Changes To Canada’s Foreign Worker Law May Lead To Immigrant Displacement

Recent changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program are already having a direct impact on the lives of real immigrants, particularly those in Canada’s large Filipino community.

With a majority of recent TFW immigrants—particularly those from the Philippines—employed in Western Canada’s booming natural resources sector, the federal government’s tightening of TFW visa approvals is expected to mean that many immigrants face the prospect of returning to their native land.

The Philippines remains the largest source for immigrant workers to Canada—as of 2012, there were 48,735 Filipinos temporarily working in Canada—and many of those immigrants are employed in Canada’s rural or remote areas servicing the country’s natural resources sector.

It is possible, given the government’s new restrictions on the hiring of TFW applicants, that some Filipino—and other TFW workers—may have to return to their homelands even if they wish to renew their Canadian work authorizations. By 2015, the federal government is reducing the number of low-wage TFW applicants from the previous 31,099 to 16,278 visas.

Although the TFW visa was never meant to be seen as a guarantee of permanent residency within Canada, for many foreign workers the recent restrictions on the program make the possibility of permanent residence even more remote.

Western Canada’s premiers recently issued a statement condemning the changes to the TFW program, expressing their concerns that their respective provinces will experience a shortage of workers given the new TFW restrictions. With most of the employment in the booming resource sectors taking place in Western Canada’s remote regions, many of those employers have been unable to recruit enough Canadians to fill the available positions, particularly those paying lower wages. As a result, foreign workers have filled the employment void in recent years.

However, by contrast to the restrictions on lower paying jobs, the federal government recently announced that it plans on expediting the recognition of the foreign credentials of 10 additional professional employment categories,  to assist Canadian companies seeking to hire foreign workers.

The ten new “priority occupations” are all skilled professions, including: Permanent Resident

  • Geoscientists
  • Carpenters
  • Electricians
  • Heavy-duty equipment technicians
  • Welders
  • Audiologists/speech language pathologists
  • Midwives
  • Psychologists
  • Lawyers

In announcing the changes, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the government believes the recognition of these credentials will ease any burden that the slimmed down TFW program may have placed on the “priority occupations”, whose foreign credentials will now all be recognized and expedited.

Canadian Film and Television Industries Worry About Impact Of New Immigration Law

Canada filmCanada’s film and television industries, who have enjoyed considerable growth in recent years, are expressing concern about the potential negative economic impact of recent changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

Representatives of Canada’s film and TV industries met with federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander during his recent visit to Vancouver, and let it be known they were not pleased with being lumped together with lower-paying industries such as the food services sector. In recent months, there have been several stories about foreign worker abuse in the food sector, leading the government to make the recent TFW program changes.

Under new TFW rules passed by the government this spring, foreign actors working in Canada are now subject to a $1,000 fee, and a 15-day waiting permit for their visa.

Concerns are growing that if the film and television producers are bogged down by fees and waiting periods it could severely impact their willingness to film in Canada.  Shawn Williamson, president of Vancouver’s Brightlight Pictures, called the $1,000 fee a “cash grab” by the federal government, and worried the delay for TFW visa permit could seriously impede film production.

“We’re looking for some kind of fix that would allow us to go back to a three or four day (visa) turnaround,” Williamson said.

The federal government has shown itself to be willing to make some exceptions to the new TFW rules. Recently, the Conservative government made an exception to the TFW requirements for foreign musicians, allowing them to come to Canada for a limited time without the need for a Labor Market Impact Assessment usually required to provide the “need” for a foreign musician.

The Commercial Production Association of Western Canada is also pushing hard to get the immigration minister to exempt the film and television sectors from the TFW rules. “The film industry needs full exemption, just like the (musical) bands,” explained Christian Allen, the association’s chairperson.

Although a majority of foreign filming in Canada is done in Vancouver and British Columbia (BC), there’s concern that Canada’s other two largest cities could also be negatively impacted by the TFW changes.

Bill Skolnik, president of the Ontario-based Directors Guild of Canada, said attracting film and TV production is a competitive business, and that the TFW program changes could be “another added issue” of why foreign production companies decide that “we’re not going to go there [Canada].”

To help rally support to exempt the film and TV industries from the new TFW rules, a petition was started on the website Change.org. The petition calls on the federal government to exempt Canada’s film productions from the rigorous new TFW rules.

New Canadian Law Allows Government To Share Immigrant Information With Foreign Governments

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration CanadaCanada’s sweeping new immigration law provides the Canadian government with new powers allowing it to share immigrants’ personal data with foreign governments.

Although not initially as controversial as other aspects of Bill C-24, Canada’s new immigration law, the recently-passed immigration bill will allow the federal cabinet to “provide for the disclosure of information for the purposes of national security, the defense of Canada or the conduct of international affairs” as part of future international agreements struck by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

In addition, under the new law the federal cabinet is now allowed “the disclosure of information to verify the citizenship status or identity of any person” to enforce either Canadian law or—far more significantly—“the law of any other country.”

Many critics of the new immigration law—particularly civil rights activists and lawyers—are warning that the result may be the Canadian government sharing personal information of immigrants with foreign governments, with little or no domestic oversight.

High profile immigration attorney Lorne Waldman is convinced the new Canadian law provides the federal government with a legal basis for sharing personal immigrant information with foreign governments; Waldman’s voice is also important because he was the attorney representing Maher Arar, a Canadian of Syrian heritage who was jailed and tortured in Syria after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) incorrectly identified him as a terrorist. In the wake of that event, new Canadian laws were passed tightening the rules for Canadian intelligence agencies sharing immigrants’ information with foreign governments.

The concern over the additional powers provided by Bill C-24 to the immigration minister has been growing in recent weeks; lawsuits have already been filed by civil rights organizations. Civil rights activists are worried about the added power that the bill provides the government to revoke the Canadian citizenship of those holding dual citizenships that are convicted of serious crimes, either at home or abroad.

Still, as he has been in the past, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander remains steadfast in his defense of the new law.

In response to the recent criticism of the bill that provides the power to share immigrant information with foreign governments, Alexander’s office stated the new law is fully “in line with existing laws under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”

Responding to an inquiry from the Toronto Globe and Mail, a representative from the immigration minister’s office said the government “takes the privacy of Canadians very seriously.”

However, the immigration minister’s representative also added that the new law was needed to “verify citizenship status and answer other identity questions”; should the government decide to share immigrant information with other nations, he stated it would only be “in accordance with domestic and international norms and obligations.”

Western Canadian Premiers Angered Over Changes To Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Western ProvincesLeaders of Canada’s Western provinces don’t always agree on everything, but they are unanimous in their opposition to new federal changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

At their annual meeting, all the premiers of Western Canada’s provinces were strongly critical of recent changes to the TFW program that will make it more difficult to hire foreign workers in Canada.

In a statement issued at the end of their meeting, the Western premiers said “Limiting the ability to hire foreign workers to address critical labor shortages will unduly punish responsible employers in Western Canada, particularly those in smaller and remote communities where Canadian workers are not readily available.”

Dave Hancock, Alberta’s interim premier, was particularly critical of the impact that the changes to the TFW program will have on his province.

“All of us (Western premiers) agree that the (TFW) changes are detrimental to our jurisdiction,” he said. “We will continue to talk to the (federal) government about that, but we also want to talk more broadly with the federal government … on immigration policy, on labor market policy.”

The Western Canadian premiers are hoping that the current energy boom will result in a greater number of employment opportunities for Canadian citizens, especially in more rural and remote areas. To that end, the premiers are urging residents in their provinces who reside in non-urban areas to apply for the growing number of energy sector jobs.

Still, the Western premiers also agreed that there will not be a sufficient number of Canadians to fill the expected job openings, given the scope of the energy boom.

Recognizing that fact, a representative of federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney responded to the Western premiers by stating that while “(Western) employers must redouble their efforts to recruit and train Canadians”, they should also reach out to “traditionally under-represented Canadians, such as new immigrants and Canadians with disabilities.”

But the federal Employment Minister’s office was also quick to defend the recent changes to the TFW program, saying the changes “restore the TFW program to its original purpose…as a last and limited resource for employers when there are no qualified Canadians to fill available jobs.”

Indian IT Companies Worry About The Impact Of Stricter Canadian Immigration Laws

Information TechnologyWill stricter Canadian immigration laws make it more difficult for Indian technology companies to do business, and recruit employees, in Canada?

In the wake of the passage of Canada’s new sweeping immigration law Bill C-24 and other immigration reforms, that question is on the minds of many Indian Information Technology (IT) companies. Under the recent changes to Canada’s immigration programs, immigrants will now have to meet higher requirements and their immigration will be subjected to Canada’s economic needs.

During Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s recent visit to India, the Indian IT industry body Nasscom sent formal letters to India’s external affairs and industry ministers expressing deep concern about the impact of Canada’s recent immigration reform.

The Indian IT industry requested “urgent intervention” from Indian government representatives in order to avoid disruption of Indian IT companies’ ability to both win and service contracts in Canada.

Speaking on behalf of India’s IT industry, Nasscom president R Chandrashekhar said his industry is “very disappointed that Canada has chosen an insular path rather than a progressive (immigration) policy”; the Nasscom president also quickly added that IT companies in his organization currently use over 15,000 Canadian work visas on an annual basis.2

The Canadian work visa most commonly used by Indian IT firms is the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT); Indian companies can use the ICT visa to transfer their employees to work in subsidiaries based in Canada.  Of concern to Indian IT firms is a recent change to the Canadian ICT rules that requires applicants have “uncommon knowledge” in order to qualify for the visa.

Representatives of India’s Nasscom are requesting that Canada clarify what the government means by ICT applicants having “uncommon knowledge”.

Gagan Sabharwal, Nasscom’s deputy director, says Canadian embassies in India are unsure of how to implement the new ICT visa changes, and as a result no such visas have been issued since the change to the ICT law in June.

Another visa option that is available to Indian IT companies is the Canadian Labor Market Opinion (LMO). However, the LMO visa would require companies to certify that hiring a foreign worker would not displace a Canadian citizen, and Sabharwal said many companies are “not comfortable providing such certificates.”

The changes to Canadian immigration law have the potential to have significant economic impact on India’s IT sector; the Canadian market represents about $2 billion (US) to India’s technology sector.

As a result, Nasscom representatives planned on meeting with Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander during his July visit to India to discuss their concerns over the future of India’s IT business with Canada.

Canadian Court Strikes Down Federal Government Cuts To Refugee Funding

Entrance to CanadaIn a major blow to the Conservative government, a Canadian federal court has overturned the government’s earlier decision to cut funding for refugee health care.

However, in the wake of the court’s decision to overturn the government’s cuts to refugee healthcare funding, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was quick to announce that his government intends to appeal the court’s decision.

Stating that the government’s intent was to “vigorously defend the interests of Canadian taxpayers” while also placing the emphasis on “genuine refugees”, Alexander strongly defended the spending cuts and made it clear his Ministry was not prepared to reverse its prior decision.

The government’s appeal will initially be heard in the Federal Court of Appeals, but given the high profile nature of the decision it’s expected that the appeal could end up in Canada’s Supreme Court.

Under Canada’s ‘single payer’ healthcare laws, all permanent residents of Canada are entitled to basic medical care. However, in 2012, the Conservative government trimmed medical benefits for newcomers to Canada, leaving most immigrants with only the most basic health care coverage.

With the changes made to funding for refugee healthcare, rejected refugee claimants, and claimants from countries the government considers to be “safe”, would be eligible for healthcare coverage only if they pose a risk to the health of the general public.

Critics of the change point out that the cuts would mean that refugees who are ineligible for coverage—and those who did not pose a ‘public health risk’–would not receive medical care for issues such as pregnancy, heart problems and other health challenges that could threaten the individual’s life.

The strong opposition to the cuts to refugee healthcare funding was perhaps best illustrated by the decision of the Ontario provincial government to reinstate the benefits earlier this year; that decision by Canada’s largest province means that the federal cuts would not apply to refugee healthcare funding in Ontario.

Still, in its defense of the cuts, the federal government pointed to the ever-growing cost of funding refugee healthcare. The Conservative government said that in 2003 it spent $50,600,000 on refugee healthcare, but by 2009 that amount had risen dramatically to over $91 million.

However, that financial argument failed to persuade the federal judge who ruled against the government. In her ruling, Judge Anne Mactavish said the cuts to refugee funding effectively resulted in “cruel and unusual” treatment for those affected by the cuts.

Dr. Philip Berger, co-founder of the Canadian Doctors For Refugee Care, also blasted the immigration minister, saying it was “breathtaking how uninformed” Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was “about his own portfolio.”

Berger also accused Alexander of failing to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate refugee claims, lumping all refugee claimants under the single label of being “bogus.”

Canada Launches Can+ Expedited Visa Processing For Indian Visitors

Business Visitor to CanadaDuring a visit to India, Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander officially launched the new “Can+” visa program, which is designed to provide expedited visa processing to Indian nationals who frequently visit Canada.

The Can+ visa will be available to Indian nationals who have traveled to either Canada or the United States during the last 10 years. The Canadian government is hoping the new visa will add to the already close business and economic ties between India and Canada. India is already among the top ten source countries for international visitors to Canada, with more than 130,000 Canadian visitor visas issued to Indian nationals in 2013.

The Canadian government is hoping that a recent Can+ pilot program that was launched in India will be indicative of the future success of the overall program. In the pilot program, visas were successfully issued within five days of application, with a visa approval rate of 95 percent. One key reason for this expedited visa approval is that the Can+ program requires less documentation during the application process.

The Can+ visa arrives at a time when there are growing ties between India and Canada; so much so that between January and June this year, almost 95 percent of all visas issued to Indians were multiple-entry visas, allowing Indian visitors to visit Canada as many times as they wish over the course of a 10 year period.

In addition to the new Can+ visa, there are three “express” visa programs designed to assist Indian businesspeople, students and tourists seeking to visit Canada. These visas include:

  • Business Express—expediting business travel from India, with visas usually issued within three days of application
  • The Tourist Partner Program—an expedited, simplified program for Indian visitors using travel agents registered with the Canadian embassy
  • Student Partners Program—a method for fast tracking visas (within 13 days) for Indian students seeking to study at Canadian universities.

In addition to promoting the Can+ program during his visit to India, Immigration Minister Alexander also took the opportunity to promote the Canadian government’s new “Express Entry” program to Indian business and government leaders.

Alexander told the Indian audiences that the new Express Entry immigration program will expedite the immigration process for “talented newcomers” to Canada, to the benefit of the Canadian economy.

Slated to commence in 2015, the new Express Entry program will allow the Canadian government to select the immigrants that it deems to be best suited for available openings, rather than simply those who were the first in the application line.

New Canadian Citizenship Law Passes Amid Controversy, Complaints

New Citizenship LawDespite widespread opposition, threats of lawsuits and questions regarding the law’s constitutionality, Canada’s federal government has passed its sweeping new citizenship law.

Bill C-24, titled the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, has been steeped in controversy since it was first introduced in parliament several months ago. While the Conservative government claims that the bill clarifies and adds value to Canadian citizenship, critics say it turns citizenship into a privilege rather than a right, and that it may end up establishing second-class citizens within Canada.

Critics of the new citizenship law include Amnesty International and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, which is taking legal action against the government in an effort to block the new law.

The new immigration law contains several changes to Canada’s citizenship rules, requiring lengthier residency in Canada, and greater proof of the intention of would-be citizens to actually live in Canada upon receipt of their citizenship. Under the previous law, citizenship applicants had to live in Canada three out of the previous four years; under the new law, applicants will be required to live in Canada 183 days for four out of the prior six years.

Changes in the new law also mean that all citizenship applicants age 14 to 64 will be required to take both a knowledge and language test; under the old law, the age group for those tests was 18-54 years old.

But the most controversial element of the new citizenship law is the revocation power that it provides the government; under Bill C-24, the government now has the power to revoke the citizenship of dual citizens found guilty of treason or terrorism, even by foreign courts. The immigration minister will also have the power to revoke the dual citizenship of anyone found to have fought against Canada in a foreign army.

As expected, high profile civil rights attorney Rocco Galati filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Constitutional Rights Center against the government, asking the federal court to invalidate key provisions of Bill C-24. Galati is a recognized powerhouse in Canadian legal circles, having recently successfully sued to block an appointment by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Canada’s Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, on July 1st, Canadians marked this year’s Canada Day, a national holiday celebrating the country’s birth. Across the nation, hundreds of people took the oath of citizenship, for the first time under the auspices of the recently passed Bill C-24. Some, however, also expressed concern about whether they will have the full citizenship rights of native-born Canadians.

Speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Soheili Hashemi was one of 28 new Canadians sworn in on Canada Day in Halifax, Nova Scotia. An Iranian by birth, Hashemi expressed the opinion of many critics of the new bill saying she was concerned that the revocation powers in Bill C-24 are “against the human rights laws of Canada”, and that the law is “not good for immigrants, and not good for Canada.”

Chinese Immigrants Lose Court Battle With Canadian Government

Canadian VisaA Canadian federal court has ruled against more than 1,000 wealthy Chinese immigrants seeking compensation after their immigration applications were affected by the cancellation of Canada’s Immigrant Investor Program (IIP).

After their applications for Canadian citizenship under the IIP were cancelled following the recent termination of the program, the wealthy Chinese immigrants sought millions of dollars in compensation through the class action lawsuit. However, a Canadian federal judge ruled that the immigrants had no legitimate expectation of a visa or Canadian residency.1

In her ruling against the wealthy immigrants, Judge Mary Gleason stated “there is no absolute right to the issuance of a visa following the mere fact of an application.”2

The now-canceled IIP has long been a controversial immigration program, as it allowed wealthy immigrants—the vast majority of whom were from China—to ‘loan’ the Canadian government $800,000 in order to attain a visa.

The IIP proved so popular among wealthy immigrants, most of who migrated to British Columbia (BC), that it eventually led to a backlog of more than 80,000 applicants—80 percent of which were filed in Hong Kong. Approximately 50,000 of the IIP applicants hoped to eventually settle in BC.3

In denying the immigrants’ lawsuit, Judge Gleason left no doubt as to the lack of validity in their claims for compensation.

“Would be immigrants have no right to force the Immigration Minister to set any particular quota for any economic class,” Judge Gleason wrote. “This determination is in keeping with long-established principles, which hold that no one possesses a right to immigrate”.4

In addition to denying the financial claims of the lawsuit, Judge Gleason also ruled that—contrary to their attorney’s claims—the immigrants were not entitled to protection under Canada’s Charter of Freedom and Rights. “Foreign citizens outside Canada have no rights to the Charter in respect to activities that occur outside of Canada,” Gleason wrote.

However, the immigrants’ attorney made it clear that he would not accept Gleason’s ruling as the final word on this lawsuit.

Tim Leahy said he planned to appeal the decision against his clients, rejecting Gleason’s rationalization for her decision.

“Justice Gleason’s ruling … disabuses anyone trusting in Canadian law that, if CIC [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] abuses them, they may count on the Federal Court to ensure fair treatment and the rule of law,” Leahy said in a statement.

Future Of Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program Remains Uncertain

live-in caregiverSpeculation is growing that Canada may make major changes—or even end—its popular Live-In Caregiver immigration program.

According to industry experts, as part of the overhaul of Canada’s immigration system–and in the wake of major reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program–the federal government is considering significant changes to the Live-In Caregiver program.

After reviewing internal government documents he received via a Freedom of Information request, Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland predicts that the Conservative government will announce the end of the Live-In Caregiver program this fall.

One of the driving reasons behind the government’s consideration of altering—or perhaps ending—the Live-In Caregiver program is the growing concern that the program has been used as a default method for family reunification, particularly among Canada’s Filipino community.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reported that, for several years, the Canadian Embassy in Manila has been aware that fraud in the Live-In Caregiver program is an “ongoing problem”; a 2011 Canadian government report confirmed that many Filipino nannies were brought over to Canada to work in the homes of their relatives.

Immigration attorney Richard Kirklund is predicting the government can expect considerable pushback from Canada’s Filipino community should it announce the end of the Live-In Caregiver program this fall, as anticipated. With a federal election expected within the next several months, Kirklund points out that Filipino-Canadian reaction could be critically important given that most of the community live in closely contested federal ridings.

When the Canadian government announced recent changes to the hiring of foreign workers—which would include the Live-In Caregivers—it exempted the program from tighter restrictions on permit durations, but did raise the application fee to $1,000 per applicant.

When Immigration Minister Chris Alexander was recently asked about the future of the Live-In Caregiver program, he offered a vague response that left open the door for future changes.

“We are not reforming it (the Live-In Caregiver program) today, but we will continue to look at a reform in this area…it will be an area of focus for us down the road,” Alexander said.

Concern over the future of the program is already being expressed by those most likely to be affected.

Manuel Gruber Hersch, president of the Association of Caregivers and Nannies Agency Canada, admitted that the Live-In Caregiver program is open to potential fraud; however, she added that establishing an independent agency to place the nannies and caregivers within Canada could avoid the need to end the popular program.