Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Foreigners are valued customers

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In 2010, citizens from the Philippines, China and India made up more than 57 per cent of provincial nominee immigrants to Manitoba. By 2050, Citigroup projects that China and India will be the two largest economies in the world while the Philippines will be the tenth largest. Canada, which was No. 10 in the world in 2010, will drop out of the top 10 by 2030.

If economic growth in the Philippines, China and India results in people staying in these countries or immigrating to these countries, immigration to Canada will either dry up or undergo a massive shift.

It is not too late for Canada to remain competitive in attracting the world's best and the brightest. In order to do so, however, a shift is needed in government's attitude towards immigration. Canada must treat immigrants as customers, Canadian diplomats must actively market Canada to prospective immigrants, and immigration officers must provide superior customer service to make foreigners feel welcome.

Marketing Canada and providing superior customer service to prospective immigrants is necessary. In today's world, Canada not only competes with countries such as Australia and the U.S. for the world's best and brightest, but with China and India as well. China and India are not only convincing more of their nationals to stay home but are actively luring their expatriates back from Canada and other countries to participate in the economic growth China and India are experiencing. If China and India are joined by the Philippines in attracting people to live and work in these countries, where will Canada find the people it needs to continue to grow?

In the last two months, Canada closed immigration offices in the U.S., Germany, Japan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Serbia and Iran. Just last month, Citizenship and Immigration Canada eliminated front counter service at immigration offices in Canada. Will closing offices result in superior customer service? Will it result in better marketing of Canada?

If closing immigration offices abroad and eliminating front counter service in Canada means that more immigration applications will be processed faster, this may be a positive development. One of the biggest complaints about the immigration system is that it takes months or years to get visas. Faster customer service will go a long way to improving the immigrant experience for newcomers to Canada.

Faster processing alone, however, will not make Canada more attractive. For years, Canada has sat on its high horse and let the world's best and brightest patiently wait in line for years for the privilege of coming to this country. With more career opportunities popping up all over the world, if Canada is truly to remain competitive in attracting international skilled workers, it is necessary to continue marketing Canada as a premier place to work and live.

If closing offices abroad results in Canada reducing its marketing to prospective immigrants, there will be a long-term negative effect on Canada's reputation as a destination country. It is crucial that the diplomatic staff who remain in these countries continue to sell the benefits of moving to Canada.

Why do we need to treat immigrants as customers? The answer is because they become taxpayers. Since taxes are the only real revenue stream for a government, taxpayers are essentially a government's customers. Skilled immigrants are Canada's future customers and we should treat them as such.

Better customer service also means improving the immigration application experience. Currently, some immigration applications require individuals to fill out up to 10 separate immigration forms, enclose over two dozen documents, and then wait for years for an answer. Email and phone inquiries to Citizenship and Immigration Canada often go unanswered for weeks at a time and the online reference guide on the government's website can come close to 50 printed pages. If an applicant fails to provide all of the documents requested and answer every single one of the dozens of questions, the application can be denied.

Last year, a case was taken to court by a Philippine architect who was refused a visa to Canada. The architect, who held a degree in architecture, provided a reference letter from his employer that did not contain a description of the tasks or duties he performed. As a result, his application was denied. In upholding the refusal, the judge stated that the refusal of the visa was proper because the onus was on the architect to provide all documents required in the immigration checklist.

While this decision is legally correct, it does not assist Canada in attracting the best and the brightest. Is letting a matter go to court the best customer service Canada has to offer? Whatever happened to phoning a customer, asking the customer to come by the office to answer questions, and helping him or her understand how to fix the problem?

R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2012 A7

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