BY WILL CHABUN, LEADER-POST APRIL 13, 2012 9:24 AM
The federal government's recent decision to shake up the immigration system by more closely matching supply with the need for workers is getting good reviews from spokesmen for Saskatchewan's labour-hungry business community.
Their delight, though, is tempered by sympathy for prospective immigrants who've been waiting for admission to Canada - for years, in some cases - only to learn that Canada will, in essence, tear up the waiting list and start over.
"We give full credit to (Immigration Minister Jason) Kenney for the things he's done," said Steve McLellan, CEO of the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, which has long been telling political decision-makers that one of the major concerns of employers is roadblocks when they're trying to attract skilled labour to the province.
Based on what he's heard about the federal reform plans, there are some silver linings for those who've been waiting for admission to Canada.
. The first is that they can simply reapply under the new criteria - a process made easier by a federal announcement that applications will be accepted over the Internet as opposed to via signed paper applications, said McLellan, who added federal officials have told grim stories about boxes, even entire rooms, full of paper applications waiting to be processed while new ones pour in.
A web-based approach should permit easier updating of applications, then faster processing and communication, he said.
. Second, the new approach doesn't preclude prospective immigrants from applying to other countries as well. "For those people whose names are in the queue, it'll be disappointing; I feel for them."
"It's unfortunate for people who've been waiting for six or eight years," agreed John Hopkins, executive director of the Regina & District Chamber of Commerce, adding that such a delay "really is an indication that the current system isn't working. That said, anything that can be done is a good thing."
McLellan said he has mixed feelings on what he interprets as an emerging federal requirement that not only immigrant workers, but all family members, be fluent in one of Canada's official languages in the belief this will enhance their chances of being successful in Canada and, in the workplace, boost safety.
If so, that could create immigration problems for some families where one parent - a father, for example - can speak English, but his wife doesn't, said McLellan. He singled out for praise groups like the Regina Open Door Society - which declined to comment at this time on immigration changes - for its ability to teach English as a second language.
He's also awaiting clarification of the government's plans on so-called "labour market opinions" or LMOs.
These are the approvals federal immigration officials give to employers who are anxious to hire foreign workers - and who have proven there are no suitable Canadian applicants for those positions by producing proof of a meagre response - or no response at all - to job advertisements or internal postings.
He said Kenney recently told an audience in Weyburn he would not expand to Saskatchewan a pilot project on "expedited" LMOs taking place elsewhere.
Balancing that, Kenney said provincial governments, including Saskatchewan, had "greater latitude than they'd used in the past" through their own sponsored immigrant plans.
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