Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's recent meeting with the editorial board of The Globe and Mail.
Q: What are the most important changes to Canada's immigration program?
The Prime Minister gave an indication at his speech in Davos. We are re-focusing immigration reforms on Canada’s labour market.
We are embarking on a program of transformational change to move from a slow, rigid and passive, really a supply-driven immigration system, to a fast, flexible and pro-active, demand-driven immigration system.
One of the most important reforms is the massive expansion of the provincial nominee programs which has resulted in a better geographic distribution of immigrants across Canada.
The number of immigrant going to Manitoba has tripled; to Saskatchewan has quadrupled; to Alberta and Atlantic Canada has doubled.
This is all good news.
Q: What about the long-standing problem of immigrants' un- and under-employment?
We are starting to see signs of improvement in the economic outcomes of more recent immigrants, those coming through the provincial nominee program because they typically have jobs lined up. More recent arrivals under the skilled worker program are also doing better, especially those with pre-arranged employment.
Q: What other reforms are important?
We have high unemployment in an economy with large labour shortages. And this, frankly, frustrates the hell out of me - that we're bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the country to face many of them end up un- or underemployed in an economy where there are acute labour shortages.
Q: How do we resolve this paradox?
We need to get better results for newcomers and get better results for immigration. This is the most important public policy question of our time.
We need to deal decisively with the legacy backlogs. We took action starting in 2009, and reduced the backlog in half.
But we must do more or we’ll just be carrying forward the backlog for years. We won't be able to get to a situation where we can bring in people with pre-arranged jobs in a matter of months which is what you need if you want an immigration system that is responsive to the labour market.
We’re bringing forth amendments to the immigration act to return about 100,000 applications involving about 300,000 individuals, applications which have been in the system from 2001-2008. We’ll return the application fees.
This will allow us to move to a just-in-time system, a working inventory in our skilled worker system, where in about 18 months, so by 2014, we will be admitting people who apply within months.
Q: Why is that important?
That speed will be critically important so we can then go to employers and say, look at the global labour market and actively recruit people from abroad who can work at their skill level.
We are going to create a pool of qualified immigrant applicants who have given us permission to share their applications and then the employers can go into that pool and essentially we will run queries for them to pull out.
We will do a revision of our points selection grid to put more emphasis on younger people with Canadian, as opposed to overseas, experience. We will give priority to those with pre-arranged employment offers in Canada.
We will raise the language benchmarks for those who want to work in higher-end occupations but we also want to introduce more flexibility to create a skilled trades scheme because we have a skilled trades shortage.
Finally and I think one of the most exciting reforms we're looking at doing is a re-assessment of how we assess education and qualifications, again emulating the Aussies and New Zealanders.
Q: Yes, immigrants have long complained about the difficulty in getting recognition for their overseas credentials.
Part of that is, yes, the result of gate keeping on the part of licensed professions and part of it is some of the foreign professionals we bring to Canada lack our standards. We owe them truth in advertising. We owe them an honest assessment of their chances of licensure upon arrival in Canada.
We will identify organizations that have expertise in assessing foreign education.
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