Canada Shows the Way: Closes Files on Backlogged Immigrant Applications

By David North on April 9, 2012

What do you do with a backlogged set of immigrant-worker applications at a time of high unemployment? In the United States such queues just keep growing, but not in Canada.

A few days ago, according to the Vancouver Sun, the Canadian government decided that about 280,000 would-be immigrants in such a queue (that includes both workers and their dependents) were no longer needed, so our neighbors to the north sent back both the immigration applications and the associated fees to the would-be immigrants.

Given the relative size of the two countries' populations it is as if USCIS sent back applications and fees from more than two and a half million aliens, in short, a thunderous decision. The rule of thumb, routinely used in that nation, is that Canada has about one-ninth the population of the United States — if rather more acreage.

The decision was a logical one, in keeping with Ottawa's decision earlier this year to generally reduce the number of immigrant workers to be admitted and to raise the skill levels required to secure such a visa.

So, the Conservative Harper government reasoned, why not eliminate the waiting list, and let in smaller numbers of workers that employers said they want right now rather than the ones they said that they had wanted four years earlier: aliens whose applications dated before February 27, 2008.

The Canadian authorities said that the people eliminated from the waiting list were not blackballed. They could seek admission again, but some would not be able to meet the new, more restrictive occupational requirements.

Meanwhile, south of that border, the waiting list for the least skilled of the allegedly "needed workers" in our system, the people in the third of the employment-based categories (EB-3), have waiting times that go back as far as September 2002 for nationals of India, and to April 2003 for Chinese. The American system, in short, means that some EB-3 workers are guaranteed to come to the country 10 years older than they were when they applied.

My only criticism of the Canadian policy is that the return of the fee should have been accompanied with a substantial interest payment, say 6 percent compounded annually so that the government could say in effect: "Sorry to inconvenience you, but you did get a better return on your money than you could get from any bank!"

Spending money to reduce immigration strikes me as a highly rational decision by the Canadians in keeping with their sensible policies about gun control and the single-payer health care system.

Some employer groups and, of course, Canadian immigration lawyers complained about the new policy. One of the latter in Vancouver pointed out that since a majority of the people involved lived abroad, "There is no sympathetic constituency for them the minister has to deal with within Canada."

He put his finger, if awkwardly, on a key point: No weak-willed U.S. official is likely to invite the political backlash that would ensue from following such a course, particularly with our backlogs of applicants. Further, many of the backlogged applicants for EB-3 visas are already here working as illegals or as nonimmigrants. For more on the admission of such lightly skilled workers in the United States see the recent CIS Memorandum on that subject, "An Unintended Trifecta: EB-3 Is the Worst of the Foreign Worker Programs".

Finally, such an action would require an act of Congress, while in Canada, and in most parliamentary democracies, the government of the day is routinely given the power to make such decisions.

So while the precedent from Canada may not be easily adopted here, it is refreshing to witness such a piece of resolute decision-making taking place in another democracy.

Topics: Canada