Migrant Backlog Targeted

Tories set to accept fewer immigration applications

John Ivison
National Post
Published: Thursday, March 13, 2008

OTTAWA – The federal government is set to reduce the number of new immigration applications it accepts in a dramatic change of policy aimed at cutting the backlog of nearly 900,000 people who have already applied to enter Canada.

Sources say Immigration Minister Diane Finley will table an amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act as early as today. The new legislation will limit the number of new applications accepted and processed annually.

The act currently requires the government to process every application that enters the system — a provision that has led to the huge backlog and a wait-time of around four years for an application to be processed.

“It isn't sustainable,” said one source, who added that the overall number of immigrants admitted to Canada is more likely to increase than fall in the coming years, even if the number of new applications accepted drops dramatically.

It is believed the amendment will be included as part of the legislation to implement the federal budget, making it a confidence matter.

Maurizio Bevilacqua, the Liberal immigration critic, said the Conservatives don't understand the role immigration plays in Canada's history. “The Conservatives are shutting the door on immigration because they fail to understand its importance to our labour markets and our nation-building. The lack of resources devoted to this issue shows they are not serious about immigration,” he said yesterday.

In this year's budget, the government allocated $22-million to modernizing the immigration system. “It is not fair for prospective immigrants to wait for years before being considered, and it is not desirable to wait that long for the immigrants the country needs,” the budget said, adding that the proposed changes will “more effectively manage the future growth in the inventory, such as addressing the number of applications accepted and processed in a year.” The changes are designed to establish a “just-in-time” immigration system, where the wait time is reduced to an average of a year.

Ms. Finley has emphasized that the government is seeking to bring the “best and the brightest” to Canada.

“Immigration will play an increasingly important role in our long-term growth and prosperity, and we will continue to look for innovative ways to bring in talent from around the world,” Ms. Finley told an audience in Mumbai, India, last November.

But critics contend that the new policy will target “economic class” migrants coming to Canada for work, rather than “family class” immigrants being reunited with Canadian family members, or cases where immigrants are admitted on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

“The Conservatives are attacking family reunification but it attracts many skilled workers to come here,” Mr. Bevilacqua said.

The government has made no secret of the fact it sees itself in competition with countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom for the most qualified immigrants. This is likely to mean the vast majority of applications accepted in future are from the “economic class” of migrants that currently make up around 60% of newcomers.

Canada accepts about 250,000 immigrants a year, a figure that has increased since the Conservatives took office. The backlog of applications grew from 50,000 when the Liberal party took office in 1993 to around 500,000 in 2000. By the time the Conservatives came to power in early 2006, it was around 800,000 and in the past two years that number has grown to around 875,000.

Some estimates suggest that as many as one-quarter of current applications are more than six years old.

The Liberals made a number of attempts to eat into the backlog. For example, when Liberal MP Dennis Coderre was immigration minister in 2002, he raised the total number of points required for admission to 75 from 70 (points are allocated on the basis of language skills, education and job offers).

However, under pressure from the Liberals' ethnic voting base, the party backed down and reduced the number of points required to 67.

In 2005, with an election pending, then Liberal immigration minister Joe Volpe announced he would increase the number of immigrants by 100,000 a year — a rise of 40% from existing levels at that time.

The Conservatives have long argued the Liberals allowed political, rather than economic, factors to dominate their immigration and refugee policy.

A report by the Fraser Institute in 2005 suggested that only 23% of immigrants are net fiscal contributors to Canada at a cost to the taxpayer every year of more than $18-billion (although 60% of immigrants are from the “economic class,” fewer than half that number pass the points test — the remainder are spouses and children).

The government says it has already taken a number of measures to make the system more flexible and efficient, including the establishment of Foreign Credentials Referral offices in China and India and moves to make it easier for foreign students and temporary workers to obtain visas.