Friday, May 06, 2005


Ottawa to ease immigration rules                                  

OTTAWA-Canada will throw open its doors to help reunite parents and grandparents with their children who have already settled here. The federal government will spend $72 million over the next two years to speed applications and help the new immigrants get settled in Canada. As well today, Immigration Minister Joe Volpe will announce that international students in Canada will be able to work while attending school and he'll commit more money to reduce the huge backlog in citizenship applications. 

The measures, to be unveiled this morning by Volpe at a Brampton news conference and later in Montreal, are meant to address long-standing frustrations with the immigration system. "He'll be moving forward quite quickly in some key areas of immigration policy and removing some of the long-standing irritants," said an Ottawa source familiar with the details of today's announcement. The change that is expected to draw the biggest plaudits will be Ottawa's immediate move to triple the number of parents and grandparents that Canada will accept over the next two years, to 18,000 a year. That will help reduce a backlog that currently stands at 100,000.

The change to reunite families faster is "huge," the federal official said. At the same time, the immigration department will make it easier for these parents and grandparents to visit Canada while they wait for the applications to be processed. Typically, they've been denied the chance to visit because immigration officials often didn't trust them to leave, the source said. "The department has been saying `no' to a whole bunch of parents who want to come for a temporary visit," the source said. Because of that suspicion, parents have been kept out of the country for up to five years - the time it can take to process some of the applications. "That's a long time to not be able to visit. ... This will bring immediate improvements," the source said.

Starting today, the department will be more willing to grant parents and grandparents multiple-entry visas while their applications are being processed. Officials stressed, however, that health and security checks would remain in place. In Montreal today, Volpe will also announce that international students will be able to work while enrolled in school. That hasn't been allowed except at a few pilot projects.

While the move will let students earn money to help defray the cost of tuition, the real push for the change was to let them get a job in their field of study "for co-op programs, for example, or someone who needed work experience in order to graduate," the source said.

Volpe expects the change will be a big boost to the recruitment of international students. In 2001, 60,000 students from abroad came to study at Canadian universities.

With the changes announced today, the immigration department thinks that number could jump by 20,000 and it will spend $50 million over five years to meet higher demand.

And because foreign students pay much higher tuitions than Canadian students, federal officials say the change could be a windfall for universities, pumping $250 million more into Ontario schools.

"It's an immediate economic impact for the provinces," the source said. When the students graduate, Ottawa will let them work up to two years in Canada, instead of the one year allowed now. 

But the change, which takes effect today, only applies if they find work outside of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver "to try and spread the benefits of immigration." 

As well, today Volpe will promise that an 18-month backlog of applications - an estimated 350,000 people - will be knocked down to one year and he'll commit $69 million in new funding to do it.

The department is also easing its citizenship requirements for older immigrants.

Until now, for people 60 years or older who have been in Canada for at least three years, the department has been willing to waive the requirement that they speak English or French and that their knowledge of Canada be tested. That age will be lowered to 55, a recognition that "it's become fairly onerous for a wide group of folks who haven't been able to get their Canadian citizenship," the source said.

In Edmonton on Saturday, Volpe said the federal government would accelerate the admission of foreign workers into Canada, Canadian Press reports. "We need everybody," Volpe said. "It's a function of a booming economy."

Additional resources will be put into immigrant application processing, fast-tracking the admission of about 110,000 wage earners, Volpe said, elaborating on measures previously announced in the federal budget. The action will cut a backlog of immigration cases by 25 per cent, the minister predicted.

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