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Documenting the ‘Undocumented’

by Ronalee Carey Law

February 2024

 

On February 27, 2024, I had the pleasure of supervising law students doing advocacy work with Members of Parliament. The event, called LobbyCon, was organized by the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. This year’s topics included climate migrants and a program to provide permanent status to individuals in Canada who are ‘undocumented.’

We hear of issues with ‘illegal aliens’ in the USA, but in Canada, the problem is under the radar for most. One reason may be that it is hard to know how many people entered Canada irregularly or came to Canada with valid visas but are now without status. The number I have heard most often is that an estimated 500,000 people in Canada do not have valid temporary or permanent status in Canada and survive in the informal economy.

There are a myriad of reasons why people ‘fall out of status’ after arriving in Canada. A missing document from an application to extend a work permit, a breakdown in a marriage leading to the withdrawal of a sponsorship application, being provided bad advice from a shady unlicensed consultant, and not having a safe home to return to are just a few of the reasons that have led people to my office. Often, the only option is an application for permanent residence based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations. However, only 13,500 individuals will obtain permanent status in Canada through the ‘H&C program’ this year, and next year, the program is being cut to 8,000 applicants. IRCC does not publish acceptance rates for this program, but they are declining and could be as low as 30%.

Not having status in Canada puts individuals in a precarious position. A lack of employment rights, no access to health care, and being afraid to call the police for help are just a few problems individuals experience. Some communities in Canada (Ottawa not being one of them) are known as ‘sanctuary cities’ and have policies that permit individuals to receive local services regardless of immigration status.

However, undocumented individuals are a problem for Canadian society, as well. There’s no way to pay your income taxes when you don’t have a SIN, and your employer pays you in cash!

Recognizing the issues caused by a lack of status, in 2021, the Prime Minister, in his mandate letter to then Minister of Immigration Sean Fraser, instructed IRCC to ‘Build on existing pilot programs to explore further ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.’ The ‘pilot programs’ mentioned include a current program for construction workers in the Toronto area and a pandemic-era program for healthcare workers. The idea has historical precedence; similar programs have been instituted for failed refugee claimants whom the Canadian government decided not to deport (1994-1997), for individuals who had been in Canada for at least five years (1983-1985) and for those who were economically established (1973).

It is currently unknown what type of program the Canadian government will institute. It could be as limited as expanding the construction workers program to other parts of the country or broader. Advocates and academics are weighing in, trying to influence policymakers.

The Members of Parliament my group of students met with (one Conservative and one NPD) told almost identical stories about attending community events where their constituents expressed concerns about newcomers causing a housing shortage and driving up the cost of living. Neither agreed with these views but recognized that ‘selling’ a policy for undocumented workers would be difficult. These individuals are already housed in Canada and contributing to the shadow economy; regularizing their status would not cause a further strain on the housing market and would allow them to participate in the regulated economy. It’s a win–win situation for Canada and the migrants. However, in today’s political climate, we’ll have to see how far the government Liberals are willing to push the Canadian public.

IRCC program for Palestinians Much More Onerous Than That Offered to Ukrainians

by Ronalee Carey Law

January 2024

Currently, the home page of IRCC’s website provides links to information on ‘the situation’ in a number of countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Ukraine.

I am not without sympathy for the policymakers at IRCC who are trying to respond to horrific world events and to placate the Canadian family members of those caught up in violence.

However, nothing seems to have changed in the year since I published a blog post entitled, ‘Time for IRCC to have a Standardized Response to Adverse Country Events.’ In that post, I urged IRCC to develop a coherent strategy for dealing with those who want to come to Canada or bring people to Canada as a result of an adverse event in another country.

IRCC’s response to Palestinian family members in Gaza has varied so differently from its response to individuals affected by the war in Ukraine that one can only question how deeply engrained systematic racism is within the department.

On January 9th, a temporary public policy came into effect for ‘certain extended family affected by the crisis in Gaza.’ It waives some visa requirements for Palestinians currently in Gaza so they can travel to Canada to be supported by family members. Afterward, they can apply for an open work or study permit and stay for up to three years.

Intake procedures for the program weren’t announced until the day it opened. On January 9th, we learned there would be a three-stage process to coming to Canada, which involved the Canadian family member obtaining a notarized document, submitting a web form to receive a reference code, and then using that code to submit a visa application. Further, the program was to be limited to the first 1000 applicants who submitted a visa application.

Details of the program were met with both confusion and criticism.

I had an inquiry from a Canadian who wanted to bring her sister and 18 and 22-year-old nephews from Gaza. Her sister and 18-year-old nephew were eligible, but not the 22-year-old, as he was too old to be considered a ‘dependent child.’ Would IRCC accept his application anyway? Ukrainian applicants did not need a family member in Canada to be eligible. Further, the measures do not apply to Palestinians in Canada with protected or temporary status, only for permanent residents and citizens.

The cap of 1,000 led to an immediate outcry, as no cap was imposed for the Ukrainian program and approximately 210,000 people have arrived from Ukraine to date. Almost immediately, the Immigration Minister was doing damage control, saying there was no ‘hard cap’ on the number of applicants. However, he also had to appease Canadians with security concerns, assuring the public that all applicants would undergo a ‘multi-stage security screening.’

As part of the enhanced screening process, applicants are being required to complete a form that requests details I’ve never seen in any other type of application, such as URLs for social media accounts, details of any scars or injuries, and employment history since age 16, raising privacy concerns.  I take no issue with IRCC properly vetting applicants, but is it really helpful to ask for a 65-year-old Jaddati’s Facebook account? Surely, photos of her grandkids in Canada don’t indicate a security risk.

There is no reason why people fleeing war in one part of the world should be treated any differently than others. If we are willing to accept any Ukrainian who applies, we should not limit visas for Palestinians to those who have certain family members in Canada. A quota is heartless; anyone who can get out of Gaza and has the means to get to Canada should be able to apply, just as all Ukrainians who wanted to apply were able to do. And please, deal with this now, before the next crisis emerges, so as soon as it does, we don’t need to wait months for a policy to be developed during which lives are being lost.

International Students Will Need To Show Increased Funds As of January 1, 2024

by Ronalee Carey Law

December 2023

Last month, I wrote about how international students in Canada took a bad rap this year.  Pundits were calling for change, suggesting that the number of new students be decreased and their ability to work in Canada curtailed. It appears IRCC heeded their messages.

On December 7th, IRCC announced changes to ‘better protect international students.’  The effect of these measures will be to protect people by not letting them become students in the first place. As of January 1st, 2024, instead of showing $10,000 in available funds for their first year of living expenses, students will need to show $20,635, which is 75% of the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) amount. The fund requirement hadn’t been changed since the early 2000s but will now be updated regularly to reflect the cost-of-living expenses. This will make education in Canada unaffordable for many students.

However, for students staying in Canada year-round, the fund increase will still require them to work, lest they live under the LICO amount. IRCC has made policy contradicting its own legislation, which requires a student to have sufficient funds for their studies without the need to work in Canada.

IRCC’s news release also hinted at other changes to come. It states, ‘Ahead of the September 2024 semester, we are prepared to take necessary measures, including limiting visas, to ensure that designated learning institutions provide adequate and sufficient student supports as part of the academic experience.’

In a news conference related to the release, the immigration minister minced no words about schools that are taking advantage of international students. He referred to them as ‘visa mills’ churning out diplomas (relating them to ‘puppy mills’). He said that if provinces do not ensure their schools provide adequate housing support to international students, visa caps could be introduced.

The housing minister (formerly the immigration minister) also seems to support limiting the number of future students.

However, this isn’t the first time this has come up. In a regulatory statement for 2014 changes to Canada’s immigration legislation, the phrase ‘visa mills’ was used. The changes were meant to limit the number of international students in Canada.

Only time will tell if this second kick at the can actually works.