Overwhelmed refugee tribunal gives up on regulated timeframe for asylum hearings

By Vancouver Sun | Grappling with a historic level of asylum claims, the Immigration and Refugee Board appears to be officially giving up on following regulations dictating they must hold refugee hearings within a certain time. Meeting the legislated time frame to hear claims has increasingly posed a challenge for the independent tribunal as the number of asylum seekers has risen steadily since 2014. But after running out of internal solutions, a statement from the board Tuesday suggested they are simply out of options in the face of a backlog that grows larger by the day. Instead, they will hear claims primarily in the order in which they were received. “Many refugee claimants have been waiting a long time for their hearing,” said Shereen Benzvy Miller, deputy chairperson of the board’s refugee protection division. “Given the current situation, focusing on hearing our claims in the order in which they were referred, while making room for efficiencies, is the right thing to do.” Over 47,000 new claims for asylum were referred to the IRB in 2017, a record-setting number, due in part to a surge of asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border. Over 18,000 people crossed illegally into Canada last year to claim asylum, according to statistics from the board. As of the end of December, there were 43,000 cases awaiting a decision, and as of Feb. 1, the projected wait time for claims was 20 months. Rising numbers of new claims have a domino effect, the board said Tuesday. With the increase, comes an increase in people appealing decisions. If they win those appeals, their claims must be reheard....

Mexico again among Canada’s top sources of refugee claims after visa requirement lifted

By Stewart Bell, Globe News | Refugee claims by Mexicans have increased sharply since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau allowed citizens of the country to enter Canada without travel visas, new figures show. Almost 1,500 citizens of Mexico had refugee claims referred to the Immigration and Refugee Board in 2017 — six times more than in the previous year, when they totaled just 250. A declassified Intelligence Brief obtained by Global News linked the growing number of claims directly to the federal government’s decision to lift the visa requirement on Dec. 1, 2016. “The ease of visa-free travel … to Canada is a key pull factor at this time,” said the Canada Border Services Agency report, released under the Access to Information Act. Ottawa imposed a visa requirement on visitors from Mexico in July 2009, after the country became Canada’s top source of refugee claims, which totaled 9,000 that year, most of which were rejected. Subsequently, claims by Mexican citizens fell to 86 in 2014, and 111 in 2015. But during the 2015 federal election campaign, Trudeau made lifting the visa requirement part of his platform. “Lifting the visa requirement will deepen ties between Canada and Mexico and will increase the flow of travellers, ideas, and businesses between both countries,” Trudeau said in his announcement. Just over a year later, Mexico has already climbed back into the top tier of source countries for Canada’s refugee claimants, now ranking 6th with 1,459 referred claims, after Haiti, Nigeria, Turkey, Pakistan and India. Michelle Rempel, the Conservative immigration critic, said she wanted to know what the government was doing in co-operation with Mexico...

Refugee musicians will help raise funds for Canadian Blood Services, Inuit children

By Peter Hum, Ottawa Citizen | Before he fled Syria, Mohammed Naser wanted to become a musician. He played a range of instruments — piano, drums, violin, guitar and oud (a Middle Eastern lute) — and sang powerfully and even piercingly. But five years ago, his homeland’s civil war drove him from Daraa, in southwestern Syria, to a refugee camp in Jordan. He spent three years there before coming to Ottawa in the winter of 2016. In the last two years, Naser, now 23, has learned English and found work at a shawarma eatery. Music was on the back burner for a while — that is, until Naser was able to join a small ensemble called Arabesque. In the all-male band, five members are refugees and two are immigrants. During a recent rehearsal, the musicians distributed a set list and jammed at length on songs that featured potent singing in Arabic, earthy drumming and punchy keyboard textures. “We just found each other by friendship. It was really by accident,” says Arabesque’s keyboardist Dani Najjar, who emigrated to Canada seven years ago, is now a Canadian citizen, and who by day works as an assistant pharmacist. But even if the band came together by happenstance, it has begun gigging with the best of intentions. On Saturday, the band will be on the bill at an event called Syrians For Peace. The event, to be held at the Ottawa Chinese Canadian Heritage Centre on Kent Street, is a fundraiser for Canadian Blood Services and the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre. “As the vast majority of Canadians have welcomed Syrian refugees to the...

Canadian citizenship should signify a commitment to Canada

By Vancouver Sun | Our MP sends out a regular newsletter, the main function of which seems to be demonstrating how many fine things she is doing for constituents. A recent issue contained a brief piece on citizenship and immigration, in which our MP referred to the Liberal government’s achievement in removing the “offensive requirement that, to become a citizen, a person must show they intend to live only in Canada.” As an immigrant to Canada who has been a citizen for more than 40 years, I find this baffling. To whom could such a requirement be “offensive”? Why shouldn’t Canadian citizenship require applicants to make a commitment to Canada? Would buying a house in Shanghai make me a Chinese citizen? Of course not. Would wearing a burka make me a citizen of Bangladesh? Of course not. Would investing in a dollar store or nail salon or language school make me a citizen of Spain? Of course not. Our MP’s argument for easier access to Canadian citizenship cheapens it to the point that Canada is nothing more than a hotel or, more accurately, a luxury resort: Stay one night and come back as often as you like for free. And don’t forget to enjoy the amenities while you’re here: good health care and education, clean air, a sound legal system and abundant social services for a range of situations. If you have the right lawyer, you can pay minimal income tax and hide the rest of your income overseas. At the other end of the economic spectrum, helping unfortunate individuals and families escape from the violence of war, economic...

Nominees sought for awards honouring Canada’s most inspiring immigrants

By Adam Martin-Robbins, York News | Do you know an immigrant who is truly inspiring? Then you ought to nominate them for an award celebrating their achievements. Nominations are open for the 2018 RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant awards until Feb. 27 at 11:59 p.m. “These awards celebrate the significant contributions Canadian immigrants have made in communities across Canada,” Ivy Chiu, senior director, newcomer strategy, RBC, said in a news release. “As we reflect on the amazing achievements we’ve seen over the past 10 years, we can look ahead and be proud of all that we have accomplished together, and all that we will in years to come.” To nominate someone, visit canadianimmigrant.ca/rbctop25. Program sponsor RBC will select one of the winners for the RBC Entrepreneur Award. One of the winners will also be selected for the Youth Award, which recognizes the achievements of young immigrants, between 15 and 30 years old, who are making a difference in their adopted country. Added for this year’s program, is the Settlement Agency Award, which recognizes exceptional work done by immigrant settlement agencies to help newcomers succeed. One agency will be selected for this new award from a list of nominees. Once nominations close, a panel of judges will review all nominees. A shortlist of 75 finalists for the Top 25 Canadian Immigrants awards and the finalists for the Settlement Agency Awards will be released in March. That will be followed by an online voting phase that will help determine the winners, which will be announced in June. Read...

Having a job offer is no longer key to immigrating to Canada

By Nicholas Keung, Toronto Star | Canada’s rebooted economic immigration selection system has created a bigger pool of eligible candidates by making it easier to apply without a job offer. With the tweaking of criteria by the federal government more than a year ago, applicants with backgrounds in industrial, electrical and construction trades have become less competitive while international students are getting a boost because their Canadian education is now worth more. According to the latest immigration data, a total of 101,107 eligible applicants were entered into the candidate pool from January to November, 2016, when Ottawa changed its selection system that ranks them and invites those who make the cut-off in each draw to apply for immigration under the economic class. Draws are held multiple times each year. In the six months after the introduction of changes that included drastically reducing the bonus points awarded to candidates with job offers, 77,207 were entered into the pool. Although the 2017 total of candidates is not yet available, it’s bound to surpass the total from the year before. Before the changes, almost 40 per cent of those invited to apply for immigration had a job offer. Now, only one in 10 applies with a job already lined up. The changes to the system place a greater emphasis on so-called human capital — personal attributes such as age, education and language proficiency — and have won the praise of immigration experts, who have argued those qualities are more important for newcomers to succeed in Canada in the long run. “It is difficult to predict an economy’s long-term needs. A skill shortage...