Ensuring immigrants' success - and that of Canada - is the purpose of reforms
Vancouver Sun April 19, 2012
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is to be commended for embarking upon a long-overdue reform of Canada's immigration policies. For decades, Canada has opened its doors to all comers whether or not they had the credentials, qualifications, skills or language proficiency that would enable them to succeed in their new home. For too long, immigration was seen primarily as a humanitarian obligation with-out regard for its social and economic consequences, ignoring Canada's own national interest.
The result has been the apocryphal cab driver with a PhD. Studies have shown immigrants earn just 72 per cent of the average Canadian income, with many falling below Statistics Canada's low-income cut-off. These below-average incomes mean the unemployed or underemployed immigrants pay less tax than other Canadians but are still eligible for all the welfare benefits Canada offers. Everyone is cheated under this system.
None of this is the fault of the immigrants who are seeking a better life for themselves and their children and who often feel they've been sold a bill of goods after they arrive.
They find their degrees are diminished, their professional accreditations are not recognized, that "Canadian work experience" is required and that English or French is mandatory in the workplace.
Kenney plans to revamp this bro-ken regime to give immigrants more opportunity to achieve personal success while increasing their contribution to Canada.
Part of his plan would shift the responsibility of assessing education, skills and credentials of newcomers from government bureaucrats to the companies that hire them and the professional associations that licence them.
Furthermore, applicants would be pre-assessed - meaning they would know whether they would be able to work in their chosen trade or profession before they get here.
Kenney is also taking aim at the immigrant investor program to attract more millionaires who want to take up residence in Canada and generate greater economic benefit from those who come through the program.
As it stands, an immigrant investor needs only to show net worth of $1.6 million and put up $800,000 in the form of an interest-free loan to the federal government for five years, much of which is usually financed by the applicant, in order to be granted immediate permanent residence.
Other countries demand $1 mil-lion or more for temporary residence, leading to permanent status once certain conditions are met.
"We think that program has been massively underselling Canada," Kenney told The Vancouver Sun editorial board last week.
There's no shortage of the restless rich.
Surveys indicate that 61 per cent of China's millionaires want to leave and 39 per cent of those want to come to Canada.Indeed, Canada is in high demand with a backlog of 23,000 applications under the program, a figure Kenney says that suggests Canada could be charging much more.
The reform process will start with consultations with the provinces, the immigration "industry" and the public, followed by legislation to give the government more flexibility to create, revise or cancel programs based on those consultations, on market conditions and on proven effectiveness.
Canada is in a worldwide competition for immigrants with either wealth or education and skills to off-set the deleterious effects of an aging population.
Other countries have a head start in this race. In Australia, skilled immigrants can take up residency and get to work in a matter of months; in Canada, it can take seven years.
In some of Canada's important industry sectors, including oil and gas extraction, the labour shortage is already a crisis.
Canada can expand training and apprenticeship programs, engage first nations and encourage skilled trades as a career choice to deal with it. But that won't be enough. A properly man-aged immigration regime will be an important part of the solution.
Kenney's proposals do not affect Canada's commitment to refugees. The number of government and privately sponsored refugees (under the Balanced Refugee Reform Act) will rise to 15,800 this year, up from 14,000 in 2011, and will reach 16,400 in 2013, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Canada has settled more than 800,000 refugees since the Second World War.
Kenney's proposals are pro-immigration and promise to be a win-win for newcomers as well as fellow citizens in their adopted country.
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