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As Irish economy staggers, youth set eyes on Canada.


At Tralee, on Da tour of golf courses in southwest Ireland, a caddy named Danny explained that he had a mortgage of -250,000, or $375,000, on his house. He can’t possibly pay it on a caddy’s earnings and tips, and the golf season in Ireland ends in mid-October.
He got the mortgage five years ago when he was a foreman in the housing industry, a boom that went bust.
Danny’s story is all you need to know about the origins of the Irish financial and economic crisis. Nearly 20 per cent of Ireland’s housing stock is empty, and hundreds of thousands of Irish families are holding mortgages now worth twice as much as their homes. As The Irish Times wrote in an editorial last week: “Their assets have plummeted in value but their liabilities have not.”
Of 780,000 mortgage-holders, the Irish Independent reported last weekend, 50,000 are three months or more in arrears on their payments. There is much talk of debt forgiveness, or restructuring, for those hardest hit.
But as Danny asks: “Who decides whose debts are forgiven, and how?”
At one time, 20 per cent of the Irish workforce was in the construction industry, building homes and office towers, many of which are now unoccupied. Gleaming new office buildings on the outskirts of Dublin stand empty – “see-throughs,” as they are called in the real estate industry, with no curtains, no furniture, no offices and no people.
In the long term, Irish investments in education and infrastructure, as well as low business taxes to encourage investment, will pay off. In the near term, Ireland’s challenges are daunting.
When the bubble burst in the United States three years ago, Washington rescued Wall St. by lending it $700 billion U.S., all of which has been paid back. In Ireland, instead of lending money to the banks when the housing bubble burst, the government guaranteed or bought -80 billion ($120 billion) of debt. Since then the European Central Bank has come through with a further -85 billion in loans, and the International Monetary Fund has also stepped in with a bailout. Where it formerly ran a surplus, Ireland’s deficit is now one-third of gross domestic product, and its debt is 130 per cent of GDP. Where unemployment was only four per cent before the housing bubble burst, it’s now 14 per cent.
And people are leaving Ireland. Again. Not because of famine, but because of the folly of their banks and government.
At the Waterville golf links, a caddy named Robert is finishing up his degree in civil engineering, and is thinking of emigrating to either Canada or Australia. At Tralee, Danny’s colleague, David, is a plumber who wants to move to Alberta, where there’s a shortage of skilled tradespeople. At Old Head, the caddy master, Paddy, has a son, a mechanical engineer, who has just found a job in Vancouver.
Everywhere our group went, people asked about Canada, which they had heard was booming, and how they could get there.
They have a lot to offer. Ireland’s workforce is the one of the most literate and among the most highly skilled in the world. They speak English. There’s community support for resettlement in cities such as Toronto with large Irish populations.
The question is, what is Ottawa doing to encourage them to choose Canada over Australia or the United States?
Quite a bit, as it turns out, according to Loyola Hearn, Canada’s ambassador to Ireland. A former Conservative MP, Hearn is Newfoundland Irish, which makes him as Irish as anyone.
“We’ve doubled the number of student and youth visas to 5,000 from Ireland,” he was saying the other night. They’ve all been snapped up. Student visas are being extended from one to two years, to encourage young Irish people to stay on in Canada.
Immigration files are being fast-tracked, though for reasons passing strange, the paperwork is done from the Canadian High Commission in London – which means it takes weeks, even months, when the embassy in Dublin could handle it in days. Given the history between the Irish and the British, the symbolism alone is unfortunate.
There is also the minor inconvenience that Canada isn’t easy to get to for those coming from Ireland. There are no nonstop commercial flights except in summer, and then only to and from Toronto on Air Canada.
But that’s a pretty minor obstacle given the opportunity to start over again in a welcoming new country. By the time the Irish have worked through all their fiscal issues, the best and brightest of a new generation will have left for distant shores.
“But,” as Hearn says, “the Irish are like Newfoundlanders. They may work somewhere else, but they always come home.”


Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Irish+economy+staggers+youth+eyes+Canada/5331346/story.html#ixzz1WbldXGE5

CIC launches online consultation on immigration levels and mix

Ottawa, August 29, 2011 — Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney today launched online consultations on the appropriate level of immigration and the most suitable mix between economic, family class and protected persons.
Immigration has been a sustaining feature of Canada’s history and continues to play an important role in building our country. Canada has one of the highest per capita rates of permanent immigration in the world—roughly 0.8% in recent years—and has welcomed 3.5 million immigrants in the last 15 years.
“The online consultation provides an important opportunity to gather input from stakeholders and the public on key questions facing CIC,” said Minister Kenney. “This is also a chance to highlight some of the considerations and difficult choices involved in managing a global immigration system.”
In planning for the total number of people to admit as permanent residents, CIC not only balances immigration objectives but also considers several other factors, including broader government commitments, input from provinces and territories, and current and future economic conditions. The Department must also consider its ability to process applications in a timely manner, as well as the capacity of communities to welcome newcomers.
The questionnaire is a key component of the cross-country consultations Minister Kenney and his parliamentary secretaries are currently leading on immigration levels and mix. In July, the Minister consulted with stakeholders in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. This month, parliamentary secretaries Rick Dykstra and Chungsen Leung held round tables in Mississauga, Scarborough and London. Additional sessions may be planned in the coming weeks and months.
Thus far, the majority of stakeholders present at the consultation sessions expressed a fairly positive view of the current immigration system. They have identified immigration as a critical way to meet labour market needs, citing economic factors as among the most important considerations when establishing immigration levels, followed by integration concerns. Participants have also highlighted the importance of family reunification and the need to address wait times in the parent and grandparent stream.
More than 1,600 people have already signed up to complete the questionnaire. It is available at the following link:www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/consultations/index.asp.
A report on the consultations, including the online questionnaire, will be available on theCIC website in the fall of 2011 or winter 2012.
Follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CitImmCanada.
For further information (media only), please contact:
Candice Malcolm
Minister’s Office
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Media Relations
Communications Branch
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Building a stronger Canada: Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) strengthens Canada’s economic, social and cultural prosperity, helping ensure Canadian safety and security while managing one of the largest and most generous immigration programs in the world.

Immigration To Canada: Focus On Economic Immigrants, Researchers Urge

Source :http://www.huffingtonpost.ca 

As Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducts ongoing public consultations on the mix and number of immigrants the country should take in, a pioneering study has offered a powerful argument for prioritizing “skill-assessed economic immigrants,” whose earnings levels, the study has found, far exceed those of other kinds of immigrants.
Motivated in part by the rapid rise in the overall level of immigration, which has continued despite the economic downturn, as well as changes in the type of immigrants admitted, a pair of Queen’s University economists are weighing on several contentious aspects of Canadian immigration policy just as that policy is being reviewed.
Their working paper on the differences in earnings across different categories of immigrants in Canada, which was released this month through the Canadian Labour Market and Skills Researcher Network, found that economic immigrants, whose admission is determined by a points system that measures education and experience, had median earnings that were as much as 56 per cent higher than other classes of immigrants.
A recession, meanwhile, was shown to have “very marked and long-lasting scarring effects” on the earning power of immigrants of all stripes.
Commonsense though the findings may seem, rarely have they been so definitive. In an effort to gauge how well immigrants are integrating into the Canadian labour market, Michael Abbott and Charles Beach tapped CIC for a decade’s worth of annual earning data for all immigrants that arrived as landed immigrants in 1982, 1988 and 1994.
“It’s not a sample. It consists of the totality of all immigrants who have arrived in … those respective years,” Beach told The Huffington Post. “That makes it really quite large and, if you wish, more reliable than any other study that’s out there.”
By comparing the annual earnings of four different classes of immigrants — economic immigrants, those who accompanied them, family class immigrants, and refugees — the researchers were able to quantify just how much skills matter.
What they found was that the 10-year median earnings levels of economic migrants significantly exceeded those of the other classes — between 30 and 37 per cent higher for men, and between 39 and 56 per cent higher for women.
The study found that refugees and family class immigrants — those who came to join family already here — had the lowest earnings levels. The real earning levels of refugees declined over the each successive cohort, suggesting that it got more difficult over time for this group to make ends meet.
But regardless of their skill level, immigrants felt the sting of recession. In 1990-1991, there was a decline in the median real earnings of male immigrants in all four admission categories in both the 1982 and 1988 cohorts. Meanwhile, those who arrived in 1994 experienced relatively low initial annual earnings, suggesting that the downturn continued to take a toll on immigrants, even after it was officially over.
A similar trend was observed in the aftermath of the recession in the early 1980s for those who arrived in 1982.
“That was actually a bit surprising to us,” says Beach of the effect of recession on immigrant earnings. “Perhaps it shouldn’t be, because there’s an of old rule of thumb in labour economics that says, ‘Last in, first out.’ If a recession comes along, and people get laid off on the whole, it’s the most recently hired, people with less tenure or seniority in the firm. And immigrants in general are people who have recently arrived.”
It’s a finding he says should prompt policymakers to consider reducing the number of immigrants admitted during tough economic times.
“In this recent recession and period of slow growth, that’s not what’s happened. The tap not only has been kept on, it’s been increased,” he says, adding that there has also been a growing number of newcomers admitted as foreign temporary workers and provincial nominees.
Total immigration to Canada has risen from 84,000 in 1985 to more than 280,000 in 2010, the highest number in more than half a century.
Immigration numbers vary from year to year, but they have been on an upward trend for decades, and last year’s 281,000 arrivals was the highest number since 1957, when Canada took in 282,000 immigrants.
Family class immigrants currently make up 26 per cent of those admitted; immigrants chosen for their economic potential, meanwhile, make up about 30 per cent.
Beach says the outcomes of skill-assessed economic immigrants is a testament to their relative success — and the fact that the proportion of those admitted under that category should not be reduced.
“If we want to get immigrants to do well in Canada, that category is the one [that] does consistently better than the others,” he says.
But changing the mix of immigrants Canada takes in could have a political cost. Earlier this year, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney came under fire after reports showed that CIC was planning to reduce the number of family reunification visas by five per cent in 2012.
On Monday, Kenney’s ministry launched an online online questionnaire — the department’s latest attempt to get public input on the appropriate mix of immigrants.
“The online consultation provides an important opportunity to gather input from stakeholders and the public on key questions facing CIC,” says Minister Jason Kenney. “This is also a chance to highlight some of the considerations and difficult choices involved in managing a global immigration system.”

PayScale Study Points North: Average Pay in Canada Up

Posted by Bridget Quigg
By Bridget Quigg
It’s time that PayScale admits it. We have found out more glowing facts about Canada. After humbly complimenting our neighbors to the north when they won gold in men’s hockey (beating the US) back in 2010, and congratulating them on a great run in the NHL playoffs, we now have another achievement to recognize: rising wages.

It turns out that, according to PayScale’s recent review of Canadian national pay trends, private workers in Canada saw less of a wage drop than the US during 2008 and 2009, the lowest point in the global recession, and are now seeing earnings increases across-the-board that outpace those for US workers. Canada, we salute you.

Welcome to The PayScale Index, Canada! 

For the first time since its inception in the fall of 2010, The PayScale Index is publishing national average compensation trends for Canada. In the future, coverage of Canada will include more specific metrics, like cities and industries, but PayScale is dipping its toes in the water with a national study, first.

“We are starting with a national view. And, as we are confident we have the right amount and type of data, we’ll drill down to closer looks at major cities and common industries,” says Al Lee, PayScale’s director of quantitative analysis and the lead on the study.

What Is The PayScale Index? 

Most simply put, The PayScale Index tracks quarterly compensation trends. It is a bit more complicated than that, though, once you look at the details. The PayScale Index tracks changes in total cash compensation for full-time, private industry employees. The PayScale Index has not been adjusted for inflation and is based on actual wages. For example, it includes bonuses but excludes non-cash benefits or equity (stock), focusing only on cash earnings.

What Did We Learn? 

Canada is doing something right. The worldwide global recession definitely hit Canadian workers’ pocketbooks, but not nearly as dramatically as it did for workers in the US. And, wage recovery came much more quickly in Canada.

During the recession, US workers suffered wages dropping, on average nationally, nearly a percent and a half, between 2008 and 2009. And, wages have recovered very little in the 50 states, leaving them, roughly, where they were in the beginning of 2008.

By comparison, Canadian workers’ earnings fell one percent between late 2008 and early 2010, and then quickly went charging upwards, rising above their peak in 2008 and continuing up through 2011.

Al Lee says, “What comes next for Canadian wages? Who knows, but the trend is looking like a fairly swift recovery from a typical recession.” Lee noted that the balance between available labor and demand will continue to shift, hopefully for the best for Canadian workers.

Lee’s final thought: “Perhaps Canadian companies are less greedy and more willing to share rising profits with their workers than US employers are.”

Someone else will need to do that study. For now, check out The PayScale Index (Canada).

Why We’d Rather Be in Canada: Wages Up

With the release of the second quarter (Q2) 2011 PayScale Index, we added tracking of national pay trends for Canada. The striking difference is how much better Canadian wages have bounced back from the recession than in the United States.
In this blog post, we will look at Canadian trends in pay over the last 5 years, and see what the PayScale data about Canadian wages through the first six months of 2011 tell us about how the demand for workers is recovering.
Finally, we will look at other economic measures, like unemployment and gross domestic product (GDP) growth in Canada, and see if Canadian workers’ wages are subject to the same supply and demand forces we have been seeing in the PayScale Index for the United States.
National pay trends are interesting, but are wages for your job trending up? Find out with a free PayScale salary report.

The following two charts say it all. These are from the Q2 2011 PayScale Index Report:

Quarterly Compensation Trends for National (CA)

The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
National (CA)

Quarterly Compensation Trends for National (US)

The PayScale Index uses 2006 average total cash compensation as a baseline.
National (US)
The painful difference is that Canadian wages are bouncing back, up about 1.5 percent in the last year or so, while US wages are unchanged over the same time period.
So while Canadians are enjoying wages today (in Canadian dollars, not adjusted for inflation) greater than the peak in 2008, the typical US worker has wages about 1.5% lower than in 2008, and even heading slightly downward in Q2 2011 vs. the quarter before.
Why are wages rising faster in Canada? The reason for this is simple. Employment is up in Canada, and unemployment down, while in the US employment is virtually unchanged over the last year, and unemployment is staying high.
In the last 1 1/2 years, employment in the US is up less than 1 million in a workforce of 139 million. In contrast,employment in Canada is also up a little under 1 million in the same time, but that is for a workforce of only 17 million workers. The Canadian 5% employment growth in the last 1 1/2 years is a lot better than the US 0.7%.
The net result is that Canada currently has 7.4% unemployment, while the US is still at 9.2%.
What about the price of goods? Over the last 1.5 years, the exchange rates have the CA dollar rising about 10% vs. the US dollar. That means anything Canadians buy now from the US effectively has a 10% discount relative to the beginning of 2010.
Finally, the Canadian economy, as measured by real gross domestic product (GDP) is even growing faster: over the 12 months through about April 2011 (latest data available), Canadian real GDP is up 2.8%, while the US is up only about 2.3%.
Cheaper goods, lower unemployment, faster growing economy, and rising wages – all in all, I’d rather be in Canada 🙂
Who knows what the future will bring, but are you being paid what you are worth now? When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position or job offer, be sure to build a complete profile by takingPayScale’s full salary survey.
Al Lee
Director of Quantitative Analysis, PayScale, Inc.

Immigration integration focus of new program

The City of Ottawa unveiled a new plan on Monday to attract immigrants and better integrate those who are already here.
The plan brings together a dozen immigration and settlement agencies, as well as employers, social service providers and others.
Those who work with immigrants say the new approach reflects a widespread consensus that the present system is no longer working as well as it once did, either for immigrants or their children.
Naythar Seer is a Karen refugee from Burma. Relentlessly upbeat and optimistic, he’s soon due to start a degree in civil engineering that he hopes will launch him on the career he wants.
But he admits landing a job in his new country has not been easy.
“I have tried to apply for a job at Wal-Mart, and I never got a job there,” he told CBC News. “I have a friend who works for a cleaner and through him, I got a job.”
Seer says he might have remained unemployed if it weren’t for that friend’s help.
Mohammed Dalmar helps immigrants find jobs and he said the ability to network is crucial for all job-seekers, including immigrants.
“That lack of networking affects also the children of immigrants,” he said. “Someone who went to school here, who did their university, and they’re not getting jobs — we have many examples of this — because they’re not well-connected.”

‘A need to connect’

Hindia Mohamoud of Catholic Immigration Services said the new plan will recognize that networking is essential to getting ahead in Canada, which poses a challenge for new arrivals.
“To bridge that gap of not knowing there is a need to connect, not only in economic areas but also in the social areas, so that people are not isolated from the opportunities that our city offers.”
Mohamoud said the new plan will try various new approaches, including trying to create more opportunities for immigrants to form social connections that can help them. It also aims to recruit the support of small- and medium-sized business owners to employ more new arrivals.
Mohamoud said that means organizing events that bring together people of different backgrounds.
Dropout rates for the children of immigrants are reaching alarming levels in some parts of the city, she said, and there’s a strong consensus among people who work in the field that something has to change.

With files from CBC’s Evan Dyer

Federal deficit narrows in June

OTTAWA — Canada’s budget deficit continued to decline in June from year-earlier levels, with revenues rising 8.7 per cent, despite signs of a slowing economy.
The shortfall for the month was $2.2 billion, down from a deficit of $2.8 billion in June 2010, the Finance Department said Friday.
The government brought in $19.4 billion, up $1.6 billion, in June, “reflecting increases in most revenues streams,” the department said. Among them, personal income tax revenues rose by $600 million, or 7.5 per cent.
Meanwhile, program expenses — including transfer payments — rose by $900 million, or 5.1 per cent, to $19 billion. Public debt charges rose by $32 million, or 1.2 per cent.
For the first three months of the fiscal year, the department said the deficit narrowed to $5.5 billion from $7.2 billion in the same period a year earlier.
Between April and June, revenues rose by $2.6 billion, or 4.8 per cent, to $57.7 billion — mainly due to higher income tax revenues, which partially offset lower goods and service tax revenues, the department said.
During the three-month period, program spending was up $200 million, or 0.4 per cent, and public debt charges rose by $700 million, or 9.3 per cent.
Although data “suggest that economic growth has slowed recently,” the department said “financial results through the first three months of the 2011-12 fiscal year are broadly consistent with those projected . . . budget 2011.”
In its June 6 budget, the government trimmed its deficit forecast for the current year and said it would eliminate its shortfall a year ahead of schedule.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the government would aimed for $4 billion in annual savings and balance the budget by 2014-15. In the pre-election March budget, Flaherty had forecast the deficit would be erased by 2015-16.
For 2010-11, preliminary estimates put the shortfall at $36.2 billion, down from the previous forecast of $40.5 billion. The government expects a 2011-12 deficit of $32.3 billion.
CNS 8/26/11 11:48:55

Are we ready for that double dip?

By Philippe Bergevin and Finn Poschmann
In Ottawa Friday, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney gave their updates on the Canadian economy. The big question: How does the darkened global picture affect Canada’s economic prospects and the federal government’s ability to return to a balanced budget on schedule?
By most accounts, the Canadian economy is doing well. The United States entered recession, defined as a significant decline in economic activity, in December 2007 (see graph above). Canada entered recession later, in fall 2008.
And Canada’s recession was shorter: the U.S. economy contracted for 18 months, while the Canadian economy was starting to grow again in June 2009, less than 10 months after its recession’s start. And while the United States is still short of the employment numbers seen before the start of the recession, Canada has not only recouped lost jobs, but added close to 600,000 since summer 2009.
Other indicators give cause for concern over the current recovery’s sustainability. The volatility that recently gripped financial markets — with the Dow Jones average showing lows and highs 1,000 points apart in the past 10 days, and gold hitting record highs Friday — is only a symptom. The global economic recovery lacks momentum.
The most worrisome prospect for Canada and the world: a double-dip recession in the United States. This outcome, while not yet the most likely one, is becoming more probable: The U.S. manufacturing index just posted its worst reading since July 2009.
What does this mean for Minister Flaherty and governor Carney, or for the federal budget and Canadian monetary policy? Budget 2011 assumed real GDP growth of between 2½% and 3% from 2012 to 2015, which still appears doable, although risks are on the downside. The United States’ dipping back into recession would require revising these numbers downward, delaying Canada’s planned return to a balanced federal budget, otherwise expected by 2015.
And events put governor Carney, too, in a difficult position. The U.S. Federal Reserve has all but promised to keep the federal funds rate, its policy rate, at close to zero through at least mid-2013. In Canada, the overnight rate already stands higher, at 1%. In theory and mostly in practice, Canadian monetary policy is independent of the United States, but the bank is always wary of big interest rate differentials, because a rising exchange rate feels like tight monetary policy from the point of view of Canadian exporters, which puts a damper on growth.
Further, inflation has sailed uncomfortably above the bank’s 2% target for three consecutive quarters. Interest rates will eventually need to go up, regardless of what the U.S. Fed does, but as governor Carney said Friday, recent “considerable external headwinds” justify caution over how soon and how fast rates here should be raised.
Abroad, a slowdown brings a mixed message for the Canadian economy, yet there are reasons for optimism. Domestic financial-market conditions are sunny for borrowers and lenders. Worries over high debt are well founded, but the housing market continues to shine. Labour markets likewise radiate a fair-weather story. Global weakness that depresses energy and commodity prices will pinch domestic earnings in those sectors, but won’t push resource profits into negative territory. Lower commodity prices will put downward pressure on the loonie, improving price competitiveness for our exporters.
Meanwhile, sales of Canadian goods and services in the United States still account for more than a fifth of our output: a drop of 5% in U.S. demand could translate to a 1% hit to real growth here. Canada is not an island, and positive market factors cannot undo the arithmetic of globally interlinked economies.
The financial crisis was painful and economic recovery will be slow, punctuated by ups and downs. Pauses or reversals routinely emerge during recoveries, as people and businesses try to make sense of new and volatile economic realities. Yet those are the vagaries of economic life — policymakers’ job is to provide the prudent fiscal foundation and supple monetary environment within which the rest of us can do our own best planning.
Financial Post
Philippe Bergevin is a policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute; Finn Poschmann is vice-president, research

Canadian wages up 3% from year before

  Aug 25, 2011 – 10:38 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 25, 2011 1:09 PM ET
OTTAWA — The average weekly wage of Canadians edged up 0.3% in June from the previous month, and rose 3% from a year earlier, Statistics Canada said Thursday.
The federal agency said earnings on average totalled $876.27 per week in June, compared to $873.47 the previous month and $850.53 in June 2010. The average hours worked per week were 32.9, unchanged from a year earlier.
“The 3% (year-over-year) increase reflects a number of factors, such as wage growth and changes in the composition of employment by industry, by occupation and by level of job experience,” the agency said.
Weekly earnings were up in all provinces in the 12 months to June, with the biggest gains in Alberta, up 5% to $1,041.45, and British Columbia, up 4.5% to $849.69.
“Alberta has recorded year-over-year growth in earnings above the national average since March 2010,” Statistics Canada said.
Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island saw the slowest wage growth, up 1% to $854.60 and up 1.7% to $723.15, respectively.
Meanwhile, the number of employees on payrolls totalled 14.92 million in June, a gain of 1.8% from a year earlier.
Average weekly wage in June / percentage change from year earlier:
Nationally $876.27 / 3.0
Newfoundland and Labrador $862.60 / 3.2
Prince Edward Island $723.15 / 1.7
Nova Scotia $773.89 / 2.0
New Brunswick $790.59 / 3.9
Quebec $815.91 / 3.0
Ontario $899.45 / 2.5
Manitoba $809.81 / 3.4
Saskatchewan $854.60 / 1.0
Alberta $1,041.45 / 5.0
British Columbia $849.69 / 4.5
Source: Statistics Canada

Critics decry outsourcing of visa processing

 Published August 24, 2011
Source: http://www.embassymag.ca/page/view/visa-08-24-2011

The federal government is working to create a global network of visa processing offices, many of which are now privately run—a move that critics say raises concerns over information security, privacy and oversight.
The government is set to almost double the number of countries in which it outsources the operation of visa application centres, from 20 to 35. During Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Latin America earlier this month, he announced the opening of one in Costa Rica, and three in Brazil.
These are in addition to six more scheduled to open this month and seven next month, all in South and Central America. They add to those already running everywhere from Mexico to Moldova, Kenya to Kazakhstan.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says it wants to continue to expand its use of these centres globally, although a spokesperson says no final decisions have been made yet. Some centres could also collect and transmit biometric information, such as fingerprints, in the future.
Business sees efficiencies, convenience
Canadian missions abroad process applications for temporary visas to Canada. But since 2000, they have been striking agreements with third parties to outsource more and more of these activities.
Most service providers are businesses. They include a Canadian subsidiary of Computer Sciences Corporation, a Fortune 500 American information technology company that will run the new visa application centres in 15 Latin American countries, and the India-based VFS Global. Embassy tried to reach someone with VFS Global but did not receive a response. A CSC spokesperson referred comment to CIC.
The Canadian government also works with at least one non-profit group. The International Organization for Migration is an intergovernmental organization that runs application centres for Canada in Vietnam and Tajikistan.
On top of the Canadian government’s processing fee, application centre operators charge a service fee to each applicant for accepting their application and supporting documents such as passports, making sure it’s complete, tracking it, sending it to a Canadian embassy or consulate and returning documents after a government visa officer has decided whether to accept or deny the application.
CIC approves fees as part of a formal agreement it signs with each service provider. They differ depending on the country. The base fee is about $14 CAD in India and $36 in China.
Countries such as the United States, UK and Australia also outsource visa application processing.
Business groups and the tourism industry like it because it makes the process more efficient by ensuring there’s less chance of being rejected for incomplete or incorrect forms, and more convenient because visa application centres may be easier to access than consulates and are typically open longer hours.
Stephen Cryne is president and CEO of the Canadian Employee Relocation Council, which helps its member firms address workforce mobility issues. It serves 400 companies with activities in Brazil. “Any way that we can make it easier for those companies to move their people between Canada and the US is welcome news,” said Mr. Cryne. “It goes a long way to helping our economy.”
He sees the Latin American visa centre boom as part of the Canadian government’s larger trade agenda in the region.
David Goldstein, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, said economically and demographically, Mexico and Brazil have the fastest-growing upper- and middle-class populations in the hemisphere—people who can now afford to travel the world. His lobby group would like the Canadian government to stop imposing visas on them altogether, but if they have to be there, he said, a faster visa process is “the semi-perfect solution.”
While critics may complain about the inflated cost of getting a visa through a privately-run application centre, Mr. Goldstein said consulates are still open to take visa applications directly.
“In the grand scheme of things, if you’re booking a trip from São Paulo to Toronto, you’re going to spend thousands of dollars between airfares, hotels and restaurants. Another $20, $30, $40 for convenience is not a significant investment,” he said.
Visa application centres improve the productivity and processing times of visa posts for temporary resident applications, said Phil Mooney, president and CEO of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.
“In most of the cases where they’ve been introduced the wait times for temporary resident applications have decreased,” he said.
Concerns over adequate safeguards
But Mr. Mooney also said some immigration consultants have raised concerns. For example, visa application centre officials are to ensure applicants’ forms are filled out correctly, but not to offer advice. The federal government passed a law this year to strengthen penalties against people who charge money but aren’t authorized to give immigration advice.
CIC spokesperson Nancy Caron said that under the terms of the agreement signed between CIC and each centre operator, the service is subject to inspection and audit. If an operator doesn’t comply, CIC could cancel the agreement.
“The government should be more open in how they monitor these facilities and there should be reports that are readily available to individuals about that,” said Mr. Mooney, adding that this would help maintain the integrity of the system.
He also raised concerns about sensitive personal information falling into wrong hands, for example if the business running a visa application centre must be licensed by the country in which it operates, and the state security service requires access to the company’s files.
NDP immigration critic Don Davies said there are certain government functions that it must do itself, such as adjudicating income tax returns and visa processing. Every deviation from that direct relationship between the government and its client, he argued, raises the potential for risk in dealing with sensitive information such as bank records.
“If you’re in India and you’re handing this information to a third-party provider, what kind of guarantees do you have? That company could go out of business next week and flee the country,” he said. “They could be selling that information to someone else. They could have a breach of security.”
VFS Global, which runs Canadian visa application centres in eight countries including China and India, did come under pressure in 2007 when a security breach meant the personal data of people applying online through VFS for a visa to the UK were visible to others visiting the site. VFS has since said it has improved information security by following industry best practices.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he’s concerned that contractors or subcontractors in other countries might flout legislated privacy safeguards that the private and public sectors in Canada must both follow.
Monitoring should be done by third parties, he also argued, not “the foxes guarding the foxes.” And there should be accessible means of recourse for users if something goes wrong.
Anne-Marie Hayden, a spokesperson for the federal privacy commissioner’s office, outlined similar concerns. She also said there are plans for some visa application centres to collect and transit biometric information, such as fingerprints, which is especially sensitive personal information. CIC should work to mitigate and manage such “privacy challenges and risks,” she said.
She noted that CIC has sought and is seeking advice from her office as it establishes visa application centre management contracts. The office is currently reviewing a CIC privacy impact assessment for some of its visa application centres. And privacy and security requirements will be built into CIC’s assessment of candidates in a coming request for proposal process related to the creation and management of a global visa application centre network.
Ms. Caron noted that safeguards on the protection of personal information are built into agreements with application centre operators. Background checks and screening are done on all centre staff, she said, and they must be given proper training as provided or authorized by CIC.
Mr. Davies suggested the government open small satellite offices to process applications rather than use outside providers.
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