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Ask Tito Mike by Michael Scott

What is said and what is done

Changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program

By Michael Scott

The Canadian immigration world is never boring. It is always changing. Programs that we assume we know change at the wink of an eye, replaced by different rules and different requirements. And usually, before any change is implemented we have an announcement from the government Minister’s office responsible for the program. The Minister who is an elected politician will assure us that all the changes are necessary or beneficial. If the changes involve cuts in immigration options, he proclaims that it may pain him more than us but it was done for the greater good. He wants these changes to be perceived by the electorate as fair minded and kind. There is very little advantage for any Canadian immigration Minister to be branded as anti-immigrant unless he is playing to a very small minority of extreme right wing voters who see all immigration as bad. This brings us to the interesting dilemma of changes in immigration. How they are presented to the public and how that public perceives them. Perception, it seems, is more important than reality.

Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP)

I shall take the example of last month’s announcement by the federal immigration Minister on the re-opening of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) as a case in point.

Just one month ago we were treated to a news release from the department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada CIC) that applications were now being accepted under FSWP.

The government’s number one priority remains jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity,” proclaimed Minister Jason Kenny on reopening the program on May 4, 2013. “Our changes ensure not only that Canada can select the immigrants most needed by our economy, but that they are best positioned for success.”

The announcement had many of the elements I had mentioned above. Note the goals: jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. And the way to achieve these lofty goals through the new reworked FSWP – it is the “way Canada can select the immigrants most needed by our economy.”

Human Potential Model

It is time to inject a little bit of reality into the well-crafted message prepared by the Minister.

First, the FSWP is not something new. It has been around for a long time. Skilled immigration has been very much one of the major objectives of the immigration Act: “to permit Canada to pursue the maximum social, cultural and economic benefits of immigration” (IRPA, 3.1.a)

The FSWP in particular and economic immigration in general has over time become the major source for immigration to Canada, especially with the shift from family to economic immigration since the early 1980s. It was formulated on the concept of attracting applicants whose age, education, work experience, English/French language skills, family connections in Canada and settlement funds were used as likelihoods for success in Canada or as assessment criteria for selection of the most qualified candidates.

The so-called Human Potential Model was embraced over time by successive governments, both Liberal and Conservative. Hundreds of thousands of applicants used the program to come to Canada and have contributed a great deal to the economic success of the country.

In 2008 Canada admitted 149,069 economic immigrants (60.29% of total immigration), 153,491 in 2009 (60.86%), 186,917 in 2010 (66.59%), 156,118 in 2011(62.76%) and 160,617 in 2012 (62.36%).

I will not say that the Human Potential Model does not have limits or failings but it appears to have served Canada well as a source for needed skilled labour over a long period of time. This federal model is still being used by our successful Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program but no longer forms the basis of the federal skilled worker program.

The current Minister of Immigration has actually moved to limit the Human Potential Model by arguing that the large inventory of applicants which resulted from the “human potential” approach is wrong because it had created a large backlog of applications and long processing times.

Minister Kenny has argued that the old system was too generous, too unrealistic and has resulted in application backlogs exceeding 450,000. He also said that applicants were badly treated by the model and ended up with PhDs driving taxis. Candidates who were selected because of their potential to settle in Canada as opposed to being matched with a job they could enter upon landing.

Immigration caps on occupations

One solution for Minister Kenny was to impose immigration caps on occupations required by the Canadian labour market of the day.

He imposed a cap of 20,000 new applications in 2010 with a list of acceptable occupations and within these (defined by NOC codes) a limit of 1,000. The cap was reduced further to 10,000 in 2011 with a limit of 500 in each of the 29 high demand occupations. The reduced caps, the preferred occupational lists became redundant with a freeze on new applications announced in July 2012. The imposition of caps on applications was only one part of the Minister’s remaking of FSWP.

The other, more controversial part was the return of roughly 300,000 applications from the cue with refunds totalling over $130 million dollars.

The public, including myself, loudly condemned the action but Minister Kenny assured all that his actions, while harsh, were necessary to clean up a backlog, reduce processing times, and remove applicants who were no longer beneficial to the Canadian economy.

PhDs driving taxis is dramatic but what about the bulk of applicants who have successfully immigrated to Canada and are working in their professional areas?

The caps imposed in 2010, 2011 and the freeze on new applications in July 2012 were implemented as the way to get rid of the 200,000 plus applications still in the cue. All these actions were part of the “fast, flexible and fair immigration system” that would support Canada’s Economic Action 2013. The action was harsh, and some would say highly unethical, but it achieved the desired result. The much maligned backlog was first reduced by the return of 300,000 applications. Secondly, by the further reduction of the existing 200,000 backlog by imposing caps of 20,000 in 2010, 10,000 in 2011, 0 in 2012 and 5,000 for 2013 as part of the reintroduction of the FSWP in May 2013. The number of acceptable occupations was reduced to 24, with a limit of 300 applications in each priority occupation. It is important to note that Registered Nurses (NOC 3152) was one notable occupation removed from the list.

Expression of Interest Model (EIO)

In place of the old system that he derides, Minister Kenny has introduced the Expression of Interest Model (EIO) as a better way to select candidates. The system that is practiced in Australia and New Zealand places a greater emphasis upon the connection between the applicant and actual job vacancies. The changed FSWP requires applicants to have their foreign credentials assessed by designated agencies. It also requires all to take language proficiency tests (e.g. IELTS for English) with an entry minimum score of CLB 7 (equivalent to IELTS listening 6.0, reading 6.0, writing 6.0 and speaking 6.0). “For too long, too many immigrants to Canada have experienced underemployment and unemployment, and this has been detrimental to these newcomers and to the Canadian economy,” said Minister Kenny. “Our transformational change to the FSWP will help ensure that skilled newcomers are able to contribute their skills fully to the economy as soon as possible. This is good for newcomers, good for the economy, and good for all Canadians.”

In place of large inventories/backlogs there will only be a limited number of applications in line with the caps (once 300 cap in any preferred occupation is achieved, other applications will not be accepted). The department will ensure that the accepted applications will be processed expeditiously. “This is the future as opposed to the past,” concludes Minister Kenny.

From the above overview there are a number of things to conclude.

First, it is difficult to label the Minister as anti-immigration because he states that he wants better outcomes for landed skilled immigrants and is only taking harsh action to ensure the economic growth of Canada.

Who can argue with someone who wants foreign trained immigrants to work in their professional areas?

It does not seem to matter to him that the foreign trained professional may not be able to enter Canada or that over time, thousands have fulfilled their potential and settled successfully in Canada. The main thing is that he has covered himself from the critics.

But what about the caps of 20,000, reduced to 10,000 and now returned as 5,000 per annum? How can these insignificant numbers make a major impact on the Canadian economy? Even our MPNP program has a cap of 5,000 nominations per year. What about the retention of immigrants who came to the country on work permits by the same employer or even by the same industry? This is one of the major shortcomings of the EOI model, which can be accused of being shortsighted, but did Minister Kenny even consider it?

The entire immigration reform appears to this commentator as little more than a face saving exercise. The Minister does not appear to support strongly either skilled immigration or family immigration but only gives the impression that he does. He provides programs such as FSWP or even the returning parent/grandparent sponsorship as ways to decrease immigration numbers but at the same time assures voters that the programs are still there.

How many of the readers consider current day Australia or New Zealand, where EOI was founded, to be pro-immigration? The reduced caps and enhanced requirements will have the desired effect of cutting immigration numbers over time.

The reality of the immigration reforms undertaken by federal immigration is that it has become harder to apply to Canada as a skilled worker or to sponsor our parents/grandparents. I am not convinced that the changes, even the things I agree with such as credentials assessment and mandatory language testing, are the real issues. The “devil in this case is not in the details” but rather in what appears to be a structured plan to reduce the immigration to Canada. Minister Jason Kenny has brought back FSWP but it is only a shadow of its former self. The Minister practices the art of cutting immigration numbers by imposing caps and increasing requirements while covering himself from criticism. This is apparently seen as “win-win” for the government but “loose-loose” for us.

The impact of the so-called immigration reforms undertaken by the Harper government is to decrease immigration to the country and this will not be immediately evident because of the time delay between application submission and visa issuance. The Expression of Interest model is not the way of the future but the way of the Harper government.

My role is to teach the reader to check the words of the immigration Minister against his actions. He can say many things to assure us that his actions are honourable but the reality is that that opportunities for skilled immigrants and family class applicants have been cut and immigration numbers will be adversely affected.

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: mscott.ici@gmail.com

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