Is it time to allow those individuals who have been residing illegally in Canada to become legal residents - or to allow them some pathway to legal status? At present, other than a limited recourse under ‘humanitarian and compassionate’ considerations – an application that takes over 2 years, there is no amnesty provision for anyone in Canada.
Remember, there are thousands of failed refugee claimants, thousands of ‘visitors’ that have overstayed and many other illegal denizens of Canada (remember the hundreds of Portuguese deported from Canada in 2006?). I would imagine that, among many (if not the majority) of the thousands of temporary foreign workers that have arrived in the last months there would be a great reluctance to return to their countries of origin at the end of their contractual/indentured obligation (indeed another emerging issue is the widespread exploitation of these temporary foreign workers touted as the panacea to our labour woes - and what, if any, our obligation to them is).
I know that Canadians of all stripes view illegal immigrants that have jumped the queue with disfavor, but lets face facts. As long as there are global wealth disparities, Canada will continue to attract immigrants - both legal and illegal. As it stands, current Canadian citizenship policy is encouraging illegal immigration because legal immigration to Canada is simply too difficult - many highly skilled workers have to wait 5 years or more to come to Canada. Even when an immigrant (illegal or not) already in Canada has a Canadian spouse, a 'in-Canada' sponsorship exceeds 18 months.
Everyone knows there is a severe labour shortage in Canada which is especially acute in Alberta. What sense does it make to deport law abiding individuals who may not be refugees in the strictest sense of the definition, but have been contributing members of society nonetheless? Why would we turn away welders, electricians, other skilled trades and valuable labour? Why go to the difficulty and expense of recruiting individuals from abroad when we have a pool of workers (albeit without status) in our backyard?
Obviously we would target those 'illegals' who are healthy, have demonstrated positive employment history, proficiency in an official language, community involvement, ties to the country (such as children) and no criminal record. Safeguards such as: background checks in Canada and their home countries'; an increased period of time before eligibility for citizenship; higher administrative fees and a requirement to pay back any outstanding taxes on income earned in Canada will ensure that 'legal' immigrants continue to enjoy certain advantages over this new queue jumping/'amnesty immigrant class'.
The limited amnesty I propose however, should be combined with significant reforms to our current immigration regime, so that the requirement for amnesty is reduced over time. Legal immigration should be easier and faster, with a clear path to legal status for foreign students. Refugee reform should be a priority – with fair and quick decisions -- a failed refugee should not be in Canada for close to a decade before he or she is removed. And the provinces should have more say over immigration because it’s clear that the federal government has clearly dropped the ball.
I'm sure that critics will continue to argue that such a proposal rewards lawbreakers. They would be correct in such a characterization. However, that characterization does not negate the necessity to address the dual problems of our labour shortage and the issue of fairness to the poor souls that have come here for a better life and want to live here so very much.