Ontario is lagging behind in reaping the benefits of a program that brings in skilled immigrants more quickly and more successfully, a new government report shows.
A review of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), which allows provinces to select their own immigrants based on local economic needs, found that 80 per cent of the selected immigrants are employed in the first year — most of them in their area of expertise. The program fast-tracks immigrants with the right skills, bringing them to Canada in less than a year.
Their average income, depending on province, ranges from $29,600 to $41,700 in the first year, and rises to between $35,200 and $45,100 after three years.
Although newcomers selected through the standard federal skilled immigrant program have a similar employment rate initially, they lag behind the provincial nominees by a full 10 per cent after three years. About 87 per cent of the federal skilled immigrants are employed then, compared with 97 per cent among the nominees.
The federal immigrants tend to earn less than the provincial nominees for the first three years, but do catch up and surpass them after five years.
“PNP has grown a great deal, representing 20 per cent of the total economic class immigration in 2009,” says the Citizenship and Immigration Canada report released Thursday.
“For some provinces, such as Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, the program is the primary vehicle through which they attract immigrants to their province.”
Ontario doesn’t benefit to the same extent, even though it’s still Canada’s top destination for immigrants with almost 120,000 — or 42 per cent of all immigrants — settling here in 2010.
The province was a late-comer to the program, launching its own nominee procedure only in 2007. Between 2005 and 2009, only 1,247 — or 1.2 per cent of the total nominees — came to Ontario.
Ontario Immigration Minister Charles Sousa said the evaluation report “does not fully capture our high retention rates or the high calibre of PNP immigrants coming to Ontario. This is because they used data predominantly from the years before our program was fully up and running.”
Sousa pointed out that the province’s nominee target of 1,000 is set by Ottawa and “has been unilaterally frozen for this year.”
“This is just another reason why Ontario needs a stronger say on immigration selection, to ensure we have the right immigration mix that continues to support our economic prosperity,” he said.
But the highly touted program isn’t without problems.
Thanks to the pre-screening done by the provinces, immigrants coming in through PNP get approved at a rate of 96 per cent, compared with just 50 per cent under the usual federal application program.
But the report raises concerns over the lack of “systematic collection and reporting” of program information and the need for a “strong emphasis on program integrity.”
Serious allegations of corruption and mismanagement have been raised about the program in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
“There are differing levels of rigour applied by provinces and territories when confirming applicants’ adherence to eligibility criteria and, as a result, fraud and misuse can occur,” said the report, which surveyed federal and provincial officials and external groups representing unions, employers and immigrant nominees.
“But the general perception was that it was no more likely that there would be fraud (mainly related to jobs) on PNP applications than on any other economic program applications.”
The report calls for the establishment of minimum language standards for all nominees and stronger links between their occupations and specific local labour market needs. It also recommends a monitoring and reporting mechanism to boost the program’s accountability and integrity.