Canada’s visa system badly flawed – watchdog

OTTAWA, (Reuters) – Canada could be admitting people  who are security threats or carrying serious diseases because  its visa system is badly flawed, a parliamentary watchdog  warned today.
The report by the auditor general is likely to bolster U.S.  critics who call for much tighter controls on the border with  Canada on the grounds that Ottawa is letting in terror suspects  and militants who could one day attack the United States.
Interim Auditor General John Wiersema said visa and  security officials “need to do a much better job of managing  the health, safety and security risks” of applicants.
In 2010, visa officers abroad processed applications for  1.04 million people seeking temporary residence and for 317,000  people seeking permanent residence. Canada has a population of  34.5 million and is one of the few western nations actively  encouraging immigration.
Wiersema said officials at the two main departments  involved – Citizenship and Immigration and the Border Services  Agency – were overworked, ill-trained, poorly supervised and  were using outdated methods.
“Visa officers are responsible for deciding whether to  grant or refuse a visa to enter Canada. The system lacks basic  elements to ensure they get the right information to make those  decisions,” Wiersema said in a statement.
“We’ve been reporting some of these problems with visas for  20 years, and I find it disturbing that fundamental weaknesses  still exist.”
The report comes at a sensitive time. President Barack  Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet in Washington  next month to sign an agreement on closer co-operation on  border security.
Ottawa was embarrassed in 1999 when U.S. officials arrested  Algerian-born Ahmed Ressam as he crossed the border from Canada  on a mission to blow up Los Angeles airport. Ressam had ignored  a deportation order and used a faked birth certificate to gain  a Canadian passport.
Some commentators in the United States have falsely claimed  that members of the group behind the 9/11 suicide attacks  entered from Canada.
Wiersema said two of the Border Services’ manuals used to  help officers screen for security risks had not been updated  for several years and that one was last revised in 1999.
“There has been no analysis to determine whether the  current risk indicators to help identify potentially  inadmissible applicants are appropriate or properly applied,”  he said.
Almost two-thirds of foreign-based visa officers  interviewed by Wiersema’s team reported problems validating  information provided by applicants. This included police  certificates of good behavior.
In more than 80 percent of applications for permanent  residence, not all the mandatory checks were carried out by  Border Services Agency officials.
Wiersema also found potential immigrants were not being  properly assessed to see if they were medically admissible.  Officials focus on syphilis and tuberculosis even though the  federal Public Health Agency has identified 56 diseases that  need monitoring.

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