Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Look back to retool immigration

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Each year around Halloween, Canada's Citizenship and Immigration minister is required by law to present to Parliament his immigration plan for the coming year. This is a good news event, a "treat," and on Oct. 28, Minister Chris Alexander announced the target for 2014 would be in the range of 240,000-265,000 immigrants.

The "trick" side of this announcement is that it is essentially the same number as for the previous five years of the Harper government. There is tinkering within the total as the sub categories are marginally adjusted, but the overall effect is about the same.

As is becoming apparent to many Canadians, the demand to immigrate here far exceeds the annual spaces allowed. Yet immigration policy within the context of Canada's future seems still to be something that our political parties approach gingerly, if at all.

We are left with a controlled growth strategy for now and perhaps a population maintenance strategy in the longer term as we look down the road to a time when deaths will significantly exceed births as the population ages.

Why doesn't Canada return to the strategy that once helped build this nation -- allowing the sponsoring here of family members, as permanent and not temporary, immigrants?

The pressure for more workers in an expanding economy is also becoming apparent in the need for temporary foreign workers. Alexander's department has reported that in the first six months of this year more than 125,000 of these entered Canada. This probably surpassed the number of immigrants landed in the same period because annual figures show this has been happening since 2008.

Temporary foreign workers are usually at the lower end of the economic scale, helping with the harvest, processing meat, or working in service industries. At the same time, Canada's immigration policy still emphasizes cherry-picking the planet for "the best and the brightest." Qualifications for immigrants are set accordingly.

But in the upper echelons of jobs, there may not be the demand that plainly exists at the lower end. One of the largest employers of "temps" in Canada, is Tim Hortons. The list of employers now authorized to import workers in this way goes on for more than 400 pages.

Recently, I sat with two long-distance truck drivers drinking coffee and hot chocolate at the Tim's on the arrivals level of Winnipeg's airport. We were awaiting a plane bringing more sponsored refugees from Africa, family-linked to these men. On arrival these newcomers became permanent residents of Canada -- immigrants -- and in a few years, citizens.

Long-distance trucking now has a number of drivers who are Canadians with origins in Africa. They are well-paid and have helped to meet a big need in that industry. One of the men confirmed that in his travels across Western Canada with the inevitable stops at coffee shops and short-order eateries, he meets "temps" working in many of them. These places could not operate otherwise.

I know from personal experience Canadians generally do not know it has been impossible to sponsor one's extended family as immigrants here for more than 20 years. You cannot sponsor your sister or your brother, your cousin or your aunt. You can only sponsor your "nuclear" family -- parents, spouse, younger children.

This is why, in the once-refugee communities among Canadians, like Afghans, Congolese, Eritreans and Somalis, there is such a huge demand to use mechanisms for the private sponsoring of refugees, to reunite families for whom there is no other way.

But as with all immigration categories there are severe annual limits on how many will be let in. For privately sponsored refugees, Anderson's announcement allows 6,300 for all of Canada in 2014.

As one watches the numbers of temporary foreign workers mount, and as one reads of abuses besetting some of these, and as one sees the frustration of families unable to be reunited here, one has to wonder why Canada doesn't return to the strategy that once helped build this nation -- allowing the sponsoring here of family members, as permanent and not temporary, immigrants.

While out recently, I stopped for the traffic light at Portage and Main. From the passenger seat, my wife looked up at the driver of a huge new and shiny multi-wheeled rig that has pulled up beside us. In response to my leading question, she affirmed, "Yes, it's an African."

Tom Denton is the executive director for refugee sponsorship at Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2013 A11

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