Discussing a Pathway to PR for So Called Low Skill Workers -Appearance before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration

On November 6, 2020 I appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on the impact of COVID-19 on our immigration system.

I made an opening statement and took questions regarding a pathway to permanent residency for so-called low skilled workers (revealed as front-line and essential workers by this pandemic). I am hoping that the existing Express Entry pathway is modified to recognize the significant contributions these individuals have made to Canada and allow them a clear pathway to permanent residency. Transcript follows the video.


Madam Chair:                    Into consideration. So with this, I thank all the witnesses for their opening remarks and we will now move to the first round of questioning and which will be of six minutes each. I will move to Mr. Hallan, Mr. Hallan, you have six minutes.

Mr. Hallan:                          Thank you, Madam chair-

Madam Chair:                    You can start.

Mr. Hallan:                          Thank you, Madam chair. And thank you to all the witnesses for coming today and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I wanted to touch on some points that some of the speakers had highlighted. We know that this pandemic has brought many things to light. I was always taught that work is work. Work carries a lot of dignity and honor, and we should recognize people’s work as such. Now, whether work is defined as skilled or not. We’ve seen through this pandemic, that industry such as some of the ones that were listed were transport, caregiving, manufacturing, processing. And we know that carries so much importance, which sometimes they haven’t given the respect that they deserve previously, before the pandemic.

Mr. Hallan:                          We learned that not only is this work important and considered frontline, like some mentioned, but it’s also essential and saves lives. These frontline workers are often temporary foreign workers. There doesn’t seem to be a proper pathway for them though currently, these frontline workers are good enough to be our neighbors and provide essential services. But when it comes to many of the challenges around upending a PR, there are so many obstacles for them-

Madam Chair:                    Mr. Hallan, sorry for interrupting. Can you move your microphone a bit away from your mouth? I think there is some buffer the interpreters that are having an issue.

Mr. Hallan:                          Is this better?

Madam Chair:                    Yes. Thank you!

Mr. Hallan:                          So, I’d like to ask my question to Mr. Sharma, who by the way, I’d like to mention it’s a great looking poster in the background, given some of these challenges in your own experience, what are some of these challenges these frontline workers are going through and obtaining the PR status?

Mr. Sharma:                       Thank you, Sir. In terms of permanent residency, the challenge for permanent residency is that the express entry or the federal immigration system prioritizes the economic class, and the economic class is restricted more or less to the high skill, so-called high skill. And here, I just want to point out that high-skill, low skill. I think the reality is its more like low wage, high wage, I think that’s the actual discrepancy here, but the federal system is restricted to so-called high skilled individuals NOC A, National Occupation Classification, NOC 0,A,B, a lot of these essential workers are in this no man’s land of NOC C and D.

Mr. Sharma:                       So you have transport drivers. For example, they’re very essential for logistics and in our supply chain. And other than some select provincial nominee programs do not have access to a ready pathway for permanent residency. So again, my concern is that we’re treating these very essential workers, and I completely agree with you in terms of the inherent dignity of work, we’re treating these individuals like disposable workers, something similar to some of the Gulf States, which is that you’re good enough to come here. You’re good enough to work here, contribute to programs that you might not even have access to such as EI or CPP. And then at the end of your work, or whenever we’re finished, just go back home. So, I think the COVID-19 has exposed a moral obligation and responsibility to whoever’s taking care of us, we should also take care of them. So, I am proposing expanding the express entry to look at the N-O-C codes that these frontline essential workers are utilizing and allowing them a pathway to permanent residency.

Mr. Hallan:                          Thank you for that Mr. Sharma, actually that covered my second question about what kind of pathway do you see theoretically for them to obtain that status? Is there anything you want to add to that at all? Like for a pathway?

Mr. Sharma:                       In the past pre 2012, there was a sort of pass, fail Canadian experience class, again, restricted to skilled occupations, but the current system could easily be modified. I don’t think that there’s obviously this committee has… We can’t tell the provinces what to do and different provinces will prioritize what they think is important. But I think that it’s quite, it’s a ready solution to use the existing express entry pathway, utilize NOC codes and take care of those individuals that have been taking care of us.

Mr. Hallan:                          Thank you for that. So, I want to also, Mr. Sharma talk about… Recently we heard the liberal government announced bringing in about 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years, given that we already have so many international students and temporary foreign workers that already are here instead of this government trying to hit, let’s say unrealistic quotas, doesn’t it make more sense for us that we go to the lower hanging fruit, such as international students or temporary foreign workers, which we’ve seen are so essential and make the pathway easier for them to obtain a PR status? The processing is already halfway there. And given that there’s so many closures of offices around the world, would this not be a lower hanging fruit to go after?

Mr. Sharma:                       I would agree. I think it’s… You have hundreds of thousands of individuals in Canada as temporary foreign workers, irrespective of their NOC codes or skill or low skill. And you also have, of course, hundreds of thousands of international students. They are indeed low-hanging fruit. So, that would seem to be where we should our attention to. However, the system that is set up right now makes it very difficult for even a graduate of a two year program in Canada. Let’s say someone who’s 22, 23 years old graduate of a two year program in Canada, even with one year skill, even skilled work experience in Canada with good English, that person will never hit the points required for selection under express entry. For example, the last draw, just a couple of days ago was in the four seventies that will take out the vast majority of international graduates with a two year diploma-

Madam Chair:                    Sorry for interrupting Mr. Sharma, the time is up, we will have to move to the next person. So we have Mr. Serre, you have six minutes for your round of questioning.

Mr. Serre:                           [foreign language 00:06:46]

Mr. Serre:                           Thank you. Madam chair. Yes. Six minutes goes by quickly. I would like to thank the four witnesses for joining us today for your balanced approach that looks at healthy, the health and emotion and reunification of families. Thank you very much for your balanced approach. I think that I really liked your testimony. My first question is to all of the witnesses, but I’ll start with Mr. Waldman.

Mr. Serre:                           Talking about spousal a reunification program. And as you know, I’m sure last week we made some changes to the directives, given the decision, making our officers the consideration on dual intent for spousal sponsorship applications. So, do you interpret this as a step in the right direction what more can we do? Mr. Waldman and then Mr. Sharma.

Mr. Waldman:                   I read the direction and obviously it’s certainly a step in the right direction because otherwise many of these officers would refuse an application by a spouse outside of Canada, come to Canada saying, “No, you’re coming as an immigrant, you should do a sponsorship and you won’t get the visitor visa”. So, by affirming the notion that there is dual intent, it’s a step in the right direction. But unfortunately I think there’s still a significant risk that in a lot of cases, people will still be refused because it still leaves the visa officer with the discretion to say, “well, I know there’s dual intent, but I’m sure you’re going to apply for that permanent residence when you get there and I’m not going to give you the visa”.

Mr. Waldman:                   Now that might be okay if processing were six months or eight months, but now because of COVID processing is doubling or tripling. So I think in those circumstances, the minister has to send them a much clearer directive to visa officers. We don’t want supposes to be separated for years. It’s not acceptable. We need to make sure that they get together quickly. And if they can’t be processed outside, we’ll let them come and be processed inside unless their admissibility concerns.

Mr. Serre:                           Thank you, Mr. Waldman. Mr. Sharma, do you have anything to add?

Mr. Sharma:                       I welcome the changes to regulation 179b. It’s interesting, this is kind of like a what’s old is new again. So many, many years ago, before IRPA, there was something called a fiance visa. And individuals were able to get engaged and then come to Canada. And perhaps there was some abuse there. And so there was a change there. … And when, and I used to be an officer many, many years ago, it’s very, very difficult. The minister is going to put in their regulations. They can have their sort of manuals. It’s very difficult to curb officer discretion. So, I think perhaps it’s a bit of a wait and see, but it’s a very, very positive step.

Mr. Sharma:                       Now, the only issue is that if it gets refused what do we do? All we can do is go to the federal court, which is kind of like using a hammer to kill a mosquito. So I do agree with Mr. Waldman, it’s a very, very positive step. Hopefully there’ll be some manuals that follow, that give officers some more guidance so that we can be assured that their Visa applications are properly substantively considered.