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CILA’s statement on Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s new mandate letter

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The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) welcomes yesterday’s release of ministerial mandate letters following the September 2021 federal election. Publishing the letters is part of the government’s efforts to be transparent and CILA encourages the federal government to remain as transparent as possible as we continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic on Canada’s immigration system.

CILA offers the following commentary on Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s mandate letter:

Continue to bring newcomers to Canada to drive economic growth and recovery, as set out in the 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan.

CILA encourages Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to consult widely with stakeholders in advance of its two expected Immigration Levels Plan announcements in 2022 (expected by February and again by November). Canada is experiencing significant labour shortages and application backlogs. Population growth is at the weakest level since 1915/16. Canada is also pursuing a new goal of welcoming 40,000 Afghan refugees. Hence, IRCC may need to pursue even higher immigration levels targets to better achieve Canada’s three-fold immigration objectives of supporting the economy, reuniting families, and helping refugees.

With the support of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, continue to facilitate the safe passage and resettlement of vulnerable people from Afghanistan, with an emphasis on individuals who supported Canada and our allies over the past two decades, women, LGBTQ2 people, human rights defenders, journalists and members of religious and ethnic minorities and increase the number of eligible refugees from 20,000 to at least 40,000.

CILA is concerned with the slow start to Canada’s new Afghan refugee operation. Minister Fraser has said it may take some two years to achieve the goal of resettling 40,000 Afghans. Unfortunately, time is not on the side of those seeking to flee brutal Taliban rule. CILA has complemented the many valuable suggestions provided by other Canadian immigration and refugee stakeholders by calling on IRCC to waive the convention refugee requirement on Afghans. Doing so will make even more Afghans eligible for protection and reduce the length of time needed to resettle them.

Reduce application processing times, including to address delays that have been impacted by COVID-19.

In CILA’s October welcome letter to Minister Fraser, it noted that client experience at IRCC is at an all-time low. Processing times are much slower and IRCC often provides unhelpful information to clients or ignores client enquiries altogether. CILA reminds IRCC that it announced a commitment to improving client experience about five years ago and appointed a new Director General to oversee this important file but has fallen short of its own standards during the pandemic. CILA urges IRCC to create and communicate a backlog reduction plan as soon as possible and to prioritize delivering a far better client experience to the Canadians of tomorrow.

Work to strengthen family reunification by introducing electronic applications for family reunification and implementing a program to issue temporary resident status to spouses and children abroad while they wait for the processing of their permanent residency application.

CILA enthusiastically welcomes this new mandate priority. As noted in a recent CILA article, the spouses and partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents living abroad are treated unfairly and should be offered a streamlined pathway to a Canadian work permit (something that already exists for the partners of work and study permit holders, as well as in-land spousal sponsorship applicants).

CILA would also like to highlight the rise in processing times for work permit applications filed under the “Open work permit pilot program for permanent residence applicants in the spouse or common-law partner in Canada class” (A70) which currently reaches up to nine months. This greatly diminishes the benefits of this open work permit for the applicant who is waiting for permanent residence in Canada. This issue should be addressed simultaneously to the suggested policies to reach optimal results for family reunification.

Make the citizenship application process free for permanent residents who have fulfilled the requirements needed to obtain it.

CILA also calls on IRCC to enhance client experience for Canadian citizenship applicants and to identify ways of expediting applications. There were some 470,000 Canadian citizenship applications in backlog as of October. IRCC owes it to these future Canadians to explain how and when they can expect their Canadian citizenship status to be confirmed.

With the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, establish a Trusted Employer system for Canadian companies hiring temporary foreign workers and, as part of improving the Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, simplify permit renewals, uphold the two-week processing time and establish an employer hotline. Continue to work with provinces, territories and regulatory bodies to improve foreign credential recognition.

CILA believes the long-desired introduction of a Trusted Employer system will have an overwhelmingly positive impact for stakeholders. Canadian employers are currently experiencing massive labour shortages and do not have the luxury of time and resources to navigate the complexities of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Streamlining the temporary foreign worker (TFW) hiring process will help employers fill job vacancies quicker, which will also help preserve and create more Canadian jobs, support economic growth, and reduce the administrative burden for both IRCC and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

Continue working with Quebec to support the French-language knowledge of immigrants in Quebec, respecting provincial jurisdiction and complementing existing measures, and continue to implement an ambitious national strategy to support Francophone immigration across the country.

Promoting Francophone immigration in Quebec and across Canada is imperative. CILA believes there are more ways IRCC can attract more Francophone immigrants to Canada. For example, IRCC may want to reduce its CLB/NCLC level 7 requirement under the Mobilité Francophone International Mobility Program stream. Some candidates who have been educated in French have trouble achieving this test level.

In addition, CILA is concerned by recent requests from the Quebec government to extend the application of the Canada-Québec Accord to provide Quebec with more powers over immigration. Through their selection process, current Quebec immigration policies impose an additional burden on employers and applicants which is ultimately to everyone’s disadvantage. Ideally, IRCC should support Quebec’s willingness to favour Francophone immigration while attempting to align Quebec’s temporary and permanent immigration programs to the ones available across Canada.

Expand pathways to Permanent Residence for international students and temporary foreign workers through the Express Entry system. With respect to pathways for agricultural temporary foreign workers, you will be supported in this work by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

While it is important to help international students and temporary foreign workers to permanent residence, IRCC must also strike a balance with allowing those overseas, such as Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) candidates to also obtain permanent residence. Statistics Canada research shows that FSWP candidates tend to do well in the Canadian labour market and many of these candidates have been waiting in limbo throughout the pandemic, including during all of 2021.

Ensure that immigration better supports small- and medium-size communities that require additional immigrants to enhance their economic growth and social vibrancy. This will include expanding the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, moving forward on the Municipal Nominee Program and making the successful Atlantic Immigration Pilot a permanent program.

CILA again encourages IRCC to consult widely before launching new initiatives to promote a broader distribution of immigration across Canada. Regionalization efforts are welcome and desperately needed to support economic growth, but IRCC currently operates several pilot programs that are onerous for stakeholders, resulting in weak uptakes, and limited benefits. The Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP) has been an exception, but the likes of the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot and Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot have demonstrated very little success. Moreover, it is difficult to understand how some of these pilots complement existing streams operated by Quebec and through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). IRCC should only launch new regionalization programs when stakeholders can agree that the department is better-placed than provinces to operate such programs. In the case of the proposed Municipal Nominee Program (MNP) for instance, it may prove more effective for IRCC to simply increase PNP allocations among all provinces and territories with an interest in promoting immigration to smaller municipalities.

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