Ahmed Ramahi first applied to come to Canada as a skilled worker in late 2001. At the time, he was 28, single, and had just finished his MBA at Sam Houston State University in Texas.
Today, the Jordanian-born mechanical engineer is 35, a married father of a two-year-old boy — and still waiting.
It is Ramahi’s story, along with the nearly million other cases caught in this country’s huge backlog, that has prompted what Immigration Minister Diane Finley called “urgent action” to modernize a dysfunctional immigration system. The government’s proposed changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are to be voted on in the coming weeks.
No one disputes the long waits are unacceptable. But a growing number of immigration experts and community groups say Finley’s proposal will not reduce the backlog and will, in fact, lengthen the wait because the amendments only apply to new applications filed after Feb. 26.
The government has embedded the controversial changes in the 2008 budget bill, turning the immigration plan into a confidence vote — a move the Liberal Opposition was ill-prepared for.
The proposal has created a furor among its critics, who argue the current act already gives the minister power to reduce the backlog by altering the point system and giving priority to different types of applications, without compromising parliamentary oversight.
“With the blank-cheque power, decisions could be made in secret or not made at all, and rules could change retroactively. There would be no limit on the discretionary power granted to bureaucrats,” said immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
A large contributing factor to the backlog is Canada’s popular open-door policy that literally allows anyone who can chalk up at least 67 points on its point-selection system to put an application in the pile.
Immigration experts say if it wants to get serious about the backlog, the government must do two things: Inject additional resources and vastly expand the yearly targets to let more people in.
Canadian immigration lawyer Tim Leahy said Canada could also “paper-screen” skilled worker applicants and, for those who meet the minimum criteria, issue open work permits that would allow them to finish the process inside Canada.
To avoid a future backlog, Immigration Canada could control intake by raising the pass mark prospectively.