The owner of Yellowknife coffee chain Javaroma says he may leave the Northwest Territories if its rules on immigration do not change.
Rami Kassem and Fadil Memedi co-own a downtown Yellowknife coffee shop, a cafe at the NWT’s legislative assembly, and two outlets at the city’s airport.
Kassem told Cabin Radio he is losing employees to Yukon, where local laws allow immigrants to more quickly gain permanent residency.
“Previously, an employee in the NWT had to work for you for six months to be able to apply for the provincial nominee program,” said Kassem, referring to a program for skilled immigrants to gain residency based on their contribution to the economy.
“The Yukon is competing with the Northwest Territories. Now, it’s six months there, and here it’s one year. Moving to Yukon saves people time to become a permanent resident. I had two employees who decided to quit and go to Yukon when the rules changed.”
Kassem says he is contemplating a move either south, or abroad, to an area with what he considers more supportive immigration law.
No coffee for ministers
Javaroma is now closing its outlet at the legislature – a move sure to attract the attention of the territory’s politicians.
“We expanded our locations based on being able to find employees. Now we decided to downsize, because it’s not easy to run all these locations,” said Kassem.
“We decided not to renew our contract at the legislative assembly. Our immigration minister can see what’s happening and how serious it is.
“We are competing with other territories and provinces. We need people, we need to make things easier for them and not make it complicated.”
The territorial government, responding by email, said its immigration policies “very closely mirror” those found in Yukon – while conceding the NWT does indeed require workers be employed for 12 months before gaining eligibility for the nominee program, unlike Yukon.
The NWT requirement changed from six to 12 months in July 2017. The territory’s department of education, culture and employment says that change took place at the request of other businesses who saw things differently.
“Employers noted challenges in retaining workers and expressed frustration with the time and effort required to nominate an individual only to lose them after they received permanent residency status from the federal government,” read the department’s email.
“The increased employment period was proposed by employers as a means of supporting enhanced retention through assisting a worker in setting roots in their community and solidifying a working relationship so the employer could assess their decision to nominate the individual for permanent residency.”
Paying the price?
The department said its current policy helps retain workers and increase population growth. “An additional six-month requirement is not a long period of time to someone looking to remain with an employer for the monger term and to live in the NWT permanently,” it contended.
“This is particularly so when one considers that a nominated foreign national must remain with the nominating employer for the duration of time that the federal government takes to render a decision on an application, which currently averages approximately 17 months.”
Kassem, by contrast, suggested workers are likely to take their families to areas where permanent residency can be more rapidly obtained.
The territory added it is working with Yukon to share best practices and is “continually reevaluating” how the nominee program is applied in the Northwest Territories.
Kassem is simultaneously challenging federal immigration law, alleging the current approach to families of new Canadian citizens – entirely governed at federal level – means parents or other family members can be overlooked for years, without their application documents even being opened.
His family immigration concerns were first raised last year, when MLA Kieron Testart brought up the subject in the legislature. The territory said the minister responsible for immigration, Alfred Moses, has since “noted the importance of family reunification to economic immigration” and lobbied for more focus on family immigration at meetings with federal and provincial counterparts.
“I hope my message will go straight to the immigration minister, Mr Moses,” said Kassem.
“There are lots of things that i know nobody knows about immigration, because I’m the one who pays the price.”