Canada will hold immigration levels steady for the seventh year in a row in 2013, but will make more room within its quota for what's quickly become its fastest-growing category of newcomers.
The Canadian Experience Class, launched only a few years ago, represents the future of Canada's immigration system under the Harper government – where Ottawa places a hard-nosed emphasis on attracting the best and brightest skilled workers.
The federal government is under more pressure to demonstrate the economic benefits of immigration, as 2012 polling suggests attitudes towards immigration are cooling slightly. Internal briefing notes for Citizenship and Immigration Canada released under access to information law say there's been a 10-percentage-point drop since 2010 – to 56 per cent – in the number of Canadians who feel that immigration has a positive impact on the economy.
On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will announce that Canada plans to admit from 240,000 to 265,000 new permanent residents in 2013 – the same annual target range it's set for immigration since 2007.
The Conservatives, however, are reserving more of these spaces for Canadian Experience Class immigrants: a program that targets temporary foreign workers already in Canada as well as non-Canadians who have graduated from universities and colleges here. It places a premium on attracting people who have already proven they can integrate into Canadian society and meet its labour market needs.
Mr. Kenney will announce that this program intends to accept up to 10,000 permanent residents in 2013 – up from 7,000 in 2012 and 2,500 in 2009.
The Canadian Experience Class program started in 2008, and the top three countries of origin are China, India and the Philippines. The program fast-tracks permanent residency applications for skilled foreign workers and graduate students who have spent time in Canada on temporary permits or student visas – ones that can demonstrate they are proficient in either English or French.
Before it was created, highly skilled outsiders could not become permanent residents from within Canada. Would-be applicants were previously told they had to return to their country of origin and wait at the back of a queue for about seven or eight years. Under the new program, applicants can apply from within Canada and expect a quicker decision – normally within one year.
About 100,000 students and 200,000 temporary workers from foreign countries flood into Canada annually – a group the Conservatives feel offers the best prospects to enlist as new immigrants.
Internally, the federal government is closely monitoring what officials consider a slightly diminished enthusiasm for immigration. "Findings from the 2012 tracking study suggest that attitudes towards immigration levels and the impact of immigration are somewhat tightening up," a recent Citizenship and Immigration presentation said.
"Residents of Ontario are among those who seem less convinced as to the positive economic impact of immigration."
The polling figures show very few Canadians realize that Canada accepts more than 250,000 newcomers as permanent residents each year.
The 2012 tracking poll, conducted in two waves, found that when respondents were informed about the actual number of immigrants, there was a shift of between nine and 14 percentage points to the view that Canada was accepting "too many" newcomers – away from "the right amount."
Since 2010, the Immigration report found, there's been a drop of between 16 to 18 percentage points in the number of Canadians who feel that "immigration has a positive impact on Canadian culture."