Immigration Minister Jason Kenney kicked off a series of national consultations in Calgary on Tuesday, asking shareholders to provide input on issues and programs in hopes of better determining appropriate immigration levels for Canada.
"We want people's views on what is the right mix of our various immigration programs, how do we ensure that immigrants succeed economically, because when immigrants get good jobs, Canada succeeds," Kenney said.
About a dozen attendees from immigrant settlement organizations, employers, industry groups and community associations joined the minister in a private meeting to discuss everything from which programs to focus on, how to ensure skilled workers are selected to fill job shortages, and how to reduce backlogs and maintain reasonable processing times.
Kenney will hold similar sessions with stakeholder groups in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal later this month, as well as online consultations later this summer, which will be open to the public.
The input will then be fed into the federal government's multi-year immigration levels plan, which determines how many people should be admitted to Canada and into which programs.
For the past several years Canada has admitted between 240,000 to 265,000 permanent residents. Last year the government exceeded the planned maximum, admitting 281,000 permanent residents.
"There's always a maximum to the number of immigrants we bring. We're maintaining very high levels, but we want to make sure that immigration is actually working for newcomers and newcomers are working in Canada," he said, adding that increasing the maximum number was a possibility. "We don't want to be bringing people here to face unemployment or underem-ployment, we want them to fill the job shortages that exist, particularly in this region."
Recently, Premier Ed Stelmach and other western premiers blamed the federal government for hurting western economic growth by setting a cap on the number of immigrants admitted through the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provincial governments to choose immigrants based on their economic needs.
But Kenney said the government has been very generous in letting the program grow nationally almost tenfold, from 5,000 admissions six years ago to 45,000 this year, and actually reduced federal immigration programs to give more spots to provinces.
In turn, Alberta saw its immigration grow from 18,000 immigrants five years ago to more than 32,000 this year, Kenney said.
Deciding which programs to emphasize is a difficult process, as any increases in one program come at the cost of another, he said.
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