Feds urged to cap applications to reduce immigration backlog
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News
Though divided along party lines, a House of Commons committee ultimately wants the federal government to consider more caps on applications for immigration in order to tackle a backlog that's now reached nearly one million, according to a report tabled Tuesday.
Chris Mikukla, The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — Though divided along party lines, a House of Commons committee ultimately wants the federal government to consider more caps on applications for immigration in order to tackle a backlog that's now reached nearly one million, according to a report tabled Tuesday.
The result of a months-long review, the Tory majority on the committee also wants the government to make skilled workers the priority, particularly the 300,000-strong backlog in applications received prior to 2008.
"We believe that the government's primary focus should be on jobs and growth to drive our economy," said Rick Dykstra, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
"We know that immigration can and will be part of the solution to addressing our economic needs. That's why we think it's important that the government act decisively and quickly to deal with the backlog, especially the backlogs in the economic immigration categories."
Dykstra said experts offered the committee a number of solutions from changing the skilled worker selection system so that it focuses more on younger immigrants who are fluent in French or English, to fast-tracking more recent applications and ones that better match current labour market needs, to charging higher processing fees.
He said the goal is to "better align" the number of applications Canada accepts for processing with the annual total of newcomers admitted every year.
Since the government has no plans to increase its yearly intake which currently stands at about 250,000, that means further caps on applications.
The government has already limited applications from those applying through the investor class, the family reunification program, the privately sponsored refugee class and skilled workers without prearranged offers of employment. But the report didn't go into detail about what other caps might be introduced.
The report also called on the government to promote, track and make permanent the new parent and grandparent, 10-year, multiple-entry supervisa that allows such relatives to visit for up to two years at a time. The supervisa was introduced in December to coincide with a two-year moratorium on new parent and grandparent applications — another measure aimed at reducing backlogs.
Members of the opposition who sit on the committee disagreed with the recommendations and offered a supplementary report with seven of their own solutions.
NDP immigration critic Don Davies said "quotas" and "caps" fail to address the "real cause of the problem."
He argued a 10 per cent increase in the overall number of immigrants Canada accepts into the country would "erase the growth of the backlog immediately," while anything more than that would "actually work to reduce it."
Given Canada's aging population, declining birthrate and increased reliance on immigration to meet labour shortages, he said letting in 10,000 more immigrants a year for the next three to four years makes sense, not just from a backlog perspective.
"The Conservatives think that if we just simply avoid the problem by capping applications the problem will be solved," Davies said.
"Well, that doesn't help employers who need workers or the family member who wants to be united with their family members. It just pretends the problem doesn't exist."
The NDP has also recommended increasing resources for Canadian embassies abroad facing big backlogs in immigration applications and reducing Canada's reliance on temporary foreign workers. The NDP is also against the use of "excessive financial barriers" as a means of curbing applications.
While Dykstra noted that thousands of supervisas have already been issued and that more than three-quarters of applications have been approved, Davies further argued that the refusal rate was high and that eligibility criteria was too stringent.
In its supplementary report, the NDP called on the government to ensure the supervisa was "accessible, affordable, fairly administered and generously approved."
Furthermore, Davies tabled two private members bills earlier in the day to address concerns with the overall visitor visa system. The first bill calls on the government to provide detailed explanations to rejected applicants, while the second would give rejected applicants a process of appeal should they believe an error had been made.