The Conservative government is poised to overhaul the immigration system to give employers an important role in the selection of new Canadians.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he plans to build a faster, more flexible, just-in-time immigration regime. He's also going to redesign the points system, on which immigrants are judged, to emphasize language ability and youth.
Fresh off a trip to labour-starved Saskatchewan, Mr. Kenney said in an interview Wednesday that he wants to create a new economic stream for trades people, who currently don't qualify under Canada's education-focused federal skilled worker program.
He also said employers will soon be able to hand-pick prospective immigrants and send them to the front of the line for assessment.
"Once people have been identified by employers, if they meet our other standards we would fast-track them into the country," Mr. Kenney said. "Frankly, the employer knows better than a big bureaucracy whose skills are needed and will be relevant to the Canadian labour market the minute they arrive."
The first of these changes will be introduced over the next few months. Ability in English or French, which research shows is crucial to economic success in Canada, will become more important under the new system. In future, professionals in language intensive fields, such as doctors and lawyers, will have to be fluent in an official language, Mr. Kenney said. That's a significant shift from Canada's current system, which rewards language ability but doesn't set such a high benchmark. At the same time, Mr. Kenney said he wants a flexible language grid, so that applicants in fields that don't require a high level of fluency aren't automatically excluded.
Mr. Kenney also said he'll be considering a pre-assessment system, as they have in Australia, that evaluates the credentials of skilled professionals before they immigrate to see whether they will qualify to work in Canada.
"There is really no point inviting people who are working as licensed professionals in their countries of origin to come to Canada merely to face perpetual frustration as they try to get their licences. It makes sense for Canada and those professionals to do the credential assessment as part of their immigration application," he said.
Another possibility floated by Mr. Kenney is to create what's known as an expression-of-interest system, whereby employers and provinces could sort through and assess a pool of applicants. Promising candidates could then be streamed quickly to the head of the skilled worker program or a provincial nominee program.
"The brilliant young graduate of the Indian technical institute in Hyderabad will find it easier to immigrate to Canada under the new system than it was in the past. Because rather than standing at the back of an eight-year-long queue, someone with those marketable skills should be able to find employment in Canada and come in straight away," he said.
Wealthy migrants looking to arrive under a redesigned investor class likely will have to invest significantly more than in the past. Mr. Kenney said the current requirement to invest $800,000 is too low and provides little value for Canadians.
Much of the policy thinking for these changes is based on the Australian system. Mikal Skuterud, an economist at the University of Waterloo, has studied the impact of Australia's stricter language testing. He said Australia's immigrant mix changed after testing was introduced, and might be expected to do the same in Canada. He and his colleague Andrew Clarke found that the economic performance of immigrants, when compared to similar groups in Canada, didn't improve after testing was mandated.
"It's quite clear from the Australian evidence that it has the effect of shifting immigration away from non-English speaking countries, China particularly," Prof. Skuterud said. Language testing did help Australia lower the age of its immigrants, something Canada would like to do to mitigate the impact of its aging population.
Mr. Kenney said he doesn't anticipate any alteration in the national origin of Canada's immigrants that could be attributed to these changes. He said he intends to keep immigration levels fairly steady, at about 260,000 a year. He also intends to keep roughly the same balance between economic immigrants (roughly 70 per cent of the total), family-class immigrants and refugees.
"It would not be correct to say we are crowding out refugees and family class. Rather, we're trying to get much better bang for the buck from the economic immigrants that come here," he said.
"The overall imperative is to better align our intake of newcomers with the jobs that exist right now."