Alberta wins battle to bring in more foreign workers.

Alberta Legislature BuildingImage via Wikipedia
By Jason Fekete, Calgary Herald
The federal Conservative government has acquiesced to provincial demands -- including from Alberta -- to ease its restrictions on the number of immigrants that can permanently reside in the provinces each year.
Ottawa controls the number of permanent immigrants that can annually settle across Canada through the provincial nominee program, with the current cap at 4,400 in Alberta -- well short of the 5,000 Alberta had requested this year.
Wild Rose Country and other western provinces have been lobbying the Harper government for months to scrap its plans to impose a lower cap on the number of immigrants arriving through the nominee program. Rather, the provinces have been urging Ottawa to ratchet up the number of workers they can nominate to the federal government to bring to their jurisdictions to fill permanent jobs.
Federal officials initially indicated in June the provinces wouldn't receive as many nominees as hoped, but announced Tuesday they will increase the numbers after reviewing their case loads and immigration targets for the year.
The additional nominees are critical to sustaining the short-term economic turnaround as well as long-term growth, said Alberta Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
" It would be a move in the right direction," Lukaszuk said about the federal decision. "We will be seeing more and more permanent labour shortages. We have to look to immigration towards solving this problem."
Lukaszuk said he believes the provincial nominee program is the best solution because immigrants can only apply if they have a guaranteed job that employers have shown cannot be filled by Alberta workers.
The approach ensures new immigrants landing in Alberta are paying taxes and contributing to society, rather than tapping already strained social assistance programs.
"We believe we should have some degree of determination of what immigrants we bring here," he said.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is travelling in Europe and wasn't available for comment.
But Alykhan Velshi, the minister's director of communications, said the federal government has heard the provinces' concerns and will increase the numbers beyond what was originally promised earlier this year.
Alberta will now receive 5,000 provincial nominees this year (up from the 4,400 initially approved), which is a large increase from the 4,200 last year and 2,800 two years ago. B.C. will now receive 3,500 provincial nominees (an increase from the promised 3,200); Saskatchewan has been allocated 4,000 (up from 3,700) and Manitoba will get 5,000 (increased from 4,600).
Alberta received the largest increase of any of the provinces, Velshi noted, which reflects Kenney's recognition of how important the program is to the Alberta economy.
Alberta and the other provinces were initially promised a smaller number because the federal government is trying to sharply improve processing wait times for immigrants, temporary foreign workers and foreign students. It also must balance the provincial nominees with the number of immigrants allowed through the Federal Skilled Worker Program (which assess applicants based on a points system), he said.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada initially set a target of allowing between 240,000 and 265,000 immigrants into the country this year, with the agency usually hitting the midpoint. However, CIC now expects to reach the top end of its target, which is helping accommodate more provincial nominees.
"There are other categories that we have to pay attention to. There are trade-offs," Velshi said.
Back in Alberta, Lukaszuk noted the 5,000 is just a start and still doesn't address Alberta's long-term economic and immigration needs.
Lukaszuk favours the permanent provincial nominee program over attracting temporary foreign workers -- which reached about 60,000 in the province during the boom -- who can often be sent back and forth between Alberta and their home country depending on demand.
"I'm not a big fan of shipping workers in and out, in and out," he said.
Social agencies and the food services industry welcomed the federal government's decision to increase the number of provincial nominees.
Despite the higher unemployment rates in Canada over the past two years, there's still not enough workers to fill jobs in many different sectors, they noted.
" We're looking at a problem that is long term," said Enayat Aminzadah, director of operations and resource development with Immigrant Services Calgary. "It's a great way to strengthen our workforce."
The additional immigrants shouldn't be seen as a "threat" to Albertans also looking for a job, he stressed, because there's clearly a need for the workers both now and in the coming years. Also, nominees are only approved if they have a permanent job offer, Aminzadah said.
The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association applauded the federal decision, saying their sector desperately needs additional workers across the western provinces.
"It's a big issue and a lot of our members are concerned," said Mark von Schellwitz, western vice-president with the CRFA. "That is really welcome news."

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