Stephanie Levitz, Canadian Press | Dec 19, 2012 10:49 AM ET | Last Updated:
The federal government will relaunch its largest immigration program in May with a new focus on making sure foreign engineers and doctors aren’t stuck driving taxis for a living when they come to Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday.
The Federal Skilled Worker Program was frozen in June pending changes to the points grid used to select newcomers.
The government is seeking to make youth and language proficiency a bigger priority for both principal applicants and their spouses. Under the new system, the government will also award more points for Canadian work experience and would-be newcomers will have to have their education credentials assessed before arriving in Canada.
“The reforms we’re making are designed to dramatically improve the economic outcome of newcomers and to help Canada’s productivity as our workforce shrinks and our population ages,” Kenney said.
We want the engineers who we select to actually be able to work as engineers
“Rather than bringing engineers to Canada to drive cabs or doctors to be corner store clerks, we want the engineers who we select to actually be able to work as engineers and the doctors to be able to work as doctors.”
Citing studies that show newcomers tend to have higher unemployment and underemployment rates than the Canadian born population as well as lower average incomes, Kenney said the goal is to reverse the trend to the point that they are close if not in line with national figures.
Kenney said the credential assessment won’t guarantee foreign trained professionals a job in their field since “rigid” and “byzantine” regulatory agencies ultimately have the final say on licensing, but noted efforts are also underway to work with professional bodies to ensure foreigners can find out within a year whether they’ll be granted a license to practice. With respect to foreign doctors, he suggested the points grid will also factor in the availability of residency positions before granting permanent residency.
Freezing the skilled worker program has also allowed the government to get a grip on about 100,000 remaining backlogged applications. It’s what was left after the government eliminated about 280,000 pre-2008 applications from skilled workers and their dependents in the last budget. The government is doing this by refunding $130 million in application fees, though the plan is being challenged in court.
That said, between the moratorium on new federal skilled worker applications and the budget decision to toss old applications, the government indicated last month that the remaining backlog would be eliminated by 2014, about three years ahead of schedule.
When the program relaunches May 4, 2013, it’s expected that new applications will be processed within months rather than years, Kenney said, adding he will also cap the number of applications the government will accept annually to avoid more backlogs in the future.
Frozen at the same time as the skilled worker program, the immigrant investor stream is also poised to relaunch in the first half of next year, Kenney told Postmedia News.
The cash-for-visa scheme which grants permanent residency to wealthy foreigners prepared to invest at least $800,000 into the Canadian economy is also being revamped. The stream is considered too attractive as comparable programs require a much larger investment and one that is permanent. Under the current rules, the $800,000 investment is more like a loan that must be repaid in five years.
The program, however, is also facing a massive backlog of about 25,000 applications — 86,000 if you include dependents — that could take 10 years to get through. Six Chinese investors who applied when the scheme required a mere $400,000 investment are now suing the government over lengthy processing delays.
They fear the government will eliminate the investor backlog in much the same way it did the skilled worker backlog and this week asked the Federal Court to pre-emptively bar the government from doing so pending the outcome of their court case.
Their lawyer Tim Leahy ultimately lost his bid for an injunction, but in an email noted he’s still not convinced the government won’t “abolish” the investor files.
Asked about his plans for the immigrant investor backlog Wednesday, Kenney didn’t rule out the notion entirely but suggested it’s not in the immediate cards.
“At this point, we’re not contemplating legislative measures to reduce the backlog in that stream,” he said, adding the changes will include raising the “price point,” making it a more “active” investment and requiring investors to assume some risk.
The government is also looking into the merits of asking would-be investors caught in the backlog if they would submit to the new rules and investment thresholds in exchange for having their applications fast-tracked. Kenney said that’s one way the government could reduce the backlog.
NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims said Kenney often makes “erratic” and “surprise” decisions and doesn’t believe anything, including doing away with investor backlog, is really “off the table.” She also slammed Kenney’s skilled worker announcement Wednesday, noting the new points grid was already unveiled in August. The only new thing, she argued, is the implementation date.