November 2008


Despite uncertain economic times, Ottawa announced plans yesterday for Canada to take in up to 265,000 new permanent residents in 2009 and to speed up the processing of applications for potential new Canadians in dozens of high-demand occupations. At a news conference in Toronto, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said while countries such as Australia, Germany and England are cutting back on the number of people they allow to immigrate, Canada will maintain its immigration levels.

Under the plan, people wishing to move to Canada who work in 38 highly skilled job fields, such as health, finance and the oil industry, will go to the front of the line. That means skilled immigrants could have their visas processed in six to 12 months instead of having to wait five to six years. “Nurses for instance, are needed whether you are in Nunavut or Vancouver or Toronto,” said Mr. Kenney, adding that Canada is one of the few G7 countries that still has labour shortages, despite the economic downturn. “Having said that, we will have to monitor the economy as it develops and, of course, we reserve the right to modify our policy if need be.”

However, critics argue that when the government consulted with the provinces and with labour representatives, it did not take into account how deeply the global economy would fall. Sergio Karas, chairman of the citizenship and immigration section of the Ontario Bar Association, believes the list of skilled workers gives potential new Canadians the impression there are jobs when those jobs could soon disappear, a problem he says that will “create chaos.” “We are going to be granting residency like lollipops and we’re going to encourage them to come to Canada because they are on the list and we do not know, given the economic situation. We’re giving them the impression that there are jobs to be had,” he said.

While some occupations on the list, such as doctors and nurses, do not relate to the economic crisis, Mr. Karas said most are technical jobs that may be affected by the downturn. And he cited positions in Alberta’s oilsands as an example. He suggests the government speed up the admission of temporary workers rather than hand out permanent residencies.

But Mr. Kenney said a backlog in foreign applicants has grown to 900,000 cases, up from 50,000 in 1993. He said of those, 600,000 people waiting in the queue are in the skilled-worker category. “This is unacceptable and we need to take action,” said Mr. Kenney. The Minister said the government also will accelerate the immigration process for people who have an offer of employment or have already been living legally in Canada for one year as a temporary foreign worker or international student. Mr. Kenney said the list of 38 occupations was developed after consultations with the provinces and territories, business and labour.

The Liberals have criticized the immigration reforms, arguing everyone should be treated on a first-come, first-served basis. The Immigration Department said it expects 156,600 immigrants in the economic category; 71,000 in the family category; and 37,400 in the humanitarian category. The Immigration Department also has expanded its Web site — http://www.cic.gc.ca — in an effort to make it easier for people to navigate the range of immigration options open to them.

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The new Leftist government’s softer policy was noticed immediately. A problem that the previous conservative government solved is back again

Indonesian and Australian police have stopped 14 boats laden with asylum seekers from travelling to Australia this year, including at least three in the past six weeks, as people-smuggling activity accelerates across the archipelago. Four boats have made it to Australian waters. On Thursday, one of them, with 12 Sri Lankans aboard, became the first boat in two years to reach the mainland, near Shark Bay in Western Australia. Government sources said the arrivals, who were being transferred to Christmas Island, would have access to Australian law should they claim asylum.

The previously undisclosed figures on people-smuggling disruption, confirmed by Australian Federal Police, highlight the success of the joint operation combating human trafficking. But the data also points to a spike in asylum seekers trying to come to Australia, a politically sensitive issue for the Rudd Government. This year, the Government softened its policy towards illegal immigrants and has allowed the navy – which intercepts boats – to stand down for two months over Christmas due to a manpower shortage.

“We have a lot of problems with this smuggling,” Paulus Purwoko, deputy chief of criminal investigations at Indonesian National Police, told the Herald. He said the number of boat crossings to Australia had increased, particularly in recent months. “They transit first through Malaysia, then from Malaysia to Indonesia. We believe it is organised by a syndicate. “When they get to Indonesia, they try to make a deception to the Indonesian police. They throw away their passports. They get a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] letter of recommendation or ID. Some of them have originals, the rest have fakes.”

The Australian Federal Police has played a critical role in combating human trafficking by providing intelligence. But Mr Purwoko said it was difficult to keep tabs on smugglers due to Indonesia’s long coastline and because the boats were leaving from different places each time. He expressed grave fears for the asylum seekers, saying the syndicates use the flimsiest of boats to save money, creating huge risks for their human cargo. The worst time to attempt the crossing is over summer, when the seas are roughest. It is also when the navy will be undertaking limited operations.

Indonesian police have made numerous arrests, including Afghan, Pakistani and Indonesian nationals. Many of the asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, reflecting the deteriorating security there and rise in persecution against ethnic minorities as the Taliban exerts more control. Others have come from Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka, all countries besieged by violence.

The Herald interviewed two Afghan asylum seekers this week in Jakarta. The men, who cannot be identified because it would jeopardise the safety of their families, said people-smuggling syndicates are paid up to $US12,000 a person. “They promise they will arrive in Australia or some other country like Britain,” said one of the men. They said asylum seekers wanted to come to Australia because it was “safe”.

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Phil Woolas has rejected criticism from the Archbishop of York about his stance on immigration and asylum issues, saying “being tough is not immoral”. Dr John Sentamu attacked “unmerciful” immigration policies in a speech on Thursday and comments by Mr Woolas about asylum lawyers. Although he took the criticism “very seriously” Mr Woolas said it was moral to have a “fair and efficient” system.

Mr Woolas has sparked much controversy since becoming immigration minister. Dr Sentamu condemned his “tough talking” rhetoric and said attitudes to Zimbabweans seeking asylum in the UK lacked mercy. And he singled out recent comments by Mr Woolas that many lawyers for asylum applicants undermined the system by dragging out appeals and did “more harm than good”, saying they were simply wrong. Dr Sentumu also suggested the language used by Mr Woolas on sensitive issues since being appointed to the job in October had muddied the waters in the immigration debate.

Mr Woolas has said he was appointed to raise the profile of the government’s immigration policy and get its message across to readers of tabloid newspapers. In a recent interview in the News of the World, he vowed the government would “kick out” more illegal immigrants next year. He has also said he wanted to reassure people that Britain’s population will not reach 70 million as some experts, including the office for national statistics, have predicted although he has said he does not favour a “cap” on immigration.

“May I be forgiven for suggesting that the honourable member in question does not advance his stated desire to have ‘a mature debate about immigration’ by this carry on?” Dr Sentamu argued. Mr Woolas told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he did not believe his comments on immigration and asylum polices were either “unmerciful or authoritarian”. “I don’t accept the central charge that being tough is being immoral,” he said. “I would argue the opposite.” “I think the morally right thing to do is to have an efficient and fair immigration and asylum system.”

Mr Woolas said he would not back down from his argument that some delays in the asylum process was caused by lawyers “frivolously” dragging out the appeals process. Dr Sentamu had said Mr Woolas’ stance was “worrying” given the number of initial decisions refusing asylum subsequently overturned. But the minister said unnecessary delays in the process “perpetuated” the suffering of applicants and said he believed it was moral to ensure decisions were taken faster.

However, he pointed out that he was not accusing the majority of lawyers of such behaviour and accepted that some delays in the asylum process were the result of failings in the system itself. “You cannot manage a system unless it is efficient. That is fairer for the immigration and asylum seekers who are using the system.”

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Migrant workers have more than accounted for the increase in employment in the last two years while the number of Britons in work has plummeted. Jobs filled by foreigners has soared by almost half a million over the period while the number of UK-born employees has slumped by 149,000.

It shows the huge influence immigration is having on the workforce and critics said it makes a mockery of Gordon Brown’s pledge of “British jobs for British workers”. Young migrant workers and those over 50 also now earned more, on average, than their British counterparts.

Figures last week showed net immigration has hit its second highest level on record after increasing five-fold under Labour. And a report by one of Prince Charles’ official charities warned rural communities are struggling to cope with the unprecedented number of overseas workers descending on their towns and villages.

The shadow home secretary, Dominic Grieve, said: “This makes a mockery of Gordon Brown’s ill-advised comment that he would create British jobs for British workers. “As well as being a ridiculous thing to say it has shown he does not have any credible answers to the problems we face, which are being made worse by the recession.”

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the overall level of employment increased by around 320,000 between September 2006 and September this year – up from 29.17 million to 29.49 million. However, during the two year period the number of UK workers in jobs fell by 149,000 while the number of migrant employees increased by 469,000. Similarly, in the years since Labour took power, non-UK born workers have made up around two thirds of the growth in employment. Total employment grew by 2.79 million between September 1997 and September 2008 but 62 per cent of that was made up by an increase of 1.7 million migrants in work.

Sir Andrew Green, chairman of Migrationwatch, said: “The number of jobs in the economy is not fixed but it is striking that there have been a major increase in the employment of economic migrants of nearly half a million while the number of British people in employment has fallen by 149,000 in the same period. “It is hard to believe that these two developments are entirely unconnected.”

Separate statistics from the ONS show UK workers earn more a week, on average, than their foreign counterparts (438 pounds a week), with only Americans (635), those from Australia and New Zealand (577) and western Europeans such as the French and Germans (510). However foreign workers in the 18 to 24 age bracket now earn more than their British counterparts (290 a week as opposed to 288), as do those aged over 50 (469 a week compared to 462 for Britons).

MPs warned last week that public services will be unable to cope after immigration rose to its second highest level on record. Despite the Government’s pledge to cut numbers, net immigration has increased fivefold since 1997 to 237,000 last year and means immigration has added more than 1.85 million to the population in a decade.

A separate report for one of the Prince of Wales’s official charities last week also warned a threefold increase in the flow of migrant workers into the countryside has had a “disproportionate impact” on small rural towns and villages, which lack the necessary resources and infrastructure to adapt. Housing, health care, education and policing have come under increasing pressure, according to the study for the Business in the Community charity.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Government and independent research continues to find no significant evidence of negative employment effects from migration. “The tough new points system will ensure only those foreign workers we need – and no more – can come here to work. It is also flexible, allowing us to raise or lower the bar according to the needs of the labour market and the country as a whole.”

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Convicted killer allowed to sponsor wife for immigration

A man convicted of killing his sister-in-law in India 11 years ago by dousing her in kerosene and setting her on fire will be allowed to sponsor his new wife for immigration to Canada, the Federal Court has ruled. The court found Immigration Board provisions against allowing someone convicted of a domestic violence offence to sponsor an immigrant are only for those convicted of harming a blood relative, and not an in-law.

Baljinder Singh Brar, a Canadian citizen, was married in March 1997, one month before he was convicted in India of culpable homicide in the death of his brother’s wife, who died from severe burns. Brar was released from jail in July 2004, returned to Canada, and six months later submitted an application to the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi for spousal sponsorship.

An immigration official rejected the application, citing Brar’s conviction as a failure to comply with Immigration and Refuge Protection Regulations, which bar those who have caused bodily harm against a relative. Brar successfully appealed the decision citing that an offence involving a “sister-in-law” is different than an offence involving a “relative” as defined by the board.

The Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration asked that the decision be reviewed, noting that another clause in the regulations provides a broader definition of “relative” which includes “family members” such as common-law partners or spouses. This month, the Federal Court ruled that the Brar is eligible to sponsor his wife to come to Canada, and that the board had not erred in its interpretation of the regulations. The word “sister-in law” does not fall within the definition of “family member” as outlined by the Immigration and Refugee Board, the ruling states.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Brar’s lawyer, Stephen Green, with Green and Spiegel, said: “It was a very technical legal argument and that’s what the judge made a determination on, based on the legalities of it,” he said.

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What are they trying to hide? One guess: An out of control system

Police arrested the opposition Conservative Party’s immigration spokesman on Thursday over alleged leaks of information which he made public, British media said. The reports said Damian Green, who is a member of parliament, was arrested by London police at his home in Kent, south east of the capital, and his offices were searched. The information leaked was said to have come from the Home Office (Interior Ministry).

The Conservatives were unavailable for comment on the allegations when contacted by Reuters, but the arrest was condemned by the party’s shadow Chancellor George Osborne. “I think it is absolutely extraordinary that the police have taken that decision. It has long been the case in our democracy that members of parliament have received information from civil servants,” he said on BBC television “I think to hide information from the public is wrong. It is very early days. It’s an extraordinary case and I think there are going to be some very, very big questions asked of the police.”

Police issued a statement which said that a 52-year-old man had been arrested in Kent and taken to a central London police station on Thursday afternoon. “The man has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office,” they said in a statement. They added that they had searched two residential addresses and business premises in Kent and central London.

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Even if comprehensive immigration legislation is a low priority in the 111th Congress, President-elect Barack Obama will have plenty of tools at his disposal for altering the border security and interior enforcement landscape. The new administration can use executive orders, departmental reviews, regulations and personnel appointments to affect policy without Congress having to weigh in. And having apparently settled on a Homeland Security secretary in Gov. Janet Napolitano , D-Ariz., viewed as possessing border security credentials, such a strategy makes sense, with the president otherwise engaged in confronting economic troubles at home and war and terrorism abroad.

Likely to be high on the immigration to-do list: re-examining the stepped-up worksite enforcement conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in recent months. Human rights and immigrant advocates have blasted the raids, which are effective at netting large groups of illegal workers but can create public relations problems. “I think that the Obama administration is definitely going to dial back on workplace raids, but I don’t see them putting it that way,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates reduced immigration levels. “They’re going to say `we’re re-assessing workplace raids.'”

Obama and his Homeland Security Department leadership will also need to decide if they will enforce, rewrite or ditch a Bush administration rule that would allow Social Security “no-match” letters to be used as evidence of knowingly employing illegal workers for prosecution purposes.

Another Bush administration enforcement scheme that uses Social Security data is E-Verify, DHS’s electronic employment verification tool. Obama has said he supports E-Verify, but he will inherit the tool’s largest mandated expansion in January, when most federal contractors will be required to use it for new hires. Critics, which include businesses and civil libertarians, say the tool is error-prone, burdensome for employers and could lead to the misidentification and firing of legal workers. Napolitano’s signed into law perhaps the toughest employer-sanction statute in the country, but has expressed concerns about its effect on commerce.

Two other areas of concern to immigrant advocates that could see relatively quick action are asylum and health care. Marshall Fitz, director of advocacy at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, says he can see the Obama administration “being more proactive in their policy guidance [for ICE] in the use of parole, in particular for vulnerable populations, asylees and refugees.”

And if the new administration wants to tackle another contentious immigration issue, it “could take a careful look at [ICE] medical standards to make the detention system operate more humanely, without sacrificing community safety,” Fitz said. ICE and the Department of Immigrant Health Services came under fire in the last year after several detainee deaths were linked to improper treatment in custody.

When it comes to legal immigration, reducing application backlogs and the management of a huge, recently awarded contract to overhaul customer service at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could be another big undertaking for Obama.

If Napolitano is indeed appointed, as several news outlets reported last week was likely, that would be a clear signal of an executive branch focus on immigration. “Right off the bat you have, at the top of the department, somebody who was selected to signal that the immigration portfolio is going to be taken seriously in this administration,” said Doris Meissner, head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton and currently a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

Her public image is one of toughness on the issue, as a two-term Democratic governor of a Republican state sharing a long border with Mexico. But illegal immigration hawks are skeptical of Napolitano’s enforcement credentials. Krikorian said she cultivated a tough image to appeal to her conservative, anti-immigration Arizona constituents, but didn’t deliver much on the ground. Whichever view reflects reality, Napolitano’s mandate for action – and the accompanying controversies – will grow considerably if she takes over DHS.

Meissner said Napolitano will likely perform an in-depth review of departmental border security policies early in her tenure. “I would think that border enforcement and how it is promoting national security and achieving better immigration results would be very high on her list,” Meissner said.

Another option: promoting national identity. Audrey Singer, a senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, sees an opportunity for Obama to zero in on better assimilation for new immigrants. The administration “could organize something like a national `new Americans initiative’ to fund or provide seed funding to states for local municipalities to fund programs” that aim to help new immigrations with language, housing and job training.

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