Sask. newcomer support groups welcome province's revamped immigration laws

Organizations that help newcomers get their footing in Saskatchewan are welcoming the province's new legislation meant to bolster employment and clamp down on exploitation.

The Immigration Services Act was introduced in April and came into effect on Monday. It replaces a previous version of the legislation and is meant to bring all immigration authorities in the province under one umbrella.

It's also meant to streamline international recruitment for employers, retain workers, improve oversight of recruiters, consultants and employers, and better protect new workers from exploitation, according to a provincial news release issued Tuesday.

Ronald Labrecque, executive director of Assemblée communautaire fransaskoise, which describes itself as the voice of Saskatchewan francophones, said the new legislation changes the environment for immigrants coming to the province.

"Immigration in Saskatchewan has more credibility, has a more robust framework," Labrecque said. "They should feel more protected."

In Tuesday's release, the province said the Act gives Saskatchewan more investigative authority and enforcement measures to crack down on immigration fraud, including "the highest fines for violations in the country."

A person can now be fined up to $750,000, and a corporation as much as $1.25 million, for violations such as providing misleading information or interfering with an audit related to the Act. Those are up from $50,000 and $100,000, respectively.

"This strengthened legislation will enhance Saskatchewan's ability to protect foreign workers as they arrive in the province, streamline processing for employers, and will set a new standard for program integrity in Canada," Jeremy Harrison, minister of Immigration and Career Training, said in the release.

Act could improve newcomer retention, advocates say

Ali Abukar views it as a way to improve on Saskatchewan's declining immigration retention rates.

He is the CEO of the Saskatoon Open Door Society, which helps refugees and other newcomers settle in the province.

"We're doing badly in keeping immigrants or retaining immigrants for the long term, so we hope that will be improved by, maybe, some of the measures that are going to be taken here, or supported by this legislation," he said.

"The Canadian immigration system is very strong and a program that really works," said Ali Abukar, the CEO of Saskatoon Open Door Society
Ali Abukar, the CEO of the Saskatoon Open Door Society, said he is hopeful the new legislation will improve immigrant retention in the province. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

A recent Statistics Canada report found 72.2 per cent of immigrants who were admitted to Saskatchewan in 2012 stayed at least five years, which dropped to 57.9 per cent in 2016.

Abukar said he often sees immigrants being exploited by employers and not paid, or not paid properly, and he supports the move to increase fines.

In the provincial news release, the Open Door Society's Regina counterpart also said it stood behind the legislation as a way to improve processing times and deter fraud.