Monday's federal cabinet shuffle saw the departure of one of the longest-serving immigration ministers in recent history. Since 2008, Jason Kenney has been the face of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. During that time, he has ushered in fundamental changes to Canada's immigration system and changed the immigration system to one that was focused on family reunification and individual immigrants to one that is now more employer-driven and enforcement-minded.
The winners from the Jason Kenney era are employers and law-abiding immigrants. The losers include families with relatives abroad and provincial immigration programs.
The biggest shift in Kenney's immigration policy was the virtual elimination of immigration categories allowing foreigners to immigrate here without a Canadian job or job offer. Before Kenney became immigration minister, most immigrants came to Canada on the basis of their foreign education and work credentials. While many succeeded in finding jobs, too many came here to find themselves unemployed and their foreign professional or trade credentials given little or no value.
Today, employers choose immigrants. Almost all of today's skilled-worker immigration programs now require foreigners to have Canadian job offers or work experience. As a result, most immigrants now come to Canada with jobs.
This focus on employer-driven immigration has resulted in a record number of temporary foreign workers entering Canada. Many of these workers come to Canada and apply for permanent residency while working here. While this is a good way to build up a skilled domestic workforce, there have been consequences.
In 2012, Kenney announced Canada would unilaterally terminate immigration applications filed under the old skilled-worker program without assessing them. To foreigners who had applied to come to Canada in good faith and put their lives on hold waiting for Canada's response, this represented a betrayal.
As well, the influx of temporary foreign workers has given rise to accusations some business have been using this program to drive down wages or eliminate jobs for Canadians altogether. The success in managing this program has been mixed.
In April, the government climbed down from policies it had enacted in 2012 that allowed certain employers to fast-track temporary foreign workers and pay these workers less than the median wages paid to Canadians. Clearly, these changes were ill-conceived. If not, they would not have been repealed.
While employers and workers have been the big winners in the Jason Kenney era, these changes have created losers. In 2011, Kenney froze the ability of Canadians to sponsor their parents and grandparents to Canada. When this system reopens in 2014, Canadian sponsors will face stricter financial criteria and a cap on the total number of applications that Canada will accept. Many Canadians who were eligible to bring their parents and grandparents to Canada in 2011 will not meet the new criteria.
Other losers from the Kenney era are the provinces. Before Kenney, provincial nominee programs were expanding and the decisions on who would be the best immigrants for a province were mainly made at the provincial level. Under Kenney's watch, a number of policies have made it tougher for families to reunite using provincial nominee programs. Kenney's requirement that immigrants have a minimum amount of savings in the bank and his implementation of mandatory language testing for certain immigrants have made it tougher for some people to immigrate to Manitoba.
This being said, it is tough to argue immigrants coming to this country should have some savings in the bank and should be able to communicate in English or French.
Kenney's announcement last year cancelling the federal government's settlement agreement with Manitoba has also affected Manitoba. This settlement agreement gave Manitoba federal money to focus on made-in-Manitoba programs to help settle immigrants to this province. While most of this money is still being spent in Manitoba by the federal government, a casualty of the cancellation of this agreement was the closing of Manitoba's nominee application centre, which helped people in Manitoba complete immigration applications free of charge.
In terms of enforcement, Jason Kenney has led the charge to deport criminals from Canada faster and to stamp out marriage fraud -- marriages used by foreigners not for love but to enter Canada. On the marriage-fraud front, the goal to stamp out marriage fraud is laudable. However, some of the new laws brought into force may keep legitimate spouses out of Canada. Regarding changes to the law to make it easier to deport criminals from Canada, these changes are good. After all, if these people want to stay in Canada, there is an easy solution for them -- don't commit crimes.
R. Reis Pagtakhan is a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.