Tories plan immigration reforms to fast-track workers in 38 occupations
The Canadian Press
November 28, 2008
TORONTO Fast-tracking the immigration process for workers in 38 high-demand occupations will dramatically reduce wait times, the federal government announced Friday amid opposition criticism that the criteria for skilled workers are “absurd.”
The Conservative government's vow to reform the immigration system has proved controversial, with some advocacy groups saying the changes would create two classes of immigrant.
Under the plan announced Friday, immigration papers for workers in 38 occupations like health, skilled trades, finance and resource extraction would be expedited. Geochemists, speech language pathologists, university professors, plumbers and chefs would also be fast-tracked.
The Tories say the reforms will seriously reduce wait times for the processing of coveted workers to between six and 12 months from the current five to six years.
Immigration targets for 2009 – between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents – will be roughly the same as this year.
Critics of the plan have said it would leave less-skilled workers permanently stuck at the back of the queue.
New Democrat immigration critic Olivia Chow called the government's classification of high-demand jobs “absurd.”
“One on the list is financial services,” Chow said. “Didn't I just notice that there's a huge number of people being laid off in the financial services?
“Instead of a minister sending a decree from high above and politicizing it all, there should be a department that constantly updates what are the skills that we need in Canada.”
The reforms offer virtually no changes for permanent workers, she added, but double the number of temporary foreign workers in five years.
Temporary workers drive down wages and don't “establish roots in the community,” Chow said.
“It's bad for the Canadian economy and it's bad for them, because they cannot bring in their families and often are open to exploitation and abuse.”
The Liberals had complained bitterly about legislation that allowed the government to fast-track workers instead of treating everyone on a first-come, first-served basis.
Fearing an election, the Liberals allowed the legislation to pass last spring.
The Conservatives say their opponents have little right to complain after allowing wait times to balloon for more than a decade.
“The Liberal backlog prevented skilled workers from immigrating to Canada, and kept families from being reunited,” said a spokesman for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
“Under the Liberals, the immigration backlog grew from 50,000 to more than 800,000, with wait times longer than five years.”
Canada will maintain its immigration levels, while places like the United Kingdom and Australia are cutting back, the spokesman said.
Visa officers abroad will receive instructions to fast-track specific workers.
Opponents of the legislation, however, drew parallels between the current reforms and an effort by the Conservative government of the 1950s to favour skilled workers over poorer ones.
The move created a rift between the Conservatives and some ethnic communities, and the Diefenbaker government eventually backed away from its reforms.
A list of the occupations Ottawa has deemed high-demand and will fast-track through the immigration process:
-Computer and information systems managers
-Managers in health care
-Restaurant and food service managers
-Accommodation service managers
-Financial auditors and accountants
-Geologists, geochemists and geophysicists
-General practitioners and family physicians
-Audiologists and speech language pathologists
-Head nurses and supervisors
-Medical radiation technologists
-Licensed practical nurses
-College and other vocational instructors
-Contractors and supervisors, pipefitting trades
-Contractors and supervisors, carpentry trades
-Contractors and supervisors, heavy construction equipment crews
-Electricians (except industrial and power system)
-Steamfitters, pipefitters and sprinkler system installers
-Welders and related machine operators
-Heavy-Duty equipment mechanics
-Drillers and Blasters: surface mining, quarrying and construction
-Supervisors, mining and quarrying
-Supervisors, oil and gas drilling and service
-Supervisors, petroleum, gas and chemical processing and utilities