Friday, March 16, 2012

Immigration system overhaul is way overdue

Immigration system overhaul is way overdue

By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star March 16, 2012

Only weeks after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that an overhaul is on the way for Canada’s broken immigration system comes a report that suggests the makeover couldn’t come too soon.

The report, from two respected academics at the world-class Fraser Institute, is bound to raise the hackles of those who support wide-open immigration at any cost. But there is no doubt Canada’s immigration system is a corrupt and dysfunctional mess.

From the human smugglers who make millions off the good nature of Canadians, to birth tourism and “passport babies,” to Canadians of convenience who live elsewhere and the one-million-applicant backlog, a lot of things need to change, the faster the better.

It’s probably not a coincidence we have the first government in 25 years willing and able to tackle this prickly topic. The changes have already started.

For instance, in 2010 Canada suddenly doubled the number of people it is refusing for citizenship, mostly for having criminal records or for failing to live and work here long enough after applying. The change flowed from a judge who wrote in 2007 that the existing rules weren’t being applied.

In 2006, only 1.4 per cent or 3,872 applicants were refused permission to come here. Four years later the rejection figure was 3.5 per cent, or 5,351, according to a news report this week.

Under the unenforced rules, applicants had been acquiring Canadian citizenship without even living in the country. And obvious bad guys were waltzing into the country to the detriment of their later victims.

In Windsor last year we learned that dozens, perhaps hundreds of people were allegedly victimized when a drug trafficker-turned used car dealer named Jamal Hazime set up shop here after the U.S. kicked him out.

It should have been simple to weed out a convicted heroin dealer from living here. But no explanation has ever been offered by Canada’s immigration bureaucracy for their failure to do so.

But an even better change is coming: Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has announced Canada intends to start matching immigrants with available jobs.

Employers in the western provinces are desperate to hire tens of thousands of skilled people, while eastern cities like Windsor have unemployed recent immigrants walking the sidewalks and competing with unemployed Canadians with skills we really don’t need. This is cruel to both groups of the unemployed.

Canada’s failure to match newcomers to available jobs does not just deny immigrants the better life they hoped to find in Canada, it also costs established Canadians billions in taxes, the new Fraser study finds.

Herbert Grubel and Patrick Grady, the authors of the study, are both senior Phd economists with extensive worldwide experience and credentials. One of them happens to be an immigrant himself.

They found that recent immigrants cost Canada a minimum of $6,000 more each year than they pay in taxes. The total cost of our newcomers in 2005 was $16 billion — $23 billion in 2010, they say. Hardly peanuts.

Our lazy immigration policies are at fault, the authors say. We’re selecting people with the wrong skills.

This didn’t used to be a problem, the study says (you can read the whole thing free at fraserinstitute.org). The gap developed recently, between 1987 and 2004.

“These are immigrants who performed much worse than earlier immigrants for a number of reasons,” from their country of origin to selection for “humanitarian objectives such as family reunification” rather than employability.

According to the study, this leads to recent immigrants ranking closer to the bottom of the income scale, which forces higher income earners to subsidize the government services they consume.

As an immigrant’s son raised on a newcomer’s dreams and struggles, immigration has always been an issue with deep personal meaning to me. Like most other Canadians, I don’t need to see the number of immigrants or refugees reduced. (Only if unemployment becomes so bad that that seems necessary again. Until 1986, Canada always reduced immigration during recessions.)

But immigration should be about a lot more than the business of simply matching newcomers to available jobs. I think Canada should also start matching up the immigrants who share our core values.

The core values which are at risk from the views of some recent newcomers are the place of women in society and the rights of gays and Jews. Some immigrants seem to want to keep the first group in medieval repression while driving the latter two either out or underground, just like back home.

I think the rights of these three groups should be incorporated into Canada’s citizenship oath. Not only should we only be taking in people we can employ right away, we should only be welcoming in the people who share our vision of what a healthy and tolerant society is.

cvanderdoelen@windsorstar.com or 519-255-6852 follow me on twitter @windstarvander
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