Canada on the wrong immigration track?
About a year ago, I was privileged to appear before parliamentary committees that were charged with examining proposed changes to Canada’s immigration selection system. The government of the day claimed that urgent modifications to the law were necessary in order to streamline the immigration process and reduce the backlog of pending skilled worker (economic) applications. At the time, I felt there was more to it than that. For, if the government really just wanted to shorten the immigration queue, it could have easily accomplished this goal by exercising its authority within the immigration regulations as they then existed. Clearly, they had more in mind, and in the end the government got the changes they desired.
Now comes an in-depth study from Queen’s University’s Naomi Alboim, sponsored by the Maytree Foundation, which takes a look at recent federal immigration policy developments and notes that there has been a dramatic change in the paradigm for economic immigration to Canada. The study finds that Canada’s economic immigration policies have become short-term in focus, with a concentration on current labour market needs instead of longer-term economic priorities and nation-building. This has come about, in part, by:
- Restricting federal skilled worker application to persons who have offers of arranged employment in Canada or work experience in one of only 38 occupations deemed to be in demand in Canada;
- Expanding Provincial Nomination Programs by removing caps on the number of nominations each province/territory may issue with guaranteed expedited processing of Provincial Nominee applicants by the federal government; and
- Expanding the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, with a focus on lower-skilled workers, so that employers can quickly access workers for difficult-to-fill jobs.
Until recently, Canada selected immigrants based on a human capital model- the collection of characteristics individuals possess that enable them to contribute and adapt to the economy. Education, language skills, and transferable work experience are hallmarks of human capital. Now, Canada is moving in a direction that weakens the human capital model by adding an occupation filter to the Federal Skilled Worker program and by giving priority to Provincial Nominees and Temporary Workers.
The study points out that the federal government has devolved much of its role to the provinces and employers but these latter groups do not have the national interest as their mandate or objective. Ultimately, this will not benefit Canada.
Some of recommendations of the study are as follows:
1. Articulate a national vision for economic immigration through public dialogue and debate.
2. Make the Federal Skilled Worker Program Canada’s priority for economic immigration.
3. Revise the Federal Skilled Worker Program to better match labour market needs.
4. Connect applicants to employers.
5. Create a national framework for provincial nominee programs that allows for provincial variation and that complements but does not replace the Federal Skilled Worker Program.
6. Eliminate the Low Skill Pilot Program for temporary foreign workers.
7. Broaden eligibility for federally funded settlement services.
8. Fund successful and creative labour market supports.
It will be interesting to see how the report will be received by the Canadian political parties and whether any of the parties incorporate these suggestions into their party platform as we get closer to a federal election.