Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Barbara Yaffe on Conservative Immigration Reforms: Wrong as Always

I am not a Barbara Yaffe fan and nothing in her recent column on immigration changes that. http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/columnists/story.html?id=1404512e-d7eb-4f6a-a6a9-93ba78a71fb5

Yaffe: At present the country has a backlog of 925,900 permanent-residence applications. If unaddressed, the backlog is set to grow to 1.5 million by 2012, which would force newcomers to endure a decade-long wait.

There are is not one massive line, but many lines as there are embassies and consulates. How long someone takes to get processed does not depend upon how many people are applying to immigrant to Canada world wide but among other things how many are applying at a particular location. It may take someone in Warsaw 1.8 years to be processed, but someone in Bogotá over 16 years.

Another thing is that Canada puts a quota on the number of people taken in at each local. In other words, to present the problem as if Canada were processing people as fast as they could but we lack the right number of tellers is wrong. Those bottlenecks that do exist, exist because the government wants them to exist.

Yaffe: The current system requires applications to be handled on a first-come, first-served basis.

This is not true and Finley is either lying or ignorant when she says otherwise. As Guidy Mamann of the immigration law firm Mamann & Associates notes the immigration minister is not required by law to process applications as they come in.

“In an interview last week with CTV’s Mike Duffy, Finley confirmed that our backlog now stands at about 925,000 applications. The government maintains that the Minister needs these powers to cherry pick applicants who are needed here on a priority basis. She was asked by Duffy, if under the present system, the department was able to fast track, say a welder who was desperately needed in Fort McMurray . Finley answered “The way the law stands now we have to process the oldest application first. If that person is number 600,000 in line we’ve got a lot of applications to get through before that”.

This is simply not true. Our current legislation states that the federal cabinet “may make any regulation ... relating to classes of permanent residents or foreign nationals” including “selection criteria, the weight, if any to be given to all or some of those criteria, the procedures to be followed in evaluating all or some of those criteria… the number of applications to be processed or approved in a year” etc. In fact, in the case of Vaziri v. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Federal Court held in September 2006 that our current legislation “authorize[s] the Minister to set target levels and to prioritize certain classes of PR applicants” without even a
regulation being passed. Accordingly, Finley has more than enough power under our current legislation to make virtually any changes that she wants subject to the Charter.”

Yaffe: Impartiality is well and good, but entry to Canada is a privilege and the humanitarian end of the process is addressed through the family and refugee classes of immigration, which Finley has pledged won't be affected.

Canada needed all the economic immigrants it can handle. What it does not need is refugees and family class immigrants. Indeed, while much has been made of the fact that immigrants are lagging further and further behind, once you look at it by category it becomes apparent that only skilled principle applicants earning anywhere close to what their Canadian peers are earning and skilled principle applicants are the only category of immigrants that are working in numbers that even approach the Canadian average.

"At 26 weeks after their arrival, 50% of all immigrants aged 25 to 44 were employed. This was 30 percentage points below the employment rate of about 80% among all individuals aged 25 to 44 in the Canadian population. ... At 52 weeks after arrival, the employment rate among prime working-age immigrants was 58%. This narrowed the gap to 23 percentage points. At 104 weeks, or two years after arrival, the employment rate among prime working-age immigrants was 63%, 18 percentage points below the national rate of 81%. ... Immigrants admitted as principal applicants in the skilled worker category had an even better record for employment. At 26 weeks after arrival, the gap in the employment rate between them and the Canadian population was 20 percentage points. By 52 weeks, this had narrowed to 12 points, and by two years, it was down to 8 points."

If you tease out the numbers, 55% of non principal skilled applicants in the 25 to 44 age group are working after 2 years! As Conservative bill does not do anything to reduce the number of refugees and family class immigrants, but instead purposes to favor certain kinds of economic immigrants over others, it is completely useless.

Yaffe: Why on earth would the federal government not pick and choose, based on the economic needs of Canada , those it allows to enter Canada ? It's essential that those chosen possess skills to contribute to Canada 's wealth in no small part because Charter rights are accorded to newcomers the moment they make landfall. They're given immediate rights to avail themselves of taxpayer-funded social programs.

The Conservatives have talk a good game about the need to bring in doctors and PhDs, but this is all really just a smokescreen for allowing the provinces to bring guest workers --- many if not most of them far from skilled. Currently Alberta, for example, is hopping to fill the following positions through immigration: Front desk clerk, short order cook, baker, maid, assembly line worker, server, buser, bellhop, valet, and cafeteria worker, laundry attendant, pet groomer, general labourer, and hair dresser. All that is required of such would be immigrants is that they score 4 or 24 on the language assessment. In other words, they can still be functionally illiterate and still get it in. Never mind the fact that in many cases such demands amount to little more than a request from business that government assist them in quashing growing labour unrest, e.g., in the oil sands, such thinking is short sighted in extreme. Just look at Europe. There is ample evidence that armies of disenfranchised workers, whether they be illegal or guest, are a recipe for disaster. It is great way to, create an underclass, suppress wages, encourage black marketing, increase xenophobia and racism. Of course, great swaths of guest workers turn out to be anything but and as soon as the economy experiences a downturn they are trampled under foot and to add insult to injury are generally resented for being so unfortunate. Again look at Europe. A European like backlash is possible and this would make all but politically impossible to increase the number of economic immigrants coming to Canada at a time when it is imperative that we do so.

Yaffe: The expectation is that the government will now speed the processing of economic class immigrants with skills deemed to be in demand by provincial governments and major employers.

Business is more concerned with gaining access to cheap labour than putting Canada on a firm footing. Insuring that cleaning companies in Whistler are able to import Filipino women to work as cleaners is not a pressing issue. What is a pressing issue is the fact that Canada needs to get much younger.

The average Canadian in 2004 was 39.7; in other words Canada is one of the oldest nations on earth. However bad things are now things promise to get a lot worse. The percentage of Canadians over 65 is set to go from 14.7 now to 27.6 in 2050. If the situation was ever allowed to get this bad, the economy would be in sharp decline, the federal government would surely be in deficit, and virtually ever public entitlement program would have collapsed or would be close to it. Public health care system would surely have collapsed under the demands placed on it.

Part of the problem is that average immigrant to Canada (37.1) is not much younger than the average Canadian (39.7). The situation is akin to baling out a boat by moving water from one part of the boat to another. The average immigrant to Canada needs to be under 30 and Canada should aim to let in 500,000 plus economic class immigrants a year.

Canada, of course, is not alone in having to deal with aging population. Some European countries have it even worse.

"World Bank projections show that the working-age population of the present EU will drop from 230m now to 167m by 2050, a fall of 63m. Most of this is concentrated in the 12 current euroland countries, where working-age population is projected to drop from 186m to 131m. The worst-hit individual countries are Italy , with a 15m, or 42% fall, from 36m to 21m, followed by Spain and Germany. Britain is not immune but fares relatively well. The World Bank projects a 5m fall in working-age population, from 35.2m to 29.9m In general, though, Europe's position is dire. As Lombard Street Research writes: "The last demographic shock on a similar scale was the Black Death of the late 14th century. Even two world wars did not stop Europe 's population rising by nearly a fifth in the first half of the 20th century."

If Europe continues on as it is, the median age in Europe will go from 37.7 today to 52.3 by 2050!
As professor Charles Kupchan notes,

"today there are 35 pensioners for every 100 workers within the European Union. By 2050, current demographic trends would leave Europe with 75 pensioners for every 100 workers and in countries like Italy and Spain the ratio would be 1 to 1."