Last Spring, in an attempt to reduce a massive federal skilled worker application backlog in the Canadian immigration system, the federal government invalidated the applications of approximately 280,000 skilled workers and their families. According to the government, the annulment of all skilled worker applications submitted before Feb. 2008, reduced the backlog by 40%.
In response to this action, a group of over 1,400 would-be immigrants challenged the federal government’s decision in court. However, in its ruling on Thursday April 19th, the Federal Court declared that the federal government had acted within its rights.
“The applicants have waited in the queue for many years only to find the entrance door closed. They see the termination of their hope for a new life in Canada to be an unfair, arbitrary and unnecessary measure,” Justice Donald Rennie recognized. However, adding to this observation, he ruled that the applications were “terminated by operation of law”; it was within the federal government’s jurisdiction to choose what to do with these applications.
The Supreme Court’s decision was defined as unfair by Toronto Lawyer Lorne Waldman, who had represented the applicants. According to Waldman while it is true that the federal government had not violated Canada’s immigration legislation because it had acted within its rights, neither had the applicants. Punishing these law abiding individuals—who had spent thousands of dollars in language training programs, medical tests and police background checks in strict compliance with Canada’s immigration regulations—due to a sudden and undeserved change in these regulations sets a bad precedent.
“These are people who basically followed all the rules and acted perfectly legally and in compliance with what the government of Canada told them … [They] waited patiently for years. My heart goes out to the people who in my view are victims of this callous legislation” Waldman declared.
The federal government, however, welcomed the ruling. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said that the backlog’s 40% reduction lowered the total wait lost down to 616,271 applicants from over a million the year before. Kenney justified the government’s measure on the basis that there would have been well over two million would-be immigrants awaiting the government’s answer by 2015 had the government not taken action to address the issue.
“Increasing immigration targets, increasing the number of people admitted, would not have been a solution to the large and growing backlogs and wait times. In fact, they would have continued to deteriorate without our government bringing in the action plan for faster immigration and controls on new applications,” Kenney said. “We were doing wrong by them and wrong for Canada by making people wait for eight or nine years, and it would be even more wrong to force them to wait for 15 or 18 years, which is where we were headed in many of our immigration programs.”
At par with the backlog reduction, Kenney’s government has set up several other measures to diminish the likelihood of a waitlists going out of control in the future. A moratorium of new skilled worker application was issued last summer, and while the program is scheduled to reopen on May 4, the new applicants will be assessed in accordance to new and more stringent language and education criteria. Also, Citizenship and Immigration Canada reduced the number of occupations that are eligible for this revamped Federal Skilled Worker Program to a pre established list of 24 trades, and capped the number of new skilled worker applications that it will accept this year at 5,000.