The Romans believed in the two-headed Janus, who looked to both future and to the past, the deity of beginnings, endings and transitions. The month of January is not actually named for him, but it is appropriate, albeit cliched, at this time of year to look both at the year that was and the year that is to be.
The Year in Review
This government under the energetic leadership of Jason Kenney has already remade Canadian immigration policy in its image. For example, it has a far more muscular vision of what it means to be a Canadian emphasizing our (military) history and our ties to the monarchy. While some few individuals sought to challenge the requirement of an Oath to the (foreign) Queen, this government was steadfast in its support of the House of Windsor.
The government continued to have little patience for "Canadians of Convenience", cancelling the fiasco that was the Investor class. It continues to "crack down" on immigration fraud, notably significant changes to Canada's Citizenship Act. (or at a minimum, talks about cracking down on immigration fraud). As I've discussed many times previously, the clarity to the physical residency requirement to qualify for Canadian Citizenship was likely welcome by the Federal Court and by many stakeholders. However, the new Citizenship Act also allows for the revocation of citizenship which has already proven controversial, despite the fact that the majority of Canadians support the concept. This legislation will be challenged because it creates different classes of citizenship. As I discussed on CBC Radio, the government has the mandate; I'm not sure whether the Canadian public understands the nuances and expansion of the power to the government. At the end of the day, Citizenship is harder to get and easier to lose.
As an aside, while the Minister of CIC promised to crack down on marriage fraud, this has not been my experience, or the experience of my firm. There's only been a handful of charges laid against individuals that have committed marriage fraud. Minister Kenney himself has said there's countless cases of marriage fraud; there's been changes but I characterize these charges as too much toast and not enough butter.
Despite a few factual errors, John Ibbitson of the Globe gets it right. There is no doubt that this government is far less compassionate, and far more focused on immigrants as economic integers. This is expected to continue. For example, sponsoring your parents or grandparents is restricted to 5,000 applications per year; sponsors are required to show increased income and are liable for their parents (read wards) for 20 years.
There's a difference between Law and Justice. It was the latter that Justice Mactavish delivered to those that challenged the government's cutbacks to refugee health coverage. Full disclosure, I also took a different perspective on those health cuts that seemed to spark some concern among my colleages. Speaking again of compassion: We're still detaining thousands of refugees and other immigrants, including minors.
Jason Kenney found himself between a rock and a hard place dealing with outrage over allegations the foreign workers were being preferred over Canadians by businesses, including McDonalds Restaurants. The fact of the matter is that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program exploded under the Conservative (pro-business) government. However, Canadians were offended and the groundswell was real. This resulted in a hastily invoked suspension of the program and then radical change (all, in my opinion, a political calculation -- there's a lot more votes from middle Canada than corporate Canada) resulting increased red tape and limitations to the utilization of the temporary foreign worker program. I discussed this on Alberta Primetime with the Mayor of Whitecourt. I said at that point that the sky was not falling. Perhaps it is, for many individuals. The AINP processing time has skyrocketed and LMIA applications have fallen by two-thirds meaning hardship to many individuals with work permits.
Befitting the season, the government was scrooge like in changing the definition of a dependent child. 2014 saw the hard and fast rule regarding accompanying dependents. Namely that if you can buy beer in BC, you're not coming along.
Another tangent: Chris Alexander did not distinguish himself with comments that should be beneath any elected representative. What on earth happened to the diplomat? Why would he call Rocco Galati a disgraced lawyer? Who pissed in his cornflakes this year?
Moving on, there's been some sugar to help the medicine go down. There's a federal election coming. That might explain the late in the day prizes that Chris Alexander is handing out like Oprah Winfrey.
You get a work permit! You get a work permit! You get a work permit! Everybody gets a work permit! With in Canada spousal sponsorship application processing times exceeding 12 months, the pressure was building on Alexander to deliver a solution. Remember, if you're sponsored under this program, you could not obtain a work permit until first stage approval. That's all changed a few days before Christmas with a new Unit set up at CPC Vegreville (Unit 777) to handle the applications for everyone that's already applied.
Alexander also deigned to address the shortcomings of the Live in Caregiver program. Here's the problem with predicting the future. Most feared the planned changes to the LIC program. The reality has turned out to be far more benign.
2014 has proven to be a difficult year for some: Deepan Budlakoti suffered a setback in his efforts to obtain Canadian Citizenship which he feels is his birthright. I've been interviewed on his travails, and interviewed Deepan. I understand his frustration, at the same time, the Federal Court decisions seem unambiguous and clear. I've proposed a different solution to him, but he is truculent and dedicated to his path - which is that he is a Canadian by right.
Finally, despite the fact that 2014 was the centennial of the arrival of the Komagata Maru, it seems that the more things have changed, the more they've stayed the same. I was honoured to be asked to write and speak on this issue which is a touchstone for South Asian immigration in this country.
What will 2015 bring?
Prognostication is a difficult and inevitably highly inaccurate, but this has yet to stop many pundits from the attempt (the pun is intended). [I'll admit, I got it wrong by predicting the end or scaling back of the Live in Caregiver Program.]
Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is. - Yoda
With that being said, everyone's eyes will be on the Express Entry Program. It's advent spells the end of the venerable Federal Skilled Worker Immigrant Class. Will it live up to its boasted six month processing times? How will it deal with skilled workers already in Canada? There's a lot of questions and only time will tell.
Next, what does the future hold on a macro level? Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail talks about the 'resource curse' of Canada here. With precipitously falling oil prices, the resultant slow down in our economy, and the already tightened rules surrounding the temporary foreign worker program, it doesn't take a genius to sense troubled waters ahead for immigration consultants and lawyers that rely heavily on application preparation.
I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened. -- Obi Wan Kenobi
Further, this government cannot be characterized as anti-immigrant. The welcome mat is the same size, but this government desires a very specific type of immigrant. Ultimately, one that adds to the bottom line. This is not a bad thing. Despite the CPC affinity for the views espoused by a number of Fraser Institute academics, the numbers of permanent residents are not going to fall. I discussed this issue with Martin Collacutt, who believes that statistics and a study prepared by a fellow FI (and apparently his marriage to a South Asian) allows him to espouse for dramatic cuts to immigration. That simply is not going to happen.
The immediate future - for this office at least - will be a massive spike in removals. We will be incredibly busy in litigation in addition to our application work. I'm looking forward to arguing before the Federal Court in a couple of weeks regarding the very serious allegation of bad faith against an immigration officer.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.
We've worked very hard to get to where we are. We are the largest dedicated immigration firm in this province (and probably several others). Bjorn and I are looking forward to this next year, which could be a very challenging one in this particular niche. However, immigration, in Canada at least, is never going away.
My penultimate comment: immigration is once again tied to employment or the labour situation in Canada. This may seem over the top, but I predict that Jason Kenney will become, once again the Minister of Employment *and* Immigration.
My thoughts return to the thousands of temporary foreign workers that will reach the end of their four years in Canada. Many may have thought that they would obtain permanent status in this country. Personally, I don't think it's right that we utilize individuals for their labour and sweat all to send them packing after we're done with them. It smacks of the days of 'coolie' labour a century ago and as someone whose ancestors would be described in precisely that same way in foreign lands, it's beneath our dignity.
Come what may, we're looking forward to 2015.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!