The following is a cross-post from an article that I published in The Canadian Immigrant.

On October 19, 2015, Canada will have its 42nd general election.  While only Canadian citizens may vote, permanent residents, foreign workers, international students, visitors, and even people outside Canada through the use of social media and volunteering for political campaigns will be able to influence the development of Canadian policy and discourse like never before.

As with any election, all of Canada’s political parties will promise the moon, including on immigration and refugee matters.  In order to analyze their commitments critically, it is important to understand that those creating immigration programs are constrained by an impossible trinity.  Put simply, it is impossible for an immigration program to have all three of the following at the same time:

  • Government control over immigration numbers
  • Fast processing times
  • Guaranteed processing of eligible applications

Most sovereign states want control over the number of people that they admit as immigrants each year.  In Canada, section 94(2)(b) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act codifies this objective by requiring that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) report to Canada’s Parliament annually on the number of individuals projected to become permanent residents during the upcoming year.  Predictability and certainty in immigration numbers allows the government to accurately budget for and allocate resources.

Fast processing times ensure that when an application is finalized the circumstances are the same as when the person applied. Fast processing times reduce the estrangement of families, provide certainty to those applying on humanitarian & compassionate grounds or for protection, and address labour shortages.  Indeed, in many policy circles, the current buzzword is a “just-in-time” (not to be confused with a “Justin [Trudeau] time”) immigration system wherein the government immediately facilitates entry for legitimate private needs.

The guaranteed processing of eligible applications allows eligible applicants and sponsors to apply to Canada’s immigration programs and know that their applications will be processed.  Conversely, application caps, lottery systems, and expression of interest systems can lead to prolonged, arbitrary, and even permanent denial of the ability to apply for immigration programs despite qualifying for them.  The result can often be just as detrimental as lengthy processing times.

It is clear from the above that an ideal immigration program would allow the government to control immigration numbers, have fast processing times, and guarantee the processing of all eligible applications.  It is also, unfortunately, impossible for this to occur.

If a government wants control over the number of people that it admits to Canada as immigrants and to have fast processing times, then it will have to impose a system that prevents all eligible applications from being processed.  This approach has generally been the preference of the current federal government, which has utilized different methods to restrict the number of eligible applications that CIC processes in its different programs. In the Economic Class, Express Entry is an expression of interest application intake management system that limits the number of eligible applicants to most federal economic immigration programs so that CIC only receives as many applications as it can process within six months.  In the Family Class, for several years only 5,000 Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents have been able to apply to sponsor their parents and/or grandparents each year through the Parent & Grandparent Sponsorship Program (“PGSP”), with the result being that each year the PGSP closes a few days after it opens at the cap is quickly reached.  While processing times in these programs have either stabilized or decreased, and the government has controlled immigration numbers, the much publicized tradeoff has been that many qualifying potential applicants are unable to even access these programs despite qualifying.

If a future government wants to remove these restrictions on eligible applications from being processed, but at the same time wants to have control over the number of individuals admitted to Canada each year, then it will have no choice but to permit a massive increase in processing times.

Conversely, if a future government wishes to process all eligible applications, and at the same time have fast processing times, then it will lose the ability to control the number of people who immigrate to Canada each year.  The result would likely be an unpredictable and substantial increase in Canada’s population.

During this election campaign, when Canada’s political parties make commitments to introduce new immigration programs, reduce processing times, admit as many privately sponsored refugees as possible, remove restrictions on the number of Canadians who can sponsor their parents, or even allow every Canadian to sponsor a family member from overseas, a discerning voter must analyze how that party plans to manage the program within the above-mentioned limitations.

For example, if a political party promises to expand the Family Class so that every Canadian citizen and/or permanent resident can sponsor a relative, then a discerning voter – before getting too excited – must ask which element of the impossible trinity will be missing.  Is that political party committing to a massive, uncontrolled increase in Canada’s population?  If not, then will the new program have very slow processing times or a limit on the number of Canadians who can actually sponsor their relative through caps, lotteries, or expression of interest system?  If it has either, then how many Canadians will actually benefit from such a program.

If the political party tries to dodge the issue or pretend that it does not exist, then the discerning voter will know that the political party is either hiding the devil in the details, or simply making pandering commitments without having thought the issue through.

Hopefully you don’t fall for it.

Steven Meurrens
Steven Meurrens is a partner at Larlee Rosenberg LLP, an immigration law firm in Vancouver. He is the chair of the Canadian Bar Association of British Columbia’s immigration subsection and also a member of the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration.

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