My thoughts - shared on the CBC Calgary Eyeopener on January 30, 2019 discussing the family class imbroglio.
David Gray: [Immigratino Canada is facing] a backlash this week. The problem, its new online sponsorship system, which allows people to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada. They brought in a new first-come, first-served online form. It went live at exactly 10:00 AM on Monday. All 27,000 application spots filled up in just 11 minutes. Now, my next guest says reuniting families shouldn't be like buying concert tickets.
Raj Sharma is an immigration lawyer here in Calgary and he joins us on the line.
Raj Sharma: Good morning.
David Gray: What happened in your office when the form went live? Can you describe the scene?
Raj Sharma: We had to operate under this new parental grandparent first-come, first-served regime and sort of ended up being a little bit like Black Friday door crashers. The program went live Monday, January 28th, 10:00 Mountain Standard Time. Within a matter of minutes, the program was shut down. They had received the limit.
David Gray: Did you know this was the way it was going to work?
Raj Sharma: Yes. Not just myself, under individuals saw the inherent problems with this sort of model. It was sort of a train wreck you could see coming a mile away. You have about 100,000 individual sponsors in Canada that are interested in bringing their parents, grandparents to Canada to reunite with their families and you've got 20,000 available slots.
David Gray: This does sound an awful lot like a hot concert ticket moment. I mean, did you have clients with multiple phones or taking the day off work in order to get in on this?
Raj Sharma: Yeah. It was really, really unfortunate. Now, the old system was this sort of lottery system. You had about a month to get your expression of interest, as they called it, to get that in. Then, there would be a draw and they would take, randomly, the 20,000 or the 10,000, whatever the number was that year. So that was the old system. Unfortunately, the government should probably figure this out. When you replace a program, you should probably try to address the shortcomings and not add to them. Because everyone should be equal and everyone should have an equal shot. But you had a situation where some individuals, perhaps, are not as computer savvy or tech literate. These individuals may have internet connections, and not all internet connections are equal. They had just a few minutes to fill out a form and upload proof of their status in Canada. Not everyone was able to do that.
Raj Sharma: David, I just wanted to say that it's a different emotion that I'm hearing from my clients. In years past, we heard frustration and disappointment. What I'm hearing now is anger because Canadians and permanent residents believe in orderly immigration systems, and they can accept not being accepted or their application not being accepted in a fair, random draw. I think it's a much different experience altogether when you can't even submit your expression of interest, that it was never considered, that you never actually had a shot.
David Gray: Well, especially when your health and welfare and wellbeing of your family's at stake here. You've got that 11 minute window, and which of us hasn't made a mistake trying to rush on something on a computer? When that window closed after 11 minutes, how many of your clients called their lawyer to express their, shall we say, dissatisfaction?
Raj Sharma: Well, David, first of all, I don't even know if it's 11 minutes. I mean, for us, we saw eight minutes. Other clients are contacting me, and they're indicating that it was four minutes. Some are now indicating 11 minutes. I have a computer engineer-type who wants to sue the government and wants to determine where those 27,000 IP addresses are from. He's suspecting bots or other sort of strategies that were employed. Again, that's unfortunate. Again, I believe that everyone should have an equal chance.
David Gray: That's the point. There's got to be a better way. Now, you sat down with the Minister of Immigration at one point to discuss what a new system might look like. What happened with that?
Raj Sharma: Very, very simple. You are always going to have demand that exceeds our fixed immigration levels. People are always going to be frustrated. Now, the only way to manage frustration is to show individuals that it's a fair and transparent system and everyone is playing by the same rules. I would've had, for example, a weighted draw later in the year.
David Gray: You've got a classic supply and demand situation here. A lot of people want to live in Canada. Many, understandably, want to bring their families here. There are those who say, "I appreciate your notion of a weighted system." But they'll say, "Well, there is no good system for sponsoring relatives that will seem fair to everybody." You refute that claim?
Raj Sharma: Well, look. Just because there's no perfect system doesn't mean that we can't try and at least implement a fair and transparent system. There will always be winners and losers. But again, you can assuage those concerns by individuals if they know that they have ... They're on the same playing field as everyone else. Now, again, maybe we were expecting too much. In hindsight, governments that can't handle the payroll to their staff, to federal government employees, like the Phoenix payroll fiasco, this too has turned into a bit of a fiasco. Again, it could've been prevented. This didn't have to be this way.
David Gray: All right. So what happens next for those who didn't get a spot?
Raj Sharma: I don't know. I've almost given up trying to predict various governments' approach to family reunification. The conservatives shut down the system while they attacked the backlog that had built up between 2011 and 2013. There was then minimal intake, where it was first-come, first-served of complete applications in Mississauga, thereby discriminating against individuals that lived in other parts of the country. We had the derided lottery system, which now appears to be a godsend the last couple of years. Now, we have this Black Friday door-crashers sale, this reserving camp bath campsite-type of model.
Raj Sharma: I don't know. I don't know whether this government will be in power next year. The federal election is, of course, this year. I think immigration's going to play a role in that election. I think it remains to be seen what the reality is for Canadians and permanent residents that have waited, in some cases, for years to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada.
David Gray: Thank you for joining us to talk with us. I appreciate it.
Raj Sharma: My pleasure.
David Gray: That's Raj Sharma. He's an immigration lawyer based here in Calgary.