Canada's immigration program is admired around the world, and has inspired copycat versions in Sweden, Germany and Japan.
But to stay ahead of the curve, Ottawa needs to address one glaring weakness – the inability of newcomers to get jobs that reflect their education and expertise. A new report by Toronto Dominion Bank says the government can overcome this obstacle by making the federal skilled worker program more flexible. Two-thirds of Canada’s annual 250,000 immigrants enter through this stream, which is already under review by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.
The selection criteria should give greater weight to the ability to speak French or English, the report says, and focus on Canada’s long-term labour market needs, instead of on a narrow list of 29 occupations.
This is an excellent suggestion. It is simply impossible for Ottawa to select workers for short-term needs because of a lack of real-time data about the labour market. Instead, the federal government should use empirical modelling and consultations with the private sector to recruit for emerging high-demand areas. It should also improve its patchwork of settlement services, streamline the recognition of foreign credentials and standardize language training.
The provinces, through the nominee program, and businesses, through the temporary workers’ stream, are in a much better position to select workers for immediate openings. The ranks of temporary workers has grown exponentially in the last decade to 250,000 from 100,000. This week’s tragic car accident in southwestern Ontario, which killed 10 migrant workers, exposed the significance of this sector. The report notes this program could be improved by ensuring these workers are protected from abuse, and have a path to permanent residency.
With the retirement of the baby boomers, the role of immigrants, both temporary and permanent, in the economy will only grow. Canada should fine-tune its selection model, and ensure the country’s reputation isn’t sullied by newcomers’ complaints of chronic underemployment. By raising the unemployment rate of immigrants to the level of non-immigrants, an additional 370,000 people would join the work force. This shows that any investment by the government in job strategies would more than pay off.