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Immigration policies must improve to meet economic needs: Report

Pier21 : Museum of Canadian ImmigrationImage by Loutron Glouton via Flickr
OTTAWA — Immigration policies need to be modernized to avoid a stifling of economic growth in the future caused by labour shortages, according to a new report from the Conference Board of Canada.
The Ottawa-based think-tank suggests, among other things, placing more importance on the skills of prospective immigrants and whether they match the labour-force needs of Canada.
The report, written by the Conference Board's chief economist Glen Hodgson, said the recent recession provided some relief from tight labour markets.
However, he predicted the supply of workers will soon become an issue for the country's economic development with steady job growth once again the norm, and the large baby-boomer generation either at or approaching retirement age.
Hodgson wrote: "A country's long-term potential for economic growth, or at least sustainable economic growth, is essentially driven by three factors: growth in the labour force (and total hours worked), investment in physical capital and increased productivity."
He said that while Canada has generally outperformed other industrialized countries in labour-force growth in recent decades, it has lagged in capital investments and improving productivity.
Hodgson reasoned that, without improved immigration policies, Canada will hit a wall in terms of growing the workforce, given that the current birthrate of 1.66 children per woman is far from the level of 2.1 that's considered enough to sustain a population.
The Conference Board report recommends: more weight be given to immigration applicants' skills in relation to Canada's needs: that immigration processes and policies be streamlined between different levels of governments; an expansion in the use of temporary foreign workers to fill short-term needs; involving employers more in the immigration decision-making process; making it easier for temporary foreign workers and foreign students to become permanent residents; and improved recognition of foreign professional credentials.
While promoting more consideration of economic elements in immigration, Hodgson doesn't recommend doing away with other factors such as family unification, humanitarian reasons and protecting refugees.
"An easy way to achieve the economic objective would be to maintain the number of annual immigrants meeting social objectives or criteria and steadily increase the number selected by economic factors," he said.
The Conference Board's report assumes the rate of immigration will grow to about 350,000 per year by 2030 from the government's current target of as much as 265,000.
Despite urging more co-ordinated immigration programs between different levels of government, the Conference Board is not recommending the federal government have a monopoly on this area of public policy.
"Since provincial governments tend to be closer to the ground in terms of their interface with business, their engagement is essential," the report said.

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