Friday, December 19, 2008

Canada Fast-Tracks Those it Needs Desperately - Khaleej Times

Canada has a new message for would-be economic immigrants from all over the world: if you belong to one of 38 occupations that are badly needed here, you can expect to receive a landing permit within six months of applying. In 2009, we expect to welcome about 45,000 such applicants.

The list of occupations were announced by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently along with a promise to maintain immigration levels in the face of a looming recession and a global trend towards lower migrant flows. These changes were introduced by the Conservative government on February 27, freezing a waiting list running into 900,000 applications, including 600,000 in the economic category.

If you were to include dependents, the number waiting to have their visa applications processed would be over three million. It marked the first time in 40 years that Canada substantially altered its own points system that for the first time gave equal weight to all applications, irrespective of gender, race and country of origin.

No longer will it be a first-come-first-served system, but rather one that privileges people in a few select professions who can immediately fill labour market shortages in Canada. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), all it takes to qualify is, “At least one year of continuous full-time or equivalent paid work experience in the last 10 years.” The last step in this changeover was identifying the shortlist of high-demand occupations, which the Minister announced last week.

This change makes good sense given the hardships faced by immigrants unable to find jobs and get their work experience or academic credentials recognised by Canadian employers. It makes even more sense if you factor in the reality that the points system had opened the floodgates and by February 27, 2008, the processing time for applications stretched to six years. Also, Canadian law requires that old applications should be processed according to the rules in vogue at the time.

For new applications, this waiting time will be cut down to just six months, but not many people in the UAE or elsewhere are likely to see much of an improvement immediately.

That’s because the 156,000 visas that will be given to economic migrants this year will be split between those already in the backlog of applications and those who can prove they belong to one of the 38 identified occupations. At least 70 per cent will go to those whose applications were submitted before February 27.

The room for new applicants will get further whittled down by a new class of applicants: the Canadian Experience class that includes foreigners already here on work visas or international students attending universities.

There is obviously a need to strike a balance between the new and the old, and it will be some time before all economic immigrants arriving in Canada will belong to one of the chosen professions. This list of professions itself is a moving target and is based on frequent consultations that the federal government has with provinces, industry, labour groups and large employers.

However, the big picture remains sanguine for would-be immigrants. Unlike countries such as Britain and Australia, the gloomy economic outlook has not reduced the intake: Minister Jason Kenney said Canada would continue to accept between 240,000 and 265,000 newcomers next year, in the same range as the 251,000 who were granted permanent residency in 2007.

The plan for 2009 includes 156,000 visas in the “economic” category, 71,000 under the family class and 37,400 as refugees. (These include only the “principal applicant,” not family members and dependents) The relative proportion of immigrants under the three classes remains unchanged.

Numbers mean a lot, not just to people in the UAE or elsewhere who are stuck in a long backlog of people waiting to come to Canada, but also those who already call Canada home. It is the numbers that decide how many skilled immigrants will get invited to Canada, how many family members can join, and the number of refugee applicants that will be accepted.

At the current rate, the backlog will take more than a decade to clear if all those on it choose to keep their names on it.

But, like Australia before it, Canada has come to a fork in the road. Rather than rely on “quantity” - hoping that everybody will eventually succeed - this country has shifted its defining principle of immigration to “quality” - you must have the skills that the Canadian economy requires. In the opinion of its critics, this amounts to “cherry picking,” but in the final analysis, it may be an approach that works best both for the immigrants and the country that is welcoming them.

George Abraham -