Immigration changes to watch for in 2015

For good or bad, the nature of immigration in Canada has changed under the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed that when he spoke about the changes to immigration brought in under his watch during a candid response in New York earlier this year.

“We have been quite systematically re-orienting our immigration over the last several years to make it more focused on economic needs and focused on more long-term labour market needs,” Harper told Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker on Sept. 24.

While many changes were initiated by Employment and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney during his five years as immigration minister, his successor, Chris Alexander, has overseen the most recent and oftentimes controversial changes to immigration policies.

Here are five immigration changes to watch for in 2015:

1. Express Entry

Starting Jan. 1, Canada will launch a new system that will fast-track permanent residency under six months for young, highly skilled immigrants who are able to fill the country’s labour needs. The bulk of immigrants will no longer come to Canada on a first-come, first-served basis as they have for the past generation.

Under express entry, the federal government will act as “a matchmaker” between high-skilled immigrants and employers, holding a draw every two to three weeks where the “highest-ranking” winners will be invited to apply for permanent residency.There is no minimum points level to qualify, but a permanent job offer from an employer or a province will boost prospective immigrants to the top of the pool.

While businesses have been supportive of a system that will act as a job bank tailored to their needs, some are feeling uncertain about the “job-matching” feature, which will not be fully operational until spring. 

Others have been more critical saying Canada’s immigration policies have shifted in favour of ”expediency and naked pragmatism” and that it lacks ”transparency, oversight or accountability.”

The government has promised to publish information about each draw, including the lowest-ranking score of those candidates who have been offered permanent residency. The government will also continue to insist that employers prove they made every effort to hire a Canadian first before offering a permanent job to a foreigner.

Quebec will not participate in express entry.

2. Syrian refugees

Alexander came under fire from various immigration groups and opposition parties which criticized the government for falling behind on its commitment to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014.

The government tells CBC News that 1,063 Syrian refugees have landed in Canada as of Dec. 29 — that’s 606 more than the 457 who had arrived here as of Nov. 13. It is unclear how many have come here sponsored by private groups and how many the government has sponsored.

“We have approved more than 1,200 refugees under the 1,300 commitment, and 1,063 are already here in Canada. The rest will travel in the coming weeks,” said Kevin Ménard, a spokesman for the immigration minister, in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.

“We continue to work expeditiously to fulfil this commitment and will have more to say about this in the coming weeks,” Ménard said.

For months, Alexander repeatedly said more than 1,150 Syrians had “received Canada’s protection.” It wasn’t until October when NDP MP Paul Dewar tabled a question in the House of Commons that the government was forced to say, in a response issued Dec. 3, how many Syrian refugees were actually in the country.

Canada has been urged to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees over the next two years after the UN put out a global call to help resettle 100,000 refugees fleeing escalating violence in Syria.

All eyes will be on Alexander in January to see how Canada responds to the UN’s plea for help.

3. Refugee health care

The government has temporarily restored health-care coverage to refugee claimants after a Federal Court found that changes made to refugee health-care funding in 2012 were unconstitutional. The effect of the cuts were deemed ”cruel and unusual.”

“We are doing this because the court has ordered us to do it. We respect that decision, while not agreeing with it,” Alexander said on Nov. 4.

The immigration minister said restoring health-care coverage would benefit less than 1,000 refugee claimants, but cost the government $4 million to implement.

Three groups took the government to court over the 2012 cuts: Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers and Justice for Children and Youth.

“We are arguing that the government has failed to comply with the order,” said Lorne Waldman, an immigration lawyer who represents Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, in an email to CBC News this week.

The Federal Court is set to hear their motion on Jan. 27.

There is no date set for the government’s appeal.

4. Citizenship Act changes

Starting Jan. 1, the fee to apply for citizenship will increase for the second time in less than a year to $530 per adult. Based on the government’s immigration projections for 2015, the fee hike could inject an additional $60 million into  federal coffers.

Alexander said faster processing times for citizenship applications in recent months were the result of some of the changes made to the Citizenship Act in 2014.

Those changes came despite warnings from the Canadian Bar Association about some of the more controversial measures which they said were likely unconstitutional.

Some of the more contentious changes, which have yet to come into effect, include:

- Under the new rules, the minister of immigration can revoke citizenship in “routine cases.” Where security, human or international rights are concerned, the government will leave it to the courts to decide. 

- Dual citizens and permanent residents can have their citizenship revoked if found to have taken up arms with groups engaged in armed conflict against Canada or if they are convicted of terrorism, high treason, treason, or spying offences. The RCMP has said it is monitoring some 93 “high-risk” individuals as potentially violent radicals.

- Canadian citizenship can be denied to anyone with domestic or foreign criminal charges against them. 

5. Caregivers program

Faced with a backlog of 60,000 applications for permanent residence, the government also overhauled the foreign caregiver program making it optional for caregivers to live with their employers and putting a cap on the number of caregivers it will accept under two new categories.

While most of the changes were well received, groups representing caregivers in the Filipino-Canadian community are upset the government did not give foreign caregivers permanent residency from the moment they arrive in Canada. Under the new program, caregivers still have to wait two years before being eligible for permanent residency. 

Groups representing foreign nannies and caregivers would also like to see the government allow family members of caregivers to come to Canada right away.

Alexander said the government was on track to eliminate 17,500 applications by the end of 2014 and would eliminate the backlog further by processing 30,000 applications in 2015. He said the government will achieve these goals using current resources.

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Immigration changes to watch for in 2015
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