Educational advocates in Quebec are alleging that thousands of immigrant children are being denied an education due to their parents’ lack of permanent status in Canada.
According to the Collectif éducation sans frontieres, many of the parents of the affected children are living in Canada illegally, or have not been granted either refugee status or a government issued work permit. In Quebec, the law states that only citizens and certain categories of legal immigrants are granted a free public education; as a result, the group claims, thousands of immigrant children are not being schooled.
Quebec law does allow for those undocumented immigrant children to receive an education if their parents are willing to pay between $5,000 and $6,000 in fees. The Collectif advocates say that amount is beyond the reach of most immigrants and therefore their children are not receiving an education.
Under Canadian law, each individual province has jurisdiction over its own educational system. As a result, the rules governing who receives a free public education vary between provinces.
The immigration advocates are calling on the Quebec government to change the education law so that it will be in line with similar laws in Ontario and the United States, where children of undocumented immigrants are provided a free, public education.
In fact, Toronto – Canada’s largest city – passed its own law several years ago titled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” specifically allowing all immigrant children to attend public school without having to report on any immigration status.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia (BC), free public education is available to Canadian citizens, permanent residents and refugees. However, immigrant parents registering their children for school need to show documentation of their legal status.
Earlier this year, the provincial Liberal Party assumed office in Quebec, replacing the previous Parti Quebecois administration. Under pressure from immigrant advocates, that administration had loosened some of the rules regarding who is eligible for a public education in Quebec. That was done primarily by increasing the number of immigrants exempted from having to pay educational fees.
Linda Guerry, a spokesperson for the Collectif advocacy group, explained that it’s vitally important for both the children–and society–that all immigrant children receive free education, regardless of their parents’ status.
“Excluding children from school creates social isolation, and social exclusion,” Guerry said.
The Canadian government may end its longstanding policy of providing citizenship to Canadian-born babies of non-citizens or residents of the country.
According to media reports, Canadian immigration officials are recommending that the Conservative government consider ending the practice of offering citizenship to babies born to non-citizens or residents, even though the number of children affected would be relatively small and the costs insignificant.
It’s estimated that of the 360,000 births taking place in Canada each year, only about 500 of those babies were born to foreign nationals.
When the Canadian government overhauled its immigration laws earlier this year, the “birth on soil” provision—the law providing citizenship to babies born in Canada to non-citizens—was initially unchanged. One reason for that may have been the cost.
The internal immigration report suggesting the change to “the birth on soil” law explained that, despite the small number of children affected, there would be significant costs associated with changing the law. That same internal government document, obtained by Canadian media through Freedom Of Information laws, states that changing the ‘birth on soil’ law would have “significant costs” that might be difficult to justify to the public in a time of government deficits.
For his part, Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander acknowledged that the issue of so-called “anchor babies”—wherein non-residents or citizens of Canada have a child in the country so that child can later sponsor them for citizenship when he turns 18—is of concern to the federal government.
The Conservative government has said it’s strongly opposed to so-called “birth tourism” resulting in so-called “anchor babies”. Currently only Canada and the United States have policies providing for birth on soil citizenship.
Unlike the U.S. and Canada, other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and most of Europe only provide citizenship rights to children born to parents who are either permanent residents or citizens.
Almost 20 years ago, the previous Liberal government gave serious consideration to removing the birth on soil Canadian citizenship provision, however a strong public outcry of opposition forced that government to back down.
Janet Dench, a spokesperson for the Canadian Council For Refugees, said her organization strongly opposes changing the birth on soil citizenship provision.
“Citizenship by birth in Canada is an important part of the Canadian identity, and makes us a better society,” Dench said.
Despite some vocal opposition, the Canadian government has lowered the cutoff age for the children of refugees and immigrants to be considered as ‘dependents’; effective August 1st, the new age for unmarried dependents of Canadian immigrants and refugees dropped from the previous 21 to 18 years old.
The new dependent age is one of the many changes to Canada’s immigration laws recently passed as part of the sweeping immigration reform of the federal Conservative government.
In addition, the government has removed the exception that previously existed that allowed full-time students who are over 19–but still dependent on their parents–to also be considered as “dependents.”
Critics of the change have voiced concern that the lowering of the dependent age for immigrants’ children, as well as the removal of the full-time student exception, will discourage many immigrants from considering a move to Canada. However, the even greater concern that has been voiced by opponents of the change is the negative effect these new rules may have on refugee families and their ability to reunite.
A total of 60 groups and individuals submitted comments to parliament regarding the changes to the dependent age of refugee and immigrant children, the vast majority standing in opposition to those changes.
For its part, the Conservative government had its own justification for the change to the dependent age for immigrant and refugee children. According to the federal government, the new age limit “will bring the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) in line with provincial definitions of “age of majority,” which is currently evenly split between 18 and 19 across provinces and territories.”
Still, opponents of the change to the dependents’ age say that the lowering of the age will mean that approximately 7,000 young adults will not be able to join their families in Canada next year; of those, about 800 are expected to be the children of refugees.
Critics of the change also point out that, contrary to the government’s argument, the change in dependent age does not reflect the reality of young adults in Canada; the reality, they say, is that 42 percent of young Canadians in their 20s still live with their families, and that fact is not reflected in the new immigrant and refugee dependent age limit of under 19.
The government had previously also noted that any permanent resident applications that had been received by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) prior to August 1, 2014 would be processed using the old dependent age limit for children of immigrants and refugees.
The government says its “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”, or Bill C-24, is directly responsible for the drop in wait time for citizenship applications. The government also says the new law is helping to expedite the processing of applications for Canadian citizenship.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), one of the reasons the citizenship application wait time is at a two-year low is the increase in the number of “decision makers” assigned to review applications.
The CIC is also predicting that fast-tracking the citizenship applications will mean that by 2015 or 2016 the processing time for Canadian citizenship applications will be less than one year, and that the current application backlog will be reduced by 80 percent.
As part of the new citizenship law, the Canadian government has also introduced other significant changes in the administration of citizenship applications. The changes include additional CIC authority to deny incomplete applications, and a “uniform system” for judicial review of all citizenship applications.
As part of its annual budget, the Canadian government has also allocated an additional $44 million over two years to help ensure expedition of citizenship applications.
In the new immigration law, the Canadian government dramatically increased the number of individuals responsible for review of citizenship applications; prior to the new law, there were approximately 30 citizenship judges, compared to the new level of more than 450 “decision makers” reviewing citizenship applications.
With a federal election all but certain to take place in 2015, the Conservative government is hoping that its immigration track record will be seen in a positive light. For example, the CIC points out that Canada has the highest rate of naturalization in the world, with over 85 percent of eligible residents achieving Canadian citizenship.
In addition, since the Conservatives took power in 2006, Canada has welcomed more than 1.3 million new citizens. Last year, the CIC received 333,860 citizenship applications, a level that the government says is the highest volume ever recorded.
After weeks of vocal complaints from both businesses and the leaders of Canada’s Western provinces about recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, the first lawsuit has been filed against the federal government’s tightening of the TFW rules.
A husband and wife partnership, who own two restaurants in Labrador, Newfoundland, have filed a lawsuit against the government’s new TFW restrictions. Jeff and Miriam Staples allege that the federal government’s recent restrictions on their ability to select who they hire—as well as the publishing of their company name as a TFW employer—are unconstitutional.
Under the recent changes to the TFW program, the federal government is restricting the number of foreign workers that it will allow to be hired in areas with low unemployment, and is also now publishing the names of companies that have hired foreign workers.
In 2013, the Labrador couple submitted the required Labor Market Opinions (LMO) in order to hire 20 foreign workers for their restaurants. However, three of those applications–that had been previously approved last fall–were rejected by federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s office; the Staples were informed of the rejection of those TFW applications, but were not told about the publishing of their names.
In their legal briefs filed as part of the lawsuit, the restaurant owners stated that “Canadian employers need certainty…and that their LMOs may be suspended on what may be an ever-changing version of public policy is unfair. The presumption in law is that the new legislation does not apply retroactively.”
In the wake of revelations of foreign worker abuse by some McDonald’s franchise owners earlier this year, the Staples’ offices were searched by federal officials. Jeff Staples was handcuffed, and detained for several hours in a police station but no charges were filed against him.
The Staples allege that, with the changes to the TFW rules, the Canadian government violated the couple’s right to “due process”, and the government’s own rules regarding rejection of TFW applications.
The lawsuit is likely only the first of several legal challenges expected to the new TFW rules, given their impact on employers’ ability to fill positions with foreign workers.
More than 25,000 Canadian employers currently hire foreign workers, usually in multiples. In fact, in more than 1,100 Canadian workplaces, foreign workers make up more than half of the total employees.