Canada’s immigration door begins closing

July 31st, 2010 | Posted in Beirut, Canada, Lebanon, Economy
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    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 by Elie Nasrallah Daily Star

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    Photo: Tanya Traboulsi Sky over sea, Beirut, Lebanon.

Canada has always been a favorite destination for many Lebanese emigrants. However, the country is now changing its immigration policies and is beginning to resemble a club open to a chosen few who possess the required skills, education and selective criteria to enter.

Last June 26, Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister for citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, announced that to be eligible to apply as a federal skilled worker, immigrants must either have a job offer from a Canadian employer or experience in one of just 29 in-demand occupations.

The government also intends to limit the number of applications considered for processing to 20,000 per year, in the federal skilled worker category, as a way of matching applications to labor market demand. “Within the 20,000 per year limit, a maximum of 1,000 applications per occupation will be considered. The limit does not apply to applicants with a job offer,” the government website reported.

This cap on the number of applications accepted is an unusual phenomenon in Canadian immigration policy, one not seen since the 1960s when Canada opened its doors to immigration.

The newly published list of occupations that Canada is seeking to fill at the present time focuses on the following fields: physicians, general practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, nurses, and social workers; restaurant and food service managers as well as chefs and cooks; business managers and insurance adjusters; and individuals working in construction, including carpenters, as well as mechanics, plumbers, electricians, machine operators and others.

Furthermore, changes have been introduced to the federal skilled worker stream, a points system program designed to select immigrants based on their education, work experience, language proficiency, skill, age, adaptability, and so on; as well to the Canadian Experience Class, which considers foreign workers and international graduate students already in Canada. Henceforth, applicants must include the results of an English or French language test with their application.

The language requirements have not changed with respect to the grades demanded in reading, writing, listening and speaking, but there are no exceptions anymore to the condition of having a language proficiency assessment performed in order to be eligible to apply as an immigrant. Previously, applicants were able to choose between two options: to do the English or French language test, or merely to provide sufficient documentation demonstrating language proficiency.

Therefore, even if you were born in the United Kingdom and taught English at Oxford University, you must still do the English test to qualify to apply for immigration to Canada under the new rules. Furthermore, you may well be an excellent carpenter or plumber, but if you lack the necessary language skills, you’re application is doomed.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also proposing new changes to the immigrant investor program. Investors are eligible to making financial contributions to federal and provincial governments, earning them immigration status to Canada. The proposed regulatory changes – which are certain to be enacted into law soon – will require immigrant investors from now on to have a personal net worth of $1.6 million, up from $800,000, and to make an investment of $800,000, up from $400,000 as it stands today.

These changes reflect the confidence of the government in Canada’s ability to attract investors, even by doubling the benchmarks, since Canada’s economic reputation and banking system during the global financial crisis remained solid, indeed improved.

More ominously, in June Maclean’s, Canada’s national news magazine, published an article titled, “Who doesn’t get to Canada?” It cited a confidential memo showing that Canada may be engaging in preferential treatment for immigrants from some areas of the globe. The article asked: “A new emphasis on applicants from Asia – Chinese and South Asians – as opposed to the Caribbean and other areas, has drawn fire. Are we quietly engaged in country profiling?”

Even Canada’s refugee system is in the process of being revamped and readjusted to minimize abuses, and to make things quicker, fairer and final as far as appeals are concerned. Canada’s liberal refugee system is coming to an end after years of bogus refugee claims.

Therefore, the average Lebanese, or Arab national, who is thinking of emigrating to Canada as his or her ancestors did, is going to discover that entry is no longer as easy as it once was. On top of that, the Lebanese authorities are in no mood to facilitate emigration, because they wish to reduce the brain drain from Lebanon. Salim al-Sayegh, the social affairs minister, was in Ottawa in June, and in a presentation before the Canadian-Lebanese Chamber of Commerce there, he made a powerful case for limiting Lebanese emigration and attracting members of the diaspora back to Lebanon. He noted that about 4,000 Lebanese professionals emigrated to Canada each year, especially to Quebec, most of them under 30 years of age.

The doors to Canada are still open, but you have to have a special key to enter the country today, which means belonging to the chosen few.

Elie Mikhael Nasrallah is a practicing immigration consultant (CSIC) in Ottawa, Canada, and a commentator on public policy. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star.

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