On July 15, 2013, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, shuffled his cabinet. He replaced Jason Kenney as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) with Chris Alexander, a former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan. At the time of his departure, Mr. Kenney was the longest serving immigration minister in Canadian history, having been appointed Minister on October 30, 2008.
During Jason Kenney’s tenure at CIC, he overhauled Canada’s immigration system. It is difficult to convey in one article how thorough his changes were. Here is one telling example. In 2007 CIC released nine Operational Bulletins regarding program changes. In 2012, it released ninety-four.
Many lawyers and commentators in the media were often critical of Mr. Kenney’s changes. However, there is little doubt that his policies helped the Conservative Party of Canada win a majority government in the 2011 federal election. As well, polls have consistently shown that the Canadian public views the Conservative Party of Canada’s policies on immigration much more positively than they view the government as a whole.
With these limitations in mind, I will now review below what I consider to be The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, of Jason Kenney’s time as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. As will be evident, the complexity of issues involving his changes made it difficult to evaluate most of them.
Jason Kenney’s best change to Canada’s immigration system was to transform it from being one in which people were immediately admitted to Canada from overseas as permanent residents into one in which prospective immigrants had to “prove” that they could economically establish themselves in Canada by being temporary foreign workers, and then transition to permanent residency. While this change has been controversial, it will hopefully soon end the foreign credential recognition nightmare that limits so many immigrants, and ensure that newcomers are gainfully employed.
The increased emphasis on standardized language testing and language requirements in all economic immigration programs is a plus for similar reasons.
CIC’s suspension of the Federal Immigrant Investor Program was overdue. While its cancellation no doubt upset facilitators and lawyers who profited from kickbacks, the investor program was largely responsible for introducing the phenomenon of the astronaut immigrant, and contributed to the proliferation of unscrupulous ghost consultants.
Jason Kenney’s crackdown down on marriage fraud was also overdue. The introduction of the five-year sponsorship bar, which prohibits a recently sponsored spouse from sponsoring a new spouse for five years, will end the “revolving door spousal sponsorship.” I remain less convinced about conditional permanent residency, which requires certain couples to stay married for two years after someone immigrates or face deportation, but I am open to changing my mind.
Finally, the introduction of open bridging work permits, which ended the insanity of employers of Temporary Foreign Workers having to obtain Labour Market Opinions while their employees’ permanent residency applications were in processing is the most under reported positive change of the Jason Kenney era.
Under Jason Kenney’s leadership, CIC attempted to enter the 21st century. It introduced 2D barcode forms, e-apps, centralized intake offices, and application caps, all with the goal of reducing processing times. Unfortunately, modernization coincided with mass layoffs and visa office closures that as of writing have negated any overall benefits of modernization.
Many of the recent visa closures were managed extremely poorly. The closure of the Buffalo visa office was a debacle, with many files which were put in boxes and sent to the Case Processing Pilot – Ottawa being unopened for almost one year.
The crackdown on citizenship fraud, partially implemented through the Residency Questionnaire, has been a processing time calamity. Citizenship applications now generally take more than two years to process.
Finally, Jason Kenney introduced massive uncertainty to visa applicants. Through the use of Ministerial Instructions he ended the practice of first-come first-serve. Indeed, as demonstrated by the 2012 termination of roughly 300,000 Federal Skilled Worker Program applications, visa applicants can no longer even be certain that CIC will even process their applications.
The biggest disappointment during Jason Kenney’s tenure was the lack of trust he had in both the Immigration Appeal Division (the “IAD”) and visa officers to process complicated cases involving past criminality and security issues. In the recently enacted Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act, he removed the ability of many individuals to appear before the IAD, and prohibited his visa officers from considering such peoples’ individual humanitarian & compassionate circumstances. While this tough on crime approach would have been at least understandable if it was universally applied, CIC’s decision to bend over backwards to let Conrad Black return to Canada demonstrated that Mr. Kenney and his department understand that the inadmissibility provisions are too broad, but that only the well connected will have a remedy.
Finally, after winning a majority government in 2011, Mr. Kenney turned his back on a carefully crafted deal with the New Democratic Party to reform Canada’s refugee system. Instead, he introduced unbelievably short timelines for refugee hearings, designated numerous questionable countries as being safe, introduced extremely broad vacation and cessation rules, and mandated detention for certain claimants. And of course, he limited certain claimants’ access to health care.
Minister of Economic and Social Development
Jason Kenney still remains a key figure in the Conservative Government of Canada. He is the new Minister of Employment and Social Development (formerly Human Resources and Skills Development Canada). He chairs the Cabinet Committee on Operations, is the Regional Minister for Southern Alberta, and sits on the Cabinet Committees for Social Affairs and Planning and Priorities. He is also hanging on to the multiculturalism file in some capacity.
Indeed, less than two weeks into his tenure as the Minister of Employment and Social Development, there are new Labour Market Opinion rules to report. Effective July 31, 2013, LMOs will cost $275 per foreign worker. Employers will have to recruit for four weeks in three places before applying. Finally, stating that a position requires a language other than English or French will generally be prohibited.
As is evident, despite not being the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada any longer, Jason Kenney will still be keeping us on our