'Jason Kenney has been the most active immigration minister in recent history.'
That's a statement that even his opposition critics won't contradict.
Since the Conservatives won their majority in May 2011, Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism has embarked upon a strategic and systematic transformation of Canada's immigration system.
He has announced moratoriums or suspensions of the immigrant investor program, federal entrepreneur program, federal skill worker program and immigration applications from parents and grandparents. He's replaced those programs with others which, he hopes, will lead to quicker processing times and greater economic prosperity for newcomers while filling our domestic labour gaps.
His department has also put a greater emphasis on immigrants speaking either English or French: in 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) overhauled the citizenship test, requiring a higher score to pass and a higher language proficiency. More recently, the department proposed a revamp of the immigration point grid which will put more weight on a prospective immigrant's age and language ability.
And he's cracked-down on fraudsters — boy has he cracked down on fraudsters.
Earlier this year, Kenney introduced a new regulatory body for immigration consultants that actually has some teeth to punish crooked-consultants. To the protest of doctors and refugee advocates, CIC has restricted refugee claimants' health benefits and proposed tougher spousal sponsor rules in order to reduce marriage fraud. It is also now strictly enforcing residency requirements for permanent residents.
"[Fraud] has been a very significant problem," Kenney told Yahoo! Canada News in a telephone interview last week.
"I wouldn't over-state it...but unfortunately a significant minority have used crooked immigration agents overseas and in Canada to try to beat the system...We've seen a number of significant problems which were undermining public confidence in our immigration system."
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Critics argue that Kenney is merely using fraud as guise to push forward his changes. Liberal immigration critic Kevin Lamoureux has even called some of Kenney's immigration bills "anti-immigrant."
"I certainly do believe that the changes the Minister and the Conservative government have been implementing are unfair, unprecedented and, ultimately, harmful to Canada's immigration system," Lamoureux told Yahoo! Canada News in an email.
"There has always been a sense of compassion in Canada's immigration system whether it's refugee policies or family reunification."
But Kenney insists that the fast pace of changes is necessary. And he says the public, especially immigrants already in Canada, support his government's initiatives.
"Our system had been terribly mismanaged, to the point where we had over a million people waiting up to nine years for decisions on their immigration applications," he says.
"We are moving towards a fast immigration system which will allow us to do [a] much better job of selecting people likely to succeed in Canada's economy [and] likely to integrate quickly and successfully."
In 2011, Canada accepted about 240,000 permanent residents and 8,000 refugees — numbers that are among the highest per-capita level in the developed world.
Kenney says that's a level of immigration that he'd like to maintain in the years ahead.
"Most employers would like to see bigger [immigration] numbers but only about 10 or 15 per cent of Canadians want us to raise immigration levels," he said.
"They're already very high and our focus is on improving the outcome [and] the experience of immigrants before increasing the numbers."
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