Daphne Bramham: More illegal migrants are coming here, but profile is different from those arriving elsewhere in Canada

There are no migrant caravans here and no mass rush across British Columbia’s unprotected border with the United States as there has been in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

Still, the number of people claiming refugee status after walking or driving into British Columbia has sharply increased, even though the number remains relatively small compared to central Canada.

Between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017, the Settlement Orientation Services of B.C. recorded a 76-per-cent increase in those seeking help — a total of 1,277 claimants.

Across Canada, the number of illegal migrants has more than doubled from 2011. Earlier this week, the Parliamentary Budget Office reported that this could cost the federal government as much as $1 billion over three years — and that doesn’t include the cost to the provinces, which pick up the tab for the healthcare, social assistance and education that refugee claimants are entitled to.

The Immigration and Refugee Appeal Board has a backlog of nearly 65,000 asylum-seekers — more than half of whom are Haitians, who feared the Americans would force them back to Haiti, and Nigerians, who appear to be economic migrants and never intended to stay in the United States.

Clearly, this problem, which began soon after Donald Trump became president, is something that the federal government needs to address.

Among the solutions being proposed are requiring visas for the largest source countries (Haiti and Nigeria) and enforcing the Safe Third Country Agreement that Canada has with the U.S.

The latter is more controversial because the United States has slashed the number of refugees that it accepts to its lowest level in 40 years — to say nothing of having soldiers who have fired tear gas across its border with Mexico.

Still, it does raise the question of whether Canada ought to take that on as its problem, because illegal migrants corrode confidence in the legitimate refugee programs.

Canada’s immigration programs include: government-assisted refugees, many of whom have languished in ill-equipped camps for years; blended visa office referred refugees, who are also identified by the UN High Commission in camps as being amongst the most vulnerable; and the private sponsorship program, where individuals, community organizations and faith groups take full responsibility for individuals and families who they choose to sponsor.

But before deciding how best to deal with the problem, policymakers ought to take a look at research done by the B.C. Settlement Orientation Services because refugee claimants here are very different from those arriving in central Canada. The number of Haitian and Nigerian claimants in B.C. is negligible.

Here, 51 per cent have come from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. While all arrived via the United States, B.C.’s 1,277 claimants came from 46 countries. Mexico, once a significant source country, now accounts for only seven per cent of B.C. claimants.

Almost three-quarters have post-secondary education, according to the survey the service did earlier this year. Nearly six of every 10 graduated from college or university, and 11 per cent have post-graduate training. They include lawyers, doctors, medical specialists, engineers and certified tradespeople, with the best-educated coming from Palestine, Iraq and Iran.

Of the asylum-seekers, 57 per cent are working while they wait for their claims to be adjudicated. But despite higher levels of education, 51 per cent were working in jobs classified as requiring an intermediate skill level, and 39 per cent were working in jobs requiring no previous skills or training.

Their already precarious lives have been made more difficult because of the backlog of claims.

It may come as a surprise to those who consider refugee claimants to be keen to game the system, prolonging their stay as long as possible by stretching out the appeals process, but the asylum-seekers’ biggest concern parallels that of the Parliamentary Budget Office.

Every step of the process takes too long.

“In February 2018, the IRB abandoned legislated hearing times because of significant system pressures,” the B.C. report said. “Consequently, later arrivals may now be waiting 18 months to two years to obtain a decision on their claim.”

Because of that, it takes longer to get a work permit and longer to get subsequent work permits if the initial one expires before the refugee claim is heard.

Without being able to work, the survey respondents said they are forced to go on provincially funded welfare. Because they can’t get higher-skilled jobs because of their temporary resident status or qualify for more secure housing, a third of them said they rely on food banks.

It’s ironic: On one hand, Canada has an illegal migrant problem. On the other, it’s desperately trying to recruit skilled immigrants to fill jobs vacated by its aging population.

Traditionally, two-thirds of illegal migrants’ claims are eventually accepted. So, here’s a thought: Why not speed up the adjudication processing in provinces like B.C. where claimants don’t fit the same profile as those in Central Canada?

Then, rather than having highly qualified people languishing in low-skilled jobs or on welfare, they could get to the work they are qualified for and where they are most needed. 

dbramham@postmedia.com

Twitter: @Bramham_daphne

***

Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.