Thursday, June 26, 2008
OTTAWA — A government-appointed panel of experts has called for a major overhaul of Canada's investment and competition laws that would make it easier for foreign firms to buy Canadian companies.
The major recommendations would end a 10-year prohibition on bank mergers, essentially make only foreign takeovers of over $1 billion reviewable, and allow more foreign competition in the airline sector, telecommunications and uranium mining.
The 134-page report does not directly tackle the hottest topic facing the government on competition policy - national security and investments by state-owned enterprises - but does assume such a test will be enacted by government.
The panel was given a letter from Industry Minister Jim Prentice stating that the government would deal with the issue separately.
On most other matters, the report's 65 recommendations, plus sub-recommendations, place emphasis on opening the doors to foreign investment rather than closing them.
"The panel believes that Canada needs to be more open to competition, as competition spurs the productivity enhancements that underpin our economic performance and ultimately our quality of life," said chair Lynton (Red) Wilson in a release issued alongside the report titled Compete to Win.
The panel calls for increasing the threshold under which foreign takeovers would be reviewed under the Investment Canada Act to $1 billion from the current $295 million, an impact that would eliminate about two-thirds of buyouts that are reviewed.
And it recommends that the onus for determining that a foreign acquisition is to the net benefit for Canada should be shifted from the applicant to the government.
As well, the panel says the government should:
-Liberalize restrictions on foreign investment in air transport, uranium mining, and the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.
-Remove the de facto ban on bank mergers.
-Allow foreign companies to own a telecommunications business as long as it does not have more than 10 per cent of market share in Canada.
-Increase limit on foreign ownership in the airline sector to 49 per cent.
-And establish a permanent Canadian Competitiveness Panel to encourage competition and report to Parliament annually.
As well, the panel urged all governments to reduce corporate and personal taxes, eliminate all internal barriers to trade and establish a national security regulator to replace the 13 different regulating bodies of the provinces and territories.
The government should use the immigration system to bring in more skilled workers, particularly in areas where Canada faces shortages, the panel said.
If enact, the measures could be as significant to the economy of Canada as the free trade agreement signed with the United Sates in the late 1980s, predicted Thomas D'Aquino, president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.
"This is sweet music to our ears," he said. "It's comprehensive, it's deep, its far reaching. It really is a phenomenal blueprint for taking Canada into the 21st century."
While some of the recommendations would be easier to enact under a majority government, Perrin Beatty of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a former Tory cabinet minister, said some need immediate attention.
"A lot of the recommendations can start right away," he said. "A good start is the Canada-U.S. border (restrictions to travel and trade). There's a problem there and it's growing daily on the border and we need to act."
One of the hardest selling points may be the overall underlying vision of the report, which appears to downplay concerns that domestically-owned enterprises are vulnerable to foreign acquisition.
The Wilson panel, named after the former BCE Inc. executive who heads it, was formed last July following a wave of foreign takeovers and attempted buyouts in recent years that had many Canadians concerned the country's business core was being hollowed out.
Over the past several years a number of iconic Canadian companies, including the Hudson Bay Company and Alcan Inc. have been bought up or been targets of foreign firms.
But the panel recommendations, if adopted by government, would have the effect of inviting more foreign investment into Canada rather than less.
Wilson said at a press conference following the release that those concerns were taken seriously by the panel.
Current financial conditions and tight credit markets make large leveraged buyouts more difficult today, he said.
"We decided it would not be in Canada's interests to try and erect more barriers, to play defence. It would serve our interests to make sure this economy is vibrant, competitive, productive and is participating in consolidation," he said.
"If you like, we prefer the game go to the other end of the rink."
D'Aquino said he too was concerned about foreign acquisitions, particularly if they involve the loss of headquarters in Canada, but said the way to deal with the issue is not through protectionism but by allowing Canadian firms to become big enough to compete globally.
"Why is it instead of Vale (do Rio Doce) in Brazil buying Inco, why did we not form a national Canadian giant?" he asked. "Part of the impediment was in our competition laws ... the national interest is that we don't put anyone in Canada at a disadvantage who wants to bulk up to be competitive."
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
As part of its roll out of the Executive Order on E-Verify mentioned yesterday, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez have issued a joint press release giving an update on where the Administration is in achieving the 26 goals outlined last August.
The Border Fence
Approximately 330 miles of fencing have been completed. DHS believes it is on track to complete 670 miles of fencing by the end of this calendar year.
Border Patrol staffing
The number of Border Patrol agents has increased from 9,800 in fiscal year 2002 to a current number of 16,471 with an increase of more than 5,000 in the last year.
Chertoff believes that the border will be "secure" by the Border Patrol's definition sometime in 2011, perhaps earlier.
The number of apprehensions has decreased, but the White House argues that this is because the enforcement measures recently enacted are having the effect of reducing the number of attempts to enter the country.
Violence at the border
In this fiscal year, there have been 744 incidents of violence against Border Patrol agents, a 26% over last year.
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
Slated to go in to effect at land and sea ports in June 2009. The initiative has already been implemented at airports and there has been close to 100% compliance. 200,000 applications have been received for the new pass-card being issued by the State Department beginning this month.
Washington state has begun issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses. New York has announced a plan to issue compliant licenses. "Other states are on the way to doing so as well" (no actual number is provided, however).
Approximately 10% of new hires in the country are now run through E-Verify. 70,000 employers are currently enrolled. DHS claims that 99.5% are verified instantaneously [editor's note - critics point out that this figure only includes DHS non-confirmations and not Social Security Number non-confirmations, something that appears to be a much bigger problem].
With respect to the recent Executive Order mandating federal agencies require contractors to use an electronic verification system designated by DHS, DHS designates E-Verify. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, or workers will be covered by the order. Whether subcontractors will be covered will be determined when the regulation is written.
The Office of Management and Budget has just concluded its review of a proposed rule amending the federal acquisition regulation to implement the executive order.
90 employers convicted on criminal charges in the last year.
Legal Immigration facilitation
OPT rule released extending practical training from 12 to 29 months for student in science, technology, engineering and math fields working with an employer using E-Verify.
New H-1B rule prohibiting the filing of duplicate H-1B petitions by a single US employer for the same worker.
Employment Authorization Document validity period in adjustment cases increasing from one to two years beginning later this month.
H-2Bs - The Deaprtment of Labor porosed a rule addressing various "bureaucratic and ineffeciency concerns." DHS announced that yesterday it sent over to OMB a new proposed rule which would propose significant changes "designed to increase the effectiveness and attractiveness" of the H-2B program. The rule "eliminates certain regulatory barriers, adds protection for foreign workers, and increases efficiency and coordination." Most significantly, it would change the definition of temporary employment to recognize that some H-2B employment could last up to three years. Under the change, employers would now only need to show that a job is expected to last no more than three years rather than the current one year.
UNITED STATES: BUSH ADMINISTRATION ORDERS GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS TO USE ELECTRONIC VERIFICATION SYSTEM
Liberals oppose reform, but few show up for fear of sparking election
June 10, 2008
Ottawa Bureau Chief
OTTAWA–Sweeping – and controversial – immigration reforms that will shake up the way Canada chooses its newcomers passed a final vote in the Commons last night.
Bill C-50, a budget-implementation bill containing the immigration reforms, passed 120-90 despite the criticism of opposition parties. The Liberals say they oppose the changes, but, in a deliberate move to avoid sparking an election, they didn't vote in sufficient numbers to defeat the legislation.
Under the changes, Immigration Minister Diane Finley will have the power to issue "instructions" to her department to give priority to categories of immigrants whose job skills are in demand in Canada. She would also have the power to refuse applications in other categories.
Concentrating such power in the hands of the minister will invite the "politicization" of the immigration system, immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said yesterday.
"There's no longer a transparent, predictable, outcome in any immigration application," he said. It's no longer first come, first served. In comes ministerial priorities and cherry-picking."
Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan) was left defending the Liberal opposition to the bill, even though most of his caucus colleagues stayed away from the vote.
"We don't support the direction in which the government is going and we will have ample time in an election campaign to in fact illustrate that the Liberal plan for this country is much better," he told reporters.
New Democrat MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) suggested the Liberals were being two-faced in their public denunciations of the bill, while letting it pass.
"How could it be possible that they let this pass? It's unbelievable. It's betraying the trust of ordinary Canadians and it's hypocrisy to the nth degree," she said.
Kurland said he's heard that Finley's "instructions" have already been prepared and are ready to be introduced once the Senate gives its endorsement and the bill becomes law.
"I'm suggesting they're already out there, at the (foreign offices) and not disclosed yet. It's that far advanced," he said. "There will be no delay in implementation."
He said the move away from the traditional points system to determine successful applicants will unleash a wave of political activism in Canada among immigrant groups seeking to ensure their respective groups are fairly represented amongst newcomers.
However, Finley spokesperson Tim Vail said the minister's "instructions" would only set quotas for job categories and not specific locations.
In the hours before the vote, NDP Leader Jack Layton urged the Liberals to oppose the changes and stand up for "immigrant communities."
"We're changing the whole nature of the way in which we approve immigrants," Layton said.
"We're reducing the number of immigrants and families who are coming in under the family programs and we're increasing the number of people coming in as temporary workers to the tune of tens of thousands of these people who are now coming in with no possibility of bringing their family or helping us to build the community," he said.
Layton said if Finley is truly interested in cutting the backlog of more than 900,000 applicants, she should deploy more staff to the offices where the waits are the longest.
"This is the more logical approach," he told reporters.
In defending the changes, Finley has said that the immigration system faces "collapse" and is already losing skilled workers who are migrating to other countries rather than face the lengthy wait to get into Canada.
She was not available for an interview yesterday. However, in an email, Vail called the Conservative party the "pro-immigration party."
"We value the contribution newcomers have made in building Canada. We want more newcomers to join us, more to be reunited with their families and more to become successful Canadians," Vail said.
He said the minister's instructions to immigration officers will enable "people with those skills (to) enter Canada more quickly."
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where a committee has already begun a review.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Now, rent-a-wedding route to Canada
8 Jun 2008, 0214 hrs IST,Neelam Raaj,TNN
NEW DELHI: Kabootar-baazi has been the time-tested way of getting to Canada. Now, some hopefuls have discovered a cheaper and less risky option.
Not Malta or Turkey, this route goes via the altar. A phoney wedding to a Canadian has become the easiest way of acquiring a resident visa.
In this rent-a-wedding route to immigration, the finery, garlands, guests and even the spouse are all conveniently arranged by an unscrupulous consultant who is hand-in-glove with a local temple.
What tipped off Canadian visa officials in Delhi were photographs of different weddings submitted as evidence for sponsoring overseas brides and grooms to Canada all with the same guests.
Further investigation led them to the conclusion that marriage-for-convenience syndicates were at work. "At a price, you can get packaged services with a wedding ceremony where people stand in as guests and relatives, posing for photos as in a real marriage," says Canadian immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained an internal government report through an access-to-information request.
What makes the rent-a-wedding option so attractive is that under the current immigration system, an Indian can go to Canada within six months of marrying a Canadian.
Whatâ€™s more, unlike countries like Australia where it is mandatory for a newly arrived spouse to spend at least two years with his or her partner to be eligible for permanent residency, Canada grants this status on arrival.
This has led to the phenomenon of sham marriages. "Cases have come to light in which Canadian nationals have agreed
to sponsor Indian spouses for monetary gain around 10,000-12,000 Canadian dollars. The couple then lives apart and
get divorced within one year," says Ramesh Maharaj, vice-president of a group called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud.
A risk analyst for a Toronto bank, Maharaj says he is a victim of another kind of sham marriage in which a foreigner ties the knot and then jilts the Canadian spouse. Recently, a woman from the South Asian community was on her way to Torontoâ€™s Pearson airport to meet her Indian groom when she got a call on her cellphone. "Donâ€™t bother waiting for me," he told her. "Iâ€™ve just landed in Vancouver and Iâ€™m staying here."
In an email response, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said it was concerned about marriages of convenience and had been investigating such cases. Visa officials were also being trained in better interview techniques so that they could determine whether a couple genuinely wants a life together.
"Marriages of convenience have become a huge problem in Canada and in as many as 80% of the cases, Indians are involved," says Maharaj, whose wife left him soon after he sponsored her entry into Canada from India. What's worse for jilted Canadian nationals is that in order to sponsor their immigrant spouses, they have to agree to financially support them for three years.
If the newcomer draws on social assistance even if they have run out on their spouse the Canadian sponsor is still on the hook to pay that money back to the government.
"Unwitting Canadian sponsors invest not only their hearts but thousands of dollars in paperwork, long-distance phone calls and airfare," points out Maharaj, who fought a long battle to get his wife to Canada not knowing she would abandon him.
But it isn't just Indians who do the jilting, the wed-and-fled route has been taken by some Canadians as well. There have been many instances of Indo-Canadians travelling to Punjab to marry for dowry and then leaving their brides behind.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Francis tells border jumpers not to consider Canada a soft touch
Canwest News Service
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
NEW YORK - Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said Monday Ottawa needs to begin a massive publicity campaign across the United States to warn illegal immigrants they should think twice about seeing Canada as a soft touch.
Speaking after telling an immigration conference in New York of the crisis Windsor suffered last fall -- when hundreds of Mexicans fleeing an illegal immigration crackdown in Florida crossed through the tunnel and made refugee claims -- Francis said undocumented people need to know that heading for Canada may not be in their best long-term interest.
"It should be made clear that, yes, they may be allowed entry into Canada, and yes, there may be a delay before your case is heard, but once your case is heard, the likelihood of success is very slim," Francis said at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College.
"And they should also be told not to relocate your families because you may be sent back."
Starting in August, Mexican illegal immigrants began crossing from the United States into Windsor by the hundreds, followed by Haitians -- many originating in Naples, Fla., where some say they paid a local operator $500 for an information and transportation package that would supposedly result in their receiving refugee status in Canada.
Under Canadian law, Windsor and Ontario were obliged to offer shelter and welfare funds to applicants while cases made their way through the process.
But the majority of such cases are rejected -- and the people are deported back to their home countries.
The success rate for Mexicans is about 13 per cent, although the rate for Haitians is higher. More than 550 have come to Windsor, though the numbers have slowed considerably since the first two months.
"In Naples we were reactive in terms of the federal government of Canada," Francis said of a publicity campaign the government launched in Florida to warn locals of the likely outcome unless they were bona fide refugees.
"The government at the federal level now has to be proactive in terms of communicating, and getting out ahead of the curve in other parts of the United States."
The necessity of an immediate campaign, Francis said, stems from the observation of several conference speakers that state and city authorities in the U.S. are expected to become increasingly involved in turning in illegal immigrants in the absence of comprehensive federal reform to deal with an estimated 12 million undocumented people. As the threat they will be discovered increases, people search for a way out.
"That's what triggered the Naples (exodus)," Francis said.
He acknowledged the campaign might be costly -- but financing it was "better than having to provide social services and health care" to increasing numbers of people.
"We have our consulates, we have our local agencies, we have the network there to get the message across," he added of Canada's reach into the United States.
Francis also said the federal government should work to speed up the refugee application process -- which can currently take up to two years to complete. Doing so would reduce the window during which applicants who are eventually unsuccessful can live in Canada.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
June 1, 2008 at 2:36 PM EDT
OTTAWA — Thousands of blank forms used to issue work permits and other valuable documents for visitors to Canada are going missing because border officers are sloppy about security, says a new audit.
Security for the forms, which are highly coveted on the black market, has been mismanaged by poorly trained staff at the Canada Border Services Agency, investigators found.
At least 44,000 of the blanks disappeared from just one office, and although most of those have been recovered 2,000 remain unaccounted for.
The audit report notes that the forms are especially valued by criminals because they can be used as identification to rip off welfare and health programs, or to secure other official documents.
“The risk associated with the forms may not only be fraudulent use to gain entry to Canada, but also the ability to access secondary services offered by the country,” says the internal report.
Not only are the forms disappearing, but top officials at the agency have been kept in the dark about the problems.
“The reporting of immigration controlled forms that were unaccounted for and of other security incidents related to them was not always performed properly,” the agency's auditors warned.
“Senior management had not always been properly informed of security incidents.”
The blank forms are used to create work permits, study permits and temporary resident permits for qualified immigrants at major customs points, such as the airports in Toronto and Vancouver, and the land crossing at Douglas, B.C.
Each coloured form features a unique serial number, the Canada logo and Canadian coat of arms, along with embedded security markings similar to those on a passport. They're required to be kept under lock and key at each location.
The agency declined to provide examples to The Canadian Press for security reasons, although images of the forms are readily available on the Internet.
Almost 285,000 completed forms were issued at immigration points in 2006-2007 by border officers, who took over the job from Citizenship and Immigration more than four years ago.
But the transfer of that responsibility came without proper training, policies or procedures — which has meant hundreds of blank forms remain awol.
After visiting eight border points from British Columbia to Quebec, the auditors found that four stations did not properly document whether they had shredded unused forms. The offices “cannot confirm if the forms . . . were destroyed in the appropriate manner or were actually destroyed.”
Paperwork was incomplete or missing in many offices. Security procedures were lax at almost all locations. And the Canada Border Services Agency had not even appointed a senior official to ensure that policies were up to date and being followed everywhere.
A spokesman said the agency is still looking for the 2,000 missing blanks.
“The CBSA takes the accountability of controlled forms very seriously and will make every effort to locate these forms as quickly as possible,” Derek Mellon said in an e-mail.
Mr. Mellon said the office where the forms went missing, which he did not identify, had been undergoing renovations at the time of the disappearance.
“The CBSA has initiated a review of the current procedures surrounding the recording of the controlled forms and will continue the investigation until all the forms are accounted for.”
Mr. Mellon also said the agency is improving training, has appointed a senior official to oversee forms security, and by October this year will have a monitoring system in place to ensure staff across the country are following the rules.
Applicants seeking work permits must pay a $150 fee; study permit applications cost $125.