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Jolt to immigration hopes
New rules likely to count out many applicants
OTTAWA — Thousands of immigration applicants may find themselves disqualified under new rules that come into effect next June.
The new rules will apply retroactively, disqualifying some applicants who would have made it under the old rules, a senior immigration official confirmed yesterday.
The immigration department yesterday released its detailed package of proposed regulations to flesh out the new immigration law that was passed last month.
The Canadian Bar Association, the national organization representing Canada's lawyers, reacted with horror.
"The government is basically going to wipe out hundreds of thousands of applications and keep the money,'' said lawyer Ben Trister, head of the immigration section of the bar association. "Under the new point system, unless you have very, very close family here and a job offer, you're not getting in.''
Trister said it looks as if the immigration department is trying to "cull'' its backlog of more than 500,000 applications by rejecting many of them.
Fellow immigration lawyer Robin Seligman, who heads the coalition Canadians for Fairness in Immigration Policy, called the proposed changes "a bloodbath."
"They have just basically shut the front door on people in spite of all this talk of closing the back door so that we can let legitimate immigrants in the front," said Seligman.
"No matter how you work out the points, you will have to have a Bachelor's degree to get into Canada. This will cut out most blue-collar workers. How many tool and dye makers or welders have that education?"
The main bone of contention is the new point system for independent immigrants and the fact the new grid will be applied retroactively to many files already in the system.
"The basic rule is that once we proclaim the act, then the new rules will apply to everyone," an immigration official told reporters yesterday during a briefing on the new rules.
It is important to distinguish between immigrants and refugees. Refugees, who come here seeking protection because they fear persecution, are put through a separate screening process. Refugees are not affected by the point system.
Immigrants, people who apply to come here to live — not because of fear of persecution — fall into two broad categories: independent immigrants who are selected for their skills according to a point system (about 60 per cent of immigrants) and family-class immigrants who are sponsored by family members already living here and who don't have to go through the point grid to get in (about 40 per cent.)
The new point system puts much more emphasis on education, language skills, work experience and such ties to Canada as having family here or a job offer. It eliminates the old practise of giving points for certain occupations.
`This will cut out most blue-collar workers'
Under the new system, the pass mark will be 80 points out of 100, up from 70 out of 100 in the old system.
Critics argue the 80-point threshold is so high it will screen out many good applicants. And for most cases, the new rules will be retroactive.
In the past, when major changes in immigration rules have been brought in, prospective immigrants who already had applications in the system had their files processed under the old regulations. In administrative circles, that is called "grandfathering,'' or allowing existing applications to go forward under the old criteria when the rules change.
But the immigration official said the department doesn't want to have two systems operating in parallel and opted instead to limit the grandfathering of old provisions.
"We have applied a principle of grandfathering in the past, we took a different approach with this legislation," the official said.
There are more than 500,000 immigration applications in the pipeline right now and about 60 per cent of those involve independent applicants who want to come to Canada in the skilled-worker category and must go through the point system. The other 40 per cent involve family-class applicants who are chosen for their family ties, not their skills, so they will not be impacted by the point system changes.
But the 300,000 or so applications under the skilled-worker category — many of those filed months or even years ago at posts around the world — will be directly affected. Only those applicants who have been approved in principle or have had an interview before the new law comes into effect next June will be judged according to the old criteria.
All other applicants will have their files transferred to the new system. The only accommodation will be for applicants who had their files in the system before the formal introduction of the regulatory package yesterday. Those people will get a five-point bonus in the scoring system as a sort of compromise for forcing their files through the new grid.
"There will be some negative impact on individuals and there will be some positive impact on individuals,'' the immigration official said.
The bar association contends the new grid sets a much higher threshold that will reject a great number of applicants who would have qualified under the old system.
"There are hundreds of thousands in the backlog who aren't going to make it here and the government is just going to keep their fees,'' Trister said.
Applicants now in the system paid non-refundable processing fees of $500 per adult and $250 per dependent child.
Trister accused Citizenship and Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan of misleading Parliament by giving a Senate committee an assurance there was no need to worry about retroactivity provisions because the new system would be so much more generous that applicants would benefit.
The immigration official conceded that if there is a great hue and cry, the department could reconsider.
"We do have some flexibility in terms of the regulatory-making power,'' the official said.
The immigration department also expects to face a legal challenge to the retroactivity from applicants who could argue they were treated unfairly because they would have been accepted under the old system but have been disqualified by the new rules.
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