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Skilled Worker Update: Proposals for New Selection System

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The Economic Policy and Programs Division (Selection Branch) of Citizenship and Immigration Canada has recently published a Discussion Paper on proposals for a new Skilled Worker selection system. As the Discussion Paper confirms, the proposals are a “work in progress” which reflects the evolving conceptual and analytical developments on the many issues proposed.

The Discussion Paper begins by explaining the background of the current Skilled Worker selection system. That system has its roots in the late 1960’s and is based around an occupational demand model. The model involved the government matching Skilled Worker immigration occupations to narrow Canadian labour market niches. As a result, immigrants have been assessed against presumed employment opportunities for their intended occupations.

The problem with the existing model is that it seeks to micro-manage the labour market – a task that has proven to be unrealistic, if not impossible. The government’s theoretical model for a new Skilled Worker selection system follows a “Human Capital” model. The focus of this new model is to select immigrants who have flexible and transferable skills.

Implementation of the Human Capital selection model will inevitably involve a complete revamping of the current Skilled Worker selection system. As a first step in what will certainly be a long and painstaking process, the government has used the forum of this Discussion Paper to review each of the existing Skilled Worker selection criteria and discuss how (or whether) they will be treated in the new model.

Occupation

This first of the selection factors to be dealt with in the Discussions Paper comes under the heaviest criticism. Given the realities of Canada’s growing knowledge-based economy, selecting immigrants based upon the narrow occupations they will move into in the short term is no longer appropriate. Like all Canadians, Skilled Worker immigrants are on a 30-year labour market voyage of continuous learning and multiple job changes. Where they start that voyage is not a good indicator of where they will end up or their stops along the way.

Under the Human Capital model, immigrants’ intended occupations would no longer be examined. Rather, the relevant issue will become the knowledge and skills that immigrants bring to the Canadian labour market. The only relevance of occupation, then, would be how it pertains to past experience. Applicants would be required to have at least one year of recent experience in any “High Skilled” occupation (which is yet to be fully defined) in order to qualify as a Skilled Worker immigrant.

Under the Human Capital model, it is presumed that immigrants who have certain types of occupational experience will be able to successfully compete in Canada’s knowledge-based economy even if they may be restricted from working in their former profession. One example cited in the Discussion Paper is that of foreign lawyers. The occupation of “lawyer” is currently not an “open” occupation system. The proposed Human Capital model would, to the contrary, recognize that the educational process, labour market skills and different credentials earned by foreign lawyers is precisely the type of base that will allow individuals to operate in an open economy where knowledge and flexibility are key. Thus, even if foreign lawyers are ultimately restricted from practising their profession in Canada, they might still be able to become successful members of the Canadian labour force. Of course, foreign lawyers would have to understand that being granted landing would not necessarily entitle them to practise as lawyers in Canada.

At the same time, the Discussion Paper proposes that the government would have the authority to quickly restrict entry to immigrants with particular professions/occupations in order to protect areas of the labour force where deemed necessary.

In keeping with the government’s previously-stated objective of eliminating the “Self-Employed Immigrant” category, the Discussion Paper asserts that the Human Capital model would enable the most valued self-employed applicants – such as farmers with post-secondary education and good language skills – to qualify for immigration. In addition, many businessmen with sufficient education and language abilities would qualify under this model.

Education

Under the proposed new model, more weight in the overall selection criteria would be given to educational background. Moreover, the Discussion Paper proposes awarding even fewer points than are currently awarded to applicants who have only completed high-school.

Language

Under the proposed new model, more weight in the overall selection criteria would be given to language ability. At the same time, however, applicants who have only mediocre abilities in both of Canada’s official languages (English and French) would not be awarded as many points as is currently the case. More relative weight would be placed on the applicant’s “first” official language ability. Also, applicants would be encouraged to take standardized language tests to reduce interviews which are being held solely to assess language skills.

Age

No significant changes are proposed to the manner in which points are currently awarded for the “age” factor.

Experience

Experience points would be awarded based upon years of work and level of education. As a result, applicants would not be penalized for spending additional years in university as opposed to accumulating work experience. On the other hand, applicants would have to have at least one year of experience in the last 5 years in a “high skill” occupation. Experience older than 10 years would not be weighed at all.

Education and Training Factor (ETF)

Under the current selection system, the “ETF” factor reflects the amount of education and training required for entry into a given occupation. However, the ETF score is a theoretical reflection of the education and training required, and is therefore an inadequate reflection of the actual skills that immigrants are bringing with them to Canada. Under the new model, it is proposed that actual education and training will be the only factors assessed. Accordingly, the ETF factor will be eliminated under the new model.

Demographic Factor

Currently, this factor allows the government to reflect considerations such as regional demographic needs, labour market considerations and the ability of the national infrastructure to accommodate population growth into the assessment process. In effect, the government has used this factor to manage the levels of immigrants selected each year. Under the new model, it is proposed that the same goal-setting authority would be provided outright by regulation.

Arranged Employment

Under the current model, immigrants who have a bona fide Canadian job offer that has been validated by a Canadian Human Resources Center are awarded bonus points. The authors of the Discussion Paper are concerned that the relatively large number of bonus points awarded currently for arranged employment does not accurately reflect the fact that arranged employment will not necessarily overcome failings in other human capital attributes that may negatively affect an immigrants long-term ability to find or sustain employment in Canada. Under the new model, relatively less weight would be given to arranged employment, and applicants would have to have at least one year of experience in the validated occupation to ensure that the job offer was bona fide and not simply made for the purpose of facilitating immigration.

Adaptability

Under the current system, applicants are awarded up to 10 units of assessment (out of a minimum number of 70 units required to be selected as a Skilled Worker) under the highly discretionary “personal suitability” factor. This factor was created so as to allow visa officers to assess the extent to which they believed the personal attributes of the applicants would reflect their ability to successfully adapt to life and the labour market in Canada. The accepted problem with the current system is that it is much too subjective.

Under the proposed model, “adaptability” would be assessed against five elements:

1. Personal Suitability: The current Personal Suitability factor would be subsumed into this element.
2. Work or Study in Canada: Points would be awarded to applicants who had legally studied or worked full time in Canada for at least one year in the previous ten years.
3. Strategic Skills: Points would be awarded to applicants who had specific skills that are considered desirable. This list would be kept short and could be turned “on and of” quickly. In this manner, the government would have additional flexibility to boost the chances of applicants with specific occupational skills who might not otherwise be able to qualify.
4. Spouses Qualities: Points would be awarded to married applicants based on the educational and work experience of their spouses. Language would also be considered. If the Quebec model is applied and a higher pass mark is set for married applicants, there is a possibility that applicants from societies where females are less likely to be educated would be prejudiced.
5. Relative in Canada: Research has demonstrated that having relatives in Canada has not assisted immigrants in establishing themselves in Canada. In fact, “assisted relatives” show markedly poorer economic performance than other independent immigrants. Thus, less weight will be accorded to this element.

Discretion

Discretion will continue to be used where a visa officer feels that the selection system does not adequately reflect the applicant’s ability to successfully establish in Canada. However, statistics have proven that the use of positive discretion has far outweighed the use of negative discretion.

Under the new model, clearer instructions would be given to visa officers to further encourage the use of negative discretion where warranted.

Conclusion

As should now be apparent, the proposed changes to the Skilled Worker selection system are radical and challenging. Because of this, their implementation will no doubt require careful study and analysis. However long it takes to put this new model into effect, the results are certain to be felt by all who deal with the Skilled Worker immigration process. While many of the proposed changes will certainly benefit certain candidates who might not otherwise have qualified, no doubt other applicants will fare less well. For this reason, all potential applicants who qualify under the current Skilled Worker selection system are encouraged to not delay the submission of their applications, so as to be able to benefit from the current rules.

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