Michael Higgins: An immigration plan to help reverse shrinking populations in rural Alberta. Jason Kenney's Alberta Advantage Immigration Strategy would speed up processing and end large backlogs with an aim of bringing 10,000 newcomers to rural Alberta communities, giving priority to committed entrepreneurs ...
Jason Kenney: ... who take big risks to turn a dream into reality, which creates jobs and produces prosperity for all of us.
Michael Higgins: To get some perspective on what the UCP plan might involve and its degree of potential, we're joined now by Raj Sharma, an immigration lawyer in Calgary.
Michael Higgins: Mr. Sharma, before we get to the UCP proposal, many of us understand immigration to be a federal responsibility, so to what degree do the provinces factor into the equation?
Raj Sharma: Thanks, Michael. Immigration is a federal legislation, but the responsibility is a bit shared between the federal government and the provinces.
Raj Sharma: I'll leave Quebec aside; Quebec has its own sort of deal in immigration just like they have their own deal on other matters. Other provinces have been sort of clamoring for more say in terms of immigration, and so each province has their own provincial nominee program, or PNP, and each province tries to maximize the pool of candidates. Each province has their own set of priorities, shall we say. Alberta has about 5,000 or so. They've been allotted about 5,000 or so candidates under the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program.
Michael Higgins: So would you say that's Alberta doing a good job, in this regard?
Raj Sharma: Well, Alberta's priorities have been to, we have a large number of temporary foreign workers. We have international graduates that graduate from here. We have Alberta employers. We have industries here that do rely on international students, international graduates, international workers.
Raj Sharma: So, Alberta has been trying to move those individuals, support those individuals in their progress towards permanent residency. It has been quite clear in terms of the priorities. I'm not quite clear yet in terms of Jason Kenney's proposals. In my view, if it ain't broke, you shouldn't fix it.
Michael Higgins: Okay, and let's pick up on that point. How do you see the UCP proposal differing from what is currently being done in Alberta?
Raj Sharma: I think there's a lot more politics in this messaging than there is policy. If you look at the current Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program, it prioritizes four different classes of individuals. It prioritizes individuals that come here, study in Alberta post-secondary institutions, pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, and what they're doing is they're deferring the costs for local students, for example. And if they get related work, they have a shot at permanent residency.
Raj Sharma: There's other streams as well. If individuals are here as temporary foreign workers, they're working here for 12 months for their employer. They've got a shot as well. With, of course, proof of language proficiency and a certain minimum educational level. So that's the current system. Now, the problem here is that you need certainty in any immigration system. There was a recent change just in June of 2018, and now of course Mr. Kenney is proposing something new.
Raj Sharma: Normally when you're an immigration lawyer and Jason Kenney starts talking about immigration, at first blush, the first reaction is going to be anxiety. He was the most energetic, the most transformative federal immigration minister in recent history. He's purged hundreds of thousands of applications for permanent residency. He was very, very active in that file, in that portfolio, so I think probably any immigration lawyer is going to be looking at this, and he or she is going to have some anxiety as to what the future holds for applicants.
Raj Sharma: In my opinion, we should continue to do what we're doing at present, which is prioritizing individuals that are already in Alberta. Individuals that are working in Alberta, individuals that have studied in Alberta. I'm not actually a great fan of trying to facilitate the immigration of individuals that have never been in Alberta, that have never worked in Alberta, that have never paid tax in Alberta, that have never studied or paid tuition in Alberta, and hoping somehow, a pipe dream, shall we say, that we'll be able to scoop a millionaire out of India or China or where have you and expect them to take up residency in Coleman or Blairmore, or a small town in Alberta. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
Michael Higgins: Okay, and let's pick up on that rural element. Where do newcomers traditionally settle in our province? How realistic is it to think someone will go to a rural community?
Raj Sharma: I think it's likely unrealistic that someone is going to go to a rural community. I grew up in a small town in BC just across the border. My cousins grew up in Blairmore and Coleman.
Raj Sharma: Let's say, Michael, for example, you're a millionaire. You're a millionaire from a third world country, and you've worked very hard to become a millionaire. So what is money? Money means options. It takes some time to become a millionaire, so you're 40 or 50, and your kids are going to be in school and looking for a university. What are you going to do? You're going to apply to come to Alberta to go to a small town where, let's face it, there are less options. This seems like a pipe dream. I just don't see how you can A, recruit, and B, retain. Because once these individuals come as permanent residents, they're free to move anywhere they want. There's Section Six of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows freedom of mobility within Canada.
Raj Sharma: It would make much more sense, for example, to facilitate the status of individuals already here, already living in those communities. But I suppose the devil's in the details. What I've seen so far, trying to recruit 500 entrepreneurs to small town Alberta, I have no idea why that would necessarily happen because if you do have a certain degree of money, you do have options, you do have the ability to utilize other provinces. But most of these successful entrepreneurs would want education for their kids, language support, [inaudible 00:06:50] services, [crosstalk 00:06:52], to be around individuals from their own country, for example.
Raj Sharma: So you have a 50/50 ... Sorry, Michael ... just a 50/50 split. Edmonton and Calgary take the bulk of it. At this moment, we only have about 4,000 individuals that go to rural Alberta.
Michael Higgins: We'll have to see how this plays out on the campaign trail.
Michael Higgins: Mr. Sharma, always appreciate your perspective. Thank you kindly, sir.
Raj Sharma: Thank you.
Michael Higgins: That's Raj Sharma, an immigration lawyer in Calgary.