Unraveling the Blue Scarf that is Canadian Immigration: A Lesson in Patience*

December 2015

A friend of mine recently picked up knitting. She had tried to make a scarf many years ago, but had forgotten how to knit and her previous project was a mess. This time, before she even started knitting, she had to spend hours unraveling her previous project. She had hoped to make a new scarf for her husband by Christmas, but realized that this may not be realistic.

I can’t help but think that our new government is dealing with its own messy scarf situation. In the last eight years, the Conservative government made serious efforts to overhaul the Canadian immigration and refugee law system. Many argued that these changes have resulted in inefficient, too strict, and often unfair processes. In other words, our system needs some serious unraveling, and fast.  

When the Liberals came into power, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief coming from the immigration and refugee law community. Perhaps the rapid changes would be put on hold, and some decisions made by the Conservatives would be reversed. Starting with its bold announcement of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by the year’s end, the incoming government sent the immigration and refugee law community a clear message: they are ready for drastic change.

But is quick change possible or even recommended? How does the new government decide which programs were actually a step in the right direction versus something that should be changed as soon as possible?

Here’s a look at some of the newest decisions made by the Liberal government:

1. Continuing the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) Program

As I outlined in an earlier blog post, after March 15, 2016, if you travel to Canada from a , you will require an eTA. This means that unless you meet the narrow exceptions set out by the government, you will be required to apply online, pay the 7$ application fee, and present your eTA to the airline before you board your flight. The eTA program does not apply to citizens of the United States, and the authorization is good for five years or until the applicant's passport expires, whichever occurs sooner. The purpose of the program is to screen applicants for admissibility and as a result, when you apply you need to provide information such as:

  • Passport details
  • Contact information
  • Answers to background questions regarding your health, criminal, and travel history

The continuation of the eTA program sends the message that security is still a priority for the Liberals. However, the same program will also let people in more easily. For example, citizens from countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Romania and Bulgaria can now use an eTA instead of having to apply for a visa. The eTA program eliminates this hassle, making trade and business travel more efficient.

2.  Extending the Work-Permit Pilot Program for Spousal (or Common Law) Sponsorship Applicants 

Under the previous government, a pilot program was established to grant spousal and common law partner sponsorship applicants temporary work permits to allow them to earn income while they waited for their applications to be processed. Unfortunately, many of these applicants are still facing long processing times and their work permits have expired. The government had not informed these applicants of what they planned on doing once this happened. Until recently, this was a major concern as it meant that families would have to live off a single income.

The Liberal government recently made the announcement that the pilot program giving them open work permits is to being extended for one year, until December 22, 2016. By extending the program, the government is sending the message that it is not fair to deprive individuals of the opportunity to earn an income while they wait for Canadian processing to take place.

3.  Discontinuing Controversial Litigation Championed by the Conservatives

If you tune into the news, you would have likely noticed that the Conservatives were involved in some controversial immigration and refugee law court cases. Firstly, for over four years they tried to make it illegal to swear the citizenship oath while wearing a face-veiling niqab. Secondly, they had championed the fight to take away Interim Federal Health care from refugee claimants. While the lower courts had decided against the Conservatives in both cases, they had sought to appeal the decisions to the Supreme Court.

The new Liberal government has announced that they will discontinue the fight on both issues. This shows that they no longer wish to spend public money on these matters, and they are willing to break from previous Conservative policy.

For more information on these topics please see:

As the government creates, continues, and reverses programs, it will be interesting to see what other decisions will be made. In the meanwhile, the immigration and refugee law community will wait patiently while the government unravels the tight-knit blue scarf that is our current Canadian immigration system.

*This month’s newsletter was written in conjunction with Fanni Csaba, who was recently called to the Bar in Ontario.