Saturday, October 15, 2011

Australia's doors are now wide open to illegal immigration

JULIA Gillard has predicted an increase in boat arrivals after yesterday being forced to abandon offshore processing and softening the treatment of asylum-seekers who arrive by sea.

Under Labor's new asylum-seeker regime, increasing numbers of arrivals will be allowed to live in the community and work while on bridging visas as their claims are processed.

After failing to garner the support of enough crossbenchers for legislation that would revive her proposed Malaysia Solution, the Prime Minister last night warned "we are at a real risk of seeing more boats" but urged Australians to blame Tony Abbott.

"There is only one reason that we are not in the circumstances to have offshore processing and that's because of Mr Abbott and his determination to trash the national interest," Ms Gillard said in Canberra yesterday. "Mr Abbott's conduct leads us to circumstances where we are at real risk of seeing more boats."

As the drama unfolded last night, refugee sources told The Australian in Jakarta that four boats were within several days of sailing, carrying about 300 asylum-seekers in total.

However, the Indonesian national police's anti-people-smuggling taskforce is at a high state of readiness, working closely with Jakarta-based Australian Federal Police agents,

Since the August 31 High Court decision knocked down Canberra's Malaysia Solution, four vessels carrying 392 asylum-seekers have made it to Australian waters. In that time, however, the Indonesian police have prevented at least three other departures by intercepting up to 200 passengers travelling on land.

Another boatload of 44 people was intercepted at sea last month off Sulawesi after mechanical trouble.

The Prime Minister's comments drew contempt from the opposition, with immigration spokesman Scott Morrison saying Labor had capitulated to the Greens and calling for Ms Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to resign. The Opposition Leader urged Labor to admit it could not deal with border security and call an election.

The Greens, most refugee advocates and Labor MPs from the Left faction welcomed the move, saying onshore processing was the most humane way of dealing with asylum-seekers. Under the government's plan, most eligible boatpeople will be issued with sub-class 050 bridging visas, the same visa issued to asylum-seekers who arrive by plane.

It is understood the government will begin issuing bridging visas to boatpeople sooner rather than later. Although the government retains spare capacity for about 2400 asylum-seekers in the overstretched detention network, officials are keen to ensure pressure in the system is relieved before it is allowed to build.

The bridging visas allow asylum-seekers to be paid 89 per cent of a Special Benefit allowance (roughly the same as the Newstart allowance). This means singles get $443 a fortnight, and families $570.

After two hurried cabinet meetings and a caucus meeting, Ms Gillard last night revealed the new arrangements, under which all asylum-seekers will be processed onshore. All would face mandatory detention on arrival, but after existing detention facility space was exhausted, the government would allow detainees to move into the community on bridging visas.

The changes come only weeks after bureaucrats and experts warned Ms Gillard that a failure to reinstate offshore processing, which was declared illegal by the High Court in August, would trigger an increase in people-smuggling. The experts predicted about 600 irregular arrivals a month, and warned of resulting social unrest.

Announcing the move last night, Ms Gillard said offshore processing in Malaysia would have been the most effective method to deter the people-smugglers. She warned that onshore processing would spark "the real risk" of more boats.

"I understand that will cause community anxiety," the Prime Minister said. "I believe it is very important that if we do see more boats, to separate in the community's mind, in all of our minds, the problem of seeing more boats from the people who are on those boats. We are a generous country, we are a compassionate country. It is not a matter of blaming the people who are on the boats for these circumstances."


Canada: Conservative government proposes tougher language rules for immigrants

The Harper government is proposing changes to the Canadian citizenship process that would force immigrants to prove their proficiency in English or French before being able to write an exam and be considered for acceptance into Canada.
Photograph by: Aaron Lynett, National Post
OTTAWA — The Harper government is proposing changes to the Canadian citizenship process that would force immigrants to prove their proficiency in English or French before being able to write an exam and be considered for acceptance into Canada.

Currently, immigrants between the ages of 18 and 54 must prove their language proficiency through a multiple-choice written test, which federal officials believe "does not adequately assess listening and speaking skills" that are needed for effective integration into Canadian society.

The proposed changes, which would affect about 134,000 applicants a year, would require immigrants to prove they can speak English or French when they submit their first application for citizenship, which immigration officials believe will streamline processing of the applications.

"The ability to communicate effectively in either French or English is key to the success of new citizens in Canada," said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in a statement on Friday. "This change will encourage applicants to ensure that they can speak English or French when they apply for citizenship, thereby improving the integrity and effectiveness of the citizenship program for Canada and for new Canadians alike."

Proof would require immigrants to submit results of the English or French language proficiency test approved for immigration purposes by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, proof of secondary or post-secondary education in French or English, or proof of completion of a language-training course such as the federally funded Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada.

Other language proficiency tests used previously for immigration to Canada could also be considered proof, immigration officials said.

"It is expected that the majority of citizenship applicants would already have evidence that they could submit with their application," a government notice of the proposal stated. "Therefore, the requirement is not anticipated to pose a burden on the majority of applicants."

Max Berger, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said the changes would pose "an unnecessary burden" on economic immigrants who have already demonstrated their English or French proficiency in order to receive permanent residency. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said. "There's no burning need for these changes."

Those who would be affected by the new rules are refugees, citizens who sponsor a husband or wife and the spouses of economic immigrants, he said.

In the past, the citizenship test has "always been considered good enough to assess one's ability in one of the two official languages," he said.

"If you've ever looked at the citizenship guide, you have to have a pretty good knowledge of English or French to get through and understand it," said Berger. "The citizenship test has proven the test of time."

Berger said immigration officials' claim that the current test is not adequate for assessing listening and speaking skills is irrelevant, as applicants have the option to listen to the citizenship guide on the ministry's website. "That would be a measure of your listening abilities," he said.

David Matas, a Winnipeg-based immigration lawyer, said the new rules make application processing easier for the federal government, while making the application more cumbersome for immigrants.

"I think government should be user-friendly," he said. "Putting people through hoops for bureaucratic efficiency, I don't think that's user-friendly."

Studies provided by Kenney's office show the reasoning behind the proposed changes and suggest that Canadian citizens who speak English or French earn higher incomes than those who do not speak either of the national languages.

Donald Galloway, a law professor at the University of Victoria, said the proposal shows the Harper government puts the economy above the humanitarian needs of its residents.

"The government is saying the economic benefits are much more valuable than family unification benefits," said Galloway. "I think that's a very limited vision of what immigration success is about."

If the proposed changes are made into regulations, Galloway said the extra cost and hassle of taking a language proficiency test could deter qualified applicants from coming to Canada.

"People will make that cost-benefit analysis," he said. "If we really are interested in getting the brightest and the best to come here rather than to another country, our immigration process is going to deter people who speak perfect English or French from applying."

This isn't the first time the immigration minister has moved to toughen the rules on granting non-English or non-French speaking immigrants Canadian citizenship.

In June 2010, controversy arose when Kenney gave immigration officials instructions to only process applications filed with a completed standardized language proficiency test — much to the annoyance of the Canadian Bar Association, which said the move was an "underhanded and abusive" tactic to circumvent the law.


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