Ottawa must answer Canadians' questions about refugee plan, Reis Pagtakhan says

While taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do, the government should say how much it will cost, whether processing times for other immigrants will get longer, and what the overall immigration plan is for 2016, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer says.

How much will Syrian refugee push cost? Will it affect other immigrants? What's the plan, Canada?

Taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do, but the government needs to answer Canadians' questions, immigration lawyer Reis Pagtakhan says. (Giorgos Moutafis/Reuters)

Immigration Minister John McCallum announced in December that Canada may take 50,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. While taking in Syrian refugees is the right thing to do, the government should say how much this will cost, whether processing times for other immigrants will get longer, and what their overall immigration plan is for 2016.

1. Where will the money come from to assist Syrian refugees? 

With the recent revelation that Canada will fall short of its revised target of bringing in 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, the government will have to bring in more than 43,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 to meet its new goal.

Refugees are selected because they need protection, not for economic reasons. As a result, refugees do not need to meet the language, education and work experience criteria economic immigrants must meet. While there are likely many refugees who are highly educated, proficient in English or French and have valuable work experience, many will need assistance in finding jobs and settling in Canada.

Refugees may also have more health problems than the average Canadian. As well, school-age refugees may not be as proficient in English or French and may need language assistance. While medical care and education are provincial responsibilities, regardless of which level of government pays the cost, the taxpayer is the same.

Whatever the costs will be, the question that remains is whether this will be funded by the private sector, additional taxes, increasing the deficit or cutting other government programs.

2. Will processing more refugees lengthen the processing times for other immigrants?

After announcing Canada would bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015, the immigration minister indicated that hundreds of civil servants were working "day and night" to facilitate these applications.

It now appears that these hundreds of civil servants were only able to get the government to one-third of its initial target. How many more civil servants will be needed to get to a target of 50,000 Syrian refugees?

Presumably, the government did not hire hundreds of temp workers ‎to assess these applications. Assessing refugees requires highly skilled civil servants. The likely scenario is that these hundreds of civil servants are highly trained immigration officers.

In 2015, Canada's immigration plan set a goal of 11,000 to 14,000 refugees. While this plan was set before the current refugee crisis, the question is whether potentially tripling the number of Syrian refugees will require more immigration officers. If so, will this increase the waiting times for other refugees and immigrants coming to Canada?

At present, spouses and common-law partners of Canadians who are in Canada face waiting times of almost 2½ years to become permanent residents. Immigrants selected by provincial and territorial governments can face waiting times of 4½ years, while some immigrants coming as parents and grandparents face waiting times of over 10 years.

Will the government's plan to increase the number of Syrian refugees increase wait times for other immigrants and refugees? If so, potential immigrants, refugees, their families in Canada and their prospective Canadian employers deserve to know.

3. Will the increase in Syrian refugees result in Canada taking in fewer refugees from other areas of the world?

If Canada takes in 50,000 Syrian refugees‎ by the end of 2016, will this result in fewer refugees coming from other countries?

In January 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that there were more than 14 million refugees worldwide. While there were more than 2.7 million refugees from the Middle East, the UNHCR reported more refugees in Asia and even more in Africa.

People fleeing persecution require protection, regardless of their citizenship. What will Canada's commitment be to these refugees?

4. Will taking more refugees affect Canada's overall immigration plan?

Taking in more than 40,000 refugees in 2016 will be a marked departure from Canada's annual immigration plan. For 2015, the Conservative government's plan was for two-thirds of the total immigrants to Canada to be economic immigrants — immigrants selected for their abilities to make a positive economic impact. According to the 2015 plan, Canada was to accept between 172,000 and 187,000 economic immigrants.

What is the Liberal government's immigration plan? Is the plan to triple the number of Syrian refugees part of a larger immigration plan? Will taking in more refugees mean Canada will take in more or less economic immigrants in 2016?

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.