Canada sitting on application fees, ‘robbing immigrants blind’: critic

Posted by admin on Feb 14th, 2011

By Amy Minsky, Postmedia News, Feb. 14, 2011

OTTAWA — The government has banked tens of millions of dollars in immigrant application fees while taking little action to process the applications — a problem that will only be worsened when government reduces the overall number of visas issued in 2011 from 2010 levels, recently released government documents show.

The documents were made public by a University of Ottawa law professor who is currently at loggerheads with the federal government over his own parents’ immigration application and who has been critical of the government on other issues.

Some of the most significant reductions, the documents show, will be seen in visas issued to parents and grandparents.

The number of visas awarded to those would-be immigrants will decrease to 11,200 in 2011 from 16,800 in 2010, intensifying the congested backlog of more than 147,000 files waiting to be processed, according to the documents.

Immigrants who applied to sponsor parents and grandparents have paid approximately $45 million for “nothing,” said professor Amir Attaran, a Canadian who is also an immigrant.

“Canada is robbing its immigrants blind through this . . . to take their application fees and then just sit on them,” he said. “As you can tell by these numbers, (government) is hardly processing these claims.”

Attaran filed an application in the summer of 2009 to sponsor his own parents, who currently live in California. To date, Citizenship and Immigration Canada hasn’t completed the first of the two-stage process, he said Monday.

He said his frustration with the system led him to launch a lawsuit last summer against Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

He said waiting times will increase further because Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has reduced the annual immigration targets.

The documents Attaran presented were released through an access to information request.

Last week, Attaran became embroiled in game of political ping-pong after he suggested the Tories were behind freedom of information requests filed for professional records of him and a University of Ottawa colleague. Universities, as government institutions, pay professors with taxpayer dollars and are subject to freedom of information requests.

The Conservative party and the Prime Minister’s Office deny they are behind the information requests on the two professors, both of whom are outspoken government critics.

Still, Conservative MPs and staff members were quick to fire at Attaran Monday, saying he is using his ties “to the Ignatieff Liberals, their NDP and Bloc coalition partners” to seek special treatment — a point they say is highlighted in the fact that his suit isn’t asking for faster treatment for all parents and grandparents.

“Amir Attaran may have gone to Harvard with the Liberal leader, but that doesn’t make him better than the rest of us,” Conservative MP Paul Calandra said in the House of Commons Monday afternoon. “Attaran is entitled, like everyone else, to sponsor his American parents into Canada. But they need to wait in line. Just like my constituents do. Just like the constituents of every member of this House do.”

And although the overall number of immigrants granted visas will drop, Kenney defended his office’s actions by noting the increase in immigrants who are investors, entrepreneurs or self-employed to 6,000 from 5,490.

“This government is focused on the priority of Canadians, which is economic growth, which is prosperity,” Kenney said. “We need newcomers working and paying taxes and contributing to our health-care system. That is the focus of our immigration system.”

But, Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau said, the Tories are misleading skilled immigrants who come to Canada for work.

“Many of these workers come because of the quality of life they expect . . . the hope they will be able to bring their parents to help raise the kids,” he said. “Instead, the government has cut funding for settlement services that provide supports, and now they’re cutting the family support system along with it.”

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