By SUNIL RAO
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney intends to monitor the runaway Temporary Foreign Worker program “very closely” from here on in.
Addressing the media last week in Mississauga, the minister said changes to the program he had announced recently were aimed at ensuring corporates did not misuse the program but complied with its requirements of ensuring they offered first crack at new jobs to Canadian citizens.
Kenney’s steadily rising star has suffered a setback in recent weeks after it emerged that the Temporary Foreign Worker program had ballooned under his watch to 338,000 last year, at a time when Canadian unemployment continues to hover at a high of 7.2 per cent.
The issue, which was highlighted after an RBC employee complained he had to train a temporary foreign worker from India who was set to replace him, has caused a huge backlash against the Conservative government, forcing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to backtrack rapidly and promise a review.
Last week, while speaking to the issue of whether there would still be as many as 338,000 foreign workers in Canada next year, Kenney insisted there were several parts of the economy across various geographical areas of Canada that would continued to require temporary foreign workers, but seemed to agree that the program itself had grown out of control.
“Changes we’re introducing to the program are aimed at bringing to bear pressure on Canadian employers to train and recruit Canadians first,” he said while answering a question from SAF.
“We don’t want to penalize companies unfairly, but at the same time we don’t want the program to keep growing,” he said. “We will monitor the program carefully, and will calibrate the program to actual industry requirements.”
On the issue of parental sponsorship, Kenney said fully 25 per cent of parents and grandparents take undue advantage of Canada’s generosity by applying for welfare as soon as they are allowed to do so, thus unfairly gaming the system.
In reply to another SAF question, he blamed Ontario seniors for being disproportionately represented among the 25 per cent.
“We find anecdotally there are more such defaults here,” he said.
He added the provincial Ontario government seemed to implicitly blame Ottawa for this by seeking more federal funds to fix the problem.
New parental sponsorship criteria
In an effort to ensure Canada remains a friendly country for immigrants but refuses to be taken for a ride by those who would want to game the system, Kenney announced his government plans to reopen the family reunification parent and grandparent program from January 2, 2014 — but with several more inbuilt checks and balances, including an annual cap of 5,000 applications, a 30 per cent higher income bar for those seeking to sponsor their parents, and a doubling of sponsorship responsibility to 20 years.
He said the new qualifying criteria for permanent residency sponsorship of parents and grandparents will increase the financial responsibility of sponsors to ensure they have the means to support those they sponsor, while limiting the program’s cost to taxpayers and Canada’s strained health and social programs
He meanwhile announced that the Super Visa for parents and grandparents would become a permanent fixture, continuing to provide flexibility for families who access the 10-year multiple-entry visa, and allowing visa holders to remain in Canada up to two years at a time.
Over 15,000 Super Visas have been issued since the program’s launch in December 2011 with approval rates averaging 86 per cent, he added.
Kenney added phase II of the Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification will meanwhile provide even faster processing times, reduce the backlog further, prevent future backlogs, ensure that families have the financial means to support those they sponsor, and protect the interests of taxpayers.
In 2012 and 2013, Canada will admit 50,000 parents and grandparents as permanent residents. This represents the highest level of parents and grandparents admitted in 20 years. In 2014, Canada will maintain high levels of admissions for parents and grandparents.
The minister accepted the 5,000 annual cap could result in a rush of applicants, with a first-come-first-served policy to cause an even greater stampede as soon as the doors opened last year, but insisted this was the only way forward that balanced all issues.
Passport services for Canadians
Plans to expand passport services and make them more convenient and efficient were announced last week by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley.
Effective July 2, primary responsibility for Passport Canada will move from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).
The move is in line with the duties CIC already performs, such as determining Canadian citizenship, said an official release.
Canadians will not experience an interruption of services. They will be able to continue accessing passport services through all of the same service locations currently available in Canada through the existing network of 144 Service Canada Centres, 56 Canada Post intake locations, and 34 passport offices across the country. Service Canada will assume responsibility for passport operations, and, over time, services will expand to more Service Canada Centres and Canadians will ultimately even be able to apply for a passport online.
“The government is committed to making passport services more convenient and accessible for Canadians,” said Kenney. “As Citizenship and Immigration Canada is already responsible for determining Canadian citizenship, integrating the passport program into the department makes good sense.”
Added Finley: “Through Service Canada, we offer single-window access to a wide range of Government of Canada programs and services for citizens. Leveraging Service Canada’s resources and service delivery network across the country will make passport services more accessible and convenient.”
Meanwhile Canadians who need consular services while traveling overseas, to replace a lost passport for example, will continue to be supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the release added.
By SUNIL RAO