Immigrant Impact on Community to Decide Admissibility: Finley
By Michelle Collins
August 20th, 2008
The impact a prospective skilled immigrant can have on a community will be among the top factors considered in deciding which applicants to allow into Canada first, Immigration Minister Diane Finley said last week.
The following themes formed the basis of the consultations:
1. The role of the immigration program in addressing specific labour market needs
2. Occupational pressures in each participants' workplace/industry/sector/region
* Short term vs. medium term
* What skill levels do these occupations require
* What barriers to accreditation must be addressed
3. Federal skilled worker applications filed on or after February 27, 2008: prioritization of those applications meeting labour market needs, return of others.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
The minister also declared that Canada's infamous backlog of immigration applications is finally under control and will soon begin to decline because its growth has been capped by the government, resources have been added, and priority applicants will soon be pinned down.
However just which applicants will jump to the front of the line will not be revealed until sometime in the fall when, Ms. Finley said, she will deliver her first set of instructions to visa officers.
Those applications that don't match her instructions, which she can modify at any time, will be rejected or tossed aside. Ms. Finley has pledged the process will be transparent because the instructions will be published on the immigration department's website and in the Canada Gazette.
All of this follows legislative changes to Canada's immigration process introduced by Ms. Finley earlier this year. The amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act was included in the government's budget implementation bill, Bill C-50. The changes have been the topic of controversy for several months, with many raising alarms the changes grant the minister too much discrepancy over who can, and who can't, immigrate.
However, despite tall criticisms from opposition MPs during debate in committee hearings and in the House of Commons, the bill passed in Parliament on June 18 and, upon receiving Royal Assent from the Senate, became law. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Finley announced a schedule of consultation sessions to meet with immigration and labour groups, as well as officials from provincial governments, for input on the country's job-needs.
It is expected that the types of workers visa officers should be prioritizing will be based on the information collected over the past month of cross-country consultations with more than 200 stakeholders, which included stops in Halifax, St. John's, Toronto, Edmonton, and Nunavut.
The final session was a national roundtable in Ottawa this past Friday where Ms. Finley opened the floor to a question and answer session with participants. This was the only session the minister attended. However, many of her staff, including immigration director general Les Linklater, have been at others.
“People were quite candid,” Ms. Finley said of the meeting. “That was good, they helped us identify some issues we want to explore further.”
While Ms. Finley did not name the types of skills she will focus her instructions on, she said the consultations revealed “common threads” in labour shortages across the country. Nearly all regions are facing shortages within their medical, financial and IT sectors, she said.
“Across the country, our universities and colleges aren't graduating enough people to fill that demand, especially in the upcoming years,” Ms. Finley said.
Although Ms. Finley was optimistic about what had come out of the consultations, many who attended said they felt the discussions were too labour market-oriented and failed to consider other issues, such as the rights of workers, salary levels and most importantly, income disparities among immigrants.
Further to this, those who attended say provincial officials consistently voiced concern that the prioritized applicants would overshadow their provincial nominee programs. The nominee programs have become popular in matching immigrants directly with a job opening.
The consultations were closed off to members of the media and public, however several participants spoke with Embassy.
Roberto Jovel, policy and researcher co-ordinator at Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, who attended a Toronto session in late July, said he felt officials were too focused on “filling holes” and not considering the broader picture.
“I think that they have not thought through this properly, they're just listening to the employers, they're not taking the perspective of immigrants,” Mr. Jovel said.
At each meeting, immigration officials focused on three central questions: What is the role of immigration in Canada? What are the critical short-term and long-term labour shortages? And what are some issues and barriers to credential recognition.
Meanwhile, opposition MPs remain critical of the process, and as Ms. Finley wrapped up consultations in Ottawa, Liberal Immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua called the process “flawed” and “completely backwards.”
Mr. Bevilacqua, who plans to introduce an alternative immigration policy as part of the Liberal election platform, said the Conservative plan is short-sighted and will not directly deal with the challenges of the immigration system.
“This Conservative government would rather use stopgap measures to address one of Canada's greatest economic and population challenges,” Mr. Bevilacqua said.
Mr. Bevilacqua also raised concerns that all new applications received since February, when the legislation was introduced, have remained frozen and will not be processed until the instructions are issued.
The minister's instructions apply only to the applications received since Feb. 27. The backlog of about 925,000 applications will be vetted under the old rules, requiring visa officers to process each one.