I was just contacted by a monk friend in Canada who informed me of recent changes in Canada’s permanent residency (PR) programme. I’m posting here to see if anyone has had experience with the new policies or with similar policies in your own country.
Over the years Canada has increased the qualifications needed for applying for PR, especially with language and education requirements. But now it appears that at the federal level the job skills requirements are extremely narrow:
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) occupations
Agriculture and agri-food occupations
Other than becoming fluent in French, it doesn’t appear that monks could ever apply for PR at the federal level.
Then at the provincial level, there are special programmes but they require proof that the applicant will earn a set minimum salary, which of course won’t work for monastics.
Anyone else in Canada dealing with this? Or other countries who have found a way around it?
We used to have significant problems in NZ until they introduced a specific Religious Worker Work Visa about a decade ago. This was, in part, due to lobbying by people frustrated that some Buddhist monastics had been unable to obtain residency. Not that it’s perfect, but the page Religious Worker Work Visa: Visa details | Immigration New Zealand says:
You can apply for this visa if you have an offer of religious work from a religious organisation. This visa can lead to residence after 3 years of consecutive work in your field.
I gather this has largely got around income issues.
I’ll ask around. The monastics and long-term monastery residents (e.g., stewards) I know that are not Canadian all entered Canada before these new policies. So I haven’t started hearing about the impact of these policies yet.
Ha ha, no, it’s for a person who is a Minister in a religion, not a government Minister! Australia has very loose ties between govt and religion. In fact we have had several atheist Prime Ministers over the years, and no-one cares. There have been attempts to forge stronger ties in recent years on both sides of the political spectrum, driven by the realization that the now-massive immigrant communities often have much stronger religious identities than legacy Aussies like me.
FWIW, in a private communication with a immigration staffer many years ago, he said that the number one organization seeking religious visas was Scientology, which unfortunately due to a Supreme Court case in the 80s is considered a religion in Australia. So any relaxation of religious visas would be immediately exploited by them. It’s actually not dissimilar to my experience in Malaysia, except there they wanted to keep out two groups: Christian missionaries converting Muslims, and extremist Muslims. In both cases Buddhist monastics are left out in the cold.
I recently learned about a similar (?) problem in government procurement: The more requirements you place on the bids, the more you’re selecting for organizations whose core competency is bureaucratic persistence. But the fewer requirements you have, the more the system is vulnerable to abuse. Malcolm Gladwell and others have argued (persuasively, I think) that if we want less onerous bureaucracy, we have to be a little less abuse-averse.
Back in the 90’s I was working for a management consulting firm. At one point we started going through a dry spell on new contracts and we joked we should hire ourselves out as the 3rd bid on Request-for-Proposal’s so firms could meet their own internal requirements to review at least three bids.
A few years ago, Sister Mon at Birken Forest Monastery in BC Canada was at risk of being sent out of the country.
I remember Birken sent an email asking that if we felt inclined to do so, could we contact our government representative in support. And whatever happened, it worked, and she was allowed to stay, I’m not sure if she was granted some permanent status.
I don’t know if this would be possible now, sounds like it wouldn’t, I believe she had been a resident at Birken for a long time before this all happened.
Canada has allowed millions of immigrants into the country in recent years, I don’t understand where the motivation would come from to get picky about Buddhist monks.
Anyways if anyone is serious about this it may help to contact Birken to see what they did.
From my work on the boards of Buddhist councils in Australia, in the past, Buddhist organisations got positive results only by getting a meeting with the immigration minister to explain the difficulties the policies were causing. This included reducing the requirement for English language proficiency, as well as removing the income requirement, and the arbitrary age limit that had been imposed for permanent residency. Apparently, the department had no idea how disadvantageous these requirements were because no-one had escalated the concerns in a meaningful way to the right people. But change happened once they knew and understood the problems.
I have advocated for our peak organisations to engage an immigration lawyer in an advisory capacity, as the ever changing policies, need for specialised knowledge, and the challenging administrative burden of permanent residency applications are far beyond the means of the small community based temples, who are largely working as amateurs in a professional field.
If Canada is anything like Australia, there’s probably an unintentional disunity, with under-resourced diverse immigrant communities working independently for their own small cultural and ethnic aims, rather than working cooperatively as a unified Buddhist community for big picture growth of Buddhism. If one organisation is having this issue, others are bound to be, too.
There is not likely to be any real changes to policy until there is significant inroads made to the decision makers in power. They need to be reminded of a community of voters that need to be kept happy. This requires a united and organised effort aimed at the top levels of government, not battling with low level bureaucrats.
It seems in Canada the best organisation for this would be the Budddhist Council of Canada, however I can’t see any reference about advocating to government.
The fact is Buddhism is the least organised of the organised religions. In Australia, the largest state buddhist council has just one part time staff member, compared to other well resourced and funded religions—even of the same size as Buddhism —who have many dedicated staff and lawyers.
Unlike other religious groups, Buddhists here tend to be rather meek and reluctant to lobby government, which isn’t somehow spiritually superior as some folks tend to think, it just locks us out of conversations that would benefit our community.
Buddhism in the west cannot be sustained or grow without migration, especially of community leaders such as Sangha who speak the language of cultural groups. Religions need long term stability in community leadership to grow, so this issue really needs to be given priority by Buddhists who are willing to work together to create change. Otherwise our Buddhist organisations will just get stuck at the preliminary stage of not being able to meet the requirements of an application form and our communities will end up slowly falling apart.
TL:DR, My recommendations:
Unite with other organisations having similar issues, behind a recognised peak body
Engage an immigration lawyer for advice (not case management)
Get contacts in the immigration department and multicultural/religion department
Make an appointment with the immigration minister
Publish ‘how to’ pathways for other organisations to follow, in suitable languages.