Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this past week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlined a plan for broad and lasting economic change in Canada.
Key to this plan is ‘significant reform of our immigration system’. Standing in front of an international audience of state representatives and private businesspeople, Harper stated: “We will ensure that, while we respect our humanitarian obligations and family reunification objectives, we make our economic and labour force needs the central goal of our immigration efforts in the future”.
Specific details as to how Canadian immigration systems will accommodate a large-scale shift in priorities were not included in his speech. However, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney later quantified some planned initiatives to address Harper’s goal of using the immigration system to directly respond to economic needs. He underscored Canada’s continued commitment to keeping immigration levels high, and was quick to point out that despite the global recession, Canada has accepted more immigrants per capita than any other developed country.
One significant change that Kenney expanded upon referred to the points grid used to assess Federal Skilled Worker applications. It will be changed to “look at younger workers, people with pre-arranged jobs, and also go to a system that’s more proactive; more reaching out and recruiting people who have the skills we need rather than just being an entirely passive system”. Central to this change in the points system will be a renewed emphasis on skilled trades learned through experience rather than higher education. Kenney states that “the skilled worker program basically selects people with advanced university degrees. But a lot of the job shortages in Canada are people with more basic [skills] – skilled trades for example”.
Many Provincial Nominee Programs have already been expanded to accommodate individuals who will contribute to the Canadian economy in this way. It is now hoped that by pursuing a similar structure federally, Canada will be able to use a more flexible immigration program to fill gaps in the job market.
These changes have the possibility to facilitate immigration for workers that were previously unable to qualify for permanent residency. “Skill is not necessarily defined by a college degree,” says Attorney David Cohen. “If this issue is addressed wisely, Canada will have the opportunity to attract valuable immigrants in the international labor pool who have been previously overlooked”. However, he cautions those now seeking to immigrate to Canada, stating that “currently qualified immigrants should not wait until changes take place, as it is unclear how they will stand under the new protocols”.
Kenney finished by noting that additional changes will be made in entrepreneurial and investor programs. Greater attention will be paid to individuals who come to Canada to set up “high tech and research & development-based companies that will create the wealth of the future”.
It is expected that a detailed and comprehensive plan for immigration reform will be presented some time in the spring. Though it targets immigration in skilled worker categories, it is unclear how (if at all) this will affect other streams of immigration such as family class. However, it appears that through these announced (and yet to be announced) changes, Prime Minister Harper is setting the stage for immigration policies that will affect a generation to come.