05/04/2012 06:13 EDT | Updated 07/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Tories Lead the Way in Intelligent Immigration


At long last, Canada has a federal government that is willing to fix the country's broken immigration system, and become what it should be: the human resources and recruitment department for the economy.

As a critic of immigration for two decades, author of a book about all the boondoggles, and an immigrant myself, I know what's gone wrong and how necessary reforms are.

All that's required is a return to the joint Manpower and Immigration Department system.

The way it worked for decades was this: Manpower would monitor the labor market like a hawk, survey employers, and then provide immigration officials with a list of what type of people were needed, and where. Points were adjusted based on employability.

Every year, the flow of people fluctuated according to supply and demand. Some years, a total of 60,000 people were allowed in, and some others years 150,000. This guaranteed that immigrants found work because they were screened properly to insure their success.

Then in 1986 the Mulroney government opened up the floodgates.

Since then, Canada has allowed in 250,000 immigrants annually, mostly relatives who could not qualify otherwise to get in, irrespective of economic conditions. That's a total of 6.25 million people in little more than one generation. Many have been a net cost to the nation because they lacked education, language, or the skills to thrive in a sophisticated and specialized economy.

The biggest drain is family reunification on healthcare. For many years, Ottawa allowed in as many as 60,000 parents and 20,000 grandparents annually at an average medical per person cost of $320 million a year, and possibly double that for those over 65 years of age.

Reunification should be possible, but only if relatives support their family members and buy private-sector healthcare. This is the case in Australia, and in the US.

The other catastrophe has been a "refugee" system that allowed in up to 30,000 economic queue-jumpers each year who mostly arrive by plane from developed nations. Once here they are showered with social services and, tragically, they take up slots that real refugees deserve.

By far, the biggest scams involve the "entrepreneur" or "investor" immigration programs. My first brush with this was in the 1990s when a Toronto businessmen tipped me off privately that he was "selling" his business for $1 million to a foreigner, then buying it back simultaneously. This scam allowed the foreigner to put down on his immigration application form that he had invested in a business with 20 employees in Canada (technically, the foreigner had if only for a split second.) The Canadian was paid $50,000 per transaction, and made dozens in a matter of weeks.

I wrote the story back then and some changes were made. But various incarnations of this trick have continued, including the "purchase" of some relative's business or counting the purchase of a condo as though it was an act of entrepreneurship.

I'm pleased that Minister Jason Kenney is starting to travel down the right track. But here are the elements of a smart immigration policy:

1. An efficient Manpower Department should be created, in partnership with the private sector, to survey, and receive employment requests then pass these along to immigration officials in real time.

2. Proficiency in English or French must be established by test. Only people with jobs or skills in high demand should be interviewed, and only healthy people with some capital to fall back on.

3. Successful applicants should only get temporary work permits for two years after which time they can apply to become landed immigrants. They cannot stay if they break the law or have not kept a job and paid income taxes.

4. These entrants for two years must buy their own private-sector health care insurance, along with accompanying family members, until they are accepted as landed immigrants. They should also pay tuition for using the public education system if they bring children.

5. Canadian residents can sponsor relatives that do not qualify to get a work permit, but must support them and must buy them private-sector health care insurance.

6. Refugees should only be those persons recruited from camps through bona fide humanitarian assistance organizations.

7. Children born in Canada to visitors or temporary work permit holders should not be entitled to Canadian citizenship.

8. To eliminate job offer fraud by relatives or accomplices, workers allowed in on permits must regularly prove to authorities they are earning the income and paying the income taxes they were offered. If not, they must leave.

9. The "investor-immigrant" system should be scrapped. A smart points system is enough to find winners. As the "investor-immigrant" system currently exists, someone can come in with a wad of capital, do nothing with it except buy a condo or existing business and merrily bring in relatives to milk the country's health, education and pension systems.

10. The notion of a "start up" immigration fast-track is ridiculous. No one, venture capitalists, and least of all immigration officials, know whether someone is worth betting on, and will succeed or become the next Steve Jobs. Sensible immigration policy is not about venture capitalism, but about matching newcomers, as well-capitalized as possible, to jobs so they can get a foothold and create wealth in Canada.