Unless “urgent” action is taken to tackle “systemic” problems, Canada’s backlog of immigration applications could grow to 1.5 million by 2012, up from 925,000 now, and newcomers will face a 10-year wait, Immigration Minister Diane Finley told a Commons committee yesterday.
“The current system, if left unchanged, is on track to collapse under its own weight. The system needs fixing,” Finley said.
“We are facing real and serious international competition for the talents and skills that we need to fill,” she said, calling for a “renewed” vision for the immigration system.
The immigration minister was appearing before the finance committee to explain the government’s proposed reforms, contained in Bill C-50, to speed the processing of new applicants. Last year, the government issued 251,000 permanent resident visas.
Changes to the immigration act would give Finley the power to issue “instructions” to her department to give priority to categories of immigrants whose job skills are in demand in Canada. At the same time, she would have the power to refuse applications in other categories.
But the proposals have stirred fear that the minister and bureaucrats will have too much power to pick and choose broad classes of immigrants, leaving many hopeful newcomers shut out.
“Under her scheme, the minister will be picking winners and losers. Who are these losers?” said New Democrat MP Olivia Chow (Trinity Spadina).
But Finley downplayed concerns the new law would allow her to cherry-pick immigrants. She stressed the immigration officers would still make the decisions on individual cases.
She pledged that the immigration system would be “universal and non-discriminatory.”
Finley said countries like Britain and Australia are able to process would-be immigrants much faster—sometimes in as little as six months—putting Canada at a disadvantage as its tries to lure skilled workers to come here.
“It can take us up to six years to even begin looking at one’s application, let alone process it,” she said. “We risk losing talented people to other countries.”
The problem is current rules require the department to process every application—in the order they were received, she said. Finley likened it to a hockey team able to pick only the first 25 people who applied for a position, even if that choice left the team without a goalie.
But New Democrat MP Thomas Mulcair (Outremont) scoffed at the comparison, calling it the “most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.”
He was unmoved by her call for action yesterday, saying the Tory proposals go too far and risk shutting out talented immigrants who don’t make the minister’s priority list.
“The system (would be) changed into a purely arbitrary, haphazard system open to discrimination,” he said.
Later, he noted that while the Finley cites the backlog as the reason to act, her changes would apply to applications received on or after Feb. 27, 2008.
“When you call them on that, they say it actually doesn’t touch the backlog, the new rules only apply to the future,” Mulcair said.
Finley was at the finance committee because the reforms are contained in Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill. However, opposition MPs are attempting to move the debate to the Commons immigration committee.
Despite Finley’s committee appearance yesterday, the minister has already said her government won’t entertain any amendments to the legislation.