Sunday, March 4, 2012

Immigration minister looks to private sector

BY PETER O'NEIL, EDMONTON JOURNAL



Immigration Minister Jason Kenney raised the spectre of European-style tensions over multiculturalism in Canada on Thursday while proposing measures to boost the economic prospects of new Canadians.
His proposals include a greater private-sector role in immigrant selection and, in a move one immigration lawyer said would be controversial, more emphasis on the English or French proficiency of immigrants' spouses.
He also elaborated on his recent warning to provincial governments such as Alberta and British Columbia that he won't expand the provincial nominee program until that program is reformed.
"If we can improve the economic outcomes of immigrants, debates over the degree of their social integration would virtually disappear," Kenney said in a speech in Toronto.
Kenney also said the steps the government has taken to improve the "integrity" of the immigration and refugee system are essential.
"We don't have to look very far to see what happens when that integrity is undermined," he said.
"It's happened across Europe and even to some extent in the United States, where public support for the entire immigration system has fallen after widespread illegal migration and consequent abuse of public resources have gone unchecked.
"I never want to get to that point."
Kenney, after noting the comparatively poor performance of immigrants in recent decades, said he is considering proposals to adjust the points system for skilled workers to put greater emphasis on youth with "high quality credentials."
Applicants with Canadian work and study experience and trades skills should also move closer to the front of the line, he said.
The minister said the federal government will also look at giving preference to applicants with a direct job offer, resulting in the private sector getting a much larger role in the federal skilled worker program.
Kenney said he will reject recent appeals from such provinces as B.C. and Alberta for a higher quota from the provincial nominee program until that system is reformed.
He cited the successes of the pro-gram, noting that 26 per cent of current economic immigrants go to provinces other than the traditional destinations of B.C., Ontario and Quebec, compared to 11 per cent in 1997.
But he said provincial nominee immigrants tend to do worse than nominees under the federal foreign skilled worker program because Ottawa puts more emphasis on language skills.
Kenney also said the provincial pro-grams are in some cases duplicating federal programs, and also expressed concerns about provincial nominee "integrity" due to nominees arriving in one sponsoring province and then quickly moving to another.
"We will not consider increasing a province's allocation under the PN program until it demonstrates that its PN program is directly responsive to labour market needs and does not overlap with federal family reunification or investment streams."
NDP immigration critic Don Davies said Kenney exaggerated the government's progress on reducing immigration backlogs and said the minister has failed to substantially improve the ability of immigrant professionals to get their credentials recognized.
Davies also said Kenney is allowing far too many low-wage temporary foreign workers.
Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland praised Kenney's proposed moves, saying a more "nimble" sys-tem that lets the private sector play a bigger role is replacing the old "supertanker" model.
But Kurland said a move to a British-style requirement that spouses should speak one of the official languages will cause a stir.
And he said Kenney will also cause provincial governments some grief by pushing them out of the investor recruitment field, demanding tougher language requirements and perhaps setting up monitoring pro-grams to ensure immigrants don't immediately leave the province that's sponsored them soon after arrival.
Fraser Institute economist Herb Grubel, a prominent critic of the system, said allowing companies to play a bigger role in selection will improve immigrants' performance. But he had some words of warning.
"Will there be a minimum level of pay the employers have to offer? We do not want to be flooded by un-skilled workers whose incomes are low," he wrote in an email.
Poneil@postmedia.com Twitter: @poneilinottawa Read my blog, Letter from Ottawa, at edmontonjournal.com/oneil


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