What the Liberal Win Likely Means for Immigration Policy
We’ve all heard about the 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end, now pushed back to the end of February 2016. But what else is in store for immigration and refugee policy now that the Liberals are in power? In this blog post I explore what the new government has promised to do and how this compares to policies as they inherited them, but also how these proposals compare to the situation as it existed prior to the changes brought on by the Harper government.
The Mandate Letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum, lists a number of priorities:
- Double the number of “entry applications” of parents and grandparents of immigrants to 10,000. Presumably, this means that the government intends to double the 2015 cap of 5,000 applications for permanent residence (PR) of sponsored parents, to 10,000. As of writing, the CIC website indicates that the program will begin accepting 2016 applications on January 4, 2016, that there will be a cap, but that said cap has not been announced yet. Prior to the Harper government introducing it, no cap existed at all. My guess is that the 10,000 cap will fill up just as quickly as the previous one did (before the end of January 2016). Many Canadians wishing to have their parents and grandparents living with them for an extended period of time in Canada will still have to rely on the “Super Visa” and no government healthcare and other benefits for their parents. Those wanting to sponsor their parents for PR within the (likely) 10,000 spots that will be available, get started now! The 2016 application packages are available. Verdict: partial reform
- “Bring forward a proposal regarding permanent residency for new spouses entering Canada” – the Harper government introduced conditional permanent residence for sponsored spouses, essentially obligating the spouse and sponsor to remain together for two years until the condition is removed. The goal behind the policy was to discourage sham marriages. Opponents argued that it would put potential victims of domestic abuse (i.e. vulnerable women) in a position where they would have to stay in an abusive relationship so as not to lose their status. Procedures exist to remove the conditions in such circumstances, but the burden is on the sponsored spouse to prove to the government that she is suffering abuse. The Liberals had vowed to scrap the condition, now the mandate letter refers to “brining proposals”. Verdict: outcome still unknown
- “Establish an expert human rights panel to help you determine designated countries of origin” – the Designated Countries of Origin (DCOs) were introduced by the Harper government. A DCO is a country deemed generally “safe”, and not one that ought to be generating refugees. Refugee claimants from DCOs face quicker timelines in the processing of their refugee claims, and until recently had limited appeal rights (though that restriction was deemed unconstitutional by the Federal Court and the Liberal government will not fight the verdict). Prior to the DCO regime being introduced, no distinction was made to one’s procedural rights in a refugee claim based on their country of origin. The Liberals seem to be indicating that they will be more judicious in which countries are consider “safe”, but it looks like the DCO regime is here to stay. Verdict: likely partial reform
- “Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada” – Presumably what the Liberals mean is they want to restore the residency “credit” foreign students, who later became permanent residents, got when they applied for citizenship. To become a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident has to have been in Canada for 4 years prior to making an application, and must have had permanent resident status during the entire 4 year period. Previously, a person who was here as a foreign student or on a work permit could count that time, up to a maximum of year, towards their residency requirement when applying for citizenship. They would get a credit of half a day for each full day spent in Canada with a legal status other than permanent residence. In other words, the time spent at school and working on a post-graduation work permit counted, up to a year, as part of their residency requirements when it came time to apply for citizenship. It looks like the Liberals are prepared to reinstate that credit. However, nothing has been said about the fact that the Harper government increased the residency requirement to apply for citizenship from 3 to 4 years. It looks like that change is here to stay. Verdict: likely partial reform
- “Eliminate visitor visas for Mexico” – During their meeting at the G20 summit in November of this year, Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated to the Mexican president that the visa requirement will be lifted, though it still unknown when exactly. The Harper government imposed visas on Mexican nationals in 2009 to stem the flow of refugee claimants from Mexico. Verdict: complete reform/rollback of Harper policy
What can we conclude overall? Anyone hoping for the return of the good old days (or bad days, depending on your perspective) will be disappointed (or pleased). This may be no bad thing. While the system prior to the Harper reforms was more permissive, it was also overwhelmed by processing delays. Yes, there was no limit on the number of parental sponsorships in a year, but because of processing under-capacity it would still be years before grandma and grandpa could be landed in Canada. Refugee claimants waited years just to get a hearing date. The real test for the new Liberal government will be how well they sand down the rougher edges of the previous Harper reforms, and how well they resource the Ministry. Ultimately, the best we can hope for is a more responsive, less vindictive, and better resourced immigration and refugee system, but one that unquestionably carries the hallmarks of the “Harper decade”.
In my next post: A big immigration issue that the new government has remained silent on, yet one with the potential to negatively impact Canada’s international competitiveness.