Addressing Canada’s Massive Immigration Backlog -a Podcast Interview with CPC MP Jasraj Singh Hallan -Immigration Critic



Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Hey everyone. Welcome to the second episode of All That Jas. I’m your host, Jasraj Singh Hallan, Member of Parliament from Calgary Forest Lawn. We are so honored today to have my good friend, and I would say world-renowned immigration lawyer, Raj Sharma, joining us today to talk immigration and a bunch of other things that I know a lot of people are going to be really excited to hear about. Raj is a very well known lawyer for many years, someone I could say I look up to. A little bit of a, I would say, role model as well; someone that is very dedicated and very passionate about helping people out. I’m not going to do an introduction for him because I’m going to leave that to him. Raj, thank you so much for being here today. Let us know, who is Raj?

Raj Sharma:                        Jasraj, thanks so much for having me on. This is the first time I’m in your, in your lair, in the lion’s den, so thanks for having me. In terms of background, just like you probably, my parents came over about 50 years ago, so we’re second generation now, and kids are now third generation. I studied here; I went to university of Alberta for law school article with the Fed Department of Justice. After that I started working at the Immigration and Refugee Board, and really that was how I got into immigration. In fact, my first office wasn’t too far away from here. My first office was in Forest Lawn.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Wow.

Raj Sharma:                        The hood. So my first office was 52nd and close to 17th Ave East.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  And you lived here previously, did you not, close to this area?

Raj Sharma:                        A little north of here. Growing up, my uncles had video stores.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Of course.

Raj Sharma:                        A very common brown experience, shall we say? So my uncles had video stores. My first job was working right next to Marlborough Mall; my uncle had a video were there. I was 13 or 14 years old, and so I worked here. My uncles lived in Marlborough, before that there were Penbrooke, then Marlborough, then Temple. In-laws were living in Coral Springs, now they’re in Panorama. I’ve always joked that immigration or immigrants in Calgary have followed a counterclockwise migration pattern. They started in the Southeast, then Northeast, worked their way up the Northeast. They’ve made the jump over to Panorama. Now we’re seeing some of them end up in the Southwest. So I guess in another 20 years or so, I suppose that the circle will be complete and we’ll be back into the Southeast.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely. I fully agree with that. Immigration, what made you get into immigration law? I know there’s a story about your father not wanting you to be a lawyer at some point, correct?

Raj Sharma:                        No, that’s not the case. I think my dad is probably very happy that I got into law school because my brother is also a lawyer now, and he’s an immigration lawyer. We kind of sort of fooled around a little bit too much, so both me and my brother had very unimpressive first-year GPAs. So I think my father is very, very happy that we’re both lawyers.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        My brother and I, he does US immigration law, and we were on another radio station together and the host asked how is it that one brother does Canadian immigration law and the other brother does US immigration law? I just piped in if we had a third brother, we’d be doing Mexican immigration law. So no, no, I think my dad is probably very happy that we ended up in as lawyers.

In terms of immigration, everyone has an immigration story. That generation has tons of immigration stories. When my dad first came here with $290, just like a lot of other individuals, mortgaged the land, the farm, came here. They all have experience with immigration officers and how they got immigration. My dad would always point out that he came under Trudeau senior’s points-based immigration. Pierre Elliot Trudeau took out that subjectivity and brought in the objective point system, what we call the Federal Skilled Worker, and so my father immigrated under that class. He always pointed out other guys his vintage; he’s like, yeah, yeah, they got regularized under the amnesty program. Yeah, there must be so many stories from that generation.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely. It must feel so good to be able to help out other immigrants that want to live that Canadian dream that our parents came here to actualize, to see it, and to realize. It’s very interesting.

I’d like to also note that Raj is not just a lawyer. What we call this concept of seva, or selfless service. From ever since I’ve known you, Raj, you do free, almost I would say, updates, and consulting in a way on Red FM. I’ve seen through community initiatives, where especially for our seniors, you guys give information. Before this whole pandemic I know you guys would have community hall gatherings of seniors to give up to date information, you, along with Andy, another lawyer.

Raj Sharma:                        A good friend.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That is a mutual, not even a friend, but. Like a brother. Those kind of things inspired people like myself, because I would see that you guys are very successful. At the same time, that concept of seva or giving back was always put in the forefront, and I think that that concept is one that is not lost, especially for immigrants that come here, because there’s always a sense to give back when you’re here and you’re living that Canadian dream, it’s to try to help others.

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t know. Certainly in terms of seva, it’s a fantastic concept from Sikh faith, but I wouldn’t put myself up as this paragon of selfless service. I do what I can, we’ve done a lot of teaching. A lot of it is about information. A lot of individuals are being exploited, particularly by individuals from their own community.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        And so there’s a lot of exploitation, unfortunately, and we do have to step in. Obviously, as lawyers, we do have an obligation to the profession and to the public as well, but there’s far greater individuals than myself, in terms of selfless service. It is very, very rewarding though, helping out individuals. Again, you see your elders in your clients, you see your parents in your clients, you see your grandmother in your clients, so it is very rewarding at the same time, but it can be very, very difficult and frustrating, particularly the volume. But I think I came to Calgary at the right time, I think I started my practice at the right time, and before you know it, it’s been 17, 18 years in this particular field. I feel very blessed.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That a great way to put it. It is a big blessing for us to be within this community and be able to help the community at large. Immigration. Obviously this is something that is very near and dear to both of us. Right now the pressing issue is the backlogs. It’s the thing that everyone is talking about. We’re at 1.8 million in applications that are in backlog right now. Where do we go from here? What do we do?

Raj Sharma:                        Well, one would hope that the only way we go is up. The problem is that common sense is not so common. When this pandemic started, we were together in terms of at Parliament; we discussed the challenges facing IRCC. IRCC seemed to make movements in the right direction, which is how are we going to address this backlog? How are we going to address visa offices that are partially shut down? A lot of it was for the longest time we had wet signatures requirement. We had paper applications, which are just not amenable to flexibility, because somebody has to go and grab a file and somebody has got to review it. Now, again, we’ve moved in the right direction. But again, it’s very difficult. It’s almost like it’s two steps forward and one step back. We have electronic applications; we move very well on applicants, economic class applicants, from within Canada.

Broadly speaking, there’s two different streams for permanent residency. There’s Economic applicants and then there’s non-economic, Family Class applicants. These individuals, I feel a lot of sympathy for. They’re waiting for their husband, their wife, their partner, their parents. Years, months are being lost. You’re waiting to see your septuagenarian father or grandfather to join you, you’re losing very, very valuable time that you never get back. They have been affected, particularly, by all of this because their applications are overseas, their applications are wet signatures; their applications are in these offices that are shut down, they start up again, they shut down again. Very frustrating, very little communication from IRCC. We’re getting emails back from IRCC, which is “our agents don’t know anything more than you do.” Well, that’s not very helpful.

In terms of the Economic Class applicants. Sure, the individuals from within Canada, we had very positive developments. The TR to PR pathway, that’s something that you championed as well, which is fantastic.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Along with your health and suggestion.

Raj Sharma:                        Right. Remember one thing, in terms of, we were talking about frontline workers, and they were considered low-skill workers. Well, they’re considered low-skill workers until you need them, right? I always call them low-wage workers. I never ascribe the skill to it because I think it’s disparaging and derogatory.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Very true.

Raj Sharma:                        Because a low-skill truck driver is what’s going to keep that supply chain moving.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  And truckers are the same people that were driving lifesaving supplies coast to coast, over the border.

Raj Sharma:                        It’s going to be that so-called low-skill or low-wage, light duty cleaner that’s cleaning the hospitals, that’s cleaning the long term care facilities. So I don’t like the “low-skill.” I think those individuals have just as much right to move and become part of the PR family. That was a very good development, that we had the TR to PR pathway; I’m hoping that it starts again.

Within Canada, good developments there. Portals have started up electronic, non-wet signature applications, but there is lot of people that have been left out.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        And so there’s the FSW. Individuals from outside Canada that have applied, some of them are actually in Canada, no movement on those files. Again, those Family Class applicants, tens of thousands of visitors, basically in limbo six months plus for super visa applications. That’s the mess that we find ourselves in.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah, you bring up some really, really great points. There was another recent article also about there are nurses here in this country that are ready to go, but they’re just waiting for their PRs, and they’re ready to get back and get in to the front lines.

Raj Sharma:                        Forget the nurses that are ready to go, I had individuals working in long-term care facilities, assisting our most vulnerable, facing removal and deportation.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Wow.

Raj Sharma:                        I’ve had to go to the federal court to challenge those decisions, that say, well, that’s not significant enough of a contribution. So very schizophrenic type of reaction. On the one hand, many months ago, we’re beating pots and pans and we’re acknowledging them as heroes.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        Because they are.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yep.

Raj Sharma:                        And on the other hand, immigration officers don’t seem to value their contribution months down the line. I think Prime Minister Trudeau is a great lad. There’s a lot of platitudes that we get from our Prime Minister, and I appreciate some of his strengths. But he always says better is always possible, and I’m like, that’s great, can we get some of that better now? We need to do better and we can do better.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        We went from beating the dead horse of the pandemic, to justified delays, to now bringing in, you know, processing resources have been shifted to address the Afghanistan refugees. Bear in mind, Afghanistan was not a disaster that happened, like the volcano that erupted in Tonga. This was a disaster that we saw coming for months, maybe a year ahead, and we didn’t do anything, and then all of a sudden… It’s very, very unfortunate. All my sympathy goes out to the individuals that are left in the lurch, in terms of Afghanistan.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  And then we had an election, and between all of that for us, as MPS, our offices were shut out from doing any type of inquiries for offices like yours or even for constituents in that time. For me, it highlighted that Canada cannot handle a crisis situation and regular processing at the same time, and that’s a very concerning. We should be able to do both, or be able to handle, just in case this ever happens again. Hopefully it never happens again, that this type of crisis never happens anywhere, to any country, but it always is good to be prepared. It leads me to thinking about what is happening in IRCC Why do we keep seeing the same thing over and over again?

Raj Sharma:                        To some degree IRCC is kind of like the Titanic. You’ve got this big ship, and the rudder was small, and there’s icebergs on the horizon. So you’re churning along, and by the time that signal gets to wherever it needs to get in terms of turning the ship around, it takes an incredible amount of time and effort to move IRCC, because of course it’s a bureaucracy and it’s made up of hundreds of moving parts. You have frontline visa officer decisions. Visa officers, they’re tasked with competing objectives of the Act, which is, number one, I have to determine is this a genuine marriage?

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        At the same time, this is a huge impact on a family’s life. Is this a genuine visitor? As opposed to the objective of we need to enhance Canada’s tourism, accommodation, business interests as well. So the there’s these competing interests at play; very hard to turn that around, and caught in the middle are ordinary individuals.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right. Family Class. This is something that you touched on it a little bit before. It’s always the one that, like you said, it’s heartbreaking to hear some of these cases where people can’t see their kid’s first steps, hear their kid’s first words, they’re missing milestones. On top of that, we know that sometimes when we’re separating families, the hardships that it causes, even in the relationship. We’ve dealt with being people who, unfortunately, divorce because of the whole separation. On top of that, this is also an opportunity for us, with our economy the way it is, we could have someone else come here that could be a part of the workforce. I know we’ve talked about this a little bit before, about Family Class. What do you think? What do you suggest for our Family Class?

Raj Sharma:                        I think there’s a couple of basics that need to be implemented right away. Firstly, we need to have communication on a file; respectful communication that tells the individual, more than the form letters that we see that are automatically generated.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        So number one is we need to have communication and true understanding of where the file is at and what is holding it up? Number two, is that where we have children, where we have clearly genuine relationships, a strong application, officers have the ability to issue a Temporary Resident visa or issue a Temporary Resident permit even.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yep.

Raj Sharma:                        To facilitate the reunification of families. We don’t see that. We see a lot of refusals instead. We have these, again, platitudes, which is like, okay, an officer can consider TRV in these circumstances. Well, the TRV is in a black hole as well. The black hole aspect of it, that applications go in and nothing comes out. That lack of communication is significant for families; the inability to secure TRVs. Again, this disproportionately impacts racialized individuals and certain countries. This doesn’t really impact someone with a UK passport or a European passport.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        Or visa-exempt countries. So there’s visa-exempt countries that don’t require visas to come to Canada, that’s about 50. But 120, 130 plus countries require visas to enter Canada, and that’s the sticking point.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  You talked about racialized individuals being the ones that are almost targeted. There was this very, very concerning report that came out just months ago, that had to do with racism within IRCC itself. Is that something? Have you heard about that report at all?

Raj Sharma:                        I saw it. I didn’t delve too deeply into it because we’ve been just inundated, and just trying to move the files that we have. There’s plenty of systemic issues within IRCC. I think compounding the issue is that we don’t have ministers of Citizenship and Immigration that stick around for too long.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        So when you become a minister, it will take you time. Of course, you’re the critic now, so you understand how big this file is.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yep.

Raj Sharma:                        So whether you talk about Temporary Residents, to Foreign Nationals, to Permanent Resident visas, to Permanent Residents, to citizenship, it’s a big, big file.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        I would probably suggest that you need to leave ministers in place for a while so that they can get to learn the ropes.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  It’s so true. This is a point that I think a lot of people should be understanding, that the Liberals have been in power for six years and we’ve had four different ministers, right?

Raj Sharma:                        I used to be an officer. I used to be a hearings officer with the Immigration Refugee Board for two years. I’ve practiced immigration law for 15 plus, 17 plus years. I’ve written a book on one aspect of immigration, Inadmissibility Law and Remedies. I still learn every day, so I can only imagine, how is it possible that an individual politician is tasked with this mandate, and is going to be up to speed in a matter of months. It’s going to take time.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  But does that lead to the point that they don’t take the immigration file seriously? Is it piling things on when you have four different ministers over the last six years? What does that symbolize? What does that say to you?

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t know. I obviously it’s at odds with their messaging. Immigration’s very important to Canada, we know that immigration’s very important to the economy. We know that immigration’s very important in terms of international students to the universities, and international students are disproportionately and essentially covering the cost or deferring the cost for our own students to go to university.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right. Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        International students probably contribute $10 billion plus to the economy. It’s a very, very important file.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        So I don’t know, I can’t justify, I can’t speak, obviously, as to why we have what appears to be a revolving door in terms of immigration. We had Ahmed Hussein.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Hussein.

Raj Sharma:                        Who knew the file because he used to be an immigration lawyer. Then you had John McCallum. So again, John McCallum, and then…

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  It was John McCallum first.

Raj Sharma:                        Right. Then he became ambassador to China. So yeah, this ministry deserves, particularly during the pandemic, a steady hand at that tiller.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely. We’ll leave that section of backlogs, with where do we start with starting to tackle these backlogs? What are your suggestions? Is it the triage system, that I’ve heard you talk about before? Let’s dig into that and say where do we start?

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t know. This is from my perspective as an outsider. My perspective as outsider, again, common sense may not be that common, but why would you not prioritize spousal sponsorships?

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Good point.

Raj Sharma:                        To me, that seems to be the absolute priority for PR visas from outside Canada. I understand that FSW, maybe we can’t do employment verifications. Maybe background screening is going to be impeded for FSW applicants from various parts of the world. I understand that. It’s important not to be unreasonable. It’s important to criticize, but criticize with some degree of sympathy and empathy for the circumstances that these officers find themselves in. But as a starting point, I don’t understand why spousal sponsorships are not prioritized. Sometimes there’s a justification for that delay; well, we need an interview. Well, why can’t those interviews be done on the telephone? Why can’t those interviews be done on Skype?

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  On Zoom, like everyone else is on Zoom right now.

Raj Sharma:                        Right. So I think the spousal sponsorship should be moved up, absolutely. I think in terms of spousal sponsorships, if a visa officers is indicating that we don’t have the capacity, issue those visas. Issue those facilitation visas, the assessment can be done after the fact. The triage system? Yes, absolutely. Let’s move on those spousal sponsorship. On a Family Class sponsorship, why not prioritize parents or grandparents that are over 70 years of age, or 75 years of age? Why not consider hardship? I hear too many justifications or excuses that don’t hold water. We have applicants for Permanent Residents that were delayed even before the pandemic.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        I have PR applications that are three years, four years in the queue. We can’t put the blame on the pandemic for a three-year old PR application.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  We’re two years into this pandemic, one would think that we could have some of this stuff sorted out by now. Like you said, moving some of these interviews, it would help save time. Even for your brother, he’s doing the US side of things. We’re hearing about, I have a couple of cases in our office where there’s truck drivers, they have trucks ready to go, they buy the trailers. They invest so much money to help contribute to Canada and Canada’s economy, but they’re slowed down by things like US interviews that are being canceled, or they’re slowed down by just the process itself. This is two years into the pandemic. You would think that we would have… We need things sorted out.

Raj Sharma:                        I think we need, again, systemic solutions for systemic problems. We’ve got Djokovich, the tennis player from Serbia, who understands the limited rights of Foreign Nationals and the absolute discretion of officers when you enter another country. We want essential workers, we want truck drivers. Okay.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        I represent very large trucking companies in Alberta and beyond, and we’re getting work permanent refusals out of Abu Dhabi and other visa offices on the most spurious of excuses. We have teenagers driving long-haul trucks in the US, but at the same time you say this is important. All these drivers have a lot of experience, verifiable experience.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yes.

Raj Sharma:                        But were getting refused on… What then happens is that unjustified refusal means we’re just going to go to the federal court, it’s going to go back for redetermination.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        We need some sort of, I think, additional training, or policy where we have sticking points in terms of refusals. We have a visa office in Delhi that looks for misrepresentation, and you know what, if you look for misrepresentation, surprise, surprise, you’re going to find it and you’re going to see five-year bans. So what does that mean? That means more federal court, that means more litigation, that means more appeals. That means the system, again, is slowed down. It has to be a directive from top down. What we’re highlighting right now in this podcast, is we cannot highlight each sticking point, but there’s multiple sticking points in multiple different visa offices, and cumulatively they are contributing to this backlog. This is what we’re faced with.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Makes total sense. Labor shortages. We have in this country, what some consider, which I feel, is a labor crisis right now, in a lot of the fields. We deal with a lot of trucking companies, for example, that can’t find people to drive. What is your suggestion on filling these labor shortages, and how do we get to that equilibrium where we’re able to fill those gaps and help with our economy at the same time through immigration?

Raj Sharma:                        Immigration, many, many years ago, it’s basically Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, IRCC; before that as Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Before that it was Employment and Immigration Canada, and so what they did is they have bifurcated these two ministries. They’ve taken out employment, let’s say that’s perhaps under Service Canada, but you really have a chasm now between immigration as a solution for labor shortages.

Part of that was, for the longest time under the FSW, Federal Skilled Worker, they tried to get these stem-cell individuals. Okay, we’re just going to grab someone that has decent education, relatively young, good language proficiency, and some sort of verifiable skilled-work experience, and once they come to Canada, they’ll figure things out. That doesn’t quite work out the way that they planned to.

Now we have specific programs. We have the provincial nominee programs, we have employers that can access the work permit pool, but again, you don’t have a holistic understanding of how immigration interacts with Canada’s economy, both on a provincial, national, local level.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        So I would probably advocate for a greater provincial say over immigration. We just have a drop in the bucket; Alberta has maybe 7,000, 8,000 provincial nominations available. So again, there’s things that can be done, but you really need to approach it and understand it in a holistic fashion, and no minister can do it because that minister is in a different portfolio in less than 24 months.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah, that’s right. After a snap election, that’s very costly, rolls around like we saw last year.

Raj Sharma:                        That’s right.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  We’re looking at immigration levels. The new levels are going to be coming out in February, probably going to be increasing from the 401,000, and we’ve seen some of the challenges that came along, that came along with the backlog, that TR to PR program that we talked about. There were some implementation issues that we saw where third parties could not apply for those people, and we had business owners calling us saying, “What are you guys doing? What is the government doing? My whole entire workforce took the day off just to apply for that program.” Then the English requirement on top of that, jammed up the English classes, some people didn’t get in on time. For me the announcements are great, the implementation of it is just horrible sometimes.

Raj Sharma:                        Sure. An individual’s come to Canada. He’s studied here, he’s got an IELTS score that is, let’s say, two and a half years old, and therefore he needs to get another one. Well, why? It’s not like his language score is going to drop after two and a half years in Canada, or three years in Canada. Again, just small, common sense solutions would have been great. Like, okay, we will accept an IELTS score that is more than two years old. The score is low, the TR to PR pathway I think was CLB 5.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        So what’s wrong with the two-and-a-half-year-old score, that’s CLB 7?

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Where do you see, with the levels going up, which numbers should not be the be-all end-all thing, in my eyes anyways. There needs to be some practicality to what we’re doing. Where do you see, these numbers that are going to be either coming in, or people who are going to be here, where do you see some of the challenges these people are going to be facing once they get here?

Raj Sharma:                        I think the broader picture is that Canadian Experience Class individuals that are here, that have studied here, that have a post-grad work permit, that are working here or are international foreign workers should always have been at the front of the line. It was a serious mistake to have 25-year-old recent graduates in Canada with one year work experience, competing with FSWs; individuals from outside Canada with more education, greater work experience. That was a mistake, and so I hope that the CEC, the Canadian Experience Class will continue to be at the forefront. I think that they’ll continue to benefit from these higher intake numbers. The proof is in the pudding, which is the targets are 400,000 or 450,000 or 500,000, let’s see what finalization looks like and see what the mix is of that finalization. I’m a huge man of the Canadian Experience Class. I will always vouch for international students and those individuals that have skin in the game.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Agreed.

Raj Sharma:                        Individuals that have studied here, paid high tuition. Individuals that have paid taxes here that are already working; we already know who they are.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  And as a Conservative, they’re only 50% process. It takes less resources to finalize them.

Raj Sharma:                        Absolutely. It was a mistake to put them in the general processing. I’m glad that they’re now prioritized, they should remain prioritized. I think the other issue is that we need to start moving these files around from visa office to visa office, and see how these things can be done. I think there has to be ongoing training of visa officers abroad. We have unjustified refusals. Every refusal, think about it. You have a spousal sponsorship that’s refused. I don’t know about other lawyers’ success rate, we have a very high success of appeals. That means that we are seeing unjustified refusals at first instance. We need greater training of officers. We need to get the false-negative down, and that will require training.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely. We were on Red FM, I would say a month and a half ago, and we had brought this exact same point up, that inside IRCC sometimes there’s those individuals who can process faster than others. There’s people who are fast, people like Raj, who can process maybe 40 to 50, and then there’s slower people like me, who can do maybe 10 to 15. But I agree with that point that it is coming down to more training, better training. I also think, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, is maybe we need officers with culturally appropriate training, genders are going through that.

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t know. I don’t know. I think, locally, gate staff in visa offices are problematic, and we can get into that maybe on another show, but raise the fees on visitors. Non-essential visitors, non-family members, raise the fees. Raise those fees, get them better processing, have an internal review mechanism for refused visitor visa applications. How many followups does your office do on visa applications?

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  We’re swamped.

Raj Sharma:                        Why is an MP, a Member of Parliament, and his staff that the taxpayers pay for, why are they dealing with routine inquiries for status? That’s wrong. Raise the fees, give them proper service, have an internal review mechanism. If there’s a refusal, why do you have to go to the federal court? Again, on that Red FM show, I compared going to the federal court, which Djokovich did. Multi-millionaire, he went to the federal court and he won, and I said let’s see. He will find out what a hollow exercise, sometimes, the federal court is. Going to the federal court on a visitor visa refusal is like using a hammer to kill a mosquito.

There must be an internal review mechanism, this has been talked about for a long time. Have them pay. It’s a minuscule amount for visitor visa, increase the fees. That will decrease some of the, let’s say, non meritorious. Again, not Family Class.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        I think the Family Class visitor visa application fee is just fine, but increase the fees for everyone else. And if you want an internal review mechanism, have a $500, or whatever, fee for that. I think again, I don’t know how much grief we’re giving MPs and their staff, and doing routine followups.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  It also leads to the point about transparency as well. The more transparent we can be as a country, especially when it comes to immigration, it would help those people that are trying to come here to live that Canadian dream. At the end of the day, people want to come to this country because it has so much to offer too. These are individuals that want to give back to that same country. So I think transparency is something that really is a big missing piece right now, when we look at all of that. Immigration. Where do we see immigration going for the future of Canada?

Raj Sharma:                        I don’t know. I think that there’s going to be incredible challenges ahead if we keep having this sort of piecemeal approach to immigration. I was reading about, I can’t remember exactly, what’s that bike race? The Tour de France. I guess the British kept losing, and obviously it wasn’t genetic, it wasn’t whatever. Anyway, the team they brought in that finally got them to success, their model was that they just tried to do each thing 1% or 2% better.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        We will get the bike frames 2% lighter. We will get these bandages that are slightly better than these other bandages.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Yeah.

Raj Sharma:                        We will get quick-drying socks. I don’t know, I can’t remember the full story. The point is that there is no magic bullet to this Titanic of IRCC. What we need is we need individuals, or ministers and bureaucrats and decision makers, that will seek to simply improve just 2%, just 5%. If you improve 2% at every stage or at every level, at every interaction, you will see a sea change. So that’s the challenge that the next leader of this ship, the pilot or the captain of this ship has. That challenge should be accepted and should be brought forward, but I don’t see that happening.

Maybe I’m just pessimistic. It’s been 20 years in immigration, so I don’t know. You see some silver linings, but again, I see there’s a lot of grief in terms of my clients, and a lot of grief in terms of their interactions with IRCC. Obviously we always want Canada to succeed. I want this country to succeed, I want IRCC to succeed, I want my clients and these applicants to succeed. We just need someone to institute a desire for incremental- Incremental, no sea change; incremental improvement at every stage of IRCC.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Very good points. I want to leave everyone off with asking you to share a very, I would say heartwarming, or an experience that you’ve had with a client? Sometimes there’s those cases that you go home at the end of the day and you’re still thinking about it, and then when you see it actually go through and there’s a positive result from it, it’s that feeling of they almost become like family to you. I’d love for you to share something like that.

Raj Sharma:                        There’s so many. I think the most recent is my first-reported decision, and the first-reported federal court decision of the year. It involved someone that was working in long-term care who was providing end stage service and assistance, and she was short of the residency obligation. Because she was short on the residency obligation, they tried to remove her from Canada, and she had good reasons why she couldn’t comply with the residency obligation. When we ran the appeal, they gave short shrift to her assistance in a long-term care facility. There was multiple COVID outbreaks, there was deaths in the facility. She’s literally risking her life, and this is in the decision, risking her life for the welfare of Canadians, with no expectations that her appeal would be accepted. That was given short shrift, at the appeal we lost. We took that to the federal court. Luckily we had Justice Ahmed, this former immigration lawyer, a human rights award winner, a former refugee. He said in his decision that the moral debt that we owe racialized individuals, particularly women, racialized women, took the brunt of the pandemic.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Absolutely.

Raj Sharma:                        The hit of the pandemic. If you look the numbers of COVID-positive cases in Ontario, the racialized LTC workers from Nigeria, from India, from Philippines, it was disproportionately high. Justice Ahmed recognized that, we succeeded on the judicial review. It’s going back for redetermination, I have high hopes for that case. I then disclosed on another long-term care worker who needed to do an appeal, I think it’ll come in handy. My year started off very nicely with that decision, and I hope that there’s more. But it’s important to avoid… Winning these cases is great, but why don’t we get justice at the first instance?

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        Correcting injustice, obviously it’s a high. You have validation as a lawyer that I am an advocate, I am good, and that’s great. But how about we get justice at the first instance? These stories will keep coming, but just off the top of my mind, I think that’s how I started off my January. I hope that individuals like my client, and others, don’t have to go through what she had to, to get that recorded decision. Here’s hoping for, and your office has been fantastic, you’ve been very, very invested in this file. We collaborate, we’re together in front of Parliament, so I’m very grateful to you and your office as well. I hope you keep doing the great work that you’re doing. I’m hoping that 2022 is a better year than 2021. Let’s see.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Of course, and thank you so much. Final thoughts to leave with everyone?

Raj Sharma:                        Final thoughts is that we gave IRCC some margin in terms of 2020. This is unexpected, it was unforeseen, this challenge. 2021 we got the TR to PR pathway and we saw some silver linings, 2022 it’s time for us to address these challenges, no more excuses. It’s time for for IRCC to step up to the plate and deliver, because these individuals deserve a fair shake. They deserve their applications to be considered in a timely fashion. They deserve their applications to be considered by a fair, impartial, unbiased decision maker that’s trained in cultural context.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  That’s right.

Raj Sharma:                        And other scenarios as well. So I think at this point, very little margin will be given to IRCC this year.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Raj, I can’t thank you enough to take time out of your busy- I think you’re busier than any MP that I know, because of all the work that you do and the reputation you’ve built. I just want to say thank you for all of that and much more, and I guess the mentorship you’ve given me, as well, and the inspiration you’ve given to me.

Raj Sharma:                        Brother, the feeling is absolutely mutual. Thank you for having me and I look forward to being in your office much more in the coming months.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Likewise. I think we’re going to have a really, really good 2020, 2022 I should say.

Raj Sharma:                        Yeah, please. Let’s not go back to 2020.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  I’m looking forward to more great success-

Raj Sharma:                        As our Muslim brothers and sisters would say Inshallah. Let’s wipe that year from our collective memories.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Collective memory, let’s move on. This was Raj Sharma on the second episode of All That Jas podcast. I want to thank Raj again. Raj, do you want to leave any social media, your handles at all, for anyone to follow you? I’d love for people to follow you.

Raj Sharma:                        They’ll find me.

Jasraj S. Hallan:                  Okay, yeah. All you’ve got to do is just Google him, you’ll find him, and many other articles on Raj because he’s written a lot. Thank you for all your service back to Canada. Thank you all again for tuning in and we’ll see you in the next one.