Former Immigration Officer Sentenced to Four Years in Prison

Statue of Justicia in Ottawa Canada. Diane Serré was sentenced to four years in prison for using her position at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to fast-track permanent resident applications in exchange for bribes

Former Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) officer Diane Serré was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday for accepting bribes in exchange for preferential official treatment of applications for permanent residence.

Serré was found guilty of 15 counts of fraud and 12 counts of breach of trust by an Ontario Superior Court Justice in June for using her position as a CIC officer to help ten immigration applicants.

Police recorded hundreds of conversations between Serré and Issam Dakik, her esthetician’s husband, which were used as evidence against her in trial. Dakik plead guilty to charges in connection with the case in 2006, and spent 33 months in prison.

According to investigators, Dakik received at least $25,900 in bribes from immigration applicants. Police suspect that Serré received a portion of that as they found $300 in an envelope at her home that an undercover officer had given Dakik.

Ontario Court Justice Catherine Aitken, who presided over the case, said that Aitken’s actions put the country’s security at risk.

In one case that Justice Aitkin brought attention to, Serré fast-tracked the permanent resident application of a man who used three different family names, had passports in multiple countries, had been charged for a criminal offence in Canada, and had been sponsored by a woman who he had married and was 20 years older than him, all “red flags” that were ignored.

Immigration Canada Announces April 1 Launch of Start-Up Visa Program

Foreign entrepreneurs who receive venture capital funding from a designated venture capital fund or angel investor group will qualify for the new Start-Up Visa Program (CICS News)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced on Thursday that foreign entrepreneurs would be able to start applying for the newly created Start-Up Visa Program on April 1st of this year.

“Canada is open for business to the world’s start-up entrepreneurs,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in announcing the launch date.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship are essential drivers of the Canadian economy. That is why we are actively recruiting foreign entrepreneurs – those who can build companies here in Canada that will create new jobs, spur economic growth and compete on a global scale – with our new start-up visa.”

To qualify for a Start-Up Visa, a potential immigrant must receive venture capital funding from a fund and angel investor group designated as a recognized venture capital investor by CIC, in partnership with Canada’s Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) and the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO).

A full list of designated venture capital funds and angel investor groups can be seen on the CIC website.

International competition

The Canadian Start-Up Visa Program is the first permanent residency program of its kind in the world but will still have to contend with competition for global start-ups from other countries which offer temporary residency and other perks to attract foreign entrepreneurs.

Singapore for example offers the EntrePass (Entrepreneur Pass), which provides business visas to qualifying individuals seeking to start a business in the country, and a competitive business environment, with no capital gains tax, a low income tax, and no fiscal deficit.

While inviting foreign business people and entrepreneurs to Canada undoubtedly contributes to the Canadian economy, an analysis on the income trends of Canada’s economic class immigrants, conducted by CICS News in January, suggests that the full potential of the capital and talent invited to Canada might remain unrealized unless the country’s business environment becomes globally competitive in terms of expected after-tax returns on investment made in the country.

Canada’s Immigration Backlog Reduced by 40 Percent

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced on Tuesday that his department had reduced the backlog of permanent resident applications by forty percent since 2008 (Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) backlog of permanent resident applications has declined by forty percent since 2008, according to a CIC announcement on Tuesday.

A freeze in the acceptance of new Federal Skilled Worker and Federal Immigrant Investor applications, in place since July 2012, and an indefinite suspension of the parent and grandparent sponsorship stream of the Family Class immigration program, have reduced the rate at which CIC is receiving new permanent resident applications and allowed it to work through the backlog.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney applauded the development in a press conference, saying a reduced backlog would allow for a faster and better immigration system:

“Backlogs and delays prevent Canada from attracting the best and brightest from around the world and ensuring that our immigration system is contributing to economic growth and long-term prosperity. For too long, we accepted far more applications than we could process each year. That led to backlogs increasing every year and processing times of eight to ten years in some cases, which discouraged talented, dynamic people from coming to Canada.”

CIC’s goal is to reduce processing times of applications for permanent residence to less than one year, from the sometimes over five years that it has taken in recent years.

The eventual goal is to put in place an Expression of Interest (EOI) model by the end of 2014, which will solicit simplified applications from foreign nationals interested in immigrating to Canada and invite the most promising applicants to submit a full application.

Canada Among Most Welcoming Countries to Foreign Visitors

Tourists visiting Stanley Park, one of Canada’s most popular tourist spots. Canada was found to be the 12th most welcoming country in the world to foreign visitors in a World Economic Forum study on the global Travel and Tourism industry (Rachel K. So)

A new travel and tourism study from the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks Canada as one of the most welcoming countries to foreign visitors, ahead of the United States and most European countries.

The rankings, revealed by Max Fisher in a Washington Post story, can be found in a 400-plus page WEF analysis on national tourism sectors around the world.

According to the WEF’s Executive Opinion Survey, the most welcoming country in the world to foreign visitors is Iceland, followed by New Zealand. Canada is 12th out of the 140 jurisdictions included in the survey.

Among the countries most welcoming to foreign visitors, many are island-nations, have small populations, and are not heavily militarized.

Canada, with its modest 35 million population, small military, lack of significant foreign threats, and long shoreline, shares many of these characteristics.

Canadian Immigration Application Fees to Increase

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the federal government’s proposed budget on Thursday, which calls for increased fees on citizenship and temporary resident visa applications and increased spending on application processing (Maria Azzurra Mugnai)

Immigration processing fees are going to increase, according to a proposed federal budget released on Thursday.

The cause of the coming fee hikes, according to Alexis Pavlich, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, is Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) processing costs for citizenship applications that have increased over the last two decades, without any increases in fees over that time.

Fees currently paid by individuals applying for citizenship only cover 20 percent of the processing cost, and the rest is paid out of taxes levied on the general population. CIC plans on doubling the processing fee for citizenship applications to $400, to reduce the portion paid out of general revenues to 60 percent.

As of September 2012, there were 319,517 citizenship applications awaiting processing, and only enough funding for CIC to process 160,000 of them. The proposed budget allocates $44 million in additional funding over two years to speed up the processing of the remaining citizenship applications, and gives CIC the authority to increase fees to pay for the spending.

Fees for temporary resident permits are also likely to increase. Canada has seen the number of visitor visas issued per year increase to over one million in 2012, and the federal government plans to spend $42 million over two years to process them more quickly. To fund the extra spending, the government is planning to allow CIC to raise application fees for visitor visa applications.

Fees for temporary resident visas haven’t increased for 15 years, according to Pavlich.

Another area where federal officials hope to collect more money is in work permit applications. Currently, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) handles the labour market assessments required for work permit applications at no cost to the employer who is seeking to hire the foreign national.

The federal government plans to begin charging companies a fee for the labour market assessments.

Burlington, Ontario Ranks as Best City in Canada for Immigrants

Burlington, Ontario, pictured above, was ranked as the best place to live in Canada for new immigrants by MoneySense magazine in their 2013 quality of life index (Andrew Lynes)

MoneySense, a Canadian personal finance magazine, has released its annual Best Places to Live for 2013 index, and Calgary takes the number one spot as the best place to live in Canada overall, while Burlington, Ontario is ranked as the best city for new immigrants.

The index scores cities according to 11 groups of indicators, which include commuting, crime, housing, weather, and wealth, and which are weighted according to what the authors think is most relevant to quality of life.

Calgary and Burlington both ranked at the top largely thanks to their strong economies, which gives them an average household income of $125,733 and $110,031, respectively.

The index’s Best Places to Live for New Immigrants ranking also looks at the percentage of the city’s population that is made up of immigrants, and the cost of a one bedroom apartment, to tally its final score, based on the assumption that a large existing immigrant population and affordable rent make it easier for a new immigrant to settle in a city.

One notable omission from the top rankings was Vancouver and its neighbouring municipalities. Vancouver historically has ranked at the top of not just Canadian, but international quality of life indices, but MoneySense gave the city a ranking of 52nd in its overall index, while it performed better in the Best Places for New Immigrants index, at 10th, thanks to its large existing immigrant communities.

North Vancouver was the best performing municipality in the Greater Vancouver region, at 21st overall, followed by Port Coquitlam, at 31st.

Besides Calgary, other major Canadian cities that placed high in the rankings were:

6. Ottawa, Ontario

11. Edmonton, Alberta

12. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

16. Winnipeg, Manitoba

17. Regina, Saskatchewan

Nearly all of the top ranking major cities were Western Canadian, thanks to the relatively strong economic performance of the region in recent years.

Canadian Immigration Department Releases TV Ad Warning of Marriage Fraud

A new television ad warns Canadians that their foreign spouse could just be using them to get a ticket to Canada (Citizenship and Immigration Canada)

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) began airing a television ad today warning Canadians of the dangers of marriage sponsorship fraud.

The ad tells Canadians that some foreign individuals seek out Canadians and feign genuine affection for them, in order to convince the Canadian to marry them and sponsor them for permanent residence.

The ruse is part of a ploy to get into Canada, something that would otherwise require meeting the federal government’s stringent and often unattainable requirements.

Victims of marriage fraud are legally responsible to pay for any social assistance that their foreign spouse uses while in Canada for a period of three years, which can cost them tens of thousands of dollars per year.

CIC also posted a seven minute video on its website today recounting the story of three Canadians who were victims of marriage fraud: an Anglophone woman, a Francophone man, and an Indo-Canadian Anglophone man, showing that this crime can affect any one.

The video (below) and the 30 second television ad (bottom) can be seen here:

New rules

CIC instituted a new rule last October requiring that a foreign spouse who has not had a child with their Canadian spouse be required to be in a relationship with their spouse in Canada for two years before they are granted full permanent residency status.

For the two year period, the foreign spouse can live in Canada under a provisional permanent resident status, that can be revoked if the relationship does not last the whole period, unless there is evidence of abandonment or abuse by the Canadian spouse.

In March 2012, CIC also began barring individuals who had been sponsored as a spouse or common-law partner, from sponsoring a new spouse or common-law partner for five years.

The new rules were motivated by the fallout from stories from Canadians like Lainie Towell, who brought national attention to the issue of marriage fraud in 2009, when she went public with allegations that her Guinean husband left her 29 days after arriving in Canada, in 2007.

Irish Immigration Shift from Australia to Canada, Fuelled by Calgary’s Economy

Dublin, Ireland. Canada is becoming a more popular destination for Irish emigrants who have many of the skills in demand in Canada’s resource sectors (Jimmy Harris)

A story in Saturday’s Irish Times examines the increase in Irish immigration to Canada as the country’s workers seek employment abroad.

The article notes two trends in recent years: Canada being increasingly favoured by Irish emigrants over Australia and the age of the average Irish emigrant increasing:

“The most noticeable trend over the past 12 months has been the swing away from Australia towards Canada, which has been driven by the demand from employers and from the Canadian department of immigration,” says David Walsh, sales manager for the Working Abroad Expo. “They are going through a skills shortage, and in Calgary, the economic heartland of Canada, 19 of the 25 skillsets most in demand are readily available in Ireland. ”

***

Everyone who speaks to The Irish Times for this article says the rising average age of emigrants and the number of families leaving are the most notable trends of recent months.

Of the 527 people at the Working Abroad Expo who responded to a survey by University College Cork’s Emigre project that traces recent emigration patterns, 44 per cent were over 30, and 14 per cent were 40 or older. More than one in five had mortgages in Ireland, and 27 per cent had children.

Canadian immigration authorities have made efforts to encourage Irish immigration, as the country’s nationals are seen to integrate quickly into the Canadian economy due to their high English language proficiency and cultural affinity to Canada.

Irish workers are also in demand by employers in many sectors in Canada due to having soft skills and technical expertise relevant to Canadian jobs, as a result of having acquired their work experience in Ireland’s advanced and Westernized economy.

The Calgary job engine

Calgary’s petroleum and gas industry is the draw for much of the Irish immigration to Canada. The city has the highest per capita GDP in Canada among the major cities and provides wages far above the Canadian average.

Many sectors in the Calgary region are experiencing difficulty in finding a sufficient number of workers with the necessary skills, which has prompted extensive campaigns to recruit abroad, including several delegations sent by Calgary-based companies to Ireland’s Working Abroad Expo last October.

Alberta’s economic growth is expected to exceed the G8 average over the coming years due to the projected increase in production in the oil sands region in the north of the province, which will likely continue to make Canada an attractive destination for immigrants from around the world.

Changes to Arranged Employment Stream of Federal Skilled Worker Program

The Services Canada centre in Ottawa Centre. Applicants under the arranged employment stream of the Federal Skilled Worker Program need to include a positive Labour Market Opinion from Services Canada (HRSDC) with their application beginning May 4, 2013 (GOOGLE MAPS)

Changes will be coming to application requirements under the arranged employment stream of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) on May 4, 2013, according to an announcement by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) this week.

Individuals with arranged employment in Canada and those enrolled in or who have graduated from a PhD program at a Canadian educational institution are the only groups of people who are currently eligible for the FSWP, as the program is suspended in preparation for the launch of new selection rules for the general application stream on May 4th.

In order for applicants outside of Canada to qualify for the FSW arranged employment stream, they are required to submit an Arranged Employment Opinion (AEO) issued by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) for a skilled job (NOC skill level A or B), along with their application.

Applicants that are in Canada with a work permit at the time of their application are not required to submit an AEO.

According to this week’s notice, starting May 4th, CIC will require applicants outside of Canada to submit a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) instead of an AOE along with their application.

A LMO is typically issued by HRSDC to employers seeking a work permit for a foreign national they are interested in employing in Canada, and shows that the employment of the foreign national in Canada would likely not negatively affect Canadian jobs in the opinion of HRSDC.

Changing to requiring LMOs is expected to simplify government processes and save on procedural costs.

Immigration Canada Announces A Priority Occupations List for Federal Skilled Worker Program

Citizenship and Immigration Canada warned would-be applicants in a notice on March 1st that those who prepare their applications before the priority occupations list is published in April do so at their own risk

After months of speculation that the new Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) would not have a priority occupations list, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has officially announced that the program will in fact have a priority occupations list when it starts taking applications on May 4th of this year.

CIC issued the notice on March 1st, and warned applicants who prepare their applications before the list is published that they do so at the risk that their occupation is not on that list and that their application will therefore not be accepted.

The notice also stated that three important facets of the new FSWP will be announced in April: the cap on the number of applications for the program that will be accepted this year, the composition of the priority occupations list, and the organizations that will be designated to conduct educational credential assessments.