Newcomers to get their money back
Immigration minister says refunds 'right thing to do'
By DAVID JACKSON
Wed. Oct 22 – 1:04 PM
Immigration Minister Len Goucher announced refunds Tuesday of up to $80,000 for immigrants affected by the province's controversial mentorship program. (TIM KROCHAK / Staff)
October has once again been kind to immigrant Jose Duenas.
The Filipino is one of more than 100 people who may now qualify for a refund of up to $80,000 in fees they paid for a troubled provincial immigration program. Immigration Minister Len Goucher announced the refunds Tuesday.
Mr. Duenas said the news is much better than the word he got last fall.
“October, as far as my immigration background is concerned, has always been filled (with) surprises,” Mr. Duenas said after Mr. Gouchers announcement at a Halifax news conference.
“I landed in October . . . 2005. I started my mentorship (in) October 2006. I got blindsided by this whole thing in October 2007, and now, were looking for a happy Christmas in October of 2008.”
The “whole thing” Mr. Duenas, 58, referred to was last years announcement of refunds for people who hadnt yet signed employment contracts under the economic stream of the provinces nominee program.
Under the program, people paid $130,500 in fees to be fast-tracked into Canada. That included a $100,000 “economic contribution” that would go to a Nova Scotia business where the immigrant would work for at least six months in a middle management position and be paid at least $20,000.
Stories of problems with immigrant-business matches emerged in 2006 and 2007, leading the province to offer $100,000 refunds to people who hadnt signed a mentorship contract.
Mr. Duenas, who has a background in alternative fuels and information technology, said he had a good experience during his work placement at a Shubenacadie farm. He said helped computerize parts of the operation and developed ideas for planting canola as a source of biofuel.
But he said it didnt seem fair that people who came through the same immigration program he did could get their money back, and he couldnt.
“To me, it was not so much the money, as I mentioned. To us, the whole question here was the issue of fairness,” Mr. Duenas said.
The available refund is the difference between what the immigrant earned at the work placement and $100,000. Mr. Duenas said he expects hell qualify for about $55,000, which he plans to use to build on the alternative fuel projects he discussed with the mentor farmer.
Mr. Goucher said he expects about 100 or 125 people to qualify for refunds, and the total payout should be about $8 million. Immigrants must have proof theyve lived in the province on a regular basis for at least the last 12 months.
Mr. Goucher said the money will not come from taxpayers. Rather, its money paid by immigrants who havent met the programs requirements and have forfeited their fees. In some cases, immigrants would have used the provincial program simply as a quick way to get into Canada and never intended to settle in Nova Scotia.
“This is the right thing to do,” Mr. Goucher said. “We believe that nominees and their families who have proven their commitment to Nova Scotia and to building their futures here should be eligible.”
Liberal immigration critic Diana Whalen said the new refunds are a good step, one her party called for months ago.
“I have to say the government has been embarrassed and, really, shamed into doing this. Its taken them a year to come round to understand the position of immigrants,” Ms. Whalen said.
Mr. Goucher said in June that more refunds would become available. He said Tuesday that he had been waiting for the auditor general to finish reporting on the program before putting the refunds in place. That final report came Oct. 1.
NDP immigration critic Leonard Preyra said the refunds should go even further. He cited the case of an Iranian psychiatrist who moved here with his wife (whos also a doctor) and family, only to return home because of the slow process of having their medical credentials recognized.
“I think the program should be expanded to include those who came here in good faith, who tried to make a go of it, and to say to those people that we would like them to come back, and if they come back, we will make them eligible for an expanded refund,” Mr. Preyra said.
He said hes also concerned that some immigrants will end up paying part of their refund as a fee to Ken Friedman, a mostly retired consultant living in Halifax who acted as a spokesman for about 70 immigrants and lobbied government on their behalf.
Mr. Friedman said he took on the job after hearing moving stories from the immigrants last year. He said they paid him $12,000 and agreed to also pay 0.75 per cent of their refunds if the refund option came through.
He said he wasnt sure how to respond to Mr. Preyra, but he spent hundreds of hours on the issue. Mr. Duenas said the fees are much lower than a lawyer would have charged.
Immigrants have until Jan. 5 to submit their refund applications. There were 206 people who signed employment contracts before October 2007, the cut-off for the expanded refund program.
Economic nominees by the numbers:
829 people received nomination certificates from province.
806 still active in program (23 either withdrew or were refused necessary visa by Immigration Canada)
206 went through mentorships or at least signed employment contracts before October 2007 and may be eligible for new refund.
6 people signed contracts after October 2007.
633 applicants had arrived in Canada as of Aug. 31.
400-plus known to be in Nova Scotia.
78 received $100,000 residency refund as of Sept. 30.
12 refund applications rejected, and money forfeited.
45 refund applications being processed; another 140 have given notice they intend to apply.
Just over $65 million in trust fund holding immigrants fees and interest as of this past August.
Source: Office of Immigration