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Ask Tito Mike by Michael Scott

Federal immigration critic visits Winnipeg

By Michael Scott

The Pilipino Express, along with CBC radio, conducted an exclusive interview with MP Jinny Sims, the Official Opposition Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. The NDP member of parliament had a refreshing view on immigration and exhibited a firm understanding of the issues that face both immigrant applicants abroad and inside Canada, as well as the unique challenges faced by members of newcomer communities, like those of the local Filipino expatriate community in Manitoba. We had a frank exchange on immigration related.

Parliament versus ministerial discretion

The immigration critic pointed out something that most of us are painfully aware of – immigration has changed dramatically since the 2011 election of a majority Conservative government and most of the changes have not been a result of public discussion or even a result of debate in the House of Commons. Rather, the then-Immigration Minister Jason Kenny invoked ministerial discretion and just changed things on a whim, supported by questionable justification and often at the expense of those things we find most dear.

Sims reminded us all about the government’s decision to return the applications of over 300,000 skilled workers “who played by the rules,” were dumped without any warning and without regard. In her words this unfair action gave Canada a “black eye” and detracted from our international reputation for fairness.

Then there was Minister’s Kenny’s decision to redefine “serious criminality” as equivalent to a six-month sentence rather than two years minus a day. Sims also referred the new regulations regarding sponsored spouses or partners as ripe for abuse or “persons most vulnerable.” There is the very real potential for sponsors to extort money or favours from the newly landed Canadians who can rightly fear for their permanent resident status. “Immigrants,” she said “are not shopping carts”

Family sponsorship and the Super Visa

MP Sims was very critical of the Minister’s decision to stop the sponsorship of parents and grandparents in November 2011, only months after his promise to the voters that the program would not be cut. She pointed out that the justification for this freeze in terms of improved processing times and reduction of backlogs is not consistent with the reality. Processing times have actually increased since the moratorium. Sims did not see the unification of families as a negative to Canada’s economic growth but something that adds support because of extended family networks and support across generations.

The moratorium was coupled with the reintroduction of a 10-year multiple entry visa called the Super Visa. Sims pointed out that this step was not a real alternative to the sponsorship of parents and grandparents. The cost of the $100,000 travel insurance up front is, in her mind, not necessary and outside the means of average Canadians.

Reintroduction of the parent and grandparent sponsorship

Sims was concerned about the return of the sponsorship of parents and grandparents based on the promises of the immigration Minister. First, there is going to be a change in who can sponsor parents and grandparents because the low income cut off (LICO) standard will not only be increased by 30 per cent, but it will also be applied over the past three years. In others words, based on current LICO numbers, a family of three in the city of Winnipeg who want to sponsor their mother would have to earn $43,292 (family of four including mother) plus 30 per cent or $56,279. This is the income bar that would be applied and the sponsor would have to demonstrate that they have met this bar for the three previous years – 2013, 2012 and 2011. The responsibility period will also be increased from 10 years to 20 years. Sims also cautioned that the proposed changes might also be linked to Old Age Security requirements. Sponsored parents and grandparents would have to reside in Canada for 20 years before they are eligible to collect a pension. Her final comments on this subject echoed many of our sentiments because a 5,000-limit on sponsorship applications is like a drop in a bucket and will be exhausted within the first month.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

MP Sims was especially critical of Canada’s attempts to alleviate their labour shortages by bringing in temporary foreign workers. She said that this approach, which had been followed by successive Liberal and Conservative federal governments, was wrong headed. It creates a kind of “lottery system” rather than an objective way to screen for the best of the best. The current approach, categorized as the Expression of Interest Model, was loudly proclaimed by Minster Jason Kenny as way to engage Canadian employers in selecting the persons best qualified to meet their immediate needs. Sims rightly points out that these workers would not necessarily remain in these jobs but move on once they have status. She said that the best way to ensure that Canada has the best immigrants coming in is to offer such persons a chance for permanent residence and a chance to be reunited with their families in Canada. The best programs are only those that address the “real needs of Canadians.”

Jinny Sims, will be following Minister Jason Kenny, from immigration to a new department covering human resource and development. They both will be looking to correct the abuses of the old Labour Market Opinion (LMO) screening tool for Canadian employers. She said that the recent change to make employer applicants advertise for four weeks instead of two and pay processing fees is cosmetic only. The system is “set up to fail.” The MP from Surrey was correct in stating that the system should not forget to ensure that Canadians are given the first chance to fill vacancies. Remember the recent scandal over the RBC outsourcing IT jobs and miners in northern British Columbia needing to speak Mandarin. “People who live in Canada must have first access.”

Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program

Sorry folks, our visitor from Ottawa was not very optimistic about our beloved MPNP. She openly worried about it’s continuation and had a sense that the federal government was looking for more ways to limit the number of nominations and arrivals. The problem was not its success but rather with the federal government’s approach toward more temporary immigration. It is becoming harder across the board to get into the country and easier to be removed.

Final Observations

Critic Jinny Sims correctly pointed out many of the shortcomings of the approach to immigration followed by the current Conservative government. She does not expect things to change because Minister Alexander replaced Minister Kenny. The same Harper government endorsed the changes to immigration and reshuffling the cabinet will not bring needed change in the direction or softening of their anti-immigration agenda. She said that immigrants are painted as abusers, lawbreakers and users, and have been threatened “like invaders,” even though Canada brought them in. What is true about the 1,000 citizens who supposedly had lied and were going to be removed from Canada, or the sponsored parents and grandparents who were overusing the medical system, ditto for refugee claimants inside Canada who abuse the social security and medical system, or the landed immigrants who commit serious crimes inside the country (measure redefined as six months down from one year)? Critic Sims does not support lawbreakers but she openly condemns ministers like Jason Kenny who used all of the proceeding negative images to influence public opinion and justify cutting immigration programs. There is an abuse here, but the federal government is committing it.

MP Jinny Sims recommends that immigration policy and practice should not be a way “to divide or pit us against each other.” Canada’s immigration approach should be “robust… fair, and one that treats newcomers with respect.” She is not endorsing something that was unheard of in our countries past but something that appears to have been lost over the past two plus years. “Back to Future” is not such a bad thing when we remember that immigrants have been largely responsible for building Canada.

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: mscott.ici@gmail.com

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