The Need for Continued Reform of the Canadian Immigration System Chambers of Commerce have been the leading voice calling on government and business to realize the scale of the challenge facing the province through a looming skills shortage in every sector, every industry and in many region of the Canada. Until recently this call has been unheard. Scope of the challenge The Conference Board of Canada predicts that by 2020, Canada will experience a labour shortage of nearly one million people. Quebec could face a shortfall of 292,000 workers by 2025, rising to 363,000 by 2030. Alberta could be short of 332,000 workers by 2025. Ontario could be short of 360,000 workers by 2025 and over 564,000 by 2030. In the case of BC estimates suggest that the province will create one million new job openings by 2017 while only graduating 350,000 students through the K12 system. Immigration will play a key role in addressing these short- and long-term labour market needs. Between 2011 and 2016, growth in Canada’s working-age population will virtually stagnate and post 2016 it will decline. At the same time, baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) will begin reaching retirement. Innovative responses are needed so that Canada can attract people from around the world with the right mix of skills and talents to support economic growth now and in the future and meet global competition head-on. Other industrialized countries are confronted with similar challenges and will be increasingly competing with Canada for this global pool of skilled workers. We must remain ahead of the competition. While The Chamber will continue to work with government and business on enhancing businesses ability to access under-represented groups such as aboriginals, youth at risk, and the disabled, the key to addressing this challenge is immigration. The challenge is the fact that the current immigration system is simply not ensuring that the immigrants we attract are being used to their full capacity. Quite simply the current immigration system is not capable of attracting the ready-to-work immigrants with the required skills base to Canada in a timely manner. The Chamber must congratulate the federal government for playing a critical role in addressing the concerns of business, particularly those in the west. We have seen: • A new Canadian Experience Class • New Expedited Labour Market Opinion (LMO) program • The overdue launch of the first phase of the Foreign Credentials Referral Office • Expansion of the provincial Nominee Program for many provinces While these initiatives have been welcome they have been dealing with elements of the challenge and have so far ignored the core issue – the process itself. The Chamber believes that amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, as passed in Bill C50, as well as changes to the immigration process, go a long way towards addressing this missing piece. Primary among these will be the issuing of Ministerial instructions that will allow certain skills and occupations to be given priority in terms of processing, thereby allowing these workers to be ready to enter the Canadian workforce much more quickly. In addition the federal government has also announced changes that will: • Eliminate the obligation to process all submitted applications to a decision; • Provide $109 million over five years to improve and modernize the immigration system; • Direct additional resources to certain overseas missions to improve wait times, This will include centralizing processing and data entry Reform of the system was long overdue. The system has become so challenged that Canada has developed a backlog of applications that has become a significant deterrent to our ability to attract new immigrants, at present Canada has approximately 925,000 (of which 600,000 are in the Federal Skilled Worker category) people waiting in line. This has continued to place pressure on the immigration process that has seen processing times for certain locations being as high as five years. While the changes introduced include a commitment to reduce wait times to 6 months there is no time frame assigned to this commitment. The Chamber believes that assigning specific goals and timeframes are an essential part of ensuring that government meet their targets. As many other industrialized countries are finding themselves grappling with the demographic crunch, they too will be competing for the same limited pool of skilled immigrants. Canada will face the increasing challenge of attracting and retaining skilled workers that are essential to our international competitiveness. The needs of the economy today will not be the needs of the economy tomorrow. As we have seen with the institutional refusal to undertake changes to the point system without a more flexible approach we will almost inevitably return to a situation where the system quickly falls behind the needs of the economy. The Chamber does not disagree that we need to ensure that we attract immigrants with managerial and professional skills the province and the country is facing a skills shortage from the board room to the shop floor. Any system that does not recognize the need to address this simple reality at all levels is failing to address the needs of the economy – the intended focus of the immigrant program. At present the pass mark for qualifying as a skilled immigrant to Canada is 67; this is assessed by reviewing education, skills, language and family. Conducting a quick test on the governments self assessment tool shows that a skilled tradesman with high school education, fluent English and three years experience will not qualify as a skilled immigrant unless he has French language skills and immediate family already in Canada. In addition to these limitations, immigrants applying for a working visa are also challenged with the Federal Government process. First, an individual must apply for a working visa which is a lengthy process (6 months). Unless the individual can make a case that their skills are in demand and a Canadian is not available to take the position, the immigration case is rejected. The problem with this system is the process involves both HRDC as well Citizenship and Immigration. If HRDC statistics show a lack of demand, the case is lost. Unfortunately, the statistics do not factor in localized or specialty needs. They are based solely on surveys and reports which are often flawed as Immigration and HRDC do not collaborate with firms that require the skills. Recommendations That the federal government: 1. Overhaul the permanent immigrant system by reviewing the point level required and by restructuring the allocation of points to emphasize the skills required by the economy. 2. Review and streamline current processes to ensure that applications are processed within 6 to 12 months. 3. Enhance the overall training strategy to ensure that visa officers receive sufficient and appropriate training and have the necessary tools and means to assess immigration applications more effectively and efficiently. 4. Provide education overseas to better prepare immigrants for integration into Canada. 5. Review the connection between HRDC, Immigration Canada and firms desiring a specific skill and seeking to hire an immigrant due to lack of local talent to ensure the process is driven by a true reflection of supply and demand rather than process driven. 6. Review the permanent and temporary immigration system with a view to enhancing small businesses ability to find and recruit foreign workers. 7. Continue to expand the Expedited LMO Program to include other occupations where an identifiable shortage exists. SUBMITTED BY THE QUALICUM BEACH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE THE ECONOMIC POLICY COMMITTEE SUPPORTS THE RECOMMENDATIONS IN THIS RESOLUTION. THE CHAMBER DID NOT TAKE A POSITION ON THE IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION CONTAINED IN BILL C50.
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