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Immigrants Face Tighter Rules

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Ottawa — Canada plans to erect almost insurmountable hurdles for would-be immigrants who lack a university or college degree, say lawyers familiar with a new proposal changing the way Ottawa selects newcomers.

The scheme, lawyers say, would make it almost impossible for many skilled trades-people to get into the country, thanks to a suggested new focus on higher education.

The new federal blueprint, a copy of which has been obtained by The Globe and Mail, says Canadian immigrants should have more postsecondary education in the future, and that the government should drop its method of trying to match foreign workers with shortages in the job market. The government should adopt a new model which selects highly educated individuals who are better able to adjust to the changing Canadian economy.

The wide-ranging paper also recommends that newcomers have a better command of one of Canada’s two official languages so they can better adjust to life in their new country.

But Toronto immigration lawyer Ben Trister said the emphasis on education is so great that it will become extremely difficult for skilled tradespeople to make it into Canada, because many have little more than a high-school education. The proposal suggests that immigration officials put even less weight on a high-school diploma than they currently do.

“Under this proposal, the trades are dead,” said Mr. Trister, an immigration lawyer and treasurer of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration branch.

He noted that tradespeople already have a difficult enough time getting into the country. Mr. Trister also said the new emphasis on higher education will favour claimants with standard university degrees over those with diplomas in high-needs areas, such as computers. He said the country has massive shortages in such areas as tool-and-dye making and truck driving.

“You don’t need a university degree to be a trucker,” he said. “You do need training.”

Immigration officials say the discussion paper is open to changes and it would be months before legislation is introduced.

Skilled workers and their families are a crucial part of the Canadian immigration stream, and make up about half of the 200,000-225,000 permanent newcomers who move to Canada every year.

Under the current system, applicants wanting to come to Canada must qualify under a system which awards points based on language, occupation, age and other factors, with education accounting for 16 per cent of that total. The new model would continue with the points system, but would give educational qualifications 30 per cent of the weight.

Moreover, the proposal suggests that applicants are being given too much credit for graduating from high school, and that fewer points should be allocated to those applicants who have not advanced beyond secondary education.

An immigration official said yesterday that government studies show that more highly educated immigrants have an easier time adjusting to life in Canada.

“What our research findings tell us is that the higher the education you have, the better chance you have of succeeding in our Canadian economy,” said Dougall Aucoin, director of economic policy and programs in the Immigration Department.

” . . . It’s not so much the occupation niche that you intend to operate in that’s important. It’s the fact that you have education and you have the knowledge base.”

Mr. Aucoin pointed to a series of statistics between 1980 and 1995 demonstrating that individuals with a trade certificate or a non-university diploma performed significantly worse than university graduates. In the tax year 1995, for example, 11.6 per cent of such individuals had received welfare payments, compared to 7.9 per cent of university-educated immigrants.

However, Mr. Aucoin also agreed that individuals involved in the trades might have difficulty getting into Canada under the proposed model, and said the government plans to fine-tune the scheme to recognize the importance of the trades group.

“We are concerned that our proposed approach may have the unintended effect of barring entry for the vast majority of skilled trades due, in particular, to the high weight assigned to education,” the document says.

The proposal has been circulated to immigration lawyers and consultants across the country for their input. Mr. Trister said he is pleased with the way the government is seeking opinions from community leaders.

However, Mr. Trister said he is disappointed that the government is relying on data that are five years old.

“To me it makes very little sense to rely on statistics that are that old,” he said.

Another substantial change to the system would see the government stop awarding points to individuals based on their specific occupation. Currently, a would-be immigrant receives greater credit if he or she performs a job that is in high demand in Canada. For example, an occupational therapist would receive substantially more points than an accounting clerk. The new system, however, would make no distinction between high-skill jobs.

“In Canada’s growing knowledge-based economy, selecting immigrants based upon the narrow occupation they will move into in the short term is no longer appropriate,” the report says.

“Skilled-worker immigrants, like Canadians, are on a 30-year-labour market voyage of continuous learning and multiple job changes; where they start that voyage in Canada is not a good test of where they will end up or their stops along the way.”

For example, foreign-born lawyers, whose foreign training often makes it difficult for them to practise in Canada, would have a better chance of qualifying for immigrant status because they bring other skills to the marketplace.

“Many Canadian employers value highly the education and training of law graduates regardless of whether they have been or will be licensed,” the document says.

Finally, the government would place more emphasis on an applicant knowing one of Canada’s two official languages. The government is suggesting that applicants take standardized tests to measure their ability to speak English or French. It is also argues that too much emphasis is put on individuals knowing both official languages.

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