Archive for March, 2010

Reforms Announced for Canadian Refugee System

Henry Chang | March 30, 2010 in Canadian Immigration | Comments (0)

Today, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney introduced proposed legislation designed to improve Canada’s refugee system, to deliver quicker decisions on asylum claims, and to provide faster protection to those in need. “This balanced reform would both increase support for refugees in need of protection and discourage many of the unfounded asylum claims that burden our system,” said Minister Kenney. “These changes would result in faster protection for those who need our help and quicker removals of those who do not.”

As the Auditor General of Canada has said, delays in rendering final decisions on asylum claims leave the system open to abuse. Canada’s existing system is crippled by long delays and a cumbersome process which results in many claims taking years to resolve with finality. These delays encourage people not in need of protection to make claims knowing they will be able to live and work in Canada for many years.

“Canada’s asylum system is broken,” said Minister Kenney. “We must act to avoid a two-tier immigration system: one for immigrants who wait in line – often for years – to come to Canada, and another for those who use the asylum system, not for protection, but to try to get through the back door into Canada.”

It currently takes an average of 19 months for claims to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (“IRB”). The proposed measures would shorten this so that claimants would generally have a hearing at the IRB within 60 days. “This would allow those in need of our protection to have security, and to build their new lives in Canada much more quickly,” said Minister Kenney.

All eligible asylum claimants would continue to get a fair hearing by the IRB based on their individual circumstances. Most claimants would also have access to a new appeal process at the IRB including the opportunity, in certain cases, to present new evidence.

“Through these changes, we would create a more efficient system where most failed claimants would be removed from Canada within a year of their final IRB decision,” said Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety. “This would benefit all Canadians and protect the integrity of our immigration system.”

In general, failed claimants would be removed within a year of their final IRB decision, compared with the status quo in which it generally takes 4.5 years to exhaust all recourses and remove a failed asylum claimant. Quick removal of failed claimants would help discourage individuals from using the asylum system to try to jump the immigration queue to enter Canada. These new measures exceed Canada’s international and domestic legal obligations to asylum seekers and address key concerns raised by the Auditor General of Canada in her May 2008 report on managing the detention and removal of individuals.

Following the example of several democratic countries, the new measures would also allow the government to designate safe countries of origin. As in the current system, all eligible asylum claimants, including those from designated safe countries, would continue to receive a hearing at the Refugee Protection Division of the IRB. All claimants would continue to be able to ask the Federal Court to review a negative decision.

Ottawa has yet to determine which countries are safe and which are not. Senior government officials said the process of making those designations could take some time.

The intention of the proposed law is to reduce the substantial list of asylum seekers living Canada. The backlog of cases now sits at about 60,000. There are about 38,000 claimants whose whereabouts are unknown. Critics argue that one of the reasons the list is so long is that the government, for many years, failed to make an adequate number of appointments to the IRB.

It is estimated that each failed asylum claim costs Canadian taxpayers $50,000, mostly in provincial social service and health costs, and that these reforms would reduce this cost to $29,000 per claim. By shortening the time failed claimants remain in Canada, it could reduce the costs faced by provincial and territorial governments.

These improvements to the asylum system would also allow the Government of Canada to help more refugees resettle to Canada through a commitment to increase the annual refugee resettlement target by 2,500, to a total of up to 14,500 refugees per year.

In addition, as announced yesterday, the Government of Canada would be able to increase Resettlement Assistance Program funding to $54 million, the first increase in over 10 years, in order to help these refugees successfully integrate into Canadian society. Funding would also include an investment to reduce the existing backlog of asylum claims.

The official press release appears here.

Mexico Detains Suspect in Killings of Two United States Citizens

Henry Chang | in United States Immigration | Comments (0)

We previously reported on the murder of several U.S. consular staff and their families in Ciudad Juarez, which occurred on March 13, 2010. The Globe and Mail has now reported that Mexican soldiers have arrested a gang member suspected in the killings of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.

Police spokesman Enrique Torres said the suspect arrested on Friday was a member of the Barrio Azteca gang, which authorities say works for the Juarez drug cartel on both sides of the border. Torres did not release the man’s name, but a Chihuahua state investigator who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the case identified the suspect as Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, 45.

Consulate employee Lesley A. Enriquez and her husband, Arthur H. Redelfs, were killed March 13 in Juarez when gunmen opened fire on their sport utility vehicle after they left a birthday party. Their 7-month-old daughter was found wailing in the back of the vehicle. Jorge Alberto Salcido, the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate, also was killed by gunmen after leaving the same event in a separate vehicle.

Torres said the suspect is a leader of the Barrio Azteca gang, but gave no other details. He said the suspect would be presented to the media later Monday. U.S. and Mexican authorities say the Barrio Azteca gang works for the Juarez drug cartel and operates on both sides of the border.

Initially a Texas prison gang, Barrio Azteca expanded across the Rio Grande into Juarez in the late 1990s, U.S. authorities have said. Last week, El Paso police and Texas state troopers arrested 25 people in a sweep of suspected gang members.

Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, is one of the world’s deadliest places. More than 2,600 people were killed last year, and another 500 so far this year in the city of 1.3 million.

Drug-related violence in Mexico has claimed 17,900 lives since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug gangs in December 2006. Powerful drug cartels have been battling not only authorities but each other for turf and drug routes.

The Globe and Mail article appears here.

Backlog on Federal Skilled Worker Applications Continues Despite 2008 Ministerial Instructions

Henry Chang | March 29, 2010 in Canadian Immigration | Comments (0)

The Toronto Star reports that, despite controversial measures introduced two years ago to speed up Canada’s immigration process, a backlog of pending federal skilled worker permanent residence applications appears to be re-emerging.

On November 28, 2008, Immigration Minister issued Ministerial Instructions regarding the processing of federal skilled worker cases filed on or after February 27, 2008. Federal skilled worker applications submitted on or after this date were required to meet specific criteria before they would be accepted. Subject to certain exceptions, only cases filed by applicants falling under one of the 38 listed occupations were eligible to apply. These Ministerial Instructions were considered controversial but were deemed necessary to eliminate the excessive backlog of pending cases.

According to an analysis of data provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”), the average processing time from all visa posts is 7-1/2 years, with 600,000 people in the queue for the 80,055 skilled immigrant visas granted in 2010. The problem, immigration critics say, is twofold: (a) longer waits as the government slowly sifts through the old backlog of applications that still runs in the hundreds of thousands, and (b) a glut of applications to the 38 specific job categories introduced in 2008.

“We have a growing inventory because we have an oversupply of eager candidates,” said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigrant lawyer and policy analyst who obtained the data. “The processing time is going to balloon. This is an early warning of a backlog returning.”

To reduce the volume of applications, Kurland said Ottawa needs to trim the occupation list and install a warning system that alerts officials to remove a job category when it generates too many applications. “It may be unpopular politically, but the immigration minister needs to fix this,” Kurland said. CIC just announced this month plans to review labour market needs to update the occupation list.

CIC spokesperson Kelli Fraser acknowledged this week that between March 2008 and now, the department has received 327,843 skilled immigrant applications for the 38 occupations, everything from geologists and specialist physicians to chefs and plumbers. But she said 80% of decisions have been made within seven months or less.

Visa offices facing high workloads include Damascus in Syria, Guatemala, Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, and Kingston, Jamaica. The old backlog has been reduced by 40 per cent from 640,000 to roughly 400,000 applicants, she said. Under the old rules, a skilled immigrant application took four to five years to process; “given the size of the backlog, it cannot be reduced overnight,” said Fraser.

The full article appears here.

Immigration Minister Kicks Off Overhaul of Canada’s Refugee System

Henry Chang | in Canadian Immigration | Comments (0)

According to the Globe and Mail, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is kicking off a major overhaul of the country’s refugee system by increasing the number of people Canada accepts from UN-designated refugee camps overseas. Mr. Kenney said Canada is now prepared to accept 2,500 extra refugees selected by the United Nations, bringing its annual total to 14,500 coming from refugee camps and urban slums.

“Millions of people have fled violence and persecution to seek refuge outside their home countries and we would like to do more to provide them with protection in Canada,” Mr. Kenney said in a statement. The government will sponsor 500 of the new places. The other 2000 will be under the Private Sponsorhip of Refugees Program, which allows church and community groups as well as individuals to bring in designated refugees.

Ottawa will also increase funding to resettle this group, adding $9-million a year to an existing budget of $45-million. This would be the first permanent funding increase in a decade.

Mr. Kenney said he will follow up the announcement by tabling far-reaching legislation on Tuesday, targeted mainly at people claiming refugee status after they arrive in Canada. That package aims to speed up the approval system for refugee claimants who come to Canada looking for asylum by efficiently sorting out legitimate refugees from those who are trying to abuse Canada’s system.

Under the new legislation, refugee claimants would be sorted into two groups — those from democratic countries deemed safe, and those from more dangerous spots. The safe-country people would be fast-tracked, but would still have access to a full hearing. Bureaucrats, rather than political appointees, would handle the initial decisions. The bill would also set up a new, more robust appeals system, allowing those who are turned down to introduce new evidence before they are ejected from Canada.

Mr. Kenney wants to get rid of the huge backlog of refugee claimants who often have to wait up to two years before their legal limbo is cleared up. He also wants to close loopholes in the system that allow posers to play the system and stay in Canada for years.

He announced the increase in UN-designated refugees as a way to “balance” the crackdown on refugee claimants within Canada. “We have been clear that Parliament enacting balanced reforms to our asylum system will be met by more government help for refugees living in desperate circumstances around the world and in urgent need of resettlement,” Mr. Kenney said.

The federal government says there are about 10.5 million UN-designated refugees living in camps and urban slums around the world. Canada is responsible for settling about one in 10 of these refugees, and is the world’s second-largest provider of such protection, after the United States.

The full article is available here.

Lawyer Argues that Immigration Ministers Comments Prejudiced Czech Refugee Case

Henry Chang | March 23, 2010 in Canadian Immigration | Comments (0)

Immigration lawyer Max Berger, who is representing a Roma refugee facing removal, is arguing that the Canadian Immigration Minister’s public criticisms about Czech refugees have prejudiced asylum cases before the independent Immigration and Refugee Board and before immigration officials charged with Pre-Removal Risk Assessments.

Jason Kenny, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, made his comments regarding Czech refugee claims last year, while defending his decision to re-impose the visa requirement for Czech citizens. Among other things, he said that refugee claims from Czechs (who are now part of the European Union) made no sense because they could easily move to “26 other Western democracies in the European Union.”

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) there has been a substantial increase of refugee claims being made by Czech citizens since the visa requirement was eliminated on October 31, 2007. More than 840 Czech refugee claims were received in 2008, compared with less than five claims in 2006. In total, nearly 3,000 claims have been filed by Czech nationals since October 2007, with over half of them in the first four months of 2009 alone.

According to Mr. Berger, 94% of Czech refugees were granted refugee status in 2008, with another 81% accepted in the first quarter of last year, just before Minister Kenney said in Paris in April that “it is hard to believe that the Czech Republic is an island of persecution in Europe.” Canada imposed visa restrictions on Czech visitors in July. Between July and September 2009, acceptance of Czech refugee claims plummeted to 30%, said Berger.

In his submission, Berger cited the opinions of several legal experts who questioned Kenney’s political influence into the refugee board’s independence. “When the minister pronounces on the validity, or lack thereof, of refugee claimants from any country without having heard the particular case and knowing the individual circumstances, there is the risk that individual decision makers whose jobs ultimately depend on the minister’s decision to appoint and reappoint, will be unduly influenced,” said University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin.

Calling the bias argument a “red herring,” government lawyer Amina Riaz said the acceptance rate for Roma refugees were “sensationalized and inflated” because it only compared asylum claims rejected or accepted by the refugee board and excluded the many cases that were “withdrawn or abandoned.” Riaz also argued that acceptance rates based on decisions by the refugee board have no relevance to Pre-Removal Risk Assessments determined by CIC officials; both operate independently and separately.

The full article is available here.

Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Says Agencies Must Halt Gatekeeper Approach

Henry Chang | March 19, 2010 in Canadian Immigration | Comments (0)

Jason Kenney, the Canadian Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, states that professional associations refusing to recognize the credentials of foreign workers are threatening to slow Canada’s economic recovery. Professional agencies have been criticized in the past for too often rejecting training received abroad, making it difficult for new Canadians to find jobs in their fields.

Ottawa unveiled a program last year to streamline the recognition of foreign credentials but, among the hundreds of professional associations across the country, only eight are on board. “The biggest obstacle has always been a gatekeeper attitude amongst some professional agencies that have been in the past unwilling to be part of the solution,” Kenney said in an interview. “I think the pressure is building, (there is) an expectation that all of them will streamline the process and make it easier.”

The Conservatives have shifted Canada’s immigration policy to favour newcomers with skills that match the needs in the economy. Those spots remain unfilled and the economy suffers, Kenney said, when immigrants are prevented from working. Kenney made the remarks after a speech to an immigration conference where he outlined his government’s policies.

As part of the streamlining program, known as the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications, Kenney expects all professional associations to join by 2013. But the NDP’s immigration critic says the government hasn’t done enough to fight the reluctance of professional associations. “There are not enough incentives,” Olivia Chow said. “There are not enough carrots and sticks to push them into saying yes.” She noted that a parliamentary committee recently recommended that the government provide incentives to employers to hire immigrants. Kenney has rejected that idea.

Chow says the government’s current policy is incomplete. While speeding up recognition of foreign credentials, she said, it does little to help immigrants secure that vital first job in Canada. “You can’t just blame it on professional bodies and say, ‘Oh well, it’s their fault, we can’t do anything,”‘ said Chow, a member of the committee that in November urged the government to do more to create work opportunities for immigrants. “It’s not only a matter of getting your certification recognized, it’s about what happens after that.”

Kenney dismissed the idea of the government funding job opportunities for immigrants. “Our focus would be, rather than subsidizing tens of thousands of small businesses, create a positive economic policy, including lower taxes, and we’ve done that as a government,” he said. “Small business will be leading us out of the recovery and new Canadians will be a big part of that.”

The full article appears here.

Evangelical Christians Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Henry Chang | in United States Immigration | Comments (0)

According to The Guardian, thousands of pro-immigration activists from across the United States will flock to Washington DC on 21 March to demand that President Obama and Congress pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2010. Mainline Catholics and Protestants who have long defended the rights of illegal aliens plan to be front and centre, as they have been for years. But marching alongside them this year will be some fresh religious faces: evangelical Christians.

Last October, the conservative-leaning National Association of Evangelicals (“NAE”), which represents some 30 million evangelical Christians, passed a resolution at its annual meeting in support of comprehensive immigration reform. The resolution, which received little notice outside of religious circles, produced shockwaves among US conservatives who frequently look to Christian evangelicals for political support, but who are still wary of embracing immigration reform as a conservative-led cause.

Most evangelical Christians, including most NAE members, backed George W Bush for President in 2000 and 2004. Even so, when Bush pushed for comprehensive immigration reform in 2007, the NAE found itself too internally divided over the issue to take a public stand, and Bush’s proposed legislation suffered a crushing defeat.

What happened to change the NAE’s mind? NAE leaders say that continued “theological reflection” on the Christian concept of “witness” has led its 40-member denominations, including its largest group, the 3 million member Assemblies of God, to recognize the need for greater clarity and purpose in its national policy views. A similar process has led the NAE to issue policy statements on climate change, and to announce its support for congressional legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

But another key factor is organizational: Hispanic evangelicals, whose ranks are steadily growing, have been actively lobbying the NAE to support immigration reform as a part of a broader campaign to make evangelical churches more attentive to the faith needs of their Hispanic members – in part, by promoting more Hispanic ministers but also by developing more culturally attuned models for worship and outreach.

A similar trend is underway in the US Catholic church, which remains home to 70% of Hispanics. The nation’s powerful Roman Catholic Bishops haven’t needed a new growth trend to convince them to embrace Hispanics or immigrants. But with the expanding Hispanic presence – an estimated 40% of the US Catholic church is now of Latino origin – the Bishops devote almost as much policy attention to immigration as they do their most visible concern, abortion.

The evangelical swing on immigration – and climate change – is also influencing secular leaders like the Republican senator Lindsey Graham, whose views on these issues largely dovetail with those of the NAE. Graham has replaced John McCain as the GOP’s leading moderate voice on immigration, and he’s currently working closely with Senate Democrats to get a reform bill passed in 2010.

Another recent “convert” on immigration is Gary Bauer, who served as President Reagan’s chief domestic policy advisor went on to found the Family Research Council, one of Washington’s most respected Christian pro-life organisations. Last month Bauer came out in favour of a phased legalisation programme that would tie green card processing for illegal aliens to demonstrated improvements in border and workplace enforcement. Dan Stein, president of the rightwing Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, which opposes an “amnesty” of any kind, recently branded Graham and Bauer “traitors”.

For President Obama, the evangelical shift on immigration is especially welcome news. Last week he suggested to immigration advocates gathered at the White House that he may still push for comprehensive reform in 2010, even in the face of Republican opposition. It’s a dicey move, but one largely prompted by Democratic fears of an erosion of Latino electoral support. The NAE’s endorsement of immigration reform legislation, and its active lobbying on the Hill, could be just what Obama needs to cover his right flank.

The full article is available here.

Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister pleased with B.C. Immigration Fraud Conviction

Henry Chang | March 17, 2010 in Canadian Immigration | Comments (0)

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney extended his thanks today to Vancouver police and British Columbia prosecutors for their work recently in convicting an immigration consultant of fraud. Minister Kenney reiterated his intention to bring in further measures at the federal level to ensure consultants are more closely monitored and regulated, and that those who commit fraud are punished.

“Unscrupulous consultants are a significant problem and tackling it requires all levels of government to work together and make it a priority,” said Minister Kenney. “This case sends a message to fraudulent consultants that if they attempt to steal money from people trying to immigrate to this country, they will be caught and they will be punished.”

“Preying on people who are desperate to have a new start in Canada, or who are trying to bring their family members here, is unconscionable. As the Speech from the Throne promised, we will be taking steps to address this.”

Earlier this month in Vancouver, after an investigation by the West Vancouver Police Department, consultant Fereydoun Hadad was sentenced in provincial court to one year in prison after pleading guilty in January to defrauding a man seeking to immigrate to Canada from Iran of over $49,000, and for using a document as if it were genuine while knowing that said document was forged. A one year probation term will follow the prison sentence.

Mr. Hadad had convinced the prospective immigrant to set up a bank account in Canada, saying it was needed to immigrate in the investor class. He helped him set up the account and then forged the man’s signature to take the money out of the account.

The official press release is available here.

Drug Cartels attack United States Consular Staff and their Families in Mexico

Henry Chang | March 15, 2010 in United States Immigration | Comments (0)

Suspected drug cartel “hit teams” gunned down a United States consular employee and her husband in the Mexican border city of Cuidad Juarez and killed a co-worker’s Mexican husband in a separate attack, a U.S. official said Sunday. They came under fire in separate locations as they were driving Saturday.

Ciudad Juarez is a major hub for smuggling illegal drugs into the United States. It is directly across the border from El Paso, Texas.

The victims included a United States Citizen (“USC”) employed in the American Citizenship Services Section of the United States Consulate General in Cuidad Juarez (the “Consulate”), who was with her USC husband and infant daughter when they came under fire. The infant, who was in the back seat, survived the attack unharmed, but the woman and her husband were killed.

In the second attack, a Mexican employee of the Consulate was following her husband and two children in a separate car, when her husband’s vehicle came under fire, killing him and wounding the two children. Both families had attended the same social event earlier in the afternoon off-post away from the Consulate but it has not been determined if the victims were specifically targeted.

President Barack Obama said that he was “deeply saddened and outraged by the news of the brutal murders.” Shortly after the killings were disclosed by the White House, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for Mexico. The travel warning said that due to the “recent violent attacks,” USCs were urged to “delay unnecessary travel to parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua states.”

The U.S. Department of State also announced that USCs working at consular posts in the northern cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros were authorized to send family members home until April 12 because of security concerns. The departure authorization only affects relatives of U.S. Government personnel in those cities.

United States Department of State Visa Bulletin for April 2010 Now Available

Henry Chang | in United States Immigration | Comments (0)

The United States Department of State has released its Visa Bulletin for April 2010. The Visa Bulletin summarizes the availability of immigrant numbers for each permanent residence category each month.

By comparing the priority date for a particular permanent residence case with the dates shown in the Visa Bulletin, it is possible to estimate how long it will take for a visa number to become available. This month’s Visa Bulletin also includes a section that provides background information on frequently misunderstood points including the applicability of INA §202(a)(5) and §202(e).

The April 2010 Department of State Visa Bulletin is available here.