Refugee vetting in U.S. and Canada already ‘extreme,’ experts say

Canada and the U.S. are closely aligned when it comes to screening migrants.

A displaced Iraqi boy waits to receive food aid at the al-Khazer refugee camp. Canada and the U.S. have similar measures for screening refugees before they come to North America.
A displaced Iraqi boy waits to receive food aid at the al-Khazer refugee camp. Canada and the U.S. have similar measures for screening refugees before they come to North America.  (MAHMUD SALEH / AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)  

U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for “extreme vetting” of migrants may seem a stark contrast to Ottawa’s “openness” approach, but the two countries’ systems are more closely aligned than many people would like to believe.

Trump’s stance on immigrants and refugees cannot be more different from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s. That contradiction was on full display at their joint news conference at the White House after the two leaders’ recent first meeting in Washington.

“We cannot let the wrong people in and I won’t,” Trump told to reporters, vowing a program of “extreme vetting” for migrants. “It’s much more than toughness. It’s a stance of common sense.”

Trudeau added, “We continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration and refugees without compromising security.”

Despite the general impression that Canada has more tolerant and lax border security than its neighbour to the south, experts on both sides of the border say the countries have similar security screening processes to keep suspected terrorists and criminals out.

“We’ve had a very close partnership with Canada. Canadians are our trusted counterparts. Obviously there’s a tremendous amount of information-sharing between our intelligence and law enforcement services,” said John Sandweg, former acting general counsel to the Department of Homeland Security and former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I have never had a sense that there are any concerns about the quality of the Canadian screening. Certainly, there’s a sense in the U.S. that Canada is more open and welcoming than the U.S., but not in a way that compromised security or adopted lesser standards from the security perspective.”

In January, Trump created an international uproar when he signed the executive order to suspend America’s refugee program and immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — out of terrorism concerns. The moves have been blocked by U.S. courts.

Sandweg said the U.S. already has a thorough screening system, especially for refugees, with multi-layered interviews, biographical information and biometrics matching, as well as multiple checks against databases and watchlists run by different intelligence and enforcement agencies.

The U.S. State Department, Homeland Security, National Security Directorate, National Counterterrorism Centre, FBI, Department of Defense, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are all involved in the process, which includes at least three interviews, three fingerprint screenings and three background checks.

“I have no idea how you can enhance the vetting system (more) than it already is. It is run against the entire U.S. holdings. It is not just looking for just name matches. It is also looking for links and association of friends and family members to addresses and telephone numbers, any sort of matches that might raise suspicion,” said Sandweg.

Displaced people wait in line with their possessions to be relocated to other camps outside Mosul, Iraq, in November. Trump created an international uproar when he signed the executive order to suspend America’s refugee program and immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries out of terrorism concerns.
Displaced people wait in line with their possessions to be relocated to other camps outside Mosul, Iraq, in November. Trump created an international uproar when he signed the executive order to suspend America’s refugee program and immigration to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries out of terrorism concerns.  (SERGEY PONOMAREV)  

“The officers are exceptionally versed in the conflict areas, in the history and culture. They are very skilled in terms of ferreting out people’s stories. Things like barring someone from the country could sound appealing to the public but I don’t think it is a real improvement in any way.”

Peter Showler, former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, pointed out that none of the 19 terrorists in the attacks on the U.S. on September 11 were refugees and none were from the seven countries included in Trump’s travel ban. In European terror attacks, including those in Paris and Brussels, most were either born or raised in Europe, and many were of Moroccan descent.

Showler said Republican politicians and media in the U.S. like to paint Canada as “the weak link” in the North America’s security parameters and blame Ottawa for lax border enforcement.

“It is all fear-mongering nonsense,” said Showler, who recently worked as a consultant in Beirut for the United Nations Refugee Agency. “In Europe, those involved in the attacks were second-, third-generation immigrants who were petty criminals, disengaged in the host country and converted to be terrorists. It is so much easier to find a scapegoat than to look at the real security issues. It is easy to dump on the refugees.”

Toronto immigration lawyer Robin Seligman said the U.S. and Canada are much more aligned in their border enforcement since the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America.

Both countries have adopted similar measures, including the use of biometrics technology, to screen overseas travellers before they come to North America. In Canada, the global case management system has been in place for years to allow authorities to access migrants or visitors records for such things as criminality and personal details.

The U.S. and Canada systematically check the others’ visa and immigration databases for immigration and border related purposes, including visa and refugee resettlement applications, for third country nationals, said Immigration Canada spokesperson Nancy Caron.

In 2013, the bilateral information sharing based on a biographic match (name, date of birth and passport number) was implemented. The biometric-based information sharing began in 2015, which helps facilitate legitimate travellers and protect against identity fraud.

“The impression of us being lax in security is incorrect. Officials here know ahead of time if the person trying to come in ever had a deportation order or was a criminal,” Seligman said.

“Trump’s extreme vetting rhetoric is just for public consumption. It is not backed up by any substance. The hysteria is unjustified. Canada is doing a good job at vetting.”

Despite the general impression that Canada has more tolerant and lax border security than its neighbour to the south, experts say the countries have similar security screening processes to keep suspected terrorists and criminals out.
Despite the general impression that Canada has more tolerant and lax border security than its neighbour to the south, experts say the countries have similar security screening processes to keep suspected terrorists and criminals out.  (DELIL SOULEIMAN)  

How refugees get to Canada

Those destined for resettlement from camps overseas are first screened by the United Nations Refugee Agency, whose “refugee status determination” process includes detailed interviews, and biometric and anti-fraud measures such iris scanning. The registration data is then entered into a global system. War criminals are flagged.

The refugees are then triaged and about 1 per cent of them are selected for resettlement by countries like Canada and the U.S. The most vulnerable individuals such as women, children, the elderly and sick are given priority. The others will remain in their initial host country, with the expectation that they would be repatriated to their homeland when the circumstances change.

Canadian visa officers then interview the candidates, identify any inconsistencies in their stories, collect their biographical information and biometric data such as fingerprints and digital photos, and run their names through databases of the Canada Border Services Agency, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, RCMP and Interpol.

Upon arrival at the port of entry, the border agency again checks the identity of the new arrivals as the last gatekeeper. Enforcement officials retain the right to turn away travellers based on suspicions about their identity or documents.

Those refugees who make it to Canada on their own and then make inland asylum claims don’t have to go through the United Nations screening, but they must still undergo all the checks and clearances to be considered admissible to Canada before they are scheduled for an asylum hearing by the Immigration and Refugee Board.

Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada

How refugees get to the U.S.

The same screening by the United Nations Refugee Agency applies to refugees destined for resettlement from camps. Candidates referred to the U.S. are interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security, which looks for fraud and considers credibility. Officers also verify the refugee’s biographical information, take fingerprints, and gather details on the individual’s history, refugee experience and other information. The officers then decide if the person qualifies for refugee status under U.S. law.

Multiple, detailed security checks are carried out by the State Department and Homeland Security based on the refugee’s information, comparing biometrics, personal data, and the refugee’s application against U.S. government databases and terrorism watchlists from security, counterterrorism, military and intelligence agencies. The process includes three background checks and three fingerprint screenings.

Cases are then reviewed at U.S. immigration headquarters, while some are referred for additional assessment before final approvals by Homeland Security.

Refugees must go through a final security check before leaving for the U.S. and upon arrival at an American airport.

Asylum seekers inside the U.S. must file their asylum claims within one year of their arrival. They must go through extensive fingerprinting, background and security checks to determine eligibility before their cases are reviewed by asylum officers.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Human Rights First

Canada’s New Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program a Fresh Opportunity

Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program – 2017

Through this program, the federal government — together with the governments of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island — aim to welcome 2,000 newcomers and their families to the Atlantic region of Eastern Canada in 2017. Much of this region is sometimes referred to as ‘the Maritimes’.

Background

 
In July, 2016, Canada’s Minister of Immigration met with the provincial premiers (heads of government) of the four Atlantic provinces. Together, they worked to establish a new immigration pilot program for the region. The federal and provincial government alike recognize that these provinces need more newcomers who can establish themselves in the labour market and local communities.The three-year pilot program has been established to help address resource gaps that sectors are facing, and to help businesses attract and retain global talent. The program will also support population growth, help to develop a skilled workforce, and increase employment rates in the region.The pilot program forms part of an overall Atlantic Growth Strategy that will focus on the following five priority areas:
  • skilled workforce and immigration;
  • innovation;
  • clean growth and climate change;
  • trade and investment; and
  • infrastructure.
According to the targets announced in Canada’s 2017 Immigration Plan, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program will facilitate the entry of 2,000 principal immigrants into Atlantic Canada in 2017.

Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program: the next steps

All principal applicants arriving in Canada under the pilot program will have a job offer from a designated employer and an individualized settlement plan for themselves and their family.Starting in early March, 2017, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will begin accepting applications for permanent residence through this program.
 
 

How the pilot program works

This is an employer-driven program, with significant involvement from employers in the provinces.
Once a designated employer finds a candidate who meets their employment needs and the program criteria, that employer will need to first offer them a job. Employers do not need to go through the process of obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) under this program.
Once the candidate has accepted the job, the employer will connect the candidate with a designated settlement service provider organization for a needs assessment and to develop a settlement plan. Employers will also support the long-term integration of the new immigrant and his or her family, if applicable, so they can reach the goals of their settlement plan once they arrive in Canada.
Employers that need to fill a job vacancy quickly will have access to a temporary work permit, so that the candidate and his or her family can come to Canada as soon as possible. In order to obtain this work permit, candidates will need:
  • a valid job offer;
  • a letter from the province; and
  • a commitment to apply for permanent residence within 90 days of the temporary work permit application.

Employer designation

Employers that would like to hire skilled immigrants under the pilot program must apply to the province(s) in order to receive designation. Employers with locations in multiple provinces will require separate a designation for each province. Employers must meet certain requirements, including a commitment to support the newcomer and his or her family as they integrate into their new life in Atlantic Canada.

Candidate requirements

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program has two programs for skilled workers:
  • Atlantic High-Skilled Program
  • Atlantic Intermediate-Skilled Program
and one program for international student graduates:
The work experience, education, and job offer required will depend on whether the individual is applying as a worker or as an international student graduate. The other requirements are the same for both.See the table below for a review of the requirements.
 
Atlantic Intermediate-Skilled Program (AISP)
Atlantic High-Skilled Program (AHSP)
Atlantic International Graduate Program (AIGP)
Job offer from a designated employer
  • Full time
  • Indeterminate
  • NOC 0, A, B or C
  • Full time
  • One-year contract
  • NOC 0, A or B
  • Full time
  • One-year contract
  • NOC 0, A, B or C
Skilled work experience
  • One year in occupation related to job offer
N/A
Education
  • Completion of at least high school
  • Educational Credential Assessment or Canadian credential is required
  • Two-year post-secondary diploma from a publicly funded learning institution in the Atlantic region
Language
Level 4 of the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) in English or the Niveau de compétence linguistique Canadien in French
Provincial endorsement
Letter of endorsement