numbers have increased over time, standing at nearly 500,000 in 2012 (this includes new entries, those re-entering and those present with visas issued earlier). Some of the workers admitted temporarily are highly skilled, although the majority are not. Some workers enter as part of intra-company transfers or under inter-government agreements (such as the North American Free Trade Agreement) that permit worker mobility. Many, however, arrive as a result of employer job offers, which required a “labour market opinion” that assesses how that offer will affect Canadian jobs.
Supporters of a sizable temporary work force argue that such migration is necessary to meet the needs of rapid growth in Canada’s resource industries, and that agricultural workers and live-in caregivers do jobs that Canadian residents will not take. Others argue that labour scarcity is less an issue than is employer reluctance to raise wages to the levels that attract Canadian workers. There are also concerns that a four-year work limit on visas that applies to many temporary migrant workers will not result in workers returning home, but will instead generate large numbers of illegal workers and their families, something that Canada has not experienced in the past. The first expiration date for these four-year visas will be reached April 1, 2015.

Economic admissions: provincial programs
A relatively recent development is the growing involvement of provinces in the selection of immigrants. Under the 1991 Canada-Quebec Accord, Quebec has its own regulations and may send visa-issuing officers to work in embassies and consulates. Other provinces participate in the provincial nominee program, introduced in 1996 to facilitate permanent admissions based on economic contributions. This class allows provinces to nominate migrants using selection criteria that reflect local labour markets. All provinces have signed agreements with the federal government, although substantial variations exist in how provinces recruit (websites, employer consultations, guidebooks), and in the types of workers sought (clerks, farm workers, entrepreneurs and workers for the tourism, food processing and trucking industries.)
The provincial nominee program draws heavily from temporary workers already in Canada and it fast-tracks chosen workers; applications receive priority over those in the skilled worker program, discussed below. The provincial nominee program decentralizes decision-making to the provinces and gives them a greater say on admissions in the economic contribution class.

Skilled workers and skilled trades
Since the 1960s, Canada’s traditional mechanism for labour recruitment was the skilled worker category, where points are given for productivity-related factors such as age, official language knowledge and education. This point system has changed over time; today ministerial directives ensure that would-be applicants must either have a job offer or have worked in one of 24 designated occupations (the number and type of occupations has changed three times since its inception in 2008).
Applicants must obtain minimum points on language tests administered by private-sector firms and their education equivalency must be verified by a third party before their application is accepted. Admissions in this class are supply-side, generated by applicants queuing to apply and being admitted under annually capped numbers if they qualify. Numbers admitted in the skilled worker class, both as principal applicants and as family members have declined from the early 2000s, influenced in part by the priority given to applicants in the provincial nominees class.
Recent developments include the federal skilled trades class, established in January 2013, reflecting the need for workers in skilled trades. These applicants now also must meet minimum language skill requirements, undergo educational-training assessments, have experience in the same skilled trade as their job offer and have a job offer in one of 43 job categories considered to be in higher or moderate demand. One possible effect may be additional declines of admissions in the skilled-worker class, as the federal skilled trades class will now include trade workers formerly admitted under the skilled-worker class.

The future: two-step and just-in-time migration
In September 2008, the Canadian experience class (CEC) was established within the economic admissions class for permanent residents. CEC targets temporary foreign workers in occupations that require managerial skills or high levels of education, as well as select skilled tradespersons and foreign student graduates with Canadian graduate degrees. Like the provincial nominee program, which draws on temporary workers and the PhD stream program, CEC also provides a two-step process for permanent admission.
All the changes and new programs that deal with labour recruitment indicate that Canada is moving away from a supply-side model of economic-based admissions. Temporary workers frequently require an offer of employment and provinces are selecting candidates for permanent admission from temporary workers. International students and high-skill temporary workers are encouraged to become permanent residents through the CEC and other transition programs.
The government’s announced commitment in 2012-2013 to developing an “expression of interest” (EOI) admission system is perhaps the most important signal in the reconfiguration of Canada’s recruitment of skilled labour to one that is decentralized, demand-driven and employer-instigated. Similar to the approach devised in New Zealand and adopted by Australia, a pool of skilled workers would be created by having prospective immigrants fill in online forms that indicate human capital skills and work experience. Points would be assigned, applications ranked and then entered into a pool.
The EOI form would not be an application for admission, but rather the first stage in the potential recruitment of a worker. CIC envisions that employers or a provincial/territory government would select among this pool, triggering a second step of applying for admission. In such a system, backlogs of applications would be avoided and immigrants would arrive with offers of employment. This “just-in-time” process is viewed by government policy-makers as recruiting people with the right skills, fast-tracking applications for admission and having workers arrive in a few months. This system is expected to be announced in the fall of 2014 and it will dramatically depart from earlier practices and programs.

Monica Boyd is the Canada Research Chair in Immigration, Inequality and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

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Category: Dispatches

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Monica Boyd is the Canada Research Chair in Immigration, Inequality and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

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