Podcast/Interview on Immigration Law and Policy – and the Practice of Immigration Law

It was a pleasure to contribute to this interesting new vehicle seeking to increase knowledge and awareness of topical legal matters:

Launched in January by students in Pro Bono Students Canada – Calgary (PBSC), the Hearsay Podcast bridges what students learn in the classroom to real-world situations that the general public can relate to. The first season of the podcast is hosted by third-year student Kaye Booth and second-year student Marcus Threndyle, and is produced by third-year student Lyndon Radchenka.

You can listen to my discussion on immigration law and policy and the practice of immigration law. Transcript follows.

Kaye Booth: From Pro Bono Students Canada, the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, and CJSW 90.9, this is Hearsay.
Marcus Threndyle: Welcome to the podcast. I’m Marcus Threndyle.
Kaye Booth: And I’m Kaye Booth. So, before we get started today, this podcast is for educational purposes only. This is not to be taken as legal advice.
Marcus Threndyle: That’s right. We are here to offer education, not advice.
Kaye Booth: So, should you need legal advice, please seek out a lawyer.
We hear a lot about immigration in our media and from our Canadian politicians, as well as politicians to the south of us, but how much do we actually know about the immigration process? Or what it takes to become a Canadian citizen? I am here with Raj Sharma. He is a managing partner at Stewart Sharma Harsanyi Law, and an immigration lawyer. He’s been working in immigration for years now, and I think his experience is going to really illuminate some of those gaps for us. So Raj, thank you so much for joining us today.
Raj Sharma: Thanks for having me.
Kaye Booth: I’m going to start very basic here today, Raj. As an immigration lawyer, who are your clients, and what do you do for them?
Raj Sharma: As an immigration lawyer, typically you’re dealing with individuals. You’re not really dealing with corporations. We have that as well. We are one of the largest immigration law firms in Canada, so our clients run the sort of gamut from refugee clients on legal aid to oil and gas presidents making seven figures a year.
Kaye Booth: What’s your sort of role? You’re just there to help them through the process? What do you do for them?
Raj Sharma: Well, immigration is an interesting area of law, and there’s an intersection. Immigration has a intersection with other areas of law as well. Obviously, there could be refugee law, but refugee law then intersects with international covenants and agreements, for example, like the UN Convention. And it incorporates sort of … it can incorporate complex issues such as war crimes or exclusion clauses, for example. And then of course it then goes … and there’s an intersection with criminal law, for example. A permanent resident foreign national is convicted of a crime in Canada or outside of Canada, there may be an intersection or equivalency issues with the criminal law and the criminal law of other nations as well and other countries.
So, that’s a tough question to answer, Kaye, because immigration is … and just to back up, I don’t know exactly what individuals think about immigration law or practicing immigration law. I think for many, many years, immigration was seen as the sort of ugly stepchild of the law. It really wasn’t that sexy to be an immigration lawyer, and then all of a sudden it has become sexy. And it’s because it’s very, very complex, and because of this intersectionality as it has with the criminal law, with family law, with international covenants and legal conventions that we’ve signed onto.
I’m very gratified to practice in this area of law that has this level of depth to it, and whether you want to be a solicitor, then there’s scope for practice in immigration law, or whether you want to be a litigator, there’s scope to practice in immigration law, or you want to have a mix, which is what we do.
Kaye Booth: You talked about myths. I actually wanted to ask you what kind of myths do you run into as an immigration lawyer. Or what do you just hear in the media that you want to clear up right here?
Raj Sharma: Well, one is, of course, is that this concept and I had an article that was written or published last year with [inaudible 00:04:12], a lawyer up in Edmonton, and this concept of Canada being a Disneyland for refugees. And this concept … and again, I really don’t … it’s kind of odd for me to see sometimes Canadians look down their noses at the United States. So we have the United States ending TPS status for Haitians, for example. And everyone’s like, “How can the United States be so cruel,” or, “How can Donald Trump do this,” and the reality is that we’ve been deporting people back to Haiti for years. We ended the sort of removal administrative deferral and removal for Haitians years and years ago. Far before the United States did.
So, this sort of concept again of this … Canada is this land of milk and honey especially for refugees is just not really borne out because sometimes we are quite a bit harsher than our neighbors to the south. And that’s really our reference point. But, the end of the TPS status for Haitians basically last year and it’s going to go into effect sometime in the next 12 months or so. We’ve been removing Haitians for many, many years.
Kaye Booth: Interesting.
Raj Sharma: So that’s one myth. In terms of another myth, in terms of family class for example. The United States is far more generous in terms of its family class than we are. My brother who’s turning 42 in April, I’m turning 41. My brother who’s an immigration lawyer in Florida, he can sponsor me under the family class to the United States of America. I can’t sponsor him. So, we have this. The United States allows for the sponsorship of siblings. We don’t allow that.
And again there’s this concept that Canada is this touchy-feely welcoming place, but we can’t even bring our brothers or sisters to Canada. Our immigration family sponsorship is up or down. Parents, grandparents, children and maybe your brother or sister can come along if they’re young enough and they come with your parents.
Kaye Booth: It’s interesting how you talk about I think Canadians’ perceptions of ourselves and of our immigration system. Do you see in the future our immigration system changing a little bit to be more flexible in that way? Or is that perception we have of ourselves allowing us to not change?
Raj Sharma: Well remember one thing. Why is there sort of this rise of xenophobia? Why is there this sort of … Brexit for example? Or why is that Europe is dealing with these sort of again anti-immigrant sentiments? That happens and that nativist sentiment occurs when countries cannot pick their new arrivals or their newcomers. Canada has always had the luxury of picking and choosing its immigrants. We’re going to take let’s say 300,000. 60% of them are economic class. 40% are going to come largely family class of Canadian sponsors or Canadian permanent residents that sponsor, and refugees.
And so we’ve always been able to pick. And so now we are in this position of this holier than thou attitudes like, “Oh why is there resentment from Brexit?” Well, I’ll tell you the resentment that drove Brexit. When Britain joined the EU. When the UK joined the EU, they were expecting 60,000 immigrants from Poland. Well 600,000 Polish immigrants came. And they started competing with low-skilled jobs in the UK. Particularly, for example, truck drivers or commercial drivers. So all of a sudden the Polish immigrants, these other immigrants started working in jobs that native Britishers were doing with not a high skill level or education level required, and they’re doing it for three pounds per hour less. That drives nativist sentiment.
Now, we never had that. We don’t have 600,000 Mexicans that can come to Canada and work and compete with every other Canadian. We have these sort of strict laws. If NAFTA … NAFTA allows a professional from Mexico or the U.S. to work here without sort of a prior authorization, but that’s a very minuscule percentage. So as long as Canada and as long as countries can pick [inaudible 00:08:29] immigrant, as long as there’s this perception of control, there’s not going to be nativist or xenophobic sentiments.
Once the country seems to lose control over who can come in, then you have these issues and this is, in my opinion, the reason for the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit. What I’m concerned about is that for Canada, we may be in a situation and we may confront a situation where the floodgates will open. If Donald Trump doesn’t allow DACA 800,000 plus under the Dreamers for example. Or, ends TPS for Central Americans. And there’s again hundreds of thousands of them in the U.S., what will they do? Will they go back to a country that has a higher murder rate than war torn sub-Saharan countries? Or are they going to cross the border into Canada and make a refugee claim here?
So, this is I think … man plans and I think God laughs. It’s going to be difficult perhaps in Canada to make sort of immigration planning when we have Donald Trump in the White House and when we have the United States dealing with this sort of apparent crisis. For the longest time, Canada again could look down its noses at everyone else and say that, “Oh, we are not xenophobic. We’re not racist. We’ve got this wonderful multiculturalism policy, and we were able to do that because the United States really exerted this gravitational pull. Right? So all illegal immigrants went to the United States and stayed there for decades. And we were able to then pick the cream of the crop.
So the analogy I use is Jupiter. So you have Jupiter and there’s this asteroid field near Jupiter. And so Jupiter is this massive planet, has this massive gravitational pull. And so, if there was no Jupiter, these asteroid and comets and whatever else would come and ravage the inter-planets. There would be no life on earth. But there’s Jupiter. And so it sucks in all of these comets and meteors and asteroids and whatever else. The U.S. was like that. It sucked in with its gravitational pull all this meteors and comets and asteroids and so they never got to Canada. But now that gravitational pull is either weakening or repelling. And so we are now going to see immigration where we don’t pick. And that may cause nativist sentiment or xenophobic sentiment.
Kaye Booth: You talked about the pathway to permanent residency, so I’m going to ask a really basic question. What are the tangible benefits of becoming a permanent resident and what are the tangible differences between that and becoming a Canadian citizen?
Raj Sharma: Well there’s a lot of benefits to being a permanent resident. You get to stay here. You have a right to reenter Canada. It’s harder to deport you than it is to deport a foreign national like international student or a temporary farm worker. You’re similar to that in every respect as a citizen except you can’t vote for example. Citizens can’t really be deported unless there’s a misrepresentation on their application to become a citizen. So there are some differences. Important differences.
Permanent residences do have to be in Canada for two years out of five. 730 days out of five years. They do have to maintain residency in Canada. So, it’s just another layer of right. So let’s say we have a few hundred thousand students and temporary farm workers or visitors in Canada at any given time. Above that are permanent residents and above that of course are Canadian citizens.
Kaye Booth: So one last question for you here today, Raj, and I want to end on a positive note. With all your experience as an immigration lawyer, and as you said your father immigrated here, what benefit do you think that new Canadians and refugees and immigrants bring to Canada?
Raj Sharma: Well, there’s going to be bias I suppose in a response to that question. I’m the child of an immigrant so in my perspective, immigration is positive. There’s a number of I think texts. If you look at Doug Saunders’ great book called Maximum Canada. What is the future for Canada? And so there are for example, some benefits to immigration and having a greater density in terms of population. Far too long Canada has been sort of hamstrung by being a very sort of small country, fewer opportunities and this sort of brain drain that occurred down to the United States which went the opposite direction that we did. In when we started out together, both of these countries they opened up and we really sort of closed down in terms of our openness to newcomers.
That being said, there are costs to immigration as well. What I would like to see is actually a debate on immigration policy. I would like a divorce from the sort of virtue signaling immigration is good. Canada is a Disneyland for immigrants. And of course, xenophobia and those individuals that think that immigrants are bad or criminals or what have you. And so, there has to be reasoned debate on the objective facts. In certain categories, in certain instances, immigration and immigration policy is not good for Canadians.
For example, I’m adamantly opposed to … well, the federal investor program has been shut down, but the Quebec investor program is still going on and I’m adamantly opposed to this scam. And it really is a scam. Individuals are paying money for Canadian status and this resembles prostitution more than it resembles immigration. So we need to have a discussion about that.
We need to discuss this sort of relatively arbitrary number of taking in 300,000 people per year which doesn’t really seem to have a connection with our labor market or population replacement for example. And we need to have this debate and we need to stop calling opponents to increased immigration or current immigration, racists or xenophobes as well.
Kaye Booth: Well, Raj, thank you so much for joining us here today. We really appreciate all your insight and experience.
Raj Sharma: My pleasure. Thanks for having [] on.