The Honorable John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, presented a rousing speech to a packed room of Vancouver Trade Board members on Friday, March 18th.
Entitled “Canada’s continuing story of immigration”, the event focused on the role of immigration in Canada and the benefits, both social and economic, that it can bring the country. This article details the main immigration topics on the Liberal government’s agenda that were raised at the event and the direction in which Canadian immigration is headed.
The Refugee Mission
McCallum called the refugee resettlement project “[a] mission of the heart”, and this analogy is not surprising. Thousands of Canadians have shown support to Syrian refugees and fully opened their arms by welcoming them into their homes across the country. The refugee resettlement is a way to demonstrate to Canadians and to the world that Canada stands strong and open in the midst of one of the worst civil war and refugee crisis the world has seen in decades.
Canada committed to resettling 25,000 refugees, and this plan still stands strong on the Canadian immigration agenda. Currently, 26,202 Syrian refugees have entered Canada, with more than 1,600 refugees arriving directly to Vancouver. The focus now is shifting towards equipping the refugees to succeed in Canada: helping them with jobs, language proficiency and housing. Of course, housing is one of the hottest issues in Vancouver and Toronto, since both cities are known to have “local housing pressures”.
As McCallum noted, the resettlement project is making good progress and Canada is doing its best to keep up with its ambitious plan. For instance, 72% of Syrian refugees have settled in BC to date, as opposed to 32%, a number from just 2-3 weeks ago. The government has also brought back the refugee health care, which was cut by the conservative government in 2012.
However, McCallum also cautioned against putting Syrian refugees ahead of other immigration groups, since there are many other immigration questions that require Canada’s attention.
Several amendments are introduced to Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, to ensure that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”, and there is one 1 class of Canadians, not 2 classes of Canadians.
During his presentation, MccCallum reitereated that no one should be able revoke the citizenship rights from another and that “if a person commits a crime, the person should be in jail, not at the airport”.
McCallum has voiced a strong support toward international students, noting that “there is no group better equipped to be future Canadians than international students”. Not only are international students rapidly becoming proficient with Canada’s official languages, but they also spend significant amounts of time learning about the country’s history, and are willing and able to contribute to the Canadian economy and job market after graduation. McCallum noted that Canada is deeply committed to easing the immigration process for international students, an often stressful experience for many.
The first steps have already been made: the Liberal government has restored a 50% credit for time spent in Canada during education that can now be used towards the citizenship requirements. The next step, according to McCallum, is to make it easier for international students to become permanent residents under the Express Entry program.
The difficulty of recognizing foreign credentials has been an issues for decades, as for many professions there is not unified process to recognize foreign-based accreditations for working professionals. Although this does not fall under federal jurisdiction, McCallum noted that provincial representatives are planning to get together to “discuss credentials and to compare best practices, so that [Canada] can improve the situation”.
Increasing Immigration Capacity
Canada is committed to admitting 300,000 new immigrants in 2016, which is currently the maximum capacity for the immigration department. However, Canada is also committed to expanding its immigration capacity and introducing faster and easier immigration procedures. As McCallum emphasized:
“Whether these are immigrants for businesses, whether these are family-class immigrants, we have to increase our capacity, we have to re-engineer the way that we do things, we have to become more welcoming – and that, I can tell you, is top of my list of things to do in the upcoming years”.
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