Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2007 (5374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Processing delays have become the Achilles heel of our immigration system with average waiting times of five years in high-volume visa posts such as Beijing, New Delhi and Islamabad. It is not just skilled-worker applicants who are left cooling their heels. Try sponsoring your parents or grandparents from overseas. The case-processing centre in Canada will take 28 months just to process the Canadian end of the application. Final processing at the overseas visa post will take a further two years. Like Moses, many sponsored parents or grandparents do not live long enough to make it to the promised land.
With processing times now available on the Canada Immigration website for the world to see, it is no wonder that the best and brightest skilled workers are re-evaluating their destination priorities and giving a second look to New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. Or, in the case of Irfan, taking matters into their own hands and turning up at the Canadian border without an invitation.
In late 2002 and early 2003, thousands of Pakistani nationals living without status in the United States crossed over into Canada, one step ahead of U.S. Department of Homeland Security registration requirements. Most made refugee claims in Canada. The majority of those were refused at their refugee hearings, yet still remain in Canada living under removal orders that have yet to be enforced. The overall acceptance rate for refugee claimants currently hovers in the 40 to 45 per cent range, reduced almost by half from the first year of the Refugee Board's operation in 1989. In the ensuing decades the core of genuine refugee cases has been eclipsed by clusters of copycat cases. Irfan is one of thousands of economic migrants who avail themselves of Canada's refugee system every year to facilitate entry into Canada. Call Irfan a queue jumper and he'll tell you that he simply passed through a door that was open looking for a better life for his family. And while processing delays keep Javed's skilled-worker application in suspense, more delays keep Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) from deporting Irfan. To be flown back to Pakistan, CBSA needs to obtain a travel document for Irfan which the local Pakistani consulate is not so quick to disgorge. In a recurring comic opera, the consulate will request their national's left thumbprint in support of a travel document application and when that is dutifully provided by CBSA, the Pakistani consulate will then insist upon a right thumbprint. Apparently, the Pakistani consulate is not so keen upon facilitating the return of its wayward citizens, and a similar reluctance is shared by the consulates of numerous foreign countries in Canada. No travel document -- no deportation. In the meantime, Irfan continues to work, pay taxes and see his children pass through high school. Whether Irfan ultimately is allowed to stay or ordered to leave will depend upon the discretion of the immigration officer reviewing the humanitarian and compassionate aspects of his case -- a discretion that is uneven and arbitrary in its application.
Back in Pakistan, Javed the bonafide computer analyst cannot help but feel frustrated to learn that so many of his countrymen are already enjoying the fruits of Canadian society after concocting a refugee claim to gain entry. Indeed, if it takes an immigration lawyer a couple of days to prepare a skilled worker application, surely Javed must wonder why it would take a visa post five years to process it. And Irfan must wonder whether his game of Russian roulette with the Canadian immigration system will eventually come crashing down upon him.
Javed K. is just one of 800,000 skilled workers with applications currently pending abroad. Irfan H. is one of an estimated several hundred thousand workers without legal status in Canada. The government has chosen to create and promote a skilled worker program; it must allocate sufficient resources and manpower to efficiently manage it. And if the government is unable to remove failed refugee claimants years after their arrival, it must establish a program based upon employment or other establishment and grant landing to those who qualify. To do otherwise brings into disrepute an immigration system that so many pin their hopes and dreams upon.
Max Berger is a former Winnipegger who now practises immigration law in Toronto.