Immigration policy shift

If you begin the process today to bring your parents or grandparents from your home country under a Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) family reunification visa you could wait six years according to some estimates, and that is a best-case scenario. Under the best of conditions since 2005 you would have had at least a four-year wait.

The pattern of immigration under the federal Conservatives is changing. So they should not deny that they are setting policy to cut immigration numbers. Yet, we are receiving mixed messages on immigration from Ottawa as they attempt to appease their conservative immigrant base as well as those who feel that Canada is taking in too many immigrants.

A mixed message, for example, is one in which federal immigration Minister Jason Kenney proudly announced in the same speech in February that Canada received a record 280,636 immigrants last year and that the visa quota will be lowered by five per cent.

Kenney made much of the Conservatives’ immigration policy changes aimed at clearing up a chronic backlog of applications to help speed up family reunification and raise the number of immigrants that have entered Canada. But how does that talk square with the fact that in the first quarter of 2011 the number of permanent resident visas issued by CIC has fallen to 63,224, a 25 per cent drop compared to the 84,083 in the first quarter of 2010? Moreover, the numbers of parents and grandparents allowed into Canada under family reunification in the last five years has actually been declining. And, skilled worker visas will fall by 20 per cent from the 70,000 admitted last year to an expected 56,000 this year, while Kenny has stated that he wants to make it easier for skilled trades people who might not be highly educated to enter the country.

What else have they done to show the direction in which they and we are headed? In a controversial decision, the government cut funding to settlement services by some $50-million. Significantly, those cuts most affected newcomer settlement organizations in the Greater Toronto Area where half of all immigrants first touch down upon entering Canada.

Should Canada be lowering the number of permanent resident visas it issues? The target of 250,000 annually is not considered by experts to even be the optimal number to deal with the economic growth the country needs to sustain – and as a balance against – an ageing population.

Or is it that the broader system here is not doing a good enough job of providing the social and employment infrastructure to allow newcomers to fit in – especially in the job market?

And what does it mean that family reunification visas are being limited? Kenny has been criticized for his comment that people coming to Canada have to either choose citizenship here or to stay with their parents and grandparents in their country of origin. So if you want to see your parents and grandparents then you should consider a trip back home. That is the sound of a new Canada.

But this point of view fails to recognize the importance of family reunification in the cultures of the very people that the government does want to attract. It fails to acknowledge the kind of healthy wholeness that comes with keeping families together. It also fails to recognize the support that stay-at-home older parents provide for working families with children, and the valuable foundations and bonds formed between the generations living as an extended family unit. But if immigrants to this country are only viewed as work units purely for the facilitation of economic stability or growth then it may be that much easier to overlook their humanity.

Are we then to roll back the clock to the days when Chinese men were allowed to immigrate here to help build the railroad, but not allowed to bring their wives? Or when women from the Caribbean were allowed here to do domestic work but their husbands and children were not?

Shouldn’t immigration be about more than just bringing in workers? Shouldn’t it also be about building a nation?

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