Robert Dixon is a professional fundraiser and musician in Toronto
The receptionist took the wad of notes I offered and thrust a small pot toward me. “I need you,” she shouted suddenly, “to go out to the washroom in the corridor” – was everyone else listening? – “and give me a urine sample” – my cheeks were burning – “just a little one” – what does that mean? – “and put it on the trolley over there."
I duly trudged to and from the corridor, desperately avoiding eye contact with all the other people in the waiting room in Toronto. While Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, ponder their move westward, they should know – this is the process if you want to live in Canada. As a British citizen who has just applied for permanent residence here, I can tell you this: Peeing in a pot isn’t even the beginning.
The first process is called – ironically – Express Entry. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will accumulate points for a series of tasks: securing letters of support from their former employers (a call to Granny in Harry’s case), sitting language exams (even if his native tongue is the Queen’s English) and verifying that their education meets Canadian standards (where is this Northwestern University, anyway?).
Then, if Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino invites them to apply for permanent residence, the fun really starts. There’s the medical: the perfunctory checkup, the blood tests, the X-ray in the basement from a nurse consigned there in the first Trudeau era. The police checks in Britain and Canada. The application form, with lists of every country they’ve visited, every job they’ve held and every organization they’ve joined in the past decade. There are photos to take, passports to copy and bank statements to scan.
And with that, finally, the application is complete.
Except that it’s not, because a few weeks after the application is submitted, another demand for money arrives. This time it’s for biometrics; the process is new, but the website is just as broken as before.
And then there’s the waiting. The seemingly endless waiting. “You may not hear from us for a little while,” says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, in a strong challenge for understatement of the decade. Time passes. Seasons change. Months, sometimes years, go by. Nations are born and die. IRCC waits, silently.
Meanwhile, the cost of this bureaucracy is astonishing. It’s $240 for a medical exam, $210 for degree verification, and $328 for a language test. Then there’s $85 for biometrics, the $550 application fee and the $490 charge for the right of permanent residence. In total, $1,903. Each. And that’s without the help of a lawyer.
The Sussexes will find a way through, but for everyone else, there are serious concerns here.
Canada’s success is reliant on immigration. According to Statistics Canada, population growth in the country has fallen by more than half since the 1950s, and its people are aging faster than all those in all Group of Seven countries except Japan. That’s why organizations such as the Century Initiative are calling for Canada’s population to grow almost threefold to 100 million by 2100, arguing this will significantly increase our economic growth and international influence.
And there’s no better time for Canada to be enticing talent from around the world. Its open, welcoming reputation is a beacon for scientists and entrepreneurs fleeing the persecution of experts in the United States and Britain. Amid rising global instability, Canada has never been more attractive to workers and families, eager to build the country’s economic and civic life.
So why is Canada’s immigration system so profoundly unfriendly? Why does it welcome immigrants with bureaucracy and expense instead of open arms? Is Canada really a liberal bastion when it imposes so many burdens on immigrants from even its closest political and cultural allies?
I know the government has no electoral incentive to invest in IRCC and nothing to gain by eliminating all the excessive fees for its prospective residents.
But here’s my challenge.
Do it anyway.
Abolish the language tests for native English and French speakers. Stop the monopolies and the mafias exploiting newcomers. Invest in websites that don’t malfunction more often than they work. Streamline the application process. Cut the waiting times. Show that you don’t just think migration is good for Canada – you actively support and encourage it, because you believe in the future of this country and you want it to grow.
Until then, good on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for shining a light on Canada’s immigration system. Perhaps they’ll soon be Canadian citizens. One day I hope to join them. But for now, I wait.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.