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EDITORIAL: PNP review long overdue

Geoff Baker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Kensington, has seen his office become a busier place recently thanks to changes to the province’s PNP entrepreneurship program.
Geoff Baker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Kensington, has seen his office become a busier place recently thanks to changes to the province’s PNP entrepreneurship program. - Colin MacLean

These are reforms that are long overdue, and a case of better late than never.

A full review of P.E.I.'s immigration policies is certainly needed, following additional allegations involving the provincial nominee program. The review was launched just prior to public revelations that a second investigation is underway by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The two probes allege that approximately 1,000 provincial nominees may be involved in immigration fraud.

They obviously raise serious red flags.

The first investigation resulted in charges against two Charlottetown residents, alleging they set up fake addresses for Chinese immigrants. CBSA says 566 immigrants used the same addresses between 2008 and 2015 and nearly all were granted permanent residency. In the second probe, a document filed June 13 by CBSA alleges 462 PNP applicants used three Charlottetown homes belonging to Chinese immigrants over the past four years as "addresses of convenience."

RELATED: PNP probe prompts call for review from P.E.I. Opposition

Yet, the province didn’t request a review until late July. It raises the question why such a review wasn’t begun in May when the initial investigation resulted in charges, and not wait until well after a second investigation resulted in additional allegations.

Island Investment Development Inc., the provincial crown agency which administers the PNP file, admits the federal probes involve serious allegations; that it wants to rectify any problems identified; and anyone in breach is held accountable. That is somewhat reassuring, but when there are more than1,000 cases being investigated, it’s well past what IIDI terms “an isolated issue.”

The 12 PNP intermediaries, who provide advice to nominees, should have been clear on the rules before they met with any immigrants. The fact that the province felt it necessary to meet with them again to ensure they are clear on regulations suggests a problem.

The provincial review will look at other programs to make sure the province is using the best criteria and identifying the best possible candidates. These are reforms that are long overdue, and a case of better late than never.

P.E.I.’s program is similar to others across the country, but one key element makes the Island vulnerable for possible fraud – the program threshold of $200,000 is low compared to other provinces. Changes to work visas could also fix some issues. Other provinces provide temporary work permits so immigrant businesses can be reviewed before permanent residence is granted, while P.E.I. provides permanent residency to nominees when they land in Canada and before they fulfill their obligations.

A second federal investigation in less than three months doesn't inspire confidence among Islanders. The province seemed willing to accept lax oversight in an attempt to level the playing field. Because of our small size, P.E.I. faces special challenges to retain immigrants, who often prefer wider opportunities in Ontario and British Columbia.

There have been huge benefits for the province from PNP and many hundreds of newcomers have made P.E.I. their home. Hopefully, the federal probes will identify solutions that the provincial review can act upon. IIDI expects some changes will be announced very soon. Considering the history and reputation of PNP in this province, they can’t come soon enough.

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