With a new Canadian government in place, there will likely be many changes in the way Canada immigration issues are handled going forward. In this interview, Pace Director of Immigration Jim Metcalfe gives his take on how immigration policy might be affected in 2016.
Q: The Canadian government is slowly bringing Syrian refugees to Canada, with around 1000 of them arriving so far in mid-December. Do you think the government will successfully settle the promised 25,000 Syrian refugees by the deadline of March, 2016?
JM: I believe that the Canadian government will do all in its power to reach the target of 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of March, 2016. The only problem appears to be getting exit permits for some of the people in the Middle East, particularly in Turkey. My concern is that sponsors and non-government organizations are going to develop refugee fatigue, as it is going to be difficult at best to settle 25,000 people in the middle of winter in Canada. This may cause future private sponsors to rethink their plans.
Q: What is your assessment of the Express Entry system so far? Do you think changes will be made in 2016?
JM: From all appearances, Express Entry is working well, though it’s one of the bigger immigration issues in terms of buzz right now. I would’ve hoped that there would be a little bit more transparency about the new process and its growing pains. My biggest concern is that there are some very well qualified and experienced people working in Canada that have been passed over because their Express Entry score is not up in the higher atmosphere of 450+. I’m talking mainly about people who have come to Canada as students and graduated from colleges and universities and are now working full time. Generally, they score in the high 300s and low 400s. They are being passed over until the minimum point count comes down. Thus, they might not be able to stay in Canada even though they’ve lived here for years. There have been suggestions that the Canadian Experience Class – which should reward such people – should have its own target and own passing grades, as opposed to lumping those people in with everyone else. I would agree with that.
Investor Immigration to Canada
Q: The government shut down the Federal investor program a couple of years back. What’s the best avenue currently for investor immigration to Canada?
JM: The Federal investor program obviously had its problems. Like many programs the government launches, it never got audited or revised as it went along. The real problem with the Federal investor program was that it was overwhelmed by the number of Chinese applicants not only from China but from Hong Kong and from Taiwan. The problem was compounded because visa officers are ill-prepared to assess complex financial documents. They are not forensic accountants. As a result, the applications stacked higher and higher. Eventually the weight of the backlogged applications crashed the entire program.
The Québec Immigrant Investor Program, however, is alive and well and contributes about $2 billion a year to the investment arm of the Québec government. They in turn make loans to small and medium-size businesses. Québec limits the intake to a specific number per year and the due diligence is done in Canada, with applicants subjected to very probing interviews. It’s a good system.
Besides the passive investor programs – that is, ones that basically just require an applicant’s money – there are other programs available which require active participation by individuals. Most of them are run by the provinces. We prefer the Québec Entrepreneur Program and that of Manitoba.
Q: There is a lot of frustration among would-be immigrants with the delays in spousal sponsorship to Canada applications. What can the government do next year to solve the problem?
JM: The problem is that the previous government consolidated offices, closed offices and limited the number of visa officers around the world. The other issue is that there are no service standards. 10 to 15 years ago the service standard for processing spousal sponsorships in visa offices around the world was six months. Many offices were able to meet this standard. Beijing and New Delhi in particular could get it done in under six months. Subsequently, in typical bureaucratic fashion, the service standard was raised to 12 months to bring many other offices into line. Voila, now everyone was meeting the same service standard because it was equally slow.
Even so, at least there was some standard. Right now you cannot find a service standard for spousal cases outside of Canada to the extent that some offices take one year and others take three times that with no rhyme or reason as to why. In Canada the processing is averaging 27 months for spousal applications. However, most people qualify for work permits after the initial processing, so at least they can be with their spouse and earn a living. For people outside of Canada who are going through the process, it can be three years until they see their partner. It’s ridiculously slow.
Why it takes 27 months is probably inversely proportional to the number of staff allocated to that particular line of business. I think if the Minister could do anything to build confidence in the system it would be to set realistic service standards and apply resources accordingly.
I don’t think the general public is aware that people are paying hefty processing fees for these services. For its part, the government is not being transparent as to how those fees are being applied to improve the services. I seem to recall that the immigration department returned something like $150 million to the Treasury Board last year, which would indicate that they either ran a surplus or, as I suspect, they cut staff. This would lead to a further deterioration in service standards. If I was the Minister, I would call on the Auditor General of Canada to do a thorough review of the performance of the immigration department and consult not only with departmental staff but with applicants as well.