Tories Limit Immigration Based on Job Skills

Posted by admin on Dec 3rd, 2008

Michelle Collins, Embassy Mag. Dec 3, 2008

New and precedent-setting instructions for Canada’s immigration system have been released with a list of 38 specific occupations in the health, finance and some construction sectors for which the country is more willing to open its doors. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney made the announcement in Toronto on Friday, nine months after the Conservative government first introduced a legislative amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that guaranteed the minister greater control over which types of professionals to allow into Canada. But while the much-anticipated instructions have been welcomed as a relief to people who fall in the new categories, others say they do little to help the nearly one million applicants stuck in the backlog, and to address the fundamentally flawed immigration system.

“I think it’s fantastic in the sense that we have some finality because the problem is everyone has been sitting since Feb. 27,” said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Rudolf Kischer. “People that were applying were shooting in the dark, basically, not knowing whether their application would ever be processed.”

What the instructions mean for potential immigrants is that any applicants who don’t match a job on the list will find it “pretty much impossible” to immigrate, Mr. Kischer said.

The only other options for such applicants is to get in by making a large investment in the country, by enrolling in school and applying through the new Canadian Experience Class stream, or by securing a job offer before immigrating—all options can be expensive and often require at least one visit to Canada to make arrangements.

For visa-restricted countries, such as Ukraine and India, the new rules will severely limit their options and it is expected that the number of immigrants from India—one of the top-source countries for immigrants to Canada, second only to China—will plummet.

“This changes wholeheartedly the Canadian immigration system,” Mr. Kischer said. “Very few people qualify. This puts us on track for what New Zealand’s been doing, what Australia’s been doing. We were the last country in the world that allowed people to come with no connection to our country, and that door I think is pretty much slammed shut.”

The ministerial instructions have been in the works since June, when the necessary legislation in Bill C-50 passed a vote in the House of Commons and Senate. Throughout the summer months, the immigration department held a series of consultations with labour groups and provincial governments across the country to seek input on what type of worker was most in demand.

The lag between the consultation sessions and the delivery of instructions, however, raises another concern that they will no longer match Canada’s needs.

“As we move into an economic trough, it’s not clear that the list of 38 [occupations] is the right list anymore,” said Queen’s University economics professor and director of the School of Policy Studies Arthur Sweetman, in an email Monday. “This was one of the problems previously—the immigration system moved more slowly than does the demand for specific occupations.”

Now drafted, these instructions will be followed by Canadian immigration officers around the world before deciding whether or not to process an application. Applicants who fit the bill to undergo processing, rather than be rejected outright for failing to match any of the job occupations, will receive a decision within a six to 12 month period.

Liberal Immigration critic Borys Wrzesnewskyj said the Conservative’s plans for immigration are worrisome because they are “deliberately blurring the lines between permanent and temporary residents,” a quote he said was first delivered by the previous immigration minister, Diane Finley, in the spring.

“We have a huge problem with this increase in temporary workers coming into Canada and creating two classes of people coming onto our shore,” Mr. Wrzesnewskyj said. “That’s not the way we’ve done this in the past… it’s just the wrong approach.”

Mr. Wrzesnewskyj also said that this will result in further “off-loading’ of federal responsibilities onto the provincial and territorial governments, which will cause even more problems.

“It’s a continuation of what they started earlier in the year,” Mr. Wrzesnewskyj said. “It’s par for the course with this government, they seem to want to offload as much as possible.”

Filling Labour Needs?

One of the crucial problems for many is that even those applicants who have the necessary one-year experience in one of the 38 occupations, or who have been living legally in Canada for one year as a temporary foreign worker or international student, will find they still need to fulfill Canada’s point system. A challenge, say many employers, because the point system is skewed against the very workers these instructions target.

“It doesn’t really do a lot for us because those people are still going to run into the point system where you have to score 67 points out of 100 and the majority of points are given for post-secondary education and efficiency in the languages. Nothing is really given for trade qualifications specification,” said Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association. “So we find that the current point system discriminates against the kind of trades and skills we need in the country.”

Mr. Atkinson said they are seeking a meeting with Mr. Kenney as well as with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, to advocate for a lower points target because despite the economic downturn, Canada’s looming trades shortage will persist.

“When you look at our demographics, quite frankly, our labour pool is not going to increase except for immigration,” Mr. Atkinson said. “This is a long term challenge that we have, it’s not short-term. It’s not going to be impacted all that much by swings in market demand.”

Of the 38 occupations there are about nine related to the healthcare sector, a move that so far has been well received.

“Any moves that we can make to facilitate addressing a very, very serious need is good and we applaud this latest step,” said Pamela Fralick, president of the Canadian Healthcare Association. “Obviously one of the key gaps that we see moving forward is in the nursing profession, and this has been covered off by the list, and a number of other professions as well.”

However Ms. Fralick also listed off several concerns, including the troublesome issue of credential recognition and upholding a high standard of education and training.

“We all feel very strongly that Canada does have to become more self-sufficient, while this is a good move this is not the answer,” Ms. Fralick said. “What are we doing to bolster our capacity domestically to produce health professionals?”

Further to this, Ms. Fralick said that “ethical recruitment” is a central concern in the healthcare sector and that Canada should be careful not to disadvantage other countries. For example, she said, the largest population of South African-trained physicians outside of South Africa is in the province of Saskatchewan.

“That’s a big issue on the horizon, so of course self-sufficiency is the response to that,” Ms. Fralick said.

Just how many immigrants Canada’s system should accommodate, also remains a contentious issue with many saying more is not always better. As such, some are questioning the government’s rationale for the new instructions, and the announced target to welcome up to 265,000 new permanent residents in 2009.

“While countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia are talking about taking fewer immigrants, our planned numbers for 2009 are on par with last year and are among the highest for this country over the past 15 years,” Mr. Kenney said on Friday.

This 15-year trend is exactly what’s been worrying University of Toronto economics professor David K. Foot, who said the government should focus solely on eliminating the backlog before opening up new doors.

“We raise immigration levels now [and] we’ve got a double challenge,” Mr. Foot said. “We’ve got the competition with the children of the boomers with the echo generation, and we’ve got an economy sliding into a recession, and maybe quite a deep recession, so the timing of this release I think is rather unfortunate.”

Up until the 1990s, Canada’s immigration intake was inversely proportional to the unemployment rate, which Mr. Foot said was a very sensible policy that has been broken.

“And I would once again argue for lower immigration levels at this time,” he said.


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