An Australian blueprint for Canada?
Mario D. Bellissimo
As published in Embassy, Canada’s foreign policy newsweekly.
Just a few years ago Canada’s immigration system was seemingly broken and stifled by lengthy processing queues, inflexible core programs and overly bureaucratic measures that led to backlogs of nearly a million people.
With a view to the Australian model, Canada embarked upon a course that has altered the immigration landscape with a sea of “Cs,” bills C-4, C-11, C-35, C-50, etc.
Facing many of the same distasteful outcomes in the mid-‘90s, Australia embarked upon a massive overhaul of its immigration system. Canada has adopted, or borrowed in part, key Australian policy initiatives including:
• A transfer to consolidated onshore processing of certain applications: a central intake office;
• Pre-assessment of key qualifying factors (language proficiency, for instance);
• Frequently updated tracking for jobs in demand;
• “Cap and terminate;” once a cap has been reached for a particular visa class (skilled workers or investors, for instance), work on all applications that have not been processed to decision stops and the file is closed;
• Suspension of processing (like in the investor and entrepreneur categories);
• Priority processing (new skilled workers applications are given priority over the
• Bill C-35, which was introduced to crack down on fraudulent immigration consultants and enhance the government’s power to sanction unauthorized consultants;
• The in-Canada spousal class, new work permit regime with stricter compliance,
provincial nominee programs, and the Canadian experience class;
• Restrictions on eligibility to discretionary applications like humanitarian and
compassionate applications and temporary resident permits;
• More extensive citizenship revocation process.
Strikingly, there is still more to come, including a revamped asylum system to speed up the processing of and/or removals of refugee claimants. But in the long shadow of disturbing Canadian demographics such as a 1.5-children per woman declining fertility rate, are we on the right track?
Citizenship and Immigration Canada and other stakeholders (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, for instance) are to be commended for beginning the modernization process and putting in place stronger measures to boost integrity and compliance.
Most immigration applicants are concerned with processing timelines, certainty of selection, employment opportunities, access to permanent residency and family rights. Much work has been done towards achieving these ends. But in borrowing heavily from the Australian blueprint, the increased emphasis on enforcement and economic migration is also evident.
We must now move cautiously. Our immigration program should not lose sight of the potential long-term contributions of certain applicants, like family class applicants, by only focusing on immediate (“economic”) contributions. Further, CIC can’t walk this journey alone. It needs the co-operation, vision and assets of various stakeholders.
Regarding increased enforcement measures, the role of discretion and philosophy in Canada’s immigration process are being redefined. In Australia, the College of Immigration was opened by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (now the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) on July 3, 2006. The college training programs were designed to address deficiencies in staff training and support and partner with educational institutions and other government agencies. It was, in short, an effort to consolidate and harmonize the system—a worthy measure and one that should be explored here in some form, given that we are not restricted to an economic immigration lens.
With respect to discretion, programs like the humanitarian and compassionate process can’t become a reluctant holdover from the past that is tolerated but not embraced. Discretionary provisions in immigration legislation infuse life and humanity into an increasingly technical and sterile compilation of rules, regulations and manuals. We should also continue to explore expanded immigrant categories for both permanent and temporary resident applicants reflective of the varied reasons for short- and long-term migration. One example would see the return of the assisted relative class. In other words, there needs to be a balance to ensure applicants can still be assessed in their uniqueness as the system strives to be more flexible. Going forward has meant going ‘down under’ and the use, in part, of the Australian blueprint.
Now that we have started this process we must avoid falling into reactive disjointed tinkering by necessity and systematic as well as bureaucratic complacency. We must also ensure that enforcement, although key to the integrity of any system, does not overshadow the facilitation of immigrants, program flexibility and harmonization with educational, accreditation and settlement agencies among others. Clearly, we can’t compartmentalize the ebbs and flows of international crisis, conflict and need, and believe we can predict every outcome and need and expect the law to speak to same with clarity. We have a responsibility to protect our resources and our citizenry—but that responsibility is not absolute. It must be tempered by the ability to address problems within our own immigration programs and meet international obligations while building a country that assesses persons and not simply regulations. After all, the product is human.