Immigration flow to Victoria may be impacted

Federal government cuts extend to Victoria as citizenship office closes this week

The closure of the Victoria office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada to the public on Friday (June 1) may discourage future immigrants from settling in the Capital Region.

Immigrants won’t have the convenience of applying in person for temporary and permanent residency or changing their visa status, for example, said James Fultanum, who manages a program at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society that helps skilled newcomers gain employment.

As well, he said, having fewer immigrants would take an economic toll on the region, employers would have fewer employee choices and there would be less cultural diversity in Greater Victoria.

“(Greater Victoria is) not becoming as friendly to newcomers as we’d love to be,” Fultanum said. “I think the closure of CIC will be one extra stress, one extra negative factor. If you don’t make Victoria attractive on different levels, people will not come to Victoria.”

After Friday, the nine affected Victoria employees will no longer meet with people applying for temporary and permanent residency, landed immigrant status and permanent residency cards. The office will continue to be staffed until June 29.

Regional CIC offices in Victoria, Nanaimo, Prince George and Kelowna are among 19 offices being shuttered across Canada.

Their services will be offered at other locations, or be made available online.

“As more services are provided electronically, we are confident that fewer people will find it necessary to visit local offices,” said Lisa-Marie Gagné, spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in the B.C.-Yukon region.

“CIC is making changes to the way it operates. It is stepping up the pace of modernizing the way it works, reducing overhead costs and continuing to streamline programs and operations.”

But Fultanum noted that not all immigrants have access to a computer.

Those services requiring face-to-face contact, such as citizenship ceremonies and language testing, will be “part of the itinerant services offered to communities in which an office was closed,” Gagné said.

The union representing the affected federal employees worries the job cuts, in addition to an upcoming pilot project through which permanent resident cards will be mailed directly to applicants, will compromise the integrity of the application process.

According to a Public Service Alliance of Canada spokesperson, employees at the regional offices were trained to spot fraudulent paperwork, such as passports, for example. The spokesperson added it will be more difficult to review original documents under the new system.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada said benefits to a more streamlined system will include reducing wait times by four weeks for applicants who normally would have picked up their cards in person at regional offices such as the centre in Victoria.

Fultanum said the lack of in-person contact will overshadow any advantages the department hopes to gain through restructuring.

“When CIC closes its office, of course I’ll have more people knocking on my door looking for information about their application status and citizenship,” he said. “With CIC here in Victoria, they would be able to walk in and get the information.”

Employees whose positions have been terminated will receive a new offer of employment, or, if that isn’t possible, be offered different exit options.

The federal department can’t yet say how much money will be saved through the closure of the Victoria office, as budget figures are “still in flux,” Gagné said.

emccracken@vicnews.com

By the numbers:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada positions terminated in Victoria: 9

Permanent residency applications processed in Victoria last year: 2,011

CIC positions terminated across Canada: 283

Number of CIC regional office closures nationwide: 19