Ottawa to ease immigration rules for workers, students
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
August 12, 2008 at 9:54 PM EDT
OTTAWA — The Harper government is creating a new fast-track immigration route for skilled foreign workers and students who've already proved employable in Canada: an effort to prevent an erosion of talent as global competition heats up for higher-value labour.
Unlike existing programs, the Canadian Experience Class immigration stream will make work experience in this country a key criterion for vetting applicants. It will also allow temporary foreign workers and students living here to apply from within Canada rather than having to leave first.
It's expected to grant permanent resident status to 12,000 to 18,000 economic immigrants in the first year, a figure that's forecast to rise to 25,000 annually over time. But it's not expected to increase the number of economic immigrants, which last year totalled 50,000.
The goal is to improve the quality of immigrants and retain the most valuable workers and educated students: arrivals who've already proven they can integrate into society and meet labour market needs.
“If we're going to compete internationally for the best and for the brightest, we need to improve the way that we attract and retain those who want to work in their fields and contribute to Canadian society,” federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley explained at a Waterloo, Ont., news conference.
Immigrants granted permanent resident status can eventually apply for citizenship.
Canada is revamping its approach because rival destinations such as Australia and the United Kingdom already have similar programs, Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Danielle Norris said.
“We're stepping up to the plate,” she said. “We're becoming as competitive as other countries.”
Canada is suffering from a major immigration approval backlog and the new program is part of Ottawa's solution. The concern is that skilled foreign workers and highly educated students who've been trained and educated in Canada will leave permanently if more effort isn't made to keep them.
To be eligible, foreign workers must have two years of legal work experience in Canada. Foreign students must have completed a program of study lasting at least two years at a Canadian university or college and have one year of work experience.
NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said the new program is elitist and unfair to unskilled or lower-skilled labourers who comprise the vast bulk of foreigners in Canada on temporary work permits.
“They're good enough to work here, but we don't want them to become Canadian citizens,” she said. “That's 90 per cent of the 165,000 temporary foreign workers who are working in Canada right now.”
A Citizenship and Immigration official said lower-skilled foreign labourers can apply for permanent resident status if the province they're working in recommends them under what's called the Provincial Nominee Program.
Ottawa believes the new program will increase Canada's economic competitiveness.
“With nearly full employment, an aging population and skill shortages, there is an immediate need to ensure Canadian employers can access the skills they need,” Ottawa said in a statement on the changes.
It predicts that selecting immigrants who've already got a proven track record here will yield workers with higher incomes later. Ottawa estimates that the average annual income of people selected under this new program will be $60,000 after 10 years, compared with $42,000 for someone who hadn't worked or studied in Canada first.