Archive for January, 2010

Book Review Still Alice

January 19, 2010

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Simon and Schuster, 2009
The author is an academic psycholinquist whose grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease. The novel is used to portray the progressive stages of the illness as seen from the viewpoints of the individual, her close family, friends and the academic colleagues with whom she works.
Since at present there is no cure for this type of dementia and it is carried in a gene that can be passed on to subsequent generations, the story portrays an inevitability that is similar to the finality of life but one that occurs slowly over time.
As a person aged 75 noticing loss of short term memory, I found myself questioning my own situation. In this sense it is not a comfortable read but neither would be a novel about cancer. The novel is well constructed and illustrates clearly the circumstances of the condition. The numerous online reviews are worth reading.

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Security and Border Measures

January 11, 2010

REIMAGINING THE CANADA-US BORDER
How security concerns affect border measures

Christopher Maule

Professor Emeritus, Carleton University, Ottawa

Crossborder issues concern the movement of goods, services and persons between the two countries. The issues are managed by two sets of federal and provincial government departments. One, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), deals with trade related issues and another involving Citizenship and Immigration Canada(CIC) with the crossborder movement of persons. Some overlap exists as with the provisions of the WTO services agreement that address the crossborder delivery of services by persons moving from one country to another.

It is argued here that the two sets of issues are dealt with in separate policy silos, and that recognizing the interrelationships is necessary in order to devise border policies. For example, if each country has security concerns about the crossborder movement of persons, they may institute border thickening measures that adversely affect trade flows. Here we make an initial exploration of the issues involved in the relationship between national security and measures taken by both sides that may have an adverse impact on Canada-US trade.

That security is a concern to both Canada and the US is reflected in the December 2009 flight of a Nigerian national carrying explosive devices on a US airline after having passed through security checks in both Lagos and Amsterdam; and by the December 1999 entry from Canada into the US in of an Algerian national with a car loaded with explosives for detonation at Los Angeles airport. The latter had entered Canada in 1994 with a forged French passport. When questioned by Canadian immigration officials he applied for asylum in Canada.

US authorities express concern about the laxity of Canada’s immigration, refugee and asylum policies. Canada should be concerned about the estimated 12 million persons who are illegally in the US, many of whom may have entered at the Mexican-US border which at times appears to be a war zone involving the drug trade. Though most of the latter may not proceed to Canada, their presence in the US does not inspire confidence about security screening measures there. The focus of the remainder of the paper is on the immigration and refugee process in Canada and how it can be gamed by interested parties in ways that affect security.

Canada’s border policies for persons

The filtering system for migration is complex and has some desired but also some unexpected and unwanted results. The admission process can be manipulated in various ways, some of which are discussed below using Figure 1 as a point of departure starting with illegal entrants.

Illegal migrants

An unknown number of migrants bypass the legislated process by entering the country illegally or entering legally and failing to leave. Asian boat people are examples of the former. The latter include tourists, temporary foreign workers and foreign students who have overstayed their visas or entry conditions. Persons who have been ordered deported and have not left the country are part of this group.
The illegals, also referred to as undocumented migrants, face a number of obstacles to staying and working in Canada. They do not have a Social Insurance Number (SIN), have difficulty receiving provincial medical and other social services and enrolling their children in schools. This gives rise to a demand for persons who can supply and charge for the necessary documentation through the underground economy. One response by some European governments is to require employers and other service providers to ask for official identification before hiring or supplying a service. In effect, this means that all citizens are required to possess identity cards, a condition to which there is considerable opposition on grounds of privacy infringement, even though Canadians carry a wide range of identification such as passports, driving licences, health cards, library cards, bus passes and bank cards, and advertise their interests on social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.

Domestic political consequences arise as illegals are attracted to communities where others of similar nationality reside and their passage to and employment in Canada is often associated with particular locations. Because these communities tend to be concentrated in certain areas and constituencies, they have political clout especially at election times leading to weakened enforcement of immigration rules. Statistics Canada reports that over 200 federal constituencies now have significant ethnic minorities, a marked increase in the last decade.

In sum, the actions associated with illegal migrants gives rise to a range of activities some of which provide opportunities for underground and illegal economic activity while putting pressure on domestic political constituencies. No political party is willing to address these issues for fear of losing votes at election time.

Figure 1.
Annual flow of persons into Canada, 2007/08
Figure not included

At the same time, the immigration/refugee process provides the building blocks for an immigration industry of lawyers and consultants that can benefit financially from facilitating the crossborder flow of persons into Canada. Next we look at the procedures associated with the 30.5 million annual legal migrants.

Legal entrants

Here we deal with government mandated procedures where the devil is in the details of how they are administered and how persons inside and outside Canada other than the migrants can benefit financially. Because government restricts inflows, demand exceeds the supply of places available for would-be legal entrants to Canada creating a situation for rent-seeking behavior, resulting in actions by applicants to improve their chances of admission and by those who would seek to assist them by offering the possibility of getting a positive outcome.

Temporary entrants

The vast majority, the approximate 30 million annual tourists and short term visitors, can either enter with a valid passport or with a visa in the case of the approximately 150 countries designated by Canada. The visa applicant either attends one of the CIC offices in the foreign country or submits a written application and receives an answer and documents by mail. The application fee is $75 per person and $400 per family. The issuing official has to determine the authenticity of the information submitted, not always an easy task, and especially important as these persons can become part of the illegal immigrant community if they remain in the country.

Foreign students and temporary foreign workers (272K in 2008) in general follow the procedures for short term visitors such as tourists and business visitors with the required information tailored to the particular purpose of entry. For example, performing artists and athletes do not need visas and the rights and responsibilities set out for foreign labourers differ from those for live-in caregivers and their respective families. Details are available on the CIC website and are not repeated here. The requirements involve documentation and interpretation of the applicant’s and the employer’s respective situations. An employer must attest that there is a job for the applicant in Canada and helps determine if the person is eligible. The employer may need to get a labour market opinion from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) to confirm that the employer can fill the job with a foreign worker.

One major advantage of entering as a temporary foreign worker as well as a foreign student is that the person can convert their situation to one of permanent residency. Persons who appear as a temporary foreign worker and as a student in Figure 1. for 2007/8 may in later years become included in one of the four categories of economic migrants. As complexity of the application procedure increases, the more there are opportunities for persons to game the system and engage in rent seeking behaviour often at the expense of the foreign worker and at odds with the intent of the program.

Permanent residents

Permanent residents are persons who can later on become Canadian citizens after passing a prescribed test. Permanent residents (247K in 2008) are the largest category of legal migrants with economic immigrants the largest of the four subcategories – see Figure 1. Within each subcategory, there are the principal applicants and their family members. For example there were 104K in the skilled worker category of which 43K were principal applicants (shown in brackets) and the remaining 61K were family members. Each principal applicant and associated family member is assessed according to a set of criteria for the group that uses a point system.

The skilled worker and provincial nominee applicants are persons screened according to their potential contribution to current labour market conditions in the Canadian economy. One aspect of their application is the assessment of the skills required abroad and the ease with which they will be recognized in Canada making it possible to become employed. The oft-quoted example of the immigrant doctor trained in Pakistan who ends up driving a taxi in Montreal is a reflection of this problem. The federal government has a program to facilitate the recognition of credentials but difficulties will persist. While a carpenter or plumber trained in a developing country will be able to transfer the skills to a developed country, this may not be the case for a scientist, physician or nurse where the equipment used for training purposes in the two sets of countries may be dissimilar. The nurse will require further training while the carpenter may not. Even if foreign credentials are recognized in Canada, there is no assurance that a person will find the preferred job.

Providing false credentials through the provision of forged documents is an example of an illegal economic activity in Canada and abroad that derives from these requirements and is an issue faced by immigration officers. Language is another example where care is needed to ensure that the applicant has the stated ability.
Live-in caregivers are economic migrants with particular attributes. Many will have previously entered Canada as temporary foreign workers and are able to convert this to economic immigrant status after a period of time. They are then able to sponsor family members to join them in Canada.

The final category of economic migrant contains those who are business related and can in effect buy their way in, namely the entrepreneur, investor and self-employed and their family members. In 2008, about 27% of the business category was principal applicants and the remaining 73% family members. The entry criteria include the deposit of a certain sum of money interest free for a number of years and a certain level of net worth. While this category provides the opportunity for the creation of new businesses in Canada, it may also be used by those engaged in international money laundering.

The foregoing is a summary of what the Canadian government requires for permanent residency status. The details of the process are more complex and provide opportunities for advisors in Canada and abroad to assist applicants, for which the advisors are paid so that the total cost for the migrant of coming to Canada is higher than appears from reading the published requirements. Once in Canada, there may be further costs associated with paying off those in Canada or abroad who claim to have assisted the immigrant. Some persons end up being a type of indentured labour until their debts are repaid.

Refugee and humanitarian

Each year persons arrive in Canada claiming asylum or are hand-picked as refugees by the government from places such as refugee camps to come to Canada – 33K in 2008. Their reason for coming is different from economic migrants although both desire to make their home here and to bring their family with them, either initially or later on. No attempt is made here to summarise their selection process except to note that there are a number of NGOs, lawyers and pressure groups that lobby on behalf of different groups, often at election time where influence can be felt in particular federal ridings.

Number of deportations and procedure

A major opportunity to game the system occurs when persons designated for deportation for whatever reason can appeal almost endlessly to delay their removal. Recent examples include Karlheinz Schreiber wanted for trial in Germany, and the lesser known Indian-born banker, Rakesh Saxena, who was involved in Canada’s longest extradition case. Facing criminal charges in Thailand, Saxena lived in a luxury version of house arrest in Vancouver from where he assisted in financing an abortive coup in Sierra Leone, invested in a failed bank in Austria and tried to purchase the passport of a deceased Yugoslav (Economist Nov 7, 2009, 42). Gilbert and Sullivan could not have asked for more promising material.

In Canada, estimates of the stock of deportees vary from about 63,000 to several hundred thousand depending on the information source.
The lowest and probably one of the more reliable estimates comes from the Auditor General (AG), who for 2007 reported an inventory of 63,000 persons in Canada who should be deported, 22,000 in Citizenship and Immigration’s (CIC’s) working inventory and 41,000 of whom the agency has lost track. Some of these may have left the country but others who face deportation but have not gone through the deportation process have undoubtedly entered the country, adding to the total of undocumented migrants. The deportation process is summarised schematically below by the AG.

Figure 2.
Canada’ Deportation Process (Not Included here)

Note: This exhibit presents a simplified version of the detentions and removals process, primarily from the perspective of the Canada Border Services Agency. It is not intended to portray every eventuality.
The Agency has found that the longer it takes to process a removal order, the greater the cost and effort to remove the individual. Figure 2 depicts a simplified version of the detentions and removals process. During the removal process, the individual may apply for a Pre-removal Risk Assessment, or to become a permanent resident. If this risk assessment is negative or if the application for permanent residency is declined, the Agency may still have difficulty obtaining travel documents such as passports or the authority to remove the individual to his or her destination country. The combination of these factors can add years to the removal process.
Source: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_200805_07_e_30703.html

Concluding observations

The foregoing is a summary of the Canadian immigration/refugee process. It is complex and expensive to administer, providing opportunities for persons to exploit business opportunities to facilitate the movement of persons to Canada. Some of these are perfectly legal but others are associated with criminal activities operated by persons in Canada and abroad.

Do these measures give rise to national security concerns? It seems likely if the process is as dysfunctional as implied above. An experienced observer and former deputy minister of immigration Joe Bissett has described it as follows (Ottawa Citizen April 27, 2009)
In the past 25 years over 700,000 people entered Canada asking for asylum. None of these individuals has been screened for health, criminality or security. Many of them arrived without documents or with false credentials and many of them have been smuggled into Canada by international criminal organizations. Few are detained. Most are released and asked to show up for a refugee hearing which might be scheduled one or two years in the future. In the meantime they are free to work or receive welfare. There is no restriction on their movement and no tracking system.

To-date, the US has raised issues about national security resulting from lax Canadian policies. The official Canadian response has either been absent or focused on refuting the US claim that 9/11 terrorists entered the US from Canada. Not only should Canadians be concerned about the security implications of its immigration/refugee policy but it should be similarly concerned about the presence of 12 million illegal immigrants in the US whose activities are unlikely to be confined entirely to the that country.

Do these concerns lead to border thickening measures that affect trade? Testing for this relationship is difficult because there are numerous variables that affect Canada-US trade flows especially at a time of economic slowdown when protectionist pressures are on the rise. However there is little doubt that the federal and provincial departments responsible for administering immigration and trade policies need to work closely together on these issues. This will only happen if there is Ministerial support for such action. For political reasons this is unlikely unless those lobbying for a responsible immigration policy make their voices heard.

Googled – Book review

January 11, 2010

Googled, The end of the world as we know it.
by Ken Auletta, 2009, Penguin.

Ken Auletta, feature writer for the New Yorker is author of a number of books on the media. The end of the world as we know it describes how technology has disrupted the traditional media. If you had fallen asleep in 1990 and awoken in 2010, the world would be unrecognizable in many ways.

In 1990, we bought books and magazines in stores and borrowed them from libraries, watched network television at set times, listened to music on records and tapes, conversed on fixed line telephones and met friends in coffee shops. Today, we buy and download books to read them on electronic readers and computers, read magazine articles, watch TV programs, and download music and films via the interenet, talk on mobile phones and engage in social networking on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Disposition of the 24 hours hours in the day, especially among the young, has changed so that we watch less television, spend more time on various devices that allow us to connect to the internet by wireless and cable. There has been a significant impact on advertising. Newspapers are losing money, some struggle on, some have closed down while others publish only electronically. Meanwhile specialised and personal websites have opened up to post current news stories. TV advertising has declined while advertising on the internet although still at a low level is increasing. In 2008, Google made $23bn from online advertising on its search engine, an amount equal to all advertising in US magazines and two-thirds the advertising in US newspapers. Information technology, and especially the internet has done to traditional media what Guttenberg did to hand printing.

Many, especially traditional newspaper publishers and editors, decry the demise of their papers and fear that quality news reporting will disappear. They confuse news with newspapers. There is still a demand for reliable news but not in the familiar hard copy format. Current news has often been available 24 hours later. Now it is accessibe instantly with digital cameras in mobile phones. While news reporters may be prevented from entering a country, residents with mobile phones can report directly sending still and video footage. It willl take time for news organizations to adapt to these developments but there will remain a demand for reliable journalists.

Other developments have empowered consumers as has been the case for years with the selection of books and magazines. No longer are we required to be available at 6pm or 9pm to watch some TV program. We can record it on PVRs, access it on the internet and watch it in our own time and without commercials. Now the ‘consumer is king’ model is available for music and videos which creates problems for the meaning and enforcement of copyright.

I have just read my first book downloaded electroncally to a laptop computer. It was a good experience but I have no doubt that I am an early adopter and there will be significant improvements in the capabilities and uses of readers. I downloaded books to a netbook computer from Best Buy which cost the same as Amazon’s Kindle reader but the former has computing capabilities.

Auletta describes these developments through a case examination of the startup and growth of Google. For an economist the case illustrates private entreprenership, risk taking, venture capital, competition, intellectual property and the role of government. While the author was allowed to spend considerable time in the firm and to interview past and present Google employees, access to proprietary information was withheld.

I found the book to be an excellent read providing input to follow the fast-moving changes that will continue to affect our daily lives often in unexpected ways.