What was, What is, What’s next

December 23rd, 2008

Without a doubt, the Canadian immigration story of the past year has to do with the changes made to the Federal Skilled Worker category of immigration. Not only is qualifying now different than it was a year ago, but the application process itself has also changed significantly.

Getting approved as a Federal Skilled Worker still requires achieving a score of at least 67 points according to the same six selection factors. However, that’s about where the similarity between the former and the current selection systems ends. In the past, an applicant required, as a minimum, one year of full-time (or part-time equivalent) paid work experience in any one of a huge number of skilled occupations listed in Canada’s National Occupational Classification (NOC). Today, only work experience during the past 10 years in one of 38 qualifying occupations counts towards approval under the Federal Skilled Worker category.

To qualify as a Federal Skilled Worker without work experience in a qualifying occupation, an applicant now needs a job offer from a Canadian employer, or must have been legally residing in Canada for at least one year as a foreign worker or international student.

What’s more, the processing procedures have also been modified for Federal Skilled Worker candidates, who wish to be considered based on work experience in a qualifying occupation. These applications no longer start off at a Canadian immigration visa office, but rather must be initially submitted for pre-screening purposes to a Canadian immigration office in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Oh, and one other thing. These changes apply retroactively to all applications submitted to Canadian visa offices on or after February 27, 2008.

Why the changes? It doesn’t really matter anymore. But according to the government, these new regulations were required in order to streamline Canada’s immigration selection process and to cut through the backlog of applications waiting to be processed at some Canadian immigration visa offices.

Will the changes reduce waiting times? Not for anyone who submitted a Federal Skilled Worker application prior to February 27, 2008. For the “new” applicants, I don’t know. However, the government is calling these changes an “Action Plan for Faster Immigration” and advising anyone who will listen that visas can now be expected in 6 to 12 months. Now, if only government predictions always came true.

Do these changes make it harder to qualify? Yes and no. Really what’s happened is that immigrating to Canada as a skilled worker has gotten a lot more complicated. First of all, stating that there are 38 qualifying occupations doesn’t really tell us that much. An applicant’s job title isn’t important, but rather the duties the applicant performs or performed are what matters. For example, let’s say that your occupation title is “Software Development Programmer” (NOC code 2174), you might assume that your occupation is not on the list of qualifying occupations and that therefore you would be discouraged from applying under the Federal Skilled Worker category. But, as it turns out you spend 25% of your time on the job carrying out the duties of an Information Technology Manager (NOC code 0213) and you have been doing this for at least four consecutive years. You may now want to consider submitting a Federal Skilled Worker application because IT Managers are on the list of qualifying occupations. Add to all of this the fact that, besides the Federal Skilled Worker category there are more than 50 provincial nomination program categories available to choose from and you will quickly realize that there’s now a lot more to qualifying for Canadian permanent residency than simply submitting an application because you have determined that you score 67 points.

As for the coming year, it is somewhat difficult to predict where Canadian immigration is headed. Most everyone agrees that our immigration selection system needed an overhaul in order to become more efficient. Beyond that, their wasn’t and isn’t much concurrence among Canadian political parties as to how to go about achieving this goal. The current minority government, headed by the Conservatives, sees the solution in off-loading a significant chunk of immigrant selection to Canada’s provinces and territories. If the Conservatives remain in power the likelihood is for continued restrictions in the Federal Skilled Worker category and the assumption of a greater role by the provinces. But the Conservatives maintaining their power is not at all certain given that the three other political parties have recently expressed a lack of confidence in the government and they may be weeks away from seeking a new coalition government on forcing a new federal election. The official opposition party has indicated that it intends to repeal the amended immigration regulations if and when it heads the government.

The good news in all of this is that all Canadian political parties recognize the contribution that newcomers make to Canada and because of this it is unlikely that the door to Canada will be shut tight in 2009. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks and months.

And most importantly, to all of you who are choosing to make Canada your new home I wish you all a very healthy and happy new year.

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