Canadian Immigration Policy: Getting too heavy on the brain and too light on the heart?

A recession is scary. Loss of jobs and social unrest can lead to a country’s downfall. However, luckily for Canada, we have recovered quite gracefully from the recession that rattled the world in 2008 and continues to impact many countries with outrageous unemployment rates, especially among the youth.

Yet, an issue remains: is the Federal Government— and more specifically Citizenship and Immigration Canada —cutting too many costs at the expense of losing its compassion? Multiple reforms brought about by the Federal government have been creating uproar from concerned immigrants and Canadians alike. These reforms include cuts to refugee healthcare, and a tightening of rules and regulations, which now seem to dictate who can remain in the country based on pragmatic and instrumental considerations, rather than on more humanitarian ones.

Many critics believe part of the increasing lack of compassion in Canada’s immigration policy is rooted in the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the resulting creation of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). The creation of the CBSA separated responsibilities between those creating immigration policy and those who actually interact with applicants as they arrive in the country. There are arguments that the Border Agents lack compassion when dealing with applicants, as their isolation from these claimants makes it easy for them to never look for exceptions and oftentimes, even overlook the Charter of Rights. For example, individuals may be deported at customs by a Canadian Border Service Agent even though their file is pending in Canadian immigration courts and therefore have the right to remain in the country until a verdict is reached. Such cases may include husbands, wives and children who are then separated and left with a dim prospect of reunification years down the road, even in cases where the initial deportation was undeserved

Similarly, the Federal Government is now to change to the age of a “dependent child” from 22 to 19. The main logic behind this decision is that the earlier an individual comes to Canada, the more he will integrate and be economically successful in the country. It also determines where these youth will most likely receive their post-secondary education and skills; more and more individuals will be trained in Canada, preventing problems with credential recognition and language skills. That said, many young people around the word are being financially supported by their parents, especially if they are enrolled in full-time studies. Most Canadians who attend university do not graduate from their undergraduate programs until they themselves are 22, and are likely still dependent on their parents. Since individuals who are 19 years of age or older will now have to apply separately from their parents, the Canadian Government suggests that they apply to study at a Canadian University in order to eventually qualify for immigration under the Canadian Experience Class once they have completed their studies. Unfortunately, tuition rates for international students are very high, preventing many families from being able to consider this option. The end result of this policy has been, in many cases, the tearing apart of immigrant families, whose bread-earners struggle from Canada to find the legal and financial means to give their children a chance to immigrate. Perhaps, the Canadian Government could consider a slightly lower tuition option for international students under the age of 22 whose parents or primary guardians are permanent resident. This would ensure that the children of new immigrants could have the means to study in Canada in order to qualify for the Canadian Experience Class, that there will be no issues with credential recognition in their future,and that they will have the chance to integrate into Canadian culture through the Canadian University experience. Many professionals explain that knowledge of the Canadian market and networking can be a great barrier to newcomers in Canada. Going to university in Canada is a great way for newcomers to overcome this road-block.

Another topic that has sparked much debate is the substantial reduction that some immigrants have experienced in terms of health care benefits. As all Canadians are well aware, health care in the country is universal for all citizens, with each province having its own health care structure. For average Canadians working in the private sector, this is as far as the Canadian Government’s funding for health care services go. With regards to the refugee health cuts, however, a pre-existing program that provides temporary health insurance to refugee applicants who are not yet eligible for provincial coverage was drastically reduced last year. While this program still includes basic hospital services, as well as emergency treatments, it no longer includes vision or dental health benefits for asylum seekers, and greatly limits pharmaceutical benefits as well.  In addition, individuals whose asylum claims have been rejected are now denied any benefits, and will only be able to access public health care in the event that their condition poses a “public safety concern.”

When asked about the justification for these rather strong measures, Alexis Pavlich, Kenney’s press secretary claimed that “Canadians have been clear that they do not want illegal immigrants and bogus asylum claimants receiving free, gold-plated health care benefits that are better than those that Canadian taxpayers and seniors receive.”

Indeed, the restriction in the coverage of eye and dental care, as well as on certain prescriptions, is shared also by Canadian citizens themselves. However, it is important to note that the economic solvency of the average asylum seeker is considerably lower than that of the average Canadian. Recent refugees are often not allowed to work, as temporary work permits can take up time

 Setting up additional restrictions to the health plans of recent newcomers in rather precarious economic conditions might, and in fact has, deterred many from seeking prompt medical attention for their diseases, which can snowball into medical emergencies and life-threatening conditions. While some hospitals have even opted for writing off the steep costs of some refugee’s uncovered healthcare in their own budgets, it has been estimated that the number of patients with outstanding medical bills has doubled in some areas of the country.

This government decision has been met with high criticism on the part of health practitioners, hospital staff, and lobbyist groups that consider the measures unethical and contrary to Canada’s long-standing humanitarian tradition. Last June, for instance, protests in 19 Canadian cities urged the federal government to mitigate or reverse the drastic cutbacks to refugee health care without success.

The Federal Government is then cutting programs in order to cut spending and prevent too much deficit, which logically  makes sense to most people: when you don’t have enough, you don’t spend. We want the Canadian Government to be spending in order to continue stimulating the Canadian economy, but at the same time, it is important that they do not over spend. With the economy constantly in mind, there is no question why the government is choosing to promote skilled worker program and entrepreneur visas. By encouraging newcomers who will succeed and add to Canada’s economy we can look forward to a prosperous future for Canada. On the other hand these actions may come at a cost. The cost of losing too much heart in the process. The question remains whether Canada will remain an oasis of promise and prosperity to those that it aims to attract if it keeps losing its heart.  


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