Canadian immigration law: too much red tape and no customer service

For decades now, Canadian governments of all stripes have promoted immigration as a tool for nation building. Unfortunately, this goal is often frustrated by bureaucratic red tape and an almost total lack of customer service.
Winnipeg lawyer R. Reis Pagtakhan says there are too many bureaucratic hoops and ineffective screening processes often preventing otherwise qualified prospective Canadian immigrants from becoming citizens. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

For decades now, Canadian governments of all stripes have promoted immigration as a tool for nation building, and one of the purposes of Canada’s immigration laws is "to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy." Unfortunately, this goal is often frustrated by bureaucratic red tape and an almost total lack of customer service.

Last month, the federal court decided an immigration case that demonstrated what happens when an immigration officer misses the forest for the trees. In this case, a prospective Canadian immigrant was refused a visa because his reference letter did not outline job duties that matched the required immigration criteria.

In this case, the prospective immigrant needed to prove that he supervised and coordinated staff or assigned work to certain employees in order to qualify for immigration. In refusing his application, the officer found that because the employer used the words "helping," "assisting" and "aiding" in the reference letter, that the prospective immigrant did not actually carry out the required tasks outlined in the immigration criteria.

While the prospective immigrant won his case, one big question remains: why did this case have to go to court in the first place?

This case would not have gone to court if the immigration officer called, emailed or faxed the prospective immigrant’s employer to ask for clarification. Instead, the officer refused the application and thousands of dollars were spent by the government and the prospective immigrant in court.

Does one really need to go to court to determine if “helping” to supervise is really supervising? Are these the important questions of our time that we, as taxpayers, need to spend money on in order for them to be considered by judges and government lawyers?

If Canada wants to develop a "strong and prosperous Canadian economy" through immigration, refusing an application on details that could have easily been clarified does not serve anyone well.

Red tape

Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated example. One only needs to look at the general red tape that bogs down the immigration system to see how frustrating immigration is for our future neighbours, employees and taxpayers.

One breathtaking example is the number of pages an individual has to fill out to immigrate to Canada. For instance, if a Canadian wants to sponsor their foreign spouse to Canada, at least 29 pages of forms have to be filled out.

While many questions in these 29 pages are necessary, within these 29 pages, the foreign spouse can be asked up to six times to enter their date of birth. Surely, in the 21st century, the government can streamline some of these questions. Asking prospective immigrants the same question multiple times is not in any way efficient.

If making decisions without seeking clarification or requiring people to answer the same question multiple times is not enough, there is a bigger problem of "hidden" immigration rules.

Recently, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver, Steven Meurrens, posted on his blog documents provided to him by Jacobus Kriek, an immigration consultant. Mr. Kriek received these documents from the federal government in response to what is called an Access to Information and Privacy Act Request.

The documents Mr. Kriek received discussed the advertising requirements employers must follow before they recruit temporary foreign workers. What Mr. Kriek discovered was that while the recruitment rules the government publishes on their public website number about three pages, Mr. Kriek received an additional 35 pages of rules and interpretations that are internal to the government.

If the government applies these 35 pages of rules, it is only fair that these be made public so that businesses and the public know what is expected of them.

Why should these rules be hidden?

If these examples weren’t frustrating enough, another pet peeve of potential immigrants is Canada’s ever-changing list of immigration forms.

Over the last year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has changed numerous forms, multiple times, without warning. When an individual submits an outdated form, that individual runs the risk of having their immigration application returned.

Imagine the frustration of picking up a mutli-page form to apply for a mortgage and then returning to the bank with the completed form only to be told that you have to fill out a new form from scratch. Surely, the federal government can at least provide a formal grace period to use the old forms.

Blair Hodgman, an immigration lawyer in Nova Scotia, has suggested numerous times to Citizenship and Immigration Canada since 2009 that a formal grace period be allowed, but her suggestion has fallen on deaf ears.

Hodgman’s suggestion is not reinventing the wheel; the U.S. government already has such a policy in place.

Is a little customer service really too much to ask when individuals and businesses pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to have their immigration applications assessed?

Unfortunately, Canada’s answer has been “yes.”


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