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Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney delivers a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa March 7, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney delivers a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa March 7, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

Kudos to Kenney for reforming immigration system Add to ...

Ottawa hasn’t had such an activist immigration minister in years, and many of Jason Kenney’s reforms are long overdue. An immigration system that takes eight years just to open up an applicant’s file is dangerously close to collapse.

Canada has become a victim of its own popularity -- as well as its own inefficiencies. To eliminate the backlog of one million applications, Mr. Kenney has proposed “transformational change” that could include simply eliminating all the old files, and starting anew.

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However, he has also laid out other options that would not be as politically contentious -- and would avoid penalizing those sitting patiently in the queue, who have already paid a $550 filing fee.

A pilot project to allow the provinces and territories to review the backlog of applicants and nominate those who have skills that are in high demand, such as nurses, geologists, chefs, drillers, plumbers and social workers, seems sensible. This would whittle down the backlog considerably. And, an immigrant with a job is a happy, productive immigrant. Applicants stuck in the backlog are also being encouraged to re-apply through the provincial nominee program, which is much faster.

Ottawa could consider placing a moratorium on the number of immigrant applications it accepts every year. While politically unpopular, such a measure would go a long way towards making the system more nimble, and able to respond to changing needs.

Mr. Kenney could lobby to have the fees prospective immigrants pay go into the immigration department’s revenue stream, instead of into general revenues. This would help to fund important reforms in the processing system itself, and bring greater efficiencies. “Some of my clients are still filing paper applications,” notes Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer in Toronto. “This is wasteful. There should be a way to submit applications electronically, and then submit supporting documentation at a later date.” There could also be a better use of technology, including barcodes and electronic identifiers in files. Outside security consultants could be hired to investigate applicants’ backgrounds, and this too would make the process more efficient.

Mr. Kenney should be credited for focusing on the challenge of the backlog, and for trying to modernize a moribund system. Before introducing legislation to eliminate the backlog and wipe out the files of one million applicants, however, he should try taking less drastic measures to improve the overtaxed system.

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