Sunday, May 1, 2011

Let’s make room for the ‘bright’ immigrant

Harbour of Peggys Cove, Nova ScotiaImage via WikipediaBy RACHEL BRIGHTON JUST BUSINESS 



When my husband and I applied for permanent residency in Canada in 1996, one of the questions asked on the application form was whether we were "bright" or "dull." We indicated we were bright and they opened the door for us.
We were also considered suitably young, educated and affluent, but more importantly, to us, we were "free" immigrants. We did not enter the country and the province through an economic immigration stream that bound us to work for a particular company or take a particular job on a prescribed list. We were free to make our living as we chose and where we chose.
We chose Nova Scotia because we liked its contours on a map. We stayed because we liked the lay of the land when we saw it and the laid back way of life.
Moving here is harder now, because of the regimented immigration system that channels applicants through narrow corridors into provinces, sectors and occupations.
For example, the federal skilled-worker stream lists 29 eligible occupations and accepts up to 1,000 applicants in each occupation per year, up to a total of 20,000 applicants.
In a 10-month period ending April 19, Canada had filled its quota in some occupations, such as pharmacists and registered nurses, but fell far short in other occupations. Only 49 plumbers and seven crane operators wanted to immigrate to Canada.
Imposing such strict controls may not be the best way to attract immigrants with sought-after skills.
When Nova Scotia launched its new immigration strategy this week, it set out a flexible approach that will still try to match skills and jobs but without a strict list. It will also try to balance the short-term needs of employers, who are looking for people with very particular skill sets, with self-sufficient skills that immigrants bring, such as being able to operate machines and heavy equipment.
The government hopes to attract 7,200 immigrants a year by 2020 — double the rate now. Half would come through the provincial nominee program, or as family members of these nominees, and half would come through federal immigration streams.
But the province says to meet these targets the federal government must release its tight grip on immigration to this province. The federal government will only consider up to 500 applications a year through Nova Scotia’s provincial nominee program.
The premier said Friday that immigration was an economic driver and the federal cap was setting "a limit on that development."
As the premier seeks to free up the immigration process at the federal level, he should also strive to ensure there is sufficient freedom in the provincial process.
It makes some sense to stream immigrants into economic categories, such as highly skilled, semi-skilled and temporary workers, or agricultural entrepreneurs, as the new strategy will do.
But Nova Scotia should always welcome a knock at the door from more romantic types who can’t be classified by narrowly defined labels. We could shut out some "bright" immigrants if our vision is too dull.
Rachel Brighton is the editor and publisher of the regional magazine Coastlands: The Maritimes Policy Review.