New Rules Will Create Fast Lane For Some, But Leave Other Applicants In Roundabout

New rules would create fast lane for some, but leave other applicants in roundabout

By Campbell Clark
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
April 9, 2008

Some potential immigrants who are qualified under the law to come to Canada may have to reapply year after year and still never get in under a controversial change proposed by the Conservatives, a senior immigration official says.

But Immigration Minister Diane Finley, who has sold the changes as a means to cut waiting times, said that, even though it's possible that some people will wait much longer, Canada will get the immigrants it really needs faster.

The new measures, tucked into a budget bill, give the immigration minister power to decide which types of prospective immigrants will get processed first, and allow the Immigration Department to return unprocessed applications once it reaches an annual quota.

But some who are not in high-priority categories may have to apply year after year, and possibly never be accepted, a senior official told reporters at a briefing yesterday.

'That's possible. But it's not a right to come to Canada. It's a privilege,' Ms. Finley said in an interview. 'I think that Canadians want an immigration system that gets the people we need here when we need them.'

Under the current system, applicants know in advance which qualifications will get them into Canada, but their applications can take years to be processed.

Under the proposed system, applications of those who are in high-priority categories – doctors, for example – will be processed first.

But the Immigration Department will stop processing applications once the annual quota is met, so those in other categories whose applications were not processed will have to reapply. And that could happen again and again as priorities change.

Toronto New Democratic Party MP Olivia Chow said that for immigrants, that's like a waiting list, but worse. 'It's just more cumbersome, because you have to apply many times. And you never know, because it's opaque – it's not transparent,' she said. 'It's a lottery, and arbitrary and unpredictable.'

Ms. Finley has yet to say what categories will be her priorities. She said yesterday that if she flags her plans, the department would be flooded with applicants in those categories.

A senior official in her department argued that in a world where countries compete for top-notch immigrants, speeding up processing for some professions will mean the best are more likely to come to Canada.

Ms. Finley's department organized a press briefing yesterday by the senior official in a bid to dispel fears that the minister's broad power to pick categories of winners and losers could be used to discriminate by race, religion or nationality.

The official, who briefed the press on condition he not be identified by name, said that such discrimination would violate the Charter of Rights, which applies to immigration cases, and noted the minister's 'instructions' will be published.

The official also countered arguments that the new law will allow the government to shut the door on immigration, saying that governments have long set annual targets for how many people will be accepted as permanent residents each year.

Ms. Finley accused the Liberals of 'scare-mongering and fear-spreading.'