It's no surprise that Friendly Manitoba welcomed fewer newcomers in 2012, say activists who've been watching and warning that Canada is closing the door to more and more people.
"It's much, much more difficult for huge numbers of people to immigrate and reunite with their families," said Louise Simbandumwe, with the Immigration Matters in Manitoba Coalition. The coalition of volunteers has been making the rounds at the invitation of community groups worried that Canada is becoming too exclusive.
"We're taking a broad look at the unprecedented changes the federal government is making that is closing doors for all categories of people," said the privately sponsored refugee. She came to Canada as a child with her family in 1979 after widespread massacres in her home country, Burundi. Today, under the new immigration rules, her family wouldn't have been allowed into Canada, she said. Simbandumwe and other coalition members are invited to speak at a public meeting by the Religious Orders of Manitoba Association on Saturday.
"The laws are definitely affecting people," said Sister Cathy Laviolette. "We just felt the word really needs to get out about what is happening to our immigrants and refugees in Canada today and its impact here in Manitoba."
At the heart of Manitoba's immigration decline is the 5,000-person limit on the number of immigrants the federal government allows under the Provincial Nominee Program, said Manitoba assistant deputy immigration minister Ben Rempel.
"The issue is we're capped," he said Wednesday. "We could meet the cap by June. Last year, there were over 10,000 applications... There's no shortage of people who want to come here."
Last year, 13,991 people immigrated to Manitoba compared with 15,931 the year before.
The federal government says it's increased the number of nominees Manitoba receives from 1,300 to 5,000 and the province now gets 30 per cent of all provincial nominations, more than its fair share.
"Manitoba has consistently received the highest number of provincial nominees of any province, far exceeding its share of the national population on a per capita basis," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's spokeswoman, Alexis Pavlich, said in an email.
With a worldwide demographic shift to smaller families, all provinces will need more nominees to keep up, Rempel said. The same number of nominees are not bringing as many family members with them, he said.
A 25 per cent jump in the number of newcomers to Saskatchewan last year has happened in Manitoba in recent years, he said.
"They're where we were recently," he said. Recruiting newcomers is affected by a lot of things. Some visa offices move more quickly than others, and at times there is a "pileup" when a number arrive at once. "It's not a steady flow."
But once immigrants arrive in Manitoba, they're staying, Rempel said.
"Our retention rate with newcomers is consistently high," he said. After three years, 85 per cent are still living in Manitoba, he said. "It's similar with Saskatchewan."
He said there are a small number of people moving back and forth between the provinces, "but it's not statistically significant."
Rempel was responding to criticism that people are leaving the province for greener economic pastures.
"It seems to me that with the number of immigrants increasing in other provinces and Manitoba falling behind, there's an issue that needs to be looked at," said Bonnie Mitchelson, immigration critic for the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.
She said Manitoba had the largest increase in income taxes of any province in 2011-12. "Manitoba should be more competitive," she said. "There's a reason they're leaving."
The notion that newcomers would leave Manitoba because they pay too much income tax is "hogwash," said coalition member Dorota Blumczynska.
"The reality is when you have a provincial nominee program that brings in wives and children, and grandparents are allowed to come and look after your kids, these communities are not leaving," Blumczynska said.
She pointed to generations of "flourishing" Filipinos in Manitoba as an example.
"They're happy, thriving and starting businesses... They're elected members of the legislative assembly."
A shifting federal immigration policy that favours economic and skilled immigrants at the expense of families of newcomers is shortsighted, said Blumczynska, who came to Canada in 1989 as a child with her parents and four siblings.
"If all you want is to fill a labour gap, all you're going to get is a worker in a factory who will leave you," she said. "They will chase the dollar to the next province or any other province. People who have families don't just move them across the country."
Closing the door
The feds introduce a more difficult citizenship exam with a higher minimum passing grade. (In 2009, only one of every 25 immigrants who took the test failed. In 2010, one in five immigrants failed. In Winnipeg, one in three immigrants failed.)
Ottawa imposes a moratorium on the sponsorship of parents and grandparents through family-class immigration. It introduces a new parent and grandparent "super-visa" that would allow them to enter Canada as visitors if they can afford the $100,000 in health coverage needed to get the super-visa.
The citizenship oath must be taken with an uncovered face. Muslim women are banned from wearing religious face coverings such as burka and niqab veils when taking the citizenship oath.
The number of refugees drops by more than 4,500 since 2006 -- from 32,499 in 2006 to 27,872 in 2011.
People applying for semi- and low-skilled jobs under the Provincial Nominee Program have to take a language test to show they have a minimum of Canadian Language Benchmark 4. Most applicants for citizenship must now provide documented evidence they have a minimum of Canadian Language Benchmark 4.
The federal government puts limits on the number of sponsorship applications that can be submitted by private sponsors. Privately sponsored refugees no longer receive supplemental health benefits.
Ottawa cancels about 300,000 federal skilled-worker applications submitted before Feb. 27, 2008 that were waiting to be processed. A moratorium on applications for most federal skilled workers means new applications cannot be submitted.
The feds say employers can pay wages lower than the median wage paid to Canadian workers doing the same type of work in their region. They can now pay up to 15 per cent below the median wage for high-skill occupations and five per cent below the median wage for low-skill occupations.
-- source: Immigration Matters in Manitoba Coalition