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Finding ideal immigrants Add to ...

Every year, some 250,000 people from around the world immigrate to Canada.

Given the federal government's strict qualification criteria, many of those who make the cut each year are well-educated workers from a narrow list of occupations. Sharryn Aiken, associate dean of law at Queen's University and an expert in immigration issues, believes the current rules skew the system in favour of relatively privileged newcomers.

What kinds of immigrants should Canada be selecting? Is immigration about the economy or nation building? Should we consider asking applicants about their opinions and values? Do we care if newcomers espouse Canadian ideals or do we tolerate them holding tight to conflicting values from back home?

Prof. Sharryn Aiken took your questions on Canada's immigrant selection process. Prof. Aiken previously worked as a refugee lawyer and served a term as president of the Canadian Council for Refugees. She is a co-author of a leading Canadian textbook on immigration law.

Jill Mahoney: Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm Jill Mahoney, a reporter here at The Globe. I'll be hosting our live discussion today with Sharryn Aiken. We'll get under way shortly. In the meantime, please start submitting your questions.

Jill Mahoney: Professor Aiken, thanks for taking the time to join us today. What are your views on the federal government's rules for qualifying as an immigrant to Canada? Should we be using other means to select newcomers?

Sharry Aiken: I think the rules definitely need some fine tuning. Currently there is too much emphasis on selecting skilled workers for specific occupational sectors -- it skews the program in favour of a select group of individuals - most often elites within their respective countries - doesn't afford equal opportunities to prospective immigrants from many countries. I would like to see the inclusion of a "diversity lottery" that would give individuals from under-represented source countries an equal opportunity to qualify.

Guest: There is one criteria that largely escapes the immigration debate: age. Some of the more successful examples of integration I've seen in my life (I'm an immigrant; I came when I was 20) were from people who came in their 20es, unmarried and without kids. Should we consider age a bit more in the selection criteria?

David May: Age is important-- those 25-44 get extra points I believe

Sharry Aiken: Actually we already do consider age. If you are between 21 and 49 you get the maximum points under this category - which is currently valued at 10. I suppose the question you pose is whether age should be worth more overall. I don't think so myself. I think to place greater emphasis on it - would be discriminatory - undervaluing folks who might be above 49 but still have lots to contribute - for example.

Michael: Can you please tell what's Canada's general immigration policy: is it oriented toward assessment of the educational background of the immigrants or their employability in Canada?

Sharry Aiken: Well under the current rules - it is both. An applicant can get a total of 25 points for their education -- including completion of advanced degrees, 21 points for work experience and another 10 points if they are fortunate enough to have "arranged employment" -- ie an employer in Canada willing to offer them a position.

Thiva Kulasingam: How does the federal government determines whether they need more immigrants to a particular sector or not?

Sharry Aiken: Good question. Labour market surveys are part of what informs these choices - lobbying by specific sectors can also have an impact. But in my view -- we should be moving away from tying immigration to short term labour market needs.

DM: Is there something inherently wrong with allowing in Elites? They bring investment and stir economic growth. Is this not helping Canada? What negative consequences does Sharry see in allowing in these people if there are any?

Sharry Aiken: Well the "designer immigrants" Canadian policy currently favours have often not integrated as well as expected - at least in the short term. Racism and other barriers to accessing their chosen professions mean that these workers often find themselves underemployed and in some cases, returning to their countries of origin. When we select with a view for enhancing the Canadian economy over the medium to long term -- we focus more in the success of the second generation and beyond.

Pat Dixon: Is there anything that can be done to discourage the development of ghettoes - e.g. Asian in Markham; Italian in Woodbridge, etc.? I believe ghettoes of all kinds are dangerous for a healthy society.

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