Tuesday, 27 December 2011

CIC’s Christmas Gift for Caregivers in Limbo

Filipiniana News – December 2011
RHYME & REASON
  
During the first week of December 2011, I received a number of inquiries from caregiver clients and advocates about the so-called “massive issuance of open work permits” to those with pending applications for permanent residence and open work permit under the Live-in Caregiver Class.  Initially, I thought that this might be another one of the many rumors that are being spread around without any factual basis.  To verify, I went to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website, checked the news section, but nothing of the sort had been announced.  I also checked the published average processing times and it remained “17-18 months” for LCP initial assessments and “17 months” for final decisions.   So I wondered, where was this news coming from?

The following week however, I saw for myself a number of open work permits received in the mail for caregiver clients, including those who submitted their LCP permanent residence and open work permit applications only a few months ago. 

Just today, December 15th (and my deadline for submitting this column!), the CIC website published a news release where CIC Minister Jason Kenney stated that “we have started issuing open work permits to live-in caregivers as soon as they have completed their obligations and submitted an application for permanent residence.”  He even thanked the Caregiver Resource Centre for advocating on behalf of caregivers and for bringing this matter to his attention.  [Caregiver Resource Centre is a non-profit organization in Toronto founded by Terry Olayta but the latter clarified that credit should be due to their umbrella organization, First Ontario Alliance of Caregivers in Canada (FOACC), which brought this issue to the Minister’s attention during their visit to Ottawa shortly after their conference in September 2011.]

Minister Kenney said that: “As of December 11, 2011, all live-in caregivers who had met their obligations and submitted an application for permanent residence have had their files reviewed. Those who submitted an open work permit application with no missing information are being issued open work permits.”  

Now, this is wonderful news indeed, for all caregivers with pending LCP permanent residence and open work permit applications who have been waiting for several months, and those who expected to wait the 17 or 18 months processing time for initial approvals, as currently published on the CIC website.  

Prior to this policy change, the lengthy processing times left many live-in caregivers in limbo.  While waiting for the 17 or 18 months it takes for the issuance of their open work permits, they were faced with the following scenarios:  1. they are compelled to continue working for the last employer named on their work permit (even under very exploitative conditions) upon completing the required 24 months and submission of their LCP permanent residence and open work permit applications if they wish to benefit from implied status (i.e. legal temporary resident status which allows them to continue working for the same employer even after the expiry of their employer-specific work permit);  2.  if they were released by the last employer named on their work permit, they cannot work for any other employer until they receive their open work permits hence leaving them to rely on the generosity of family and friends or seek employment insurance and other social benefits;  3.  work for another employer “under-the-table” and face the dilemma of possibly being caught by the authorities thus jeopardizing their application for permanent residence in Canada OR being unable to earn money badly needed by their families back home for survival and 4. if their provincial health coverage had expired, the caregivers on implied status are generally unable to renew their health coverage thus causing great financial problems for those who may suddenly find themselves in need of urgent medical attention.  

After CIC has confirmed the immediate issuance of open work permits, those caregivers formerly in limbo can now breathe easier and work legally for any employer in Canada until the expiry dates on their work permits or any extensions thereafter.    

However, I just want to caution the caregivers about the fact that in LCP open work permits issued in the past, there is always a note in the “Remarks” section which states, “Application for permanent residence has received initial approval.”  In the case of many of these recently-issued open work permits however, the annotation in the Remarks section reads: “pending APR”.  Unfortunately, there was no accompanying CIC cover letter in the recent open work permits that I have seen with this annotation.  Since the current timelines of 17-18 months for LCP initial removals have not changed, this means that the immediate issuance of the open work permits is not a guarantee that the LCP permanent residence applications have, or will receive initial approval, hence the remarks, “pending APR”.

Amidst this welcome change therefore, it is very important to continue being vigilant not only about maintaining one’s temporary resident status (i.e. ensuring that work permits are renewed before expiry date and complying with other CIC requirements), but also in ensuring that these changes will truly end up benefiting LCP participants and their families.    

Lest I be misunderstood, let me reiterate that I do appreciate the recent changes to the LCP  which have already benefited and continue to benefit many caregivers.  These include the extension of 4 years from 3 years within which to complete the 24-month live-in caregiving requirement, the removal of the second medical examination, the expediting of LCP LMOs and work permits for those in abusive situations and this most recent issuance of open work permits. 

May these changes inspire more vigilant and passionate advocacy until even more significant reforms are realized such as the removal of the mandatory live-in requirement and issuance of non-employer-specific work permits, or better yet, the grant of permanent residence to caregivers and their families upon arrival in Canada.  We should never stop hoping and pushing for what the hardworking and courageous caregivers truly deserve.   

Meanwhile, let us be thankful for all blessings received in the past year and for our generous and loving God who made them all possible.

Maligayang Pasko at Mapayapang Bagong Taon po sa inyong lahat!

The author is an immigration lawyer in the GTA  and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Parental Sponsorship Moratorium and ‘Super Visas’

Filipiniana News – November 2011
RHYME & REASON
  
On 4 November 2011, CIC announced a two-year freeze in the acceptance of parent and grandparent sponsorship applications effective immediately (5 November 2011).  To help soften the blow, CIC has introduced the so-called “super visas” meant to allow parents and grandparents to enter Canada as visitors for up to two years at a time, without need to file extension applications every six months.

The freeze or moratorium of up to two years on parent and grandparent sponsorship applications is meant to allow CIC to process the increasing backlogs and reduce the processing times which now averages at about seven years. With plans of increasing the annual quota of sponsored parents and grandparents admitted to Canada (from the present 15,500 to 25,000 in 2012), CIC hopes to steadily reduce the backlog while conducting consultations on how to “redesign the parents and grandparents sponsorship program to ensure that it is sustainable in the future”.

CIC introduced the “super visa” for parents and grandparents to help facilitate immediate family reunification.   Starting 1 December 2011, parents and grandparents are supposed to be granted ten-year multiple entry visitor visas that will allow them to remain in Canada as visitors for up to two years at a time, subject to certain conditions.

The “super visa” may sound like good news for those who may indeed be able to come to Canada much sooner than if they are to wait for the finalization of their permanent residence applications as sponsored parents or grandparents.  However, I am not too sure that this will benefit as many as we might have hoped.

It must be noted that the usual admissibility factors which are weighed by visa officers in processing temporary resident visa applications, whether of the “regular” or the “super” variety, still remain. The FAQs which accompanied the recent announcement confirmed this as follows:

Parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens or permanent residents who have been found admissible to Canada and meet some other conditions are eligible for the Super Visa.
Visa officers consider several factors before deciding if the person is admissible.  This means they are a genuine visitor to Canada who will leave by choice at the end of their visit.  Among the things that could be considered are:
·         the person’s ties to the home country,
·         the purpose of the visit,
·         the person’s family and financial situation,
·         the overall economic and political stability of the home country, and
·         invitations from Canadian hosts.
In addition to being found admissible to Canada, the parent/grandparent must also:
·         provide a written commitment of financial support from their child or grandchild in Canada who meets a minimum income threshold,
·         prove that they have bought Canadian medical insurance for at least one year to cover the period of time that they will be in Canada, and complete an Immigration Medical Examination (IME).”
Although the more specific guidelines have yet to be released by CIC as of this writing, the above CIC announcement excerpt suggests that the so-called “super visas” contradict the very reason for sponsorship of parents or grandparents.  If the issuance of “super visas” would still depend on the very same factors used to evaluate regular temporary resident visa applications, then many parents/grandparents who are in the process of being sponsored (or those caught by the moratorium) will be found ineligible because their intention is in fact to establish permanent residence in Canada with their sponsoring children/grandchildren and not of a “temporary” nature as required of visitor visa applicants.    

It is also worth noting that the “super visa”, which is a document authorizing entry to Canada and issued by a visa office outside Canada, is different from the authorization to remain or a visitor record granted by immigration officers upon the visitor’s entry to Canada.  For regular visa holders, a simple stamp on the passport upon entry to Canada without any expiry date means that the visitor can stay in Canada for a maximum of six months.  If the officer enters a date just below the entry stamp, this means that the visitor must leave Canada (or apply for an extension) by that date even if it is less than six months from the date of entry.

It remains to be seen how the “super visa” with a two-year authorized visitor stay will be implemented.  Hopefully, many visa officers will exercise positive discretion in granting these new “super visas” and two-year visitor records, in line with the spirit behind their creation in the first place.  However, relying on visa officers’ subjective interpretation of immigration laws and policy is part of what makes the outcome of immigration applications very unpredictable and frustrating.  Thus, it may help if the relevant guidelines will be clear and specific enough to leave less room for arbitrary interpretation and to provide a more consistent and fair implementation of these recent changes that will truly meet family reunification objectives. 

As for the moratorium on parent/grandparent sponsorship applications, we hope that this will truly be just a temporary measure that will be lifted once the backlog has been reduced if not eliminated.  Otherwise, banning this type of family sponsorships altogether will not only be bad policy, but will be clearly unfair and discriminatory.   In immigration matters, pure economic considerations should never trump deeply-held cultural and social values.

The author is an immigration lawyer in the GTA  and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Caregivers’ Conference Highlighted LCP Shortcomings

Filipiniana News – October 2011
RHYME & REASON
  
On 24 September 2011, the First Ontario Alliance of Caregivers Canada (FOACC) held the first general conference of caregivers in Ontario.  Aside from the substantial number of individual participants and caregiver organizations represented, what was even more impressive  was the fact that it was initiated, planned and executed by caregivers themselves.  Considering the organizers’ limited resources, the full day event was a commendable, worthy, productive and timely endeavour.  Congratulations to Terry Olayta, Jocy Tomas, all the organizers and participants of this conference!

For the caregivers who participated at the conference, one thing is crystal-clear:  serious problems remain within the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP).  Their group and plenary discussions confirmed that the age-old problems relating to employer and agency abuse (such as long hours of work with no overtime pay, heavy household work not related to caregiving duties, exorbitant recruitment fees, etc.) remain very much alive and rampant even after the supposed legal reforms enacted to protect and promote the rights of caregivers. 

Even more distressing in the face of these ongoing abuses are the constantly (and rapidly) increasing processing times for LCP work permit and permanent residence applications which are creating new and even worse problems for a huge number of caregivers. 

Confusion, misinformation, anxiety, insecurity and stress, are just some of the known repercussions of these lengthy processing times.   These translate into even longer delays in obtaining the prized permanent resident status and achieving the much longed for family reunification. 

In last month’s column, I wrote about the very issue of processing delays and the related issue of implied status.  After having heard the many tales of woe that were expressed by caregivers, I thought that it may be worthwhile reiterating this discussion, in the hope of assisting those who are still very much befuddled not only by the processing delays but also by their legal and practical implications. 

The term “implied status” appears to be widely misunderstood.  This is a legal principle used in immigration law to refer to temporary residents who were able to apply for a renewal of their temporary resident status (whether as a visitor, student or worker) prior to the expiry of their present temporary resident status document (i.e. visitor record, study or work permit).  They are deemed to continue having valid temporary resident status (i.e. implied status) under the same terms and conditions of their last temporary resident document even after its expiry and until a decision is received on their renewal application. 

It is important to emphasize that implied status only applies if the application for renewal was made prior to the expiry of the previous permit.  If the renewal application is made even just a day after expiry and even if accompanied by a restoration application, implied status cannot anymore be invoked.  

It is likewise important to note that implied status only applies to the terms and conditions under the previous temporary resident document. This means that if the expired work permit was an employer-specific one, then implied status is recognized only while you are working for that same employer.  If the foreign worker would want to work for another employer not named on the previous work permit, then the worker will need to apply for a new employer-specific work permit naming the new employer or wait for the issuance of an open work permit which authorizes work for any employer.

For LCP participants, “implied status” is the authorization for the live-in caregiver to continue working legally in Canada if s/he has submitted an application to renew his/her work permit or submitted an application for an open work permit, prior to the expiry of their previous work permit.   However, the authorization only extends the same terms and conditions under the previous work permit.  Hence, the live-in caregiver is expected to continue working for the same employer and not for any other.  If the caregiver wishes to leave the previous employer and work for another employer, s/he will either have to apply for a new LMO-based work permit, or wait for the issuance of the open work permit. 

Since it is currently taking such a long time to receive the LCP open work permits, caregivers are often left with the difficult choice of waiting it out with the current LCP employer or applying for a new LMO-based work permit which could take up to several months to process.  Worse, if it is the employer who terminates the caregiver’s employment during the period of “implied status” and the caregiver is unable to readily find another LCP employer, the caregiver is left with no legitimate source of income while awaiting the issuance of their open work permits.  

Even more bad news is if the caregiver’s public health (e.g. OHIP) coverage expires during the period that s/he is on implied status, the Ministry of Health will not renew OHIP coverage until the caregiver receives a new work permit (whether open or employer-specific).  This is especially unfortunate if the caregiver is suffering from a medical condition which will require costly treatment and medication.  

Unfortunately, the processing delays seem to be getting worse.  As of this writing, the CIC website states that the processing time for obtaining LCP first stage approval (and open work permits) is 17 to 18 months.  It is dangerously getting close to the 24-month mark, which will imperil the permanent residence dream of many LCP participants.

Although I remain hopeful that things could still get better, I also know that this will only be realized through vigilance, persistent advocacy and unity.  The caregivers’ conference was obviously an important step in this direction.  Let us therefore support their call for genuine LCP reforms, in line with the universal goal of creating a just, equitable and humane society for all.  

The author is an immigration lawyer in the GTA  and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Processing delays and implied status

Filipiniana News – September 2011
RHYME & REASON 

If you are a live-in caregiver awaiting decision on your inland permanent residence and/or open work permit applications under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP), then you are most likely well aware of the current lengthy processing delays.  

While it used to take only a few months (and for a long time, six months, until it suddenly jumped to 11 months or so), it is now taking CIC some 16 to 17 months (and even longer for some!) to render the initial approval in principle and accompanying open work permit to caregivers who have completed the 24-month or 3900-hour live-in caregiving requirement within four years of their arrival in Canada.   For those who have received their open work permits, the waiting period before the final decision is received can likewise drag on for years on end, especially if the caregiver has dependent family members included in the application. 

CIC attributes the long delays to the sudden surge of LCP applications and their consequent inability to meet the increasing demand.  After having seen many letters from CIC addressed to LCP permanent residence applicants, it also appears that the delays can be attributed to a much stricter scrutiny of supporting documents submitted by the caregiver applicant and their dependent family members, among others.  Although I have indeed come across instances involving falsified birth certificates, marriage certificates and the like, these are clearly the exception rather than the rule.  Unfortunately though, these unscrupulous minority have prejudiced the greater majority who have followed the rules, but who will nonetheless have to endure long waits because CIC needs to spend much more time verifying the genuineness of all submitted documentation.  

As a result of these increased processing delays, several live-in caregivers face many negative consequences and are enduring even greater hardships. 

A typical response from CIC would be that live-in caregivers will have “implied status” while awaiting the approval in principle and their open work permits so they should still be able to work legally in Canada. 

Unfortunately, things are not as simple as CIC would like to believe.  What this response fails to appreciate are the many reasons why remaining to work as a live-in caregiver is not the most ideal situation hence obtaining an open work permit as soon as possible will help alleviate their many hardships and concerns.   

First of all, what does “implied status” really mean? 

In simple terms, “implied status” is the authorization for the live-in caregiver to continue working legally in Canada if s/he has submitted an application to renew his/her work permit or submitted an application for an open work permit, prior to the expiry of their previous work permit. 

However, the authorization only extends the same terms and conditions under the previous work permit.  Hence, the live-in caregiver is expected to continue working for the same employer and not for any other.  If the caregiver wishes to leave the previous employer and work for another employer, s/he will either have to apply for a new LMO-based work permit, or wait for the issuance of the open work permit. 

Since it is currently taking such a long time to receive the LCP open work permits, caregivers are often left with the difficult choice of waiting it out with the current LCP employer or applying for a new LMO-based work permit which could take up to several months to process.

Worse, if it is the employer who terminates the caregiver’s employment during the period of “implied status” and the caregiver is unable to readily find another LCP employer, the caregiver is left with no legitimate source of income while awaiting the issuance of their open work permits.  

Even more bad news is if the caregiver’s public health (e.g. OHIP) coverage expires during the period that s/he is on implied status, the Ministry of Health will not renew OHIP coverage until the caregiver receives a new work permit (whether open or LMO-based).  This is especially unfortunate if the caregiver is suffering from a medical condition which will require costly treatment and medication.  

Had there been a much shorter (or no) delay in the issuance of LCP open work permits, these hardships will be minimized, if not eliminated.   

We hope that these processing delays will soon be remedied (e.g. through increased or more efficient bureaucratic staffing) and will not just keep getting worse.  Otherwise, we may see several caregivers being caught by the four-year cumulative duration limit for all temporary foreign workers by April 2015.   If so, will this truly mean the end of the LCP, as many critics would like us to believe?

CIC has, on various occasions, denied that there are plans to end the LCP.   Although this may sound as a relief to many, we also hope that CIC will continue to remain receptive to the LCP participants’ legitimate concerns and be open to enacting further reforms towards creating  a more just and humane program for this vulnerable class of temporary foreign workers.

The author is an immigration lawyer in Toronto and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca. 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Misrepresentation Trap

Filipiniana News – August 2011
RHYME & REASON

In Canadian immigration law, misrepresentation is defined as “directly or indirectly misrepresenting or withholding material facts relating to a relevant matter that induces or could induce an error in the administration of the act.” 

The words “directly or indirectly” imply that the act of misrepresentation may have been committed by the applicant/permanent resident or by other people.  Direct misrepresentation is quite self-explanatory (although it may also be subject to legal interpretation).  However, it is the “indirect” type of misrepresentation which remains largely misunderstood, catches many people unaware and can lead to the unduly harsh application of Canada’s immigration laws. 

Indirect misrepresentation could mean that the unscrupulous act of representatives such as placement agents may prejudice an applicant regardless of the latter’s lack of knowledge of the misrepresentation committed.  The real culprits on the other hand, often avoid punishment due to the power imbalance (financial or political) which discourages victims from pursuing the often protracted, complex and expensive judicial or administrative options of seeking redress.

A situation that many prospective caregivers to Canada find themselves in is that of being  “released upon arrival”.   This means that the caregiver actually has no employer upon arriving in Canada because the sponsoring employer either does not exist or does not anymore require the services of the employer.   Regardless of the reason, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers can find the caregivers in these situations guilty of misrepresentation because they are assumed to have misrepresented about the non-existence of the employer named in their work visas.   In many cases however,  these prospective caregivers are not aware of the placement agencies’ apparent modus operandi of asking “employers” to sign the employment contracts and LMO applications even though these “employers” have no intention of hiring the caregivers in the first place.  When the caregivers hired by these agents arrive in Canada on a work permit, they are immediately “released” by the original “employers” and made available by the placement agencies to other genuine employers who wish to hire caregivers pronto.   These genuine employers usually do not want to wait the several months (or even as long as two years for caregivers coming directly from Manila) that it takes for LCP work permit applications to be processed.  To address the great demand for readily available live-in caregivers therefore, the highly-competitive world of caregiver placement agencies shrewdly came up with the concept of “released upon arrival” caregivers.  The more caregivers they have in their pool, the quicker they can meet the demands of Canadian employers for an immediately employable caregiver (although they will of course need to obtain a labour market opinion and another work permit, which is another story).  

Some people may also be unknowingly caught in the “misrepresentation” trap when earlier on in their original immigration applications, immigration consultants or representatives advise the applicants (or do so on their own without even notifying the applicant) to remove the names of other dependents or family members or misdeclare marital status to supposedly avoid delays or complications in the applications.  All might seem well and the permanent resident visas are issued, until the time that the permanent resident decides to sponsor other family members – when the immigration officer reviewing the file realizes that the dependent or family member was previously not declared in the sponsor’s original application or that the marriage was not disclosed.  Since these types of misrepresentation are deemed “material”, these could lead to inadmissibility proceedings against the permanent resident aside from the refusal of the sponsorship application under Section 117(9)(d) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. 

To avoid being caught in the “misrepresentation” trap, applicants must be very wary of representatives or consultants who advise prospective immigrants to lie in their applications, to manipulate or misdeclare facts and/or submit falsified documentation.   If they are advising these to simplify your application and perhaps avoid further work or losing your business altogether, then they are not truly representing your best interests.  

For caregivers in particular, they should be well-advised to ensure that the employment contracts that they are signing are genuine and with terms that are in accordance with Canadian labour standards.  The caregivers should be able to communicate with their prospective employers directly to ensure that they are aware of the possible long processing times, and are nonetheless intending to hire the caregiver upon the issuance of the work visa.   Only then can the caregiver be better assured that the immigration officer will issue the work permit upon arrival at the border, after having been convinced of the caregiver’s, as well as the employer’s genuine intentions. 

Meanwhile, there is clearly a fundamental injustice in a system which perpetrates further victimization (i.e. caregivers being deported due to indirect misrepresentation) and impunity for those directly responsible (i.e. the placement agents who facilitated the fake employment contracts or committed the misrepresentation).  Therefore, the government must be equally vigilant in prosecuting and discouraging these unscrupulous practices which take advantage of the applicants’ earnest desire to work in or immigrate to Canada.   

Immigration officers often justify their strict enforcement actions as simply  meant towards “preserving the integrity of Canada’s immigration system.”   I am not sure that this objective is truly met if their actions are focused on punishing the victims while the culpable ones remain scot-free and able to victimize more applicants.  Although Canada’s immigration laws were recently amended to introduce measures meant to better regulate immigration consultants (and crack down on so-called “crooked consultants”), it remains to be seen how effective these changes will be in protecting the interests of prospective workers or immigrants especially those dealing with ghost consultants, or those based overseas and are thus beyond the reach of Canada’s domestic legal system.

The author is an immigration lawyer in Toronto and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca. 

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Temporary Residents and the Removal Process

Filipiniana News  -  July 2011
Rhyme and Reason
  
In the past few weeks, there were news reports to the effect that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is allegedly intensifying efforts to weed out so-called “illegals” in an attempt to remove them from Canada as quickly as possible. 

Misunderstandings and misconceptions about the removal process have raised fears among many temporary residents in Canada, whether they still have valid status in Canada or not.  Some of those who are here as visitors, workers or students whose initial permits have expired but whose extension applications are still pending, fear that they may just be picked by the authorities and detained since they could not show any proof of legal status.

Such fears are misplaced if the temporary resident has submitted an application to renew their temporary resident status before the expiry of their current status in Canada and a decision on the application is not yet received.   Provided all legal requisites are met, the temporary resident who has a pending renewal application will have the benefit of “implied status” under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and its regulations.   The implied status ends on the day that a decision is received on the renewal application, granting or refusing the extension requested.

Only when the renewal application is refused, will the applicant technically lose temporary legal status in Canada and will be well-advised to leave the country as soon as possible so as not to prejudice any future applications to return to Canada.

For those who have lost their temporary legal status in Canada and were unable to submit an application for a renewal, there is still the option of applying for a restoration of status within 90 days of having lost temporary status and there is a reasonable legal basis for requesting the restoration (i.e. compelling reason to extend visit, a positive labour market opinion based on an existing job offer or continuing studies).   If the 90 days have passed, the option of seeking a restoration will not anymore be available but there may still be other options, depending on the circumstances.  

A person who has lost legal temporary status in Canada need not simply live in perpetual fear of being “picked up” by enforcement officers and thrown on the next plane out of Canada.  If there are compelling reasons or factors involved, it will be best to consult a trustworthy immigration advisor to discuss possible options to legalize one’s status. 

For instance, if there are genuine risks to one’s life if returned to one’s home country, there are applications that can be made to seek protection from any such harm.  These remedies however, should never be abused by agreeing to unscrupulous advice such as concocting stories to support one’s application for permanent resident status in Canada.   These unethical actions are not only morally and legally wrong, but also prejudice the many other genuine stories of people trying to escape various forms of persecution in their home countries.  If a genuine refugee is refused simply because the adjudicator has heard too many similar concocted stories, then a travesty of justice has been perpetrated against those truly deserving of Canada’s protection.

There are also cases where other compelling humanitarian and compassionate considerations exist (other than risk to one’s life) which could be raised in support of one’s application to remain in Canada.  These include factors such as strong establishment in Canada, best interests of children affected and other types of undue, undeserved and disproportionate hardship that would result from a refusal.

It used to be that a marriage or common-law relationship with a Canadian or permanent resident can almost guarantee a stay of removal and eventual grant of permanent residence to a foreign spouse who may have already lost status.  However, due to the proliferation of bad faith marriages or so-called marriages of convenience, even genuine relationships are put at a great disadvantage and refused in many cases.  Recently, the IRPA regulation defining “bad faith marriages” was amended to include non-genuine relationships or those which were primarily entered into for immigration purposes.  The old regulation was less strict in that the marriage would have to be both non-genuine and entered into primarily for immigration purposes to be considered a bad faith marriage.  Now, even if the marriage is genuine, but if it was perceived by an immigration officer to have been entered into primarily for immigration purposes, the sponsorship application can be refused and the removal against the out-of-status spouse can proceed.

Once a removal order is issued by the CBSA, there are administrative and judicial remedies that can be taken to stay the removal process.  It is important to note however, that these procedures and their effectiveness would depend on the specific circumstances in each case, as well as the favorable (or unfavorable) perspectives of the decision-makers. 

Thus, the removal process does not simply mean that once a person loses status in Canada, he or she is immediately arrested by the authorities, detained and thrown on the next flight to the home country.  There are various criteria, legal processes and principles involved which could result in varying treatments and outcomes.     

As always, the above are meant for legal information purposes only and not intended to provide specific legal advice.  If you are faced with an imminent prospect of removal from Canada, it will be best to discuss your legal options, the factors, implications and costs involved, with a trusted immigration legal advisor.
 
The author is an immigration lawyer in Canada and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca

Monday, 27 June 2011

Debunking Permanent Residency Myths

Filipiniana News – June 2011
RHYME & REASON

(Please note that this and all other articles written in this column are for legal information purposes only and not intended to provide specific legal advice.  If you have related concerns, it is strongly advised that you consult with a lawyer or a paralegal licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada or other relevant provincial law society, to discuss your particular situation.)

Canada’s immigration laws underwent a major overhaul when the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) was enacted in June 2002.  Nearly ten years hence, several misconceptions still abound regarding the requirements and guidelines for maintaining one’s permanent resident status.   

When permanent resident (PR) cards were created, many thought that as long as they possess valid PR cards, their status as permanent residents will be safe.  This is not necessarily true.  Conversely, the lack of a valid PR card will not necessarily negate one’s permanent resident status.   Rather, a permanent resident is required to meet the residency requirement of 730 days within the last five-year period to maintain their PR status.

Under IRPA, the residency obligation may be satisfied in any of the following ways:
1.      physical presence in Canada;
2.      if outside Canada accompanying a Canadian citizen spouse or common-law partner or is a child accompanying a parent
3.      if outside Canada and employed full-time by a Canadian  business or in the public service of Canada or a province
4.      if an accompanying spouse, common-law partner or child of a permanent resident who is employed full-time by a Canadian business or is in the public service of Canada or a province.

Although the residency requirement has become less stringent than the former six-months-for-every-year rule, there are other areas where physical presence may still be important for permanent residents.   One of these areas is that of maintaining provincial health insurance coverage in Ontario which requires physical presence in Canada for at least 153 days (approximately five months) every year.

In any event, there are some recurring situations where permanent residents learn too late that their “permanent resident” status in Canada is not so “permanent” after all.

For instance, those whose PR cards have expired and who do not meet any of the four ways to satisfy residency while they are outside of Canada, will have to apply for a travel document with the nearest Canadian embassy or visa office to be able to return to Canada.   For those who have failed to comply with the residency obligation, this raises a problem as not only will the request for a travel document be denied, but that the permanent resident status will be revoked.  This revocation of PR status can be appealed to the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board.   Aside from questions of law and possible denial of natural justice, the IAD also has jurisdiction to consider humanitarian and compassionate grounds in light of all the circumstances of the case.

Another matter that could spell doom for one’s permanent resident status is that of misrepresentation.  If it is found out that there was any misrepresentation of a material fact made in one’s application for permanent resident status, this can be used as a ground to initiate inadmissibility proceedings and may eventually lead to removal from Canada.  Some common examples of misrepresentation involve falsified marital status or undisclosed criminal records. 

Unfortunately, even seemingly “minor” criminal offences may mean the end of one’s permanent resident status in Canada.   That is, because IRPA’s definition of “serious criminality” which could render a permanent resident inadmissible to Canada includes conviction for any and all crimes which carry a penalty of  “at least ten years or for which a term of imprisonment of at least six months was imposed”, even the most mindless acts of criminality may lead to criminal inadmissibility.    If one’s crime is punishable by “imprisonment not exceeding ten years” even though the actual sentence imposed is a conditional discharge or one month of community service, this is still caught within the serious criminality ground for inadmissibility because “not exceeding ten years” is caught within a penalty of  “at least ten years”.   Hence, it is extremely important that any permanent resident who is being advised to enter a guilty plea for a lesser penalty should also be made aware of the potential effects of such plea to his or her immigration status.

The above situations are just a few examples meant to illustrate that permanent residence is not really permanent as some might think.  The government may take steps to revoke one’s permanent residency whenever residency obligation, misrepresentation or criminality issues arise. 

It is clearly important not to become complacent and neglect to meet the obligations that come with the privilege of permanent residency in Canada.  Some may think that applying for citizenship at the earliest opportunity will negate these risks.  However, one’s naturalized citizenship status could also be revoked for misrepresentation and serious criminality issues.   So in the end, it does not really matter if one is a permanent resident or a citizen -  if one adopts a policy of always making full disclosure of relevant facts and of leading clean and upright lives – neither Canadian permanent residency or citizenship will be imperiled.

The author is a lawyer in Canada practicing exclusively in the areas of immigration and refugee law.  She may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca.   

Friday, 27 May 2011

LCP and the TFW Four-Year Limit

Filipiniana News – May 2011
RHYME & REASON
  
In September last year, I wrote about the recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) regulations as they affect live-in caregivers.  One of the most controversial provisions was that limiting the duration of work for temporary foreign workers to a total period of four years.  After seeking clarification with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), policy officials assured that the four-year limit is not meant to apply to  Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) participants and that operational guidelines confirming this will be released prior to the effectivity of the new regulations.  

On 1 April 2011, or on the day that the new TFW guidelines took effect, CIC released Operational Bulletin (OB) 275-C which is meant to serve as a guide for CIC and CBSA staff on the implementation of recent regulatory changes to the TFW program.

OB 275-C states that since the new TFW regulations took effect on 1 April 2011, this is also the date when the clock starts ticking towards the four-year limit.  Therefore, work permit refusals arising from the inability to meet the four-year limit will only start on 1 April 2015. 

It may be recalled that the TFW regulations provide exceptions to the four-year limit if: 
·    the foreign national intends to perform work that would create or maintain significant social, cultural or economic benefits or opportunities for Canadian citizens/PRs or
·    the foreign national intends to perform work pursuant to an international agreement between Canada and one or more countries, including an agreement concerning seasonal agricultural workers.

OB 275-C clarified these exceptions by listing the work permit categories that are exempt from the four-year limit.  The exceptions include permanent resident applicants from within Canada through the inland spousal sponsorship, humanitarian and compassionate, and LCP routes.  This means that work performed under open work permits issued to live-in caregivers who have been granted approval in principle after having completed two years of full time live-in caregiving work, does not count towards the four-year limit.

However, it is noted that OB 275-C also states that work performed while on implied status will be counted towards the four-year limit.  Therefore, fears have been expressed that LCP participants who have submitted their permanent residence applications but who have not yet received approval in principle when their work permits expire (hence on implied status), may still be caught by the four-year limit.  This fear is reinforced by the fact that the processing times for the first stage approval of LCP permanent residence applications have been getting longer (currently at 13-14 months from receipt of application). 

Although it will be up to CIC to clarify this particular issue, and eventually for the courts to interpret if the matter is litigated, my own take would be as follows:

First of all, open work permits issued to LCP participants once their permanent residence  applications are granted approval in principle, are clearly exempt from the four-year limit.  So it should not matter whether the LCP applicants have worked more than the four-year limit under valid work permits and on implied status prior to the issuance of their open work permits.  What should matter is that they have not violated the terms of their temporary resident status and are considered members of the live-in caregiver class.

Second, OB 275-C states that that cumulative limit only counts actual work performed in Canada.  Those periods when the caregiver did not work (either because they were terminated, left an abusive employer, went on vacation, got sick, etc.) will not be counted towards the four-year limit.  So if the caregiver submitted the permanent residence and open work permit applications soon after completing the 24 months required, it is highly unlikely that the four-year limit will have been used up by the time that an approval in principle and concomitant LCP open work permit are granted (unless of course, the first stage processing has reached 24 months, heaven forbid!). 

Third, if the work performed on implied status (that was mainly due to the lengthy processing delays) is counted towards the four-year limit, then it contradicts not only the exception granted to LCP participants but also the regulatory change extending the period within which they can complete the 24-month live-in caregiving requirement (extended from the previous 3 years to the present 4 years). 

Hence, the basic principles of fairness and natural justice clearly favor exempting LCP participants from the four-year limit as long as they have submitted their permanent residence applications on or before the end of the four-year period.

That having been said, it is clear that this exception does not resolve the many issues and challenges still faced by LCP participants.  Thankfully, the CIC Minister has taken a proactive stance in not only listening to the many concerns of LCP participants and implementing measures to address some of them, but also by intervening in cases where the only remedy is the Minister’s grant of an exemption from certain requirements or  inadmissibilities, on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. 

However, it is undeniable that despite best efforts and good intentions which led to these changes, systemic issues of abuse and exploitation, prolonged family separation, poverty, deskilling and racial discrimination, continue to plague the LCP and its participants. 

It is therefore hoped that the newly-elected government will prioritize measures which will confront these systemic issues head-on, not only for the benefit of long-suffering caregivers, but also towards ensuring that Canada adheres to its avowed commitment to human rights, equality and justice for all.  

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Why We Should Vote on Election Day

Filipiniana News - Rhyme or Reason
April 2011
  
According to many surveys, the vast majority of Canadian citizens do not plan to vote this coming federal elections.  If you are reading this article before May 2, 2011, I hope that this article will convince you not to waste your right to vote for the reasons explained below.  

A Citizen’s Right and Privilege

One of the most important distinctions between permanent residents and citizens is the latter’s right to vote.   It is as much a right as it is a privilege.  More than that, it is also a civic duty and should therefore not be taken for granted.  For many of us who are naturalized citizens, it is a concrete and wonderful opportunity to participate in the decision-making process of the country which we have chosen to call our own. 

Environmental Degradation

Recent natural disasters worldwide remind us of our extreme vulnerability vis-√†-vis our natural habitat.  Therefore, the government’s plans and policies concerning the environment should be a top priority.   We need to remember that we are but stewards of the earth and should be acting responsibly, instead of wantonly destroying the very sources of our survival. 

If we wish to allow the future generations to continue enjoying the quality of life that we have now, we should pay careful attention to how the environmental issue is being treated by those who are seeking our votes.  The importance of this very issue is so vital in that if the environment continues to deteriorate at its present rate, then all other issues will not even matter as our mother nature and its creatures (including human beings) will eventually cease to exist.

If the politicians seeking to govern our country are therefore sweeping this issue under the rug or are prioritizing corporate profits over environmental sustainability, then we should be very wary.  They are not really promoting our interests but are simply looking at the short-term benefits of the mighty dollar and are obviously kowtowing to pressure from those with economic power.

Immigration and Human Rights

It is trite to say that Canada is a country of immigrants.  As such, immigration objectives and human rights values should lie at the very core of government laws and decision-making.   Immigration policies and practices which reflect utmost fairness for those seeking admission,  and genuine compassion for those displaced from their countries of origin by unfortunate circumstances, should be another absolute priority.

Although it is clear that human rights values should pervade every aspect of government policy and decision-making, immigration issues make it even more imperative to pay closer attention to how these values are actually enforced.  A political party or candidate who simply mouths empty rhetoric without making concrete proposals for reform or whose track record is clearly inconsistent with these values, should not get our vote.

We should also be critical of short-sighted policies which fail to consider long-term social  impact.   These include programs which simply facilitate the entry of temporary foreign workers without providing adequate safeguards against worker exploitation (not only by employers but also by recruiters, consultants, etc.), prolonged family separation, settlement difficulties and even disqualification from permanent residency.  These are the very same issues which continue to plague the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) where the vast majority of participants are from the Philippines.  While we are grateful for the recent changes which have already benefited many caregivers and their families, much more needs to be done towards resolving the many other issues which continue to plague the LCP.

Health and Social Welfare

Among the reasons that Canada has become a desirable place to live in is its generous health and social welfare system.   However, it is also well-known that the system has been fast deteriorating.  From a severe shortage of healthcare providers, to huge cuts in government spending, to frustrating bureaucratic delays – this area of governance is clearly in urgent need of drastic and effective reforms. 

Instead of dismissing those who advocate for these programs as communists or alarmists, we must question the allocation of government resources, and determine if the priorities are properly placed on human well-being, rather than corporate interests.

Economic Security

For many, this issue should be on top of the priority list as the state of the economy determines government budget allocation, taxation and other related matters.   Yes, this issue is extremely important but it is equally important not to simply boil everything down to dollars and cents.  Human lives and dignity are priceless.  And the world’s wealth are not meant to be hoarded by a select few.   I strongly believe that there is enough wealth in the world to eliminate poverty and hunger, prevent illnesses and provide respectable homes to everyone.  If the leadership will lead the way and apply true values of fairness and compassion, as well as genuine commitment to public service, then economic security will eventually be achieved, not just by a handful, but by the rest of the long-deprived majority.

These are but some of the extremely important general issues which I believe the politicians should clearly address in this election campaign.  There will of course be other issues, more specific or less contentious, that are equally calling for attention.

It is therefore vital that we should not vote solely on the basis of charisma, oratorical skills, grandstanding, empty promises or worse, petty mudslinging, which sadly pervade election campaigns.  Instead, we should carefully listen to what these politicians are really saying, probe into their motives and decide which party or candidate we believe, in good conscience, will work towards promoting our interests and those of future generations.

The author is a lawyer in Toronto and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Working with Legal Advocates Effectively

Filipiniana News  -  March 2011
Rhyme and Reason

For many if not all of us, there would come a point in our lives when we, or a family member, will require the services of a lawyer, paralegal or legal consultant (referred here as a “legal advocate”).   Justifiably or not, many are apprehensive about working with legal advocates. This article is meant to provide some guidance towards eliminating such apprehensions. 

As in most everything else, achieving a good and satisfying relationship with a legal advocate involves a two-way process.   If you are thinking of consulting with or retaining a legal advocate’s services, here are a few tips that could hopefully make the experience a positive one. 

First of all, your choice of a legal advocate should not be driven solely by financial considerations.  That is, do not choose a legal advocate only because he or she charges the lowest fees.  Conversely, the fact that a legal advocate charges the highest rate does not necessarily translate into the best legal service.  As clients, we need to understand that legal advocates’ fees are driven by various considerations.  These include, the legal advocate’s specialization, the complexity of legal issues involved and estimated amount of time it will take, the volume of cases or transactions already being handled, the location and cost of overhead expenses, the potential risks and amount of work involved, the client’s means and ability to pay, etc..  Depending on your particular situation, one way to determine whether the cost is reasonable is to verify the scope or range of services covered, the approximate cost of disbursements and the flexibility of payment terms. 

Although the cost is of course a significant factor to consider, one also needs to weigh other equally important factors such as communication lines, for instance.  Are you comfortable with the fact that you can only speak with the legal assistant or receptionist and would only see the lawyer (if at all) when signing or commissioning documents?   Does the legal advocate return calls within a reasonable time?  Are you able to convey all relevant details to the legal advocate handling your case, in a language with which you are fairly comfortable?

Another important factor is compatibility with your personal values.  Does the legal advice  involve ethical or moral issues that you feel uncomfortable about or disagree with?  You must always remember that a legal advocate can only provide legal advice but cannot force you to do anything against your will.  If the legal advice involves declaring untruths or intentionally misrepresenting facts, then you should be very wary.  The same is true for all other types of advice that legal advocates provide.  It is your life and legal situation that is at stake.  If you feel that the advice is against your moral values or beliefs, then this is one clear sign that the legal advocate is not the right one for you. 

It is also important to ensure that the legal advocate is a member in good standing with the relevant regulatory body.  This means, for example, membership with the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) for a lawyer or paralegal in Ontario or with the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) for immigration consultants.   These regulatory bodies have mechanisms in place to allow wronged clients to file complaints against the legal advocate.  While the systems in place are not perfect, they were meant to protect the public against unscrupulous practices and unprofessional services. 

To ensure that your matter is attended to promptly, you have to provide all the required documentation and ensure that you have disclosed all pertinent information.  If you are unsure which information is relevant to your legal matter, never hesitate to ask.   It is always better to provide all relevant information earlier rather than disclose them at a much later stage when it could potentially involve more time and money to adjust the legal strategy or remedy being pursued.  If you choose to obtain the services of a lawyer, the principle of lawyer-client privilege is an added assurance that client information is treated with utmost confidentiality.

Most importantly, treat your legal advocate and their office staff with honesty, respect and candor.  Although you are a client and are paying for the legal services provided, this does not give you the license to make unreasonable demands or to use their services to unjustifiably make life difficult for others.  The law is not meant to be an instrument for revenge or as a shield for wrongdoing.   Negative stereotypes about the law and lawyers may say otherwise.  But it is about time that this bad reputation (whether justified or not) is changed.

However, it is not only up to the legal advocates themselves to effect this change.   We must all do our part in ensuring that unethical practices or any other type of wrongdoing is discouraged if not totally thwarted.   After all, upholding truth, equity and justice is  everyone’s responsibility.

The author is an immigration lawyer in the GTA and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca.  

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Spousal Sponsorship: Basic Issues and Recent Change

Filipiniana News – February 2011
RHYME & REASON

In this so-called month of love, it may be appropriate to review some basic issues and a recent change in Canada’s immigration laws and regulations relating to spousal sponsorship applications. 

Types of Relationship Eligible Under a Spousal Sponsorship Application 

There are three different types of partnerships that could qualify under the spousal sponsorship class:  spouses, common-law partners and conjugal partners.

Spouses are couples who are validly married in the jurisdiction where the marriage was celebrated.   To prove the genuineness of the marriage, the sponsor and applicant must provide documentary evidence such as wedding photos, invitations, reference letters, love letters to each other, etc..   The Canadian or permanent resident can sponsor the spouse even a day after getting married so long as the genuineness of the marriage is adequately proved.

Common-law partners refer to couples living together in a committed relationship without getting married.  They can be considered common-law partners from day one.  For purposes of immigration sponsorship however, common-law partners must have lived together for at least a year to qualify.   This must be proven by a declaration of common-law union, joint documents (bank accounts, apartment lease, insurance beneficiary designation, income tax returns, etc.). The burden of proving common-law status for at least a year is on the applicants so the more evidentiary documents are submitted, the better.  

Conjugal partners refer to couples in a committed relationship, at the same level of commitment as spouses and common-law partners, but who are prevented from marrying or living together by some compelling circumstances - e.g. laws prohibiting same sex union in ultra-conservative countries, war, detention, etc..  This is much more difficult to prove and is thus rarely approved as basis for an immigration sponsorship.

Any of the above relationships can be a heterosexual or a homosexual partnership. 

Recent Regulatory Change

The main issue in a spousal sponsorship application has been and still is, the genuine and continuing nature of a marital, common-law or conjugal relationship.  The previous immigration regulations provided that a person will not be considered a spouse if the marriage, common-law or conjugal partnership is not genuine AND entered into primarily to acquire an immigration privilege.  The recent regulatory change (which took effect in September 2010)  provides that a person will not be considered a spouse if the relationship was entered into primarily to acquire an immigration privilege OR is not genuine.  While seemingly innocuous, the simple change of the conjunctive word from “and” to “or” could actually have a significant impact on spousal sponsorship applications.  That is, applicants will have an even greater burden of proving both the genuineness and the lack of a primary intent to obtain an immigration privilege.   Previously, if a marriage or relationship is found to be genuine, the conclusion necessarily follows that it was not entered into primarily for an immigration purpose.  Now, a sponsorship applicant in a genuine relationship may still be refused if the reviewing officer concludes that the primary purpose of the marriage  or partnership was to obtain an immigration privilege.     

Overseas versus Inland Applications

There are two avenues for spousal sponsorships.  The first is the overseas sponsorship whereby after the approval of the sponsor’s eligibility at the case processing centre in Mississauga, the permanent resident application of the partner is processed at the appropriate overseas visa office.  If the person being sponsored needs to be interviewed, he or she will have to attend at the visa office in person.   One advantage of this type of application is that there is a right of appeal with the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) of the Immigration Refugee Board in case the sponsorship application is eventually refused.   Aside from being able to submit new evidence on appeal, the IAD also has jurisdiction to consider evidence of any relevant humanitarian and compassionate factors. 

The other avenue is via the Spouse or Common-law Partner in Canada class.   As the name implies, this sponsorship is allowed only for spouses and common-law partners (and not for conjugal partners).   This type of application assumes that the spouses or common-law partners are already living together in Canada and that it will create undue hardship if the application is processed overseas.  Out of status spouses may also be sponsored under this category.  Please note however, that in case the application is refused, there is no right of appeal.   The only remedy after a refusal is the filing of an Application for Leave and Judicial Review with the Federal Court.  A positive decision in the Federal Court application can only, at best, result in a quashing of the decision but that the matter will be sent back to CIC for a redetermination by another visa officer.  There have been instances where the redetermination still led to a negative decision.

Please note that the above are meant for informational purposes only and not to provide specific legal advice.  To discuss your specific questions and concerns in these matters, please consult a trusted immigration counsel.

The author is an immigration lawyer in Toronto and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca. 

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Hopes for 2011 and Beyond

Filipiniana News – January 2011
RHYME & REASON
  
This being the start not only of a new year but of a new decade, please allow me to wax philosophical and list some of my fondest hopes for all:

Fairness and Justice

Most of us are aware that laws are greatly influenced by politics.  That is, laws enacted by lawmakers (who also happen to be politicians) do not necessarily promote or lead to fairness and justice for all but often only for a favored few.   The manner by which laws are sometimes executed by enforcement officers and interpreted by judges may also leave much to be desired.   They are still human beings after all.  As human beings, we all have vested interests, whether we would like to admit it or not.   These interests inevitably creep into anything that we do, think or say, whether intentionally or not.   However, as human beings, we are also gifted with the ability to discern and to make choices.

Therefore, whenever we are faced with a situation where we feel that the laws and their implementation or interpretation are not fair or are not in accordance with our views of what is just, we should not feel helpless and simply accept things as they are.  Instead, we should always be reminded that achieving fairness and justice is not the sole domain of legislators and politicians, lawyers and judges, policemen and other enforcement officers.

I am not advocating anarchy or taking justice into our own hands.  Far from it.  A civilized society such as ours will still benefit from having systems in place to enact laws, enforce and interpret the same, which is what our legislative, executive and judicial branches of government are tasked to perform.   

However, as responsible and concerned members of society, we are strongly encouraged to do our part in ensuring that our voices are heard every step of the way and that we support advocacies meant to stop the abuses and injustices perpetuated within a necessary but oftentimes misguided system.

Fairness and justice may seem frustratingly elusive at times but this should not prevent us from persistently working towards their realization, if not for ourselves, at least for future generations. 

Good Health and Happiness

In this age when cancer of all kinds may seem like a growing pandemic and all sorts of mysterious diseases are becoming manifest, it is easy to become a bit paranoid and be anxious about our own and our loved ones’ physical well being. 

A clich√© we have often heard from childhood is that, “Health is wealth”.   Our wiser elders often remind us of the importance of keeping healthy by eating right, physical exercise, maintaining a positive attitude and living a full and balanced life.  If we listen and follow these basic guidelines, then genuine happiness will hopefully be well within our reach.  If despite our best efforts to achieve a healthy lifestyle, we still find ourselves stricken with a terminal illness, my hope is that we get the best medical attention possible and have the support of compassionate caregivers if needed until we breathe our very last.  

Achieving a healthy mind and body is only one part of the happiness equation however.  Achieving a healthy and peace-filled spirit is the other necessary part.   Which leads me to my next fervent hope:

True and Lasting Peace

A wise person once said that peace is not merely the absence of war.   Indeed, peace is actually better characterized by the presence of  fairness and justice, of good health and happiness within a society.  For individuals, we can also add the presence of a kind and generous spirit, free of anger, despair and all negative feelings towards ourselves and others.

Of course, these things are easier said (and written) than done.  But they are not at all impossible.  As earlier said, we as human beings have our limitations and weaknesses.  However, it is always our choice to turn these limitations and weaknesses into strengths.  Once we have learned to triumph over our human frailties, peace of mind, body and spirit will inevitably follow.  If we can make every effort towards this goal, the dream of a true and lasting peace for the rest of the world will not anymore seem like an impossible dream.

Here’s hoping that you will be blessed with all these and more in this new decade. 

The author is an immigration lawyer in Toronto and may be reached at deanna@santoslaw.ca.