Sunday, February 20, 2011

Canadian changes

Canada’s immigration system has changed profoundly since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power five years ago. This week, the public got its first glimpse of who the winners and losers are.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney inadvertently pulled back the veil. He announced that immigration reached a 50-year high last year. “While other western countries cut back on immigration during the recession, our government kept legal immigration levels high,” he boasted.

Within a day, Kenney’s story started to unravel. New Canadians complained they were waiting longer than ever to reunite their families. A close look at Kenney’s figures showed why. The number of “family class” immigrants accepted into Canada has dropped by 10,000 since the Conservatives took power. “We can’t satisfy 100 per cent of our immigrant stakeholders,” the minister explained.

Two days later, a Vancouver lawyer released new figures, obtained through an Access to Information request, showing Ottawa planned to cut the number of visas issued to skilled workers.

That contradicted Kenney’s stated goal of increasing economic immigration. Employers were confused and anxious. The minister’s staff claimed the visa statistics understated the number of immigrants likely to be admitted.

By week’s end, Kenney’s good news announcement was in shreds, his credibility was damaged and the ethnic voters he had courted so assiduously were suspicious. But the rest of the electorate finally had enough information to see what the Conservatives have done to the immigration system.

They have made four main changes:

* They have converted a system with one gateway and one set of entry admission criteria into a system with a dozen entry points, each with different rules. The provinces can now nominate immigrants, employers can recruit foreign workers and international students can stay in Canada after university if they’re job ready and fluent in English or French.

* They have opened the floodgates to a stream of temporary foreign workers. What was once a modest program designed to bring in nannies, farm workers and foreigners with specialized skills, is now a major source of low-cost labour. Last year Canada admitted 180,000 “guest workers” to do everything from clean offices to program computers.

* They have made it harder for immigrants to reunite their families. Four years ago, spouses, children, parents and grandparents of new Canadians made up 28 per cent of the total. It’s now down to 21 per cent.

* They have diminished Canada’s role as a haven for people fleeing violence and persecution. The number of refugees allowed into the country has dropped by 25 per cent since they took power.

To their credit, the Tories have made needed reforms. They have better aligned immigration with the job market, reduced the backlog of applications from skilled workers and improved the distribution of immigrants across the country.

But they have deprived newcomers of the family support they need to integrate successfully, off-loaded responsibility for immigration, and given Canada a harsher, more forbidding face.

As Kenney struggles to regain control of his file, Canadians can judge the trade-offs he has made and the overtly self-interested immigration system that has emerged.


Islam's the problem, not Muslims, says conservative Australian Senator

A large proportion of the illegal immigrants to Australia are Muslims

Tony Abbott's official frontbench understudy has reignited immigration tensions by denouncing Islam as a "totalitarian, political and religious ideology".

Liberal parliamentary secretary Cory Bernardi revealed last night he had received death threats after making the comments.

While the immigration debate usually differentiates between the religion of Islam and extreme fundamentalist interpretations, Senator Bernardi confronted the issue head-on yesterday.

"Islam itself is the problem - it's not Muslims," he told radio station MTR. "Muslims are individuals that practise their faith in their own way, but Islam is a totalitarian, political and religious ideology. "It tells people everything about how they need to conduct themselves, who they're allowed to marry and how they're allowed to treat other people."

Senator Bernardi said Islam had "not moved on" since it was founded and that extremists wanted fundamentalist Islamic rule implemented in Australia.

The senator also inflamed the row over funeral expenses for asylum-seekers by declaring that it was "wrong" for taxpayers to foot the bill.

The remarks provoked a strong reaction from Ikebal Patel, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, who said Senator Bernardi had "crossed the line" with his attack on Islam.

"These comments are more than offensive; they are bigoted," Mr Patel said. "Cory Bernardi needs to have a good read of the Bible if he is a practising Christian. "This is hardly the language of a religious person."

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen also slammed the senator's remarks. "The Liberal Party professes to have said this week it would not make political points out of race and religion, but here we have Tony Abbott's parliamentary secretary launching an attack on a religion," Mr Bowen said.


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