Manitoba

Liberal shift on immigration leaves Winnipeg agencies cautiously optimistic

Executive directors with two settlement agencies in Winnipeg are cautiously optimistic after the federal government announced Tuesday it will make big changes to how many newcomers are admitted to the country in 2016.

Canada will admit 51,000 to 57,000 refugees in 2016, says immigration minister

A mother and her child, refugees originally from Syria, wait inside the Saskatoon airport. Immigration Minister John McCallum announced on Tuesday that Canada is shifting its focus to family reunification and refugees. (Evan Radford/CBC)

Executive directors with two settlement agencies in Winnipeg are cautiously optimistic after the federal government announced Tuesday it will make changes to how many newcomers are admitted to the country in 2016.

Canada is shifting its policies to allow more family reunification and refugee resettlement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said.

The plan is for Canada to bring in 280,000 to 305,000 new permanent residents in 2016, including 51,000 to 57,000 refugees.

"We're very pleased," said Karin Gordon, resettlement executive director with Hospitality House, an agency with a mandate to sponsor as many refugees as possible.

"We've lost at least 20 people in the Mediterranean we had sponsorships for," she said. "They just couldn't wait any more."

While Gordon supports an increase in the number of refugees accepted by Canada, she worries about a lack of human resources to process claims in a timely way.

"The previous government was not funding visa posts properly, and so there was a huge bottleneck of processing sponsorship applications," she said.

Hospitality House is currently helping more than 1,000 refugee claimants come to Canada. Some of the claimants have waited for years to have their papers processed, she said.

'Move in the right direction'

The interim head of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba offered similar praise for the plan.

"It's absolutely a move in the right direction," said Shereen Denetto, interim executive director at IRCOM.

Denetto praised Canada's increased focus on reuniting families rather than accepting immigrants based on economic needs.

"The federal government has heard what the sector has long been saying — to make immigration successful, we have to make it easier for families to be reunited," she said.

Denetto also said an increase in the number of new Canadians admitted to the country has to be paired with an increase in funding. With the Syrian crisis, Canadians showed they are accepting of refugees and generous, but agencies need government support to make settlement successful, she said.

"If you're going to bring in more immigrants or refugees, of course there have to be appropriate resources and supports so that the agencies and staff don't burn out," Denetto said.

Lawyer calls move 'bizarre'

However, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer says the number of economic immigrants shouldn't be decreased to accommodate a shift in focus.

Reis Pagtakhan, an immigration lawyer at Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson LLP, called the government's change of focus from economic immigrants to family reunification "bizarre."

Economic immigrants include foreign students who want to become permanent residents in Canada after their education is complete and temporary foreign workers who want to be permanent residents. 

"For those individuals who have already been working here, living here, paying taxes here, those are the people that we want to have as permanent residents and eventually citizens, because we know they can contribute," he said.

"If you decrease that number, then you decrease the number of people who can make a positive economic impact that are immigrating here."

Increasing the number of those immigrants wouldn't come at an extra cost for the federal government because of immigration fees, he said. 

"If you increase the number of economic immigrants, all of whom have to pay the fee, you should be able to do this on a cost-recovery basis," he said.

With files from Angela Johnston

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