January 17, 2005: Getting In Should Be Easier?? —Martin Collacott
Getting in should be easier??
Monday, January 17, 2005
VANCOUVER – The National Post's Saturday editorial (After Sgro, Reform) rightly identified the problems associated with MPs' constituency offices serving as de facto immigration centres in many parts of Canada.
While I agree that priority should be given to making the processing of immigration applications by immigration department officials as efficient as possible, it is important to take a closer look at the problems interfering with the current system.
First it should be recognized that, contrary to the impression often created by the media, Canada does have a highly competent and dedicated cadre of immigration officers. In my last post where I served as ambassador with a large immigration section — Damascus in the 1990s — I was fortunate in having an outstanding immigration team whose output reflected a high level of efficiency and sound decision-making. My experience at other posts with
immigration officers was no different.
What does impede the work of our professional visa officers, however, is the constant deluge of representations from MPs and immigration lawyers whose constituents and clients hope to obtain a more favourable outcome than they are likely to get from what is, in fact, a very fair and effective system overall. The time spent by visa officers responding to all of these representations significantly slows down the processing of applications.
Because of this, justifying the refusal of an application is far more
time-consuming than simply approving it — hardly a good recipe for careful screening of individuals who, for one reason or another, should not be admitted to Canada. The extent to which negative decisions of immigration officers can be challenged on one legal ground or another provides welcome employment for lawyers, but makes efficient processing of applications extremely difficult.
Major resource cuts to the delivery of the program in recent years have complicated the situation further, with some posts having reported they simply do not have the capacity to weed out all the dubious applications (including those with criminal backgrounds) while at the same time meeting Ottawa's objectives with regard to the number of visas issued.
Another area where funding cuts have clearly hurt the system is in the
difficulty applicants or their sponsors encounter in getting through to immigration officials to discuss the status and progress of their
applications. If the department were given the resources to carry out such functions more effectively, the perceived need of applicants and sponsors to enlist the help of MPs and lawyers would no doubt be reduced appreciably.
While there is always room to make the system more transparent and
efficient, it should be mentioned that the vast majority of the millions of immigrants who have successfully applied to come to Canada in recent decades have done so without the assistance of either MPs or lawyers. Applicants from countries where fair treatment by bureaucrats is the exception rather than the rule often assume that representations by influential people are necessary if they are to be approved for immigration to Canada. This is not the case with Canada and we should not be shy about saying so.
MPs should therefore get out of the business of using their constituency offices as visa application centres. Some will, of course, be reluctant to do so since they treat such interventions as a means of getting political support even if it impedes the processing of applications in general. The new immigration minister, Joe Volpe, will, it is hoped, make it a priority to find ways of ensuring that immigration officers are allowed to get on with their work without constant interruptions from MPs, and are also given
the additional resources they need to do their jobs effectively.
Martin Collacott is a former Canadian ambassador in Asia and the Middle East.