Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister wants business to be more like the government of Saskatchewan.
Jason Kenney is calling on employers to actively seek out and recruit the skilled immigrants they need, as Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is doing in Ireland this week, so that the Immigration Department can fast-track their applications and address Canada's skills shortages.
Speaking at the Metropolis conference on immigration research in Toronto on Thursday, Mr. Kenney laid out his vision for immigration. Although his speech was short on policy details, Mr. Kenney emphasized his plan to create a just-in-time immigration system in which immigrants, particularly those with strong language skills, would be offered a job, have their credentials assessed, get accepted and settled in Canada – all within a year of applying. At the moment, that process can take several years.
Arthur Sweetman, an economist at McMaster University, said an expanded role for business in selecting immigrants could prove valuable, particularly since it would provide a better picture of the skills that are wanted in the labour market. But the planning horizon for most businesses is a few years at most. Governments must plan for a lifetime. That's why it is important, he said, that those nominated by employers will still need to qualify under the revamped points system, which is expected to emphasize language, youth and education – all good indicators of adaptability.
Mr. Kenney said immigration must be about nation building. In doing so, he signalled that the federal government does not intend to relinquish its role in immigrant selection. He also said he would like to see the provinces adopt stricter language testing in the selection of immigrants under the provincial nominee program, and hinted that the program is unlikely to grow.
Richard McKeagan, president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada, welcomed the news that Mr. Kenney wants to introduce a special immigration stream for skilled tradespeople.
"There's going to be a skills shortage in our industry, there are some already in some parts of the country," Mr. McKeagan said. "Anything that allows people in the construction industry, where we need people, to find meaningful employment, we support that."
Lesleyanne Hawthorne, a professor in Australia who studies global migration, said the country's decision to place more emphasis on language testing more than a decade ago had an enormous impact on its immigrants. All the data suggest that language ability is the most important factor in economic success, she said.
"Migrants who speak good English are four times as likely to be employed in their field and earning good salaries after six months," Prof. Hawthorne said, "compared to those with poor English."
Several observers pointed out that the key to creating any kind of just-in-time immigration system will be getting rid of the enormous backlog of applicants still waiting to be assessed, which has close to one million people. Mr. Kenney said that will be a priority for his department, and pointed to some recent success in reducing the backlog of skilled-worker applications.