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IRCC program for Palestinians Much More Onerous Than That Offered to Ukrainians

by Ronalee Carey Law

January 2024

Currently, the home page of IRCC’s website provides links to information on ‘the situation’ in a number of countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Ukraine.

I am not without sympathy for the policymakers at IRCC who are trying to respond to horrific world events and to placate the Canadian family members of those caught up in violence.

However, nothing seems to have changed in the year since I published a blog post entitled, ‘Time for IRCC to have a Standardized Response to Adverse Country Events.’ In that post, I urged IRCC to develop a coherent strategy for dealing with those who want to come to Canada or bring people to Canada as a result of an adverse event in another country.

IRCC’s response to Palestinian family members in Gaza has varied so differently from its response to individuals affected by the war in Ukraine that one can only question how deeply engrained systematic racism is within the department.

On January 9th, a temporary public policy came into effect for ‘certain extended family affected by the crisis in Gaza.’ It waives some visa requirements for Palestinians currently in Gaza so they can travel to Canada to be supported by family members. Afterward, they can apply for an open work or study permit and stay for up to three years.

Intake procedures for the program weren’t announced until the day it opened. On January 9th, we learned there would be a three-stage process to coming to Canada, which involved the Canadian family member obtaining a notarized document, submitting a web form to receive a reference code, and then using that code to submit a visa application. Further, the program was to be limited to the first 1000 applicants who submitted a visa application.

Details of the program were met with both confusion and criticism.

I had an inquiry from a Canadian who wanted to bring her sister and 18 and 22-year-old nephews from Gaza. Her sister and 18-year-old nephew were eligible, but not the 22-year-old, as he was too old to be considered a ‘dependent child.’ Would IRCC accept his application anyway? Ukrainian applicants did not need a family member in Canada to be eligible. Further, the measures do not apply to Palestinians in Canada with protected or temporary status, only for permanent residents and citizens.

The cap of 1,000 led to an immediate outcry, as no cap was imposed for the Ukrainian program and approximately 210,000 people have arrived from Ukraine to date. Almost immediately, the Immigration Minister was doing damage control, saying there was no ‘hard cap’ on the number of applicants. However, he also had to appease Canadians with security concerns, assuring the public that all applicants would undergo a ‘multi-stage security screening.’

As part of the enhanced screening process, applicants are being required to complete a form that requests details I’ve never seen in any other type of application, such as URLs for social media accounts, details of any scars or injuries, and employment history since age 16, raising privacy concerns.  I take no issue with IRCC properly vetting applicants, but is it really helpful to ask for a 65-year-old Jaddati’s Facebook account? Surely, photos of her grandkids in Canada don’t indicate a security risk.

There is no reason why people fleeing war in one part of the world should be treated any differently than others. If we are willing to accept any Ukrainian who applies, we should not limit visas for Palestinians to those who have certain family members in Canada. A quota is heartless; anyone who can get out of Gaza and has the means to get to Canada should be able to apply, just as all Ukrainians who wanted to apply were able to do. And please, deal with this now, before the next crisis emerges, so as soon as it does, we don’t need to wait months for a policy to be developed during which lives are being lost.

International Students Will Need To Show Increased Funds As of January 1, 2024

by Ronalee Carey Law

December 2023

Last month, I wrote about how international students in Canada took a bad rap this year.  Pundits were calling for change, suggesting that the number of new students be decreased and their ability to work in Canada curtailed. It appears IRCC heeded their messages.

On December 7th, IRCC announced changes to ‘better protect international students.’  The effect of these measures will be to protect people by not letting them become students in the first place. As of January 1st, 2024, instead of showing $10,000 in available funds for their first year of living expenses, students will need to show $20,635, which is 75% of the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) amount. The fund requirement hadn’t been changed since the early 2000s but will now be updated regularly to reflect the cost-of-living expenses. This will make education in Canada unaffordable for many students.

However, for students staying in Canada year-round, the fund increase will still require them to work, lest they live under the LICO amount. IRCC has made policy contradicting its own legislation, which requires a student to have sufficient funds for their studies without the need to work in Canada.

IRCC’s news release also hinted at other changes to come. It states, ‘Ahead of the September 2024 semester, we are prepared to take necessary measures, including limiting visas, to ensure that designated learning institutions provide adequate and sufficient student supports as part of the academic experience.’

In a news conference related to the release, the immigration minister minced no words about schools that are taking advantage of international students. He referred to them as ‘visa mills’ churning out diplomas (relating them to ‘puppy mills’). He said that if provinces do not ensure their schools provide adequate housing support to international students, visa caps could be introduced.

The housing minister (formerly the immigration minister) also seems to support limiting the number of future students.

However, this isn’t the first time this has come up. In a regulatory statement for 2014 changes to Canada’s immigration legislation, the phrase ‘visa mills’ was used. The changes were meant to limit the number of international students in Canada.

Only time will tell if this second kick at the can actually works.

Protecting International Students

by Ronalee Carey Law

November 2023

Issues surrounding international students have been top news stories of late. They have been blamed for the housing crisis, credited for helping Ontario’s public colleges post record operating surpluses and turned away from food banks.

One reason for the media's attention to international students is their sheer number. In 2000, there were a little over 100,000 international students in Canada. That number has steadily increased, except for 2020, the year borders shut down due to COVID-19. (Those who couldn’t come here studied remotely from their countries of citizenship.) There are currently over 800,000 international students in Canada, which has led to calls to cap the number of new applicants or reduce interest by limiting international students’ ability to work off-campus.

With interest in studying in Canada at an all-time high, the opportunities for those who would exploit potential applicants have grown. A September 2023 report by four Canadian Senators identified a host of problems, including unregulated education agents steering students toward private colleges paying them the highest commissions, students living in inadequate and overcrowded housing, and sexual abuse.

The Senator’s report was released only a few months after Canada’s immigration minister had to issue special temporary resident permits to students whose offers of admission to Canadian post-secondary schools were found to be fake. In response to this incident, starting December 1st, the Canadian government will require all letters of admission to be confirmed by the school.

The reforms won’t stop there. IRCC is currently doing an extensive review of the international student program. So far, additional measures include plans to prioritize applications for intake for certain ‘recognized institutions’ for the fall 2024 intake. Though details have not yet been announced, schools that do more for students, including providing on-campus housing, will be favoured.

I represent many international students, including new applicants, those who need to renew their permits, recent graduates applying for post-graduate work permits, and former students who have gained skilled work experience and want to apply for permanent residence. I have seen all the ways students’ journeys in Canada can detour and even end. As such, when the Canadian International Lawyers Association (CILA) put out a call for input on a position statement, I gave my two cents. CILA’s report makes wide-ranging and comprehensive suggestions to IRCC, including better regulating designating learning institutions (DLIs) rather than just favouring a select few. After all, if Canadian post-secondary institutions are posting surpluses due to international student tuition, they should be at least getting what they paid for.

Expansion of the Safe Third County Agreement Has Not Resulted in a Drop in the Number of Refugee Claimants - Now, They Fly Here

by Ronalee Carey Law

October 2023

     In March 2023, the governments of Canada and the USA agreed to amend the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement to have it apply across the entire shared border. Previously, it only applied to official ports of entry. This meant that unless an exception applied, an individual wanting to come to Canada to make a refugee claim had to cross the border by foot at an ‘irregular point of entry.’ Often, that irregular point of entry was near Roxham Road in Quebec.

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