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More skilled immigrants needed to boost economy: study


OTTAWA — The federal government should focus on increasing the number of skilled immigrants and refugees to boost the Canadian economy, a policy report recommends.
On Tuesday, the Institute for Research on Public Policy released a report showing that these two immigrant groups do better economically than any other immigrant cohort entering the country.
Report authors Michael Abbott and Charles Beach say officials should consider reducing total immigrant admission levels during recessions, when Canada is hit with high unemployment periods, because immigrants are first to lose their jobs.
The study was released days after the government said it plans to accept as many as 10,000 more skilled workers into the country in 2012, in part to help deal with a massive backlog in applications.
Researchers at IRPP, a non-partisan think-tank based in Montreal, studied the 10-year annual incomes of three cohorts of four immigrants groups who arrived as permanent residents in 1982, 1988 and 1994.
Immigrants entering Canada are classified under the categories of: refugee, family-class (part of family re-unification) and economic — meaning skilled workers.
"Skill-assessed immigrants, people who go through the point system, consistently do better in terms of higher earning levels than other arriving immigrants . . . 35 per cent better for men and 56 per cent for women," said Beach.
"Refugees had the highest earning growth rates again for both men and women across all entry groups . . . 29 per cent for men and 35 per cent for women," he adds.
"Refugees may start low and have low earnings initially, but their earnings grow faster than other groups," said Beach.
Women in the family class had the lowest earnings.
Recessions, the report found, hit the wages of all groups of immigrants.
Immigration has steadily climbed in the past few decades in Canada — about 84,000 people came to this country in 1985, and immigration hit a 50-year high of 281,000 people in 2010, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
But changes to Canada's immigration policy in recent years could be detrimental to the country's economy and competitiveness, the report said.
Officials have narrowed their focus, the report said, to acquiring a specific group of skilled workers — there are 29 priority occupations — and placed a cap on how many of these people enter the country.
In June 2010, Citizenship and Immigration introduced a global cap of 20,000 people who would be accepted under federal skilled-worker applications, along with a 1,000-person cap on the number of applicants accepted in each occupation.
By July of this year, only 10,000 skilled applicants without an offer of employment in Canada were admitted to the country under the Federal Skilled Worker Program but the number of arrivals under the Provincial Nominee Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program — neither of which is skills-assessed — continued to climb.
"There has been a huge growth in the Provincial Nominee Program — while that does a better job of getting people to regions and provinces and so on, the fact is, more than half of those people who come in are roughly low-skilled and the point of our study means, on average, they don't do as well as people with more skills," said Beach.
They urge the federal government to consider tactics European countries have taken in an attempt to sway skilled immigrants to their countries, and noted that countries such as China and India, which are experiencing vast economic growth, are retaining their own skilled workers and even repatriating those who emigrated to Canada.
"In light of this increasing global competition, Canada cannot afford to be complacent in seeking to attract and retain skilled workers. Yet there has not been a major rethink of Canada's immigration objectives and policy since the mid-1990s," the report warned.
The report's data show that within all three cohorts, there is a wide gap between independent skilled workers' earnings and refugees and family-class workers. Other economic-class workers still ranked second to independent economic-class workers by a margin of as much as $10,000 each year.
For example, in 1982, independent skilled workers made a 10-year average of $46,093 each year, while other economic class workers made just more than $28,000. Family-class workers made an average of $27,643 and refugees, the group that saw the highest growth in salary in every cohort, made $20,525.
The authors say their evidence shows it's "remarkably clear and uniform" that skilled workers easily made the most contribution to the country's labour market.
But they concede their data doesn't necessarily show that increased incomes are linked to higher education or skills levels.
The authors recommend maintaining and even expanding skills-focused initiatives, such as the Canadian Experience Class, instead of scaling down efforts to attract immigrant candidates that could adapt to the workforce.
Wait times for applications, recognizing foreign credentials and modifying the current points system so it examines youth, official language fluency and skilled-trades needs are also areas officials need to improve, the report noted.
With files from Amy Chung

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