Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kenney points to 'transformational' changes to immigration system

BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS



OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is calling for a "transformational change" to Canada's immigration system that emphasizes the need for skilled newcomers who can fill gaps in the country's labour market.
In a speech to business leaders Wednesday at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon, Kenney outlined several pilot projects and strategies the federal government is considering to reduce the backlog of nearly one million applications while making the system more economically focused.
Noting New Zealand "legislated an end" to its backlog in 2003 by creating a "pool" from which all applicants could be selected based on specific criteria as opposed to time spent in the queue, Kenney said Canada is looking at a similar option.
Meanwhile, a new pilot project, he said, is now in place to give provinces the opportunity to "mine the backlog" for newcomers who meet local labour force needs.
Applicants "stuck" in the backlog are also being urged to pull their applications and consider re-applying through the much faster provincial nominee program.
"We are also considering ways to obtain consent from applicants in the backlog to be considered directly by Canadian employers for employment," he said. "With job offers in hand, applicants would see their applications processed on a priority basis."
High level consultations are also taking place with employers across the country, he said, to discuss ways of creating a more "active" immigration system in which employers play a greater role in recruiting people from abroad.
NDP immigration critic Don Davies said he has grave concerns about the government's overall direction and it may be time for a national debate.
"There's two very different visions of immigration in this country. One is the Statue of Liberty: give me your poor, your oppressed, your weak and tired, yearning for freedom. That's what built the U.S. and Canada. It wasn't give me your rich, give me your educated, give me your wealthy investors," he said.
"I think this transformation is moving more toward the latter and I think we need to have a healthy Canadian debate about that because I'm not so sure that's the way to build your economy."
tcohen@postmedia.com
Twitter.com/tobicohen