We are one step closer to an immigration program that has common sense. In February of this year I wrote in this column with great anticipation about a new immigration category that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration was working overtime to develop. Word then had us expecting that the Conservatives would introduce a pro-active new category, one that for years I have been recommending to Ministers of Immigration that they create.
It is a little-known fact that in Canada, at any time in recent history, we have about 200,000 foreign workers and another 176,000 foreign students. These are people who have chosen to come to Canada to either work or study, in many cases to do both, and who have for the most part already integrated into our society. They speak English or French, in some cases both, they have Canadian post-secondary certificates and/or Canadian work experience. They are often economically settled and integrated. Simply put, they are far up "the learning curve", and would, if given the chance, appreciate redeeming their temporary status for some status that is more permanent. Processing such cases would be relatively easy: the Government has already made numerous selection decisions about them before (and after) they have arrived in Canada to either study or work. The Government has already "screened" them and found them to be suitable and eligible. We know them, and they know us. They are the "low-lying fruit", and our Government should roll the red carpet out to retain them.
Finally, this seems like it will happen. On 9 August 2008, our Government published the proposed new Regulations that will establish the rules for this new, facilitated, category of immigration. It will be called the "Canadian Experience Class".
This bold new initiative is I believe one that needs to be widely supported. It will attract and retain qualified workers. There will be reduced immigration integration and settlement costs when compared to current immigrant categories, as applicants found eligible will have already been in Canada for a minimum of three years and must pass minimum language proficiency testing. Processing will be streamlined and intending immigrants will be better served. More economic immigrants will have valuable Canadian experience which will be easier for employers to assess. The qualified applicants will be able to better integrate in to the Canadian labour market. Canadian employers, hungry for talent and skills, will benefit. Canada's ability to compete for migrating talent globally, particularly against Australia which has designed a very successful immigration program during the last ten years, will improve. Long wait times will be reduced. Applicants will be able to remain in Canada while their case is assessed. The category will for those who qualify even alleviate the issue of foreign credential recognition, which challenge has plagued Governments of all political stripes for decades. Our Government even forecasts that this new category will encourage and result in a greater dispersion of new talent into regions not currently benefiting from immigration, since foreign students and temporary foreign workers are more geographically dispersed than are the numbers currently arriving in Canada under the existing economic streams of immigration.
This new category will be limited to occupations in management, the professions, technical occupations and the skilled trades. Low-skilled occupations will not be eligible. It will operate on a pass-fail basis, not a point system. In order to qualify, an applicant must have a Canadian post-secondary credential that required at least two years of full-time study plus at least one year of work experience in Canada, or have at least 24 months of full-time work experience in Canada. All cases must pass a minimum language proficiency benchmark for their occupation.
This breath of fresh air is an innovative development that targets "ready-to-work" foreign nationals who have graduated from Canadian colleges and universities, and also foreign workers who are currently in Canada and want to remain here. The new Regulations have been published to allow the public and stakeholders to comment on them before 24 August 2008. The Department will then consider amendments and alternatives, and hopefully move in the direction of full implementation by the end of this calendar year. This is another good-news story about immigration and how business and our economy will benefit.
Warren L. Creates, B.A., LL.B. is a certified specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law, and has practised in this field for 22 years. He was formerly a federal government immigration lawyer, having been in-house legal counsel to the Immigration and Refugee Board. He is the Head of the Immigration Law Group at the law firm of Perley-Robertson, Hill and McDougall LLP located in the nation's capital city, Ottawa. He may be reached at (613) 566-2839; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the February 3, 2008 edition of the Ottawa Business Journal.