Thursday, March 29, 2012

Immigrants to get skills tests abroad


BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS MARCH 29, 2012

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced plans to hire an outside company to assess the educational credentials of new-comers before they arrive in Canada in a bid to keep foreign physicians from having to drive cabs when they arrive.

Kenney said the government will issue a request for proposals within the next two months in the hopes of selecting a third-party organization that can begin conducting these overseas assessments before 2013.

"The overall goal here is to better select and better support potential immigrants before they come to Canada so they can hit the ground running once they arrive by integrating quickly into our labour market," he told a business audience of professional regulators Wednesday.

"Once this process is in place, we think this will result in a significant improvement in the points grid system we use to assess applicants to the foreign skilled worker program."

Kenney said the idea is to "be more upfront and honest" with would-be newcomers by giving them a sense of how their credentials stack up against some-one with a similar Canadian education. It would also help screen out those without adequate levels of education.

In other words, simply having a degree in a particular field will no longer be enough to garner an individual points toward acceptance as a skilled worker.

While this is the sort of thing that ought to be part of visa officers' jobs, Kenney suggested it's an impossible task for them.

"Our visa offices simply don't have the time or expertise to do a qualitative assessment of every single applicant," he said. "This is an opportunity for specialized assessment of their credentials and their education by going to the experts - Unlike immigration officers, they know what the standards are to be licensed as an engineer or as a physician in Canada."

That said, the pre-arrival assessment does not guarantee applicants will find work in Canada commensurate with their skills, nor does it guarantee they'd become licensed in their field.

That lies with the professional regulatory bodies in the jurisdiction in which the individual intends to settle - and that, Kenney suggested, is a whole other problem.

In many ways credential recognition is a provincial responsibility, outside of Citizenship and Immigration's jurisdiction, he said.

He suggested some regulatory bodies have been overly protectionist and ought to "do a lot more" to streamline their processes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Immigration minister plans reforms to foreign credential recognition


BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS MARCH 28, 2012

OTTAWA — Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced plans to hire an outside company to assess the educational credentials of newcomers before they arrive in Canada in a bid to keep foreign physicians from having to drive cabs when they arrive.

On the eve of an anticipated austerity budget, Kenney said the government will issue a request for proposals within the next two months in the hopes of selecting a third-party organization that can begin conducting these overseas assessments by the end of the year.

"The overall goal here is to better select and better support potential immigrants before they come to Canada so they can hit the ground running once they arrive by integrating quickly into our labour market," he told a business audience of professional regulators Wednesday.

"Once this process is in place, we think this will result in a significant improvement in the points grid system we use to assess applicants to the foreign skilled worker program."

Kenney said the idea is to "be more up front and honest" with would-be newcomers by giving them a sense of how their credentials stack up against someone with a similar Canadian education. It would also help screen out those without adequate levels of education.

In other words, simply having a degree in a particular field will no longer be enough to garner an individual points toward acceptance as a skilled worker.

While this is the sort of thing that ought to be part of visa officers' jobs, Kenney suggested it's an impossible task for them.

"Our visa offices simply don't have the time or expertise to do a qualitative assessment of every single applicant," he said.

"This is an opportunity for specialized assessment of their credentials and their education by going to the experts . . . Unlike immigration officers, they know what the standards are to be licensed as an engineer or as a physician in Canada."

That said, the pre-arrival assessment does not guarantee applicants will find work in Canada commensurate with their skills, nor does it guarantee they'd become licensed in their field.

That lies with the professional regulatory bodies in the jurisdiction in which the individual intends to settle — and that, Kenney suggested, is a whole other problem.

In many ways credential recognition is a provincial responsibility, outside of Citizenship and Immigration's jurisdiction, he said. Kenney also cited the case of an Iranian couple — a radiologist and orthopedic surgeon — who have struggled to get their skills recognized and have resolved to return to Iran.

He suggested some regulatory bodies have been overly protectionist and ought to "do a lot more" to streamline their processes.

"We want to maintain our high Canadian standards, but certainly there has been a lot of criticism," he said.

"We have a moral obligation at all levels of government, all professional licensing bodies, to move forward with deliberation, and haste and urgency to do whatever we can to open the opportunity for people like this to practice."

NDP immigration critic Don Davies suggested the government's been touting this idea for ages and while it's a good start, it still doesn't do anything to actually get a person's credentials recognized in Canada.

He agrees the provinces and particularly the regulatory bodies have put up barriers, for instance to protect their members' earnings potential, but suggested there are ways the federal government can get around it.

While he has yet to table it in this Parliament, Davies has previously put forward a motion urging the federal government to enter into "nation-to-nation treaty discussions" to mutually recognize certain credentials, for example, from a particular university.

Kenney also used the opportunity to release the government's progress report on foreign credential recognition. It highlights a number of initiatives that have been taken, including a program that offers pre-arrival orientation sessions in up to 25 countries, a bridging program to help internationally trained nurses meet Canadian licensing requirements and a website where stakeholders can share information.

Kenney offered few details about what to expect in the budget, but noted the government would be making "fundamental improvements" to immigration programs starting Wednesday and continuing throughout the year.

The policy reforms, he said, are meant to attract skilled immigrants who can fill gaps in the Canadian labour market.

He would not say whether the budget would include a plan to legislate away a massive backlog in applications for immigration, an idea put forward for discussion earlier this month.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Immigration sponsorship of parents, grandparents under review by Ottawa

Immigration sponsorship of parents, grandparents under review by Ottawa

March 27, 2012 00:03:00
Nicholas Keung

IMMIGRATION REPORTER

Ottawa is considering limiting eligibility of immigration sponsorship of parents and grandparents to those who are “widowed.”

That is one option under review by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney as he launched his national consultations to redesign the program that reunites parents and grandparents with their families in Canada.

Other measures under consideration include:

• Raising the income requirements of the sponsors and binding them to lifetime financial support of the elderly family members in Canada.

• Adopting the “balance of family test” where parents and grandparents must have at least half of their children residing permanently in Canada to be eligible for sponsorship.

• Restricting eligibility to sponsors who are Canadian citizens; currently permanent residents are eligible to sponsor their parents and grandparents.

• Limiting the applications to “exceptional cases” by, for example, requiring that the parent or grandparent “be widowed or have other exceptional needs.”

“Our government is fully committed to helping families reunite,” said Kenney in a statement. “The feedback provided by Canadians will guide our government in creating a new program in which future applications will be processed quickly and backlogs will not develop.”

To tackle the sponsorship backlog that now stands at 168,500, Ottawa has stopped accepting sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents since November. It plans to accept between 21,800 and 25,000 applications in 2012, up from 14,072 in 2011.

It also launched the 10-year Super Visa in December, allowing parents and grandparents to make temporary visits to Canada.

Kenney said the revamped program has to be “sensitive to fiscal constraints, bearing in mind Canada’s generous public health-care system and other social benefits.”

According to the government’s discussion paper on the reforms, almost half of the respondents in a 2011 survey said they wanted to see the parents and grandparents category scrapped.

The same online survey, said Ottawa, also found 1,482 respondents favoured allowing more parents into Canada each year, with 1,272 participants suggesting the number be limited.

The online public consultations start this week and run until May 25. A report will be released later this year.

Top 10 source countries for parents/grandparents

In 2010:

India: 4,775

China: 2,380

Philippines: 1,015

Sri Lanka: 820

Romania: 410

Iran: 300

Ukraine: 285

Vietnam: 285

Israel: 200

Haiti (spike a result of 2010 earthquake): 640

Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Friday, March 16, 2012

The changing meaning of citizenship in Canada

Mar 16, 2012 – 10:14 PM ET | Last Updated: Mar 16, 2012 10:18 PM ET
 
Aaron Lynett / National Post files
“We are much more than a kind of postmodern, relativistic reflection of the world’s diversity,” says Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who emphasizes the central role in his immigration reforms of civic literacy, the ideal that every Canadian should understand the country’s basic values, symbols and institutions.

In satirizing the national character in his 1962 poem “Can. Lit.,” the great Canadian poet Earle Birney made the cutting observation that, unlike our ancient imperial homelands or even our closest neighbour, Canada is mostly unbothered by history.
“We French, we English, never lost our civil war / Endure it still, a bloodless civil bore,” he wrote. “No wounded lying about, no Whitman wanted. / It’s only by our lack of ghosts we’re haunted.”
Once a pioneer in a virgin land, by mid-century, Birney’s archetypal Canadian had come to regret his lack of roots. Since then, Canadians have filled this ghostless void with virtues, defining ourselves not by the sorrows and glories of our past, but by the ideals of our present.
For the last half-century, especially since Pierre Trudeau’s introduction of multiple citizenship in 1977, that meant a country open to any and all newcomers, a multicultural land of peacekeepers and humanitarians whose citizenship was a gift freely offered to others, regardless of prior loyalties.

These virtues are not etched in the Canadian Shield, however, and through a long-term strategy that has only just begun, the Conservative government is redefining Canadian citizenship in both subtle and obvious ways, just as their Liberal predecessors did.

By their nature, the Americans will always be free, the British will be loyal, and the French will be French, but Canadians are a work in progress, still becoming rather than being themselves.
“I think most native-born Canadians, frankly, take [citizenship] for granted. Maybe we’re only conscious of our citizenship once or twice a year, on Canada Day or when we go to vote or something,” said Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. “The truth is that for too long, perhaps because of the Canadian characteristic of always wanting to be nice and never wanting to say no, we looked the other way when significant numbers of foreigners sought to acquire Canadian citizenship even illicitly… All of this indicated to me a cheapening of the value of Canadian citizenship.

‘I think most native-born Canadians, frankly, take [citizenship] for granted’
“We are much more than a kind of postmodern, relativistic reflection of the world’s diversity,” he said, and emphasized the central role in his reforms of civic literacy, the ideal that every Canadian should understand the country’s basic values, symbols and institutions.

His efforts to strengthen the value of citizenship — such as tightening the knowledge, language and residency requirements — represent a wholesale rejection of the “insulting” notion, best expressed by the Canadian novelist Yann Martel on accepting the 2002 Booker prize, that Canada is “the greatest hotel on earth,” the kind of place people can pass through at their leisure, claiming citizenship as if it were a room key.

It was a vision of Canadian citizenship that sits so lightly on the shoulders, you can almost forget it is there, and it exploded in unexpected crisis in the 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon, when thousands of people holding dual Lebanese and Canadian citizenship were evacuated by Canadian naval vessels, popularizing the epithet “Canadians of convenience.”
Poet Earle Birney, pictured in 1995, said Canada is mostly unbothered by history.

Contrary to the hotel metaphor, Mr. Kenney said the Conservative vision is of “a country made up of Canadians who have a deep sense of loyalty toward, and knowledge about Canada. It’s a country characterized by social cohesion and a sense of mutual obligation and civic responsibility. That’s the vision.”

Critics, however, say this “ideological remaking” of Canada has been done on the fly, in inflammatory and overly political language, that it is out of touch with current trends in global migration of people and capital, and that by expanding temporary worker programs while restricting permanent residency and citizenship, the Tories are cracking down on the most marginal groups, for reasons that are at best economic and at worst simply political.

Daiva Stasiulis, a professor of sociology and an expert in citizenship studies at Carleton University, said the government’s recent targeting of “passport babies” and “birth tourism” shows it is “sadly out of touch with that very important transnational reality,” that people have loyalty to more than one country, and meaningful ties and networks and families and property and interest in more than one country.”

‘I think people come to Canada to be free. You talk to many newcomers, that’s what brought them here’
By emphasizing the value of Canadian citizenship as something to be protected against international fraudsters, rather than granted widely as atonement for post-colonial settler guilt, the Conservatives are promoting a notion of Canadianness that is far grander than the cliché of being “as Canadian as possible under the circumstances.”

On citizenship, the move to abandon the rule that any person (except children of foreign diplomats) who is born in Canada is automatically Canadian — known as jus soli, the right of soil, as opposed to the more common jus sanguinis, or right of blood — is the most dramatic of several efforts to bring this Conservative vision of citizenship to reality.

These efforts include rewriting the citizenship test to emphasize the rejection of “barbaric” cultural practices like female genital mutilation, renaming the armed forces to honour the monarchy, hanging the Queen’s portrait in more prominent civic locations, adapting the immigration process to make it more business-friendly and restricting the ability of foreign-born Canadians to pass citizenship to their foreign-born children. In enacting these measures, Mr. Kenney said the government is seeking to recapture the pioneer spirit of the immigrants who historically came to stay and work, such as Clearance Scots, Famine Irish, Sikh lumber workers and Chinese railroad labourers.
Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy, a non-partisan think-tank, said Canada is a place the rest of the world looks on in envy because it embodies certain values, such as freedom from social and economic inequality.
“I think people come to Canada to be free. You talk to many newcomers, that’s what brought them here,” he said.

‘When you grow up with [Canadian values], you don’t grow up with them as an intellectual acquisition’
Those values “don’t just grow out of nothing. They grow out of our history, and a long period where we have worked out a certain modus vivendi [way of life] among Canadians. I think what the Minister, with his citizenship reforms, is trying to underline for people is that, in coming to Canada, and wanting to take advantage of those things that make Canada so attractive, you have to contribute to the atmosphere, institutions and behaviours that make those good things possible.”
He acknowledged that native-born Canadians are never told this, just as they are never required to swear loyalty to the Queen or pass a citizenship test.

“When you grow up with [Canadian values], you don’t grow up with them as an intellectual acquisition,” he said. “It’s not that somebody tells you what they are. It is that, when you behave that way, you behave like a Canadian. With newcomers, it’s very important to explain to them, to put it into words.”

One major criticism, as Prof. Stasiulis describes it, is that many of the citizenship changes are surface-level tweaks in the ongoing overhaul of the immigration and refugee system, and that by enacting them, Mr. Kenney “is following the lead of many European countries in becoming more restrictive, exclusionary, targeted and discriminatory.”
Mr. Kenney said the goal is to make the system quick and flexible, where it was once slow and rigid, but in a sharply worded announcement this week, four civil society groups accused the government of pursuing an “un-Canadian” Bill, C-31, that would give broad powers to the minister to reject and deport refugee claimants.

“I think for many of us, ‘Canadian’ signifies compassion, decency, upholding of human rights, and this Bill flies in the face of all that,” said Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the equality program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“What we take issue with is the government penalizing the men, women and young people who are simply trying to find safety,” she said. “I think the government is trying to persuade Canada that there is something wrong with immigrants. There is a worrying conflation of refugees with criminals.”
In promoting Canadian citizenship to people who are already Canadian, however, there are some peculiarly Canadian problems, none more peculiar than the teaching of history. That is a provincial responsibility, but by partnering with the Historica-Dominion Institute, the government hopes to make its new citizenship guide a key component of every Canadian’s high school education.
‘I think that there is a compelling core narrative to Canadian history and identity’
“I think that there is a compelling core narrative to Canadian history and identity. I think there are clear touchstones and values that are historically rooted. But I think there was a period when a radical, relativistic version of multiculturalism made it politically incorrect to assert that Canadian story,” Mr. Kenney said. “Canada is not just a content-less reflection of the world’s diversity. It is a particular political community rooted in a particular historical and cultural context.”
Prof. Stasiulis cited a new book, Warrior Nation, by Queen’s University history professor Ian McKay, that argues the teaching of history is being militarized by this kind of project, with Canada’s story told primarily through its wars, to the exclusion of its social movements.
Mr. Kenney said the rewritten citizenship guide includes carefully calibrated content, as opposed to “puerile, politically correct version presented in the Liberal government’s study guide, A Look At Canada, which did not have a single sentence on Canadian military history, but had two pages on recycling. That typified the now discredited approach to Canadian citizenship where we would tell people about the Blue Box but not the red poppy.”

He said he has noticed a renewal of interest and a growing discourse on citizenship, and a growing realization of its value, and that it is new Canadians who have been the most enthusiastic about building stronger emotional and intellectual ties to their chosen country.
“In such a diverse country, we need certain touchstones that reinforce social cohesion,” he said. “One of those touchstones has to be a common understanding of the nature of our democratic institutions, habits and traditions, how they developed throughout the course of our history, including our pre-Confederation history, the fundamental values upon which they were based. This is really what we’re trying to get to.”

Sourece: National Post

Immigration system overhaul is way overdue

Immigration system overhaul is way overdue

By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star March 16, 2012

Only weeks after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that an overhaul is on the way for Canada’s broken immigration system comes a report that suggests the makeover couldn’t come too soon.

The report, from two respected academics at the world-class Fraser Institute, is bound to raise the hackles of those who support wide-open immigration at any cost. But there is no doubt Canada’s immigration system is a corrupt and dysfunctional mess.

From the human smugglers who make millions off the good nature of Canadians, to birth tourism and “passport babies,” to Canadians of convenience who live elsewhere and the one-million-applicant backlog, a lot of things need to change, the faster the better.

It’s probably not a coincidence we have the first government in 25 years willing and able to tackle this prickly topic. The changes have already started.

For instance, in 2010 Canada suddenly doubled the number of people it is refusing for citizenship, mostly for having criminal records or for failing to live and work here long enough after applying. The change flowed from a judge who wrote in 2007 that the existing rules weren’t being applied.

In 2006, only 1.4 per cent or 3,872 applicants were refused permission to come here. Four years later the rejection figure was 3.5 per cent, or 5,351, according to a news report this week.

Under the unenforced rules, applicants had been acquiring Canadian citizenship without even living in the country. And obvious bad guys were waltzing into the country to the detriment of their later victims.

In Windsor last year we learned that dozens, perhaps hundreds of people were allegedly victimized when a drug trafficker-turned used car dealer named Jamal Hazime set up shop here after the U.S. kicked him out.

It should have been simple to weed out a convicted heroin dealer from living here. But no explanation has ever been offered by Canada’s immigration bureaucracy for their failure to do so.

But an even better change is coming: Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has announced Canada intends to start matching immigrants with available jobs.

Employers in the western provinces are desperate to hire tens of thousands of skilled people, while eastern cities like Windsor have unemployed recent immigrants walking the sidewalks and competing with unemployed Canadians with skills we really don’t need. This is cruel to both groups of the unemployed.

Canada’s failure to match newcomers to available jobs does not just deny immigrants the better life they hoped to find in Canada, it also costs established Canadians billions in taxes, the new Fraser study finds.

Herbert Grubel and Patrick Grady, the authors of the study, are both senior Phd economists with extensive worldwide experience and credentials. One of them happens to be an immigrant himself.

They found that recent immigrants cost Canada a minimum of $6,000 more each year than they pay in taxes. The total cost of our newcomers in 2005 was $16 billion — $23 billion in 2010, they say. Hardly peanuts.

Our lazy immigration policies are at fault, the authors say. We’re selecting people with the wrong skills.

This didn’t used to be a problem, the study says (you can read the whole thing free at fraserinstitute.org). The gap developed recently, between 1987 and 2004.

“These are immigrants who performed much worse than earlier immigrants for a number of reasons,” from their country of origin to selection for “humanitarian objectives such as family reunification” rather than employability.

According to the study, this leads to recent immigrants ranking closer to the bottom of the income scale, which forces higher income earners to subsidize the government services they consume.

As an immigrant’s son raised on a newcomer’s dreams and struggles, immigration has always been an issue with deep personal meaning to me. Like most other Canadians, I don’t need to see the number of immigrants or refugees reduced. (Only if unemployment becomes so bad that that seems necessary again. Until 1986, Canada always reduced immigration during recessions.)

But immigration should be about a lot more than the business of simply matching newcomers to available jobs. I think Canada should also start matching up the immigrants who share our core values.

The core values which are at risk from the views of some recent newcomers are the place of women in society and the rights of gays and Jews. Some immigrants seem to want to keep the first group in medieval repression while driving the latter two either out or underground, just like back home.

I think the rights of these three groups should be incorporated into Canada’s citizenship oath. Not only should we only be taking in people we can employ right away, we should only be welcoming in the people who share our vision of what a healthy and tolerant society is.

cvanderdoelen@windsorstar.com or 519-255-6852 follow me on twitter @windstarvander
© Copyright (c) The Windsor Star

Read more: http://www.windsorstar.com/news/Immigration+system+overhaul+overdue/6316000/story.html#ixzz1pLpWgn8v

Province promises immigration strategy


By ,Toronto Sun
First posted:

sousa
Ontario Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa. (Toronto Sun files)
TORONTO - The province’s Liberal government is promising to create its own immigration strategy to improve economic development and “social prospects for new immigrants.”
Citizenship and Immigration ministry staff on Friday said plans are afoot “to create our own, made-in-Ontario immigrant strategy.”
In an e-mail response, officials said the province “remains Canada’s economic engine,” generating nearly 40% of the 2010 gross domestic product, and must have a greater say in selecting newcomers.
They predicted “in the next three to five years, immigrants will account for all of Ontario’s net labour market growth,” with highly-skilled newcomers needed “to remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

One key requirement will be “a highly skilled and educated workforce that can succeed in today’s knowledge-based economy,” with more than 70% of all new jobs in the province requiring “some form of post-secondary education.”

The officials said the provincial government is working on integrating newcomers into job markets and communities “through bridge training, credential recognition, language training and settlement programs.”

But they claimed Ontario’s workplace needs are undermined by a “huge applications backlog” of 200,000 Ontario-bound people stuck in the federal Skilled Worker Program, while the feds limit Queen’s Park to nominating only 1,000 people a year under the Opportunities Ontario: Provincial Nominee Program.

While lauding Ottawa for acknowledging immigration system problems, with promises “that changes must be made,” the Citizenship and Immigration officials criticized the federal government’s announcement last year of $31.6 million in cuts to Ontario’s settlement agency funds by 2013 — bringing to $75 million the reductions since 2010.

The cutback will hit immigrants harder, since their unemployment rate — particularly recent arrivals — “is much higher than Canadian-born workers,” the provincial officials said.

Ottawa intends to revamp Immigrant Investor Program

BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS MARCH 16, 2012

Canada is planning to overhaul its popular Immigrant Investor Program that is so attractive to newcomers that some chartered private planes last year to be first to submit their application when the program opened after Citizenship and Immigration Canada capped intake at 700 cases in an effort to manage demand.

Within 30 minutes the pro-gram - which fast-tracks permanent residency for those who can afford it - was closed for the year.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the $800,000 minimum investment required under the cur-rent system is simply too low and that it's time to consider making it a permanent contribution to the Canadian economy rather than just a loan.

Right now provinces that accept immigrant investors - predominantly Ontario and British Columbia - get the cash to invest in economic development projects but must pay back the principal five years later. Kenney said a lot of it ends up lying dormant in accounts, particularly in Ontario, which is sitting on nearly $1 billion despite a $16-billion deficit.

"I've always said that I believe Canada has been underselling itself through our Immigrant Investor Program," Kenney said.

"They get permanent residency in the best country in the world for lending Canadian governments $800,000 for five years ... so it seems to me, given there are millions of millionaires around the world who would love to come to Canada, we can do better than that and we're looking at ways we can redesign the program to extract more bang for the buck."

Making it an "active" investment in which participants have to show that they've created a certain number of jobs and one they won't get back are some of the options the government is considering.

Noting Australia and the United States have set the minimum investment at $1 mil-lion, while the United Kingdom requires immigrant investors to contribute at least one million pounds, about $1.6 million in Canadian dollars, Kenney said Canada is also looking to raise its "price point."

"To be honest, it's not an investor program, it's permanent residency for a loan and I just think that maybe we should have a real investor program that brings real capital and ensures that we retain it and that it grows jobs and the economy," he said.

Meanwhile, figures obtained by Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland indicate that between October 2010 and September 2011, Canada approved nearly 3,000 cases and issued a total of 10,246 visas to applicants and their families. The vast majority of approved cases came from Hong Kong, followed at a distance by Taipei, Damascus, London and Seoul.

As of last September, the backlog in immigrant investor applications stood at 88,555.

The government instituted the 700 cap last year in an effort to align application intake with processing timelines and in 2010 it doubled the minimum investment from $400,000 and set a net worth requirement of $1.6 million.

"The fundamental problem is we're marketing our visas at too low a price," Kurland said, adding a $4-million net worth and $1.5 million investment is a good place to start.

"We should benchmark very high and ratchet down until we reach the right balance."

Kenney says the new program should be in place by the end of the year. While the program opens again to applications in July, Kurland said the government should wait until the new program is in place.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Immigrants key to economic growth


Megan Harris
Yesterday at 2:48 PM

To those who argue that the Canadian government should substantially reduce the net inflow of immigrants into the country in order to effectively tackle our stubbornly high unemployment rates are both misinformed and dead wrong.
The reality is the combination of Canada’s demographic profile and low fertility rate means future economic growth will depend entirely on a steady flow of people willing to uproot themselves and families to move to our shores. Simply put, Canadians are getting older and having fewer babies.
If you want to grow your economy, you need a stable cohort of young people who are willing to work.
That is not to suggest Canadians are not willing to work. It’s just that many of us grew up expecting to dictate our terms for giving employers the honour of paying us for our labour.
With the onset of the global recession in 2008 — coupled with the fragile state of Canada’s economic recovery — these expectations are out of whack. There are jobs out there but it’s a matter of resetting expectations.
According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in February dipped to 7.4%, largely because 37,900 fewer people, the majority in Ontario, stopped looking for work.
At the same time, many employers are experiencing a persistent shortage of workers and can only fill the void through offshore hiring to keep their businesses afloat. This ongoing shortage of skilled labor points to a gap in both our education system and apprenticeship programs that are failing to produce job ready graduates.
Ontario’s unemployment rate is 8.1%. The Drummond report reveals that within the immigrant community, the unemployment rate is disproportionately high — almost double the provincial average: “In particular, very recent immigrants (in Canada for five years or less) were the most adversely affected by the global recession, registering employment losses in each of the last three years (2009, 2010 and 20118). In the first three quarters of 2011, Ontario’s unemployment rate for very recent immigrants remained among the highest in Canada (15.7%), behind only Quebec (18.6%).”
You might rightly question, why permit more immigrants to enter the country if the existing ones are not able to keep the jobs they are hired to fill in the first place?
The answer has many complexities. Among the reasons is the McGuinty government was slow to adopt changes in federal immigration programs that enabled provinces to strategically target their immigration programs to fill employment gaps. In fact, Ontario was the last province to launch a provincial nominee program (PNP). The negative implications on the economy are numerous and could hamper growth over time.
So, while between 2006 to 2010 Ontario’s immigration levels remained constant at 36.7% of all newcomers to Canada, they accounted for only 15.6% of growth in immigrant employment growth. A key factor, Ontario takes in a disproportionately high number of refugees to Canada — 56% in 2010. These new arrivals are most often less job ready and require more support.
Many employers used the recession as both an opportunity and an excuse to trim unnecessary overhead costs.
Ontarians must accept the new reality that landing their ideal jobs will take much longer than before. In the meantime, closing doors to immigrants is not the answer because they do the jobs most Canadians don’t want to do.
But the Ontario government needs to do a better job of attracting those immigrants that can hit the ground running and contribute to strengthening all aspects of Ontario’s future prospects.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Choosing the right new Canadian

RATNA OMIDVAR
Last updated Thursday, Mar. 08, 2012 10:29PM EST

Last week, Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney laid out a plan to help Canada find the right immigrants for the right jobs. These changes have the potential to accelerate the rate at which new immigrants can get on their feet and the rate at which Canada can benefit from their contributions.

Job opportunities in the trades abound, so choose immigrants who can work in skilled trades. Canada has an aging population and predicted labour shortages, so choose those who are young and will have a long career in this country. Employment and economic outcomes are better for those who speak one of Canada’s official languages, so choose immigrants who already have the fluency required to work in their occupation.

These proposals are grounded in common sense. And they’re likely to give Canada what it needs, without sentencing talented and skilled new Canadians to languish in survival jobs.

The changes, of course, will have consequences, whether intended or unintended, so their implementation must be carefully considered. With regards to age, for example, Canada must find a balance between immigrants who are not so young that they will compete with recent graduates against whom they might be disproportionately disadvantaged, yet young enough, qualified enough and skilled enough to adapt to Canada’s labour market.

While raising the bar for language requirements may help employment outcomes, it will also have an impact on the mix of countries from which we draw immigrants. A recent study by University of Waterloo economist Mikal Skuterud and his Australian co-author, Andrew Clarke, finds that, in Australia, where language requirements are high, close to 20 per cent of immigrants are drawn from the United Kingdom. In Canada, it’s roughly 5 per cent. We can conclude that the real impact of increasing language levels will be on the mix of source countries, with possibly more immigrants being drawn from English-speaking countries such as the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Canada needs to consider the long-term implications of this shift. The scope and scale of our demographic diversity has been an essential ingredient of our multicultural success. This diversity is also a natural, if somewhat latent, link to new markets and new products. As the economies of Russia, India, China and Brazil continue to grow, it will become more important that we use all our assets, including our immigrant ambassadors, to further our interests in these regions.

So flexibility, not rigidity, will be the key to our success. Mr. Kenney is proposing that different occupations require different levels of language proficiency. This is appropriate. A flexible language grid will evaluate an applicant’s language skills against what’s required for their occupation – a university professor will require higher levels than a pipefitter. It will help ensure that Canada continues to draw immigrants from a variety of source countries.

The minister may also consider a stream for immigrants whose language may fall short by a small margin but who have demonstrated a willingness to learn before they arrive. This willingness to learn, to adapt and to change is possibly the secret ingredient to any immigrant’s success, and it’s hard to codify in a rigid selection grid.

On the other hand, in some areas, we’ve had too much flexibility. In recent years, Canada’s immigration system has become increasingly regionalized. Where Ottawa used to play the principal role in selecting immigrants, today’s applicants can choose from more than 50 immigration streams operated by the provinces and territories. The system is complicated and fragmented, leading to confusion for both public servants and immigrants. It’s time to bring some coherence to this fragmentation.

While we look forward to a new immigrant tomorrow, we must keep in mind the immigrant of today. We know that he or she has a hard time finding work that’s in keeping with his or her education and experience. This means that our current investment in the efforts of settlement organizations, universities and colleges in the form of internships, co-ops, mentoring and bridging programs must not waiver. As we look forward to a more finely tuned selection system, we must not forget that we have a commitment to those who are already here. In the short term or the long term, their success is our success.

We must remember that immigration selection is not simply about headhunting, but about nation-building.

Ratna Omidvar is president of Maytree.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney looks to eliminate backlog of potential immigrants


March 7, 2012 00:03:00
Bruce Campion-Smith

OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA—The federal government is looking at simply erasing the backlog of potential newcomers as it looks to dramatically overhaul an immigration system criticized as plodding and rigid.

That’s one option on the table as Ottawa seeks to make its immigration system more nimble in matching newcomers with jobs, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

“It’s time for some frank discussion of the need for transformational change in our immigration programs so that we select the newcomers who will fill the job shortages that exist,” he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a January speech at an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, to signal that immigration reforms are on the way this year.

Since then, Kenney has been making that case that the economy — and labour force needs — will become the main driver of Canada’s immigration policy.

The minister expressed frustration that despite labour shortages, too many immigrants are unemployed or stuck in “survival” jobs just to make ends meet.

“Something is broken and needs to be fixed,” he said. “It’s about matching immigrants with the jobs rather than just pushing them into the general labour market to sink or swim.”

But he said the first step in the reform is tackling the backlog of more than 1 million people waiting for a decision on their immigration file — a line-up that means those at the end could be waiting up to eight years.

“It is essential that we reduce and eliminate these backlogs so that we can move from a slow and rigid and passive immigration system to a fast, flexible and responsive immigration system,” Kenney told the Economic Club of Canada in a lunch speech.

He later told reporters that the backlogs are the mark of a “dysfunctional” system.

“It’s taking seven, eight years for people in the back of that list to come up for a decision. By then, their skills are often dated and we’re not able to respond to the changes in the labour market,” he said.

He said the government is launching a pilot project to let the provinces and territories go through the backlog and nominate potential immigrants with skills that are in demand.

But he also cited the example of New Zealand, which simply legislated an end to its backlog in 2003 and replaced it with a pool of applicants where prospective immigrants are drawn from.

“At this point we’re looking at all options to dealing with these backlogs and coming up with a faster, more responsive system,” Kenney said.

Ultimately, prospective immigrants will be encouraged “more and more” to have a job lined up before they come to Canada, he said.

It’s unclear exactly how doing away with the backlog would affect those waiting in the queue. As of July 2011, that backlog included almost 460,000 in the economic class.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Transformational change coming to immigration system, says Kenney

BY TOBI COHEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS MARCH 7, 2012

OTTAWA — Canada will consider legislating away its massive backlog of immigration applications and allowing provinces to cherry-pick from one big pool of would-be newcomers in a bid to transform Canada's immigration system into one that's driven by the economy, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

In a speech to business leaders at an Economic Club of Canada luncheon, Kenney promised "transformational change" to immigration that emphasizes the need for skilled newcomers who can fill gaps in the country's labour market.

He suggested the pre-2008 backlog of nearly one million applications is bogging down the system and hindering reforms and outlined several pilot projects and strategies the government is considering to eliminate it.

"The time has come for fundamental change to our rigid, slow-moving immigration process and this government will deliver that change," he said.

"People with flexible human capital, high levels of language proficiency and a prearranged job are set for success so that will be an important guidepost as we move toward transformational change."

Noting New Zealand "legislated an end" to its backlog in 2003 by creating a "pool" from which all applicants could be selected based on specific criteria as opposed to time spent in the queue, Kenney said Canada is looking at a similar option.

Meanwhile, a new pilot project, he said, is now in place to give provinces the opportunity to "mine the backlog" for newcomers who meet local labour force needs.

The federal government has already struck deals with British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories to sort through the backlogs. Officials predict that will allow Canada to welcome an additional 3,000-4,000 newcomers this year through the provincial nominee program which gives the provinces and territories a greater say in immigrant selection.

Kenney said applicants "stuck" in the backlog are also being urged to pull their applications and consider re-applying through the much faster provincial nominee program.

Furthermore, high level consultations began last week between government officials and employers across the country to discuss ways of creating a more "active" immigration system in which employers play a greater role in recruiting people from abroad.

Kenney said the government is looking at obtaining consent from applicants in the backlog so they might be considered directly by Canadian employers who are looking for particular skilled workers. It would mean giving employers direct access to the backlog database so, for example, hospitals in Manitoba can find foreign doctors and nurses who've said they'd like to settle in the region.

"Employers are best positioned to decide who can best fill the open jobs rather than a passive and bureaucratic system," Kenney said, dismissing the idea that such an initiative could give the private sector too much power at the expense of the federal government.

"It's not about privatizing the immigration system, it's about a more active role of recruitment for people so they have jobs when they show up. I'd rather have an engineer working as an engineer than as a cab driver. That's really where we're trying to go with this."

NDP immigration critic Don Davies said credential recognition is a "large barrier" to immigrant success and that the government should think about doing more to tackle that issue. He's also disappointed that Kenney never mentioned non-economic, but such equally important immigration streams as the family and refugee class.

He suggested the 25-year-old Chinese engineer with a strong command of the English language might not want to move to Canada if he thinks he'll have trouble bringing his widowed mother to the country 20 years down the road.

"These immigration streams are connected and I didn't hear that connection being made by the minister," he said.

He favours tackling the application backlog by accepting more immigrants on an annual basis and while not entirely against all the measures the government has proposed, he has grave concerns about the overall direction the Conservatives are headed and believes it may be time for a national debate.

"There's two very different visions of immigration in this country. One is the Statue of Liberty: give me your poor, your oppressed, your weak and tired, yearning for freedom. That's what built the U.S. and Canada. It wasn't give me your rich, give me your educated, give me your wealthy investors," he said.

"I think this transformation is moving more toward the latter and I think we need to have a healthy Canadian debate about that because I'm not so sure that's the way to build your economy."

Tories consider capping immigration applications

Tories consider capping immigration applications
Daniel Proussalidis, QMI Agency
Yesterday at 12:45 PM

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney (Veronica Henri/QMI Agency)
Even as Canadian officials hack away at a backlog of immigration applications, their workload is increasing.

Documents obtained by QMI Agency show Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials have raised the goal for approving overseas immigration visas this year to more than 255,000 an increase of 17% from 2011.

The biggest growth will be in family visas parents and grandparents the number of which is expected to more than triple to 36,500 in 2012.

However, officials say the actual number of people who come to Canada will be lower because not everyone who receives a visa actually uses it.

So, about 25,000 parents and grandparents are expected to arrive in Canada through the year, matching a number announced by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney last November.
Last fall, Kenney also froze applications from parents and grandparents for two years while officials try to deal with a backlog of 165,000 applicants, some waiting for up to seven years for an answer.

Officials are also targeting a slight increase in skilled worker immigrants, while the number of business immigrants is set to decrease.

The Commons immigration committee released a new report Tuesday that makes several recommendations, including a limit on the number of applications to help reduce backlogs.
"There needs to be a cap on the application process," said Rick Dykstra, parliamentary secretary to the immigration minister, without recommending a specific number.

NDP immigration critic Don Davies says instead, Canada should just approve more applications, noting approvals hit a high of 280,000 in 2010.

"We have suggested that we build on that 280,000 visas in 2010 and go up, perhaps 10,000 a year over the next three or four years," Davies said.

Feds urged to cap applications to reduce immigration backlog

Feds urged to cap applications to reduce immigration backlog

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News


Though divided along party lines, a House of Commons committee ultimately wants the federal government to consider more caps on applications for immigration in order to tackle a backlog that's now reached nearly one million, according to a report tabled Tuesday.
Photographed by:
Chris Mikukla, The Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA — Though divided along party lines, a House of Commons committee ultimately wants the federal government to consider more caps on applications for immigration in order to tackle a backlog that's now reached nearly one million, according to a report tabled Tuesday.

The result of a months-long review, the Tory majority on the committee also wants the government to make skilled workers the priority, particularly the 300,000-strong backlog in applications received prior to 2008.

"We believe that the government's primary focus should be on jobs and growth to drive our economy," said Rick Dykstra, parliamentary secretary to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

"We know that immigration can and will be part of the solution to addressing our economic needs. That's why we think it's important that the government act decisively and quickly to deal with the backlog, especially the backlogs in the economic immigration categories."

Dykstra said experts offered the committee a number of solutions from changing the skilled worker selection system so that it focuses more on younger immigrants who are fluent in French or English, to fast-tracking more recent applications and ones that better match current labour market needs, to charging higher processing fees.

He said the goal is to "better align" the number of applications Canada accepts for processing with the annual total of newcomers admitted every year.

Since the government has no plans to increase its yearly intake which currently stands at about 250,000, that means further caps on applications.

The government has already limited applications from those applying through the investor class, the family reunification program, the privately sponsored refugee class and skilled workers without prearranged offers of employment. But the report didn't go into detail about what other caps might be introduced.

The report also called on the government to promote, track and make permanent the new parent and grandparent, 10-year, multiple-entry supervisa that allows such relatives to visit for up to two years at a time. The supervisa was introduced in December to coincide with a two-year moratorium on new parent and grandparent applications — another measure aimed at reducing backlogs.

Members of the opposition who sit on the committee disagreed with the recommendations and offered a supplementary report with seven of their own solutions.

NDP immigration critic Don Davies said "quotas" and "caps" fail to address the "real cause of the problem."

He argued a 10 per cent increase in the overall number of immigrants Canada accepts into the country would "erase the growth of the backlog immediately," while anything more than that would "actually work to reduce it."

Given Canada's aging population, declining birthrate and increased reliance on immigration to meet labour shortages, he said letting in 10,000 more immigrants a year for the next three to four years makes sense, not just from a backlog perspective.

"The Conservatives think that if we just simply avoid the problem by capping applications the problem will be solved," Davies said.

"Well, that doesn't help employers who need workers or the family member who wants to be united with their family members. It just pretends the problem doesn't exist."

The NDP has also recommended increasing resources for Canadian embassies abroad facing big backlogs in immigration applications and reducing Canada's reliance on temporary foreign workers. The NDP is also against the use of "excessive financial barriers" as a means of curbing applications.

While Dykstra noted that thousands of supervisas have already been issued and that more than three-quarters of applications have been approved, Davies further argued that the refusal rate was high and that eligibility criteria was too stringent.

In its supplementary report, the NDP called on the government to ensure the supervisa was "accessible, affordable, fairly administered and generously approved."

Furthermore, Davies tabled two private members bills earlier in the day to address concerns with the overall visitor visa system. The first bill calls on the government to provide detailed explanations to rejected applicants, while the second would give rejected applicants a process of appeal should they believe an error had been made.

Toronto immigrant networks connect newcomers with jobs and community help

Toronto immigrant networks connect newcomers with jobs and community help

March 7, 2012 00:03:00
Nicholas Keung
IMMIGRATION REPORTER
Lara Zaylah arrived in Toronto last March with her husband and their 2-year-old son, with no family or friends in the city.

Five months later, the Lebanese auditor got her first job in Canada, as a senior internal auditor for an insurance company, thanks to networking.

Although her fluency in English and work experience with two of the world’s top accounting firms were an asset to get her foot in the local job market, Zaylah says networking — both professional and personal — was a key to her success.

“You have to go out and meet a lot of people, not just related to your careers, but for all other stuff. They give you the information, support and encouragement you need,” she says. “When you put everything together, that was the outcome.”

Recognizing the strength of community associations helping immigrants, the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council recently launched the Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) website.

Its goal is to “forge connections between immigrants, employers and community agencies,” with the ultimate objective of advancing immigrant employment, says manager Raquel Sevilla.

The website features a directory searchable by profession or ethno-cultural group, individual success stories, an event calendar and background on each of the 32 community groups and agencies that form the network.

There is also a “log-in” section, where immigrant leaders and partners can learn about the networks, connect and share resources. Features include messaging functions, discussion boards, a resource library and a skills and resource exchange board.

“A lot of times, immigrants are not accessing the (settlement and employment) programs because they don’t know they exist,” explains Sevilla. “And they make their first stop within their own community. These community groups are the natural gateway.

“We are working with these groups to arm them with the right, relevant information and keep them up to speed. It is important that we open up the channels of communications.”

While still in Lebanon, Zaylah did her homework on Toronto’s community organizations and approached them for help soon after her arrival. Although they didn’t directly lead her to her job with Foresters, they prepared her for her success.

“You really need to work on yourself, step by step, be patient,” says Zaylah, who got her job through a recruitment agency. “It is your duty to work with it, learn as much from others and get as much info as you need, or else you will never make it.”

There are a wide range of PINs, from small groups that literally lead newcomers by their hands to job interviews and apartment shopping to registered organizations that offer formal mentoring programs.

A year ago, Susan Blake founded the Caribbean Immigrants Network with several recent newcomers from the islands.

“When I came here (in 2008), I did not have the luxury of having somebody to tell me to do this, to do that. The information is there, but not packaged at one place,” recalls the Whitby woman, who has BA from Jamaica and an MBA from England.

Her network’s two-dozen members — from Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Antigua — volunteer to share their experiences and lessons learned with new immigrants, those who come after them. They do everything from taking members to job interviews to employment referrals or giving someone a lift to an apartment for rent.

“We want to make things easier for others, through our own experiences” says Blake.

Paula Calderon, president of the 700-member Canadian Colombian Professionals Association, says most of the community groups are run by volunteers, who share the same drive to give their compatriots a leg up.

“We don’t have a magic wand, but we are willing to give whatever we have,” says Calderon, whose group runs a mentoring program and holds regular workshops to help newcomers network with established members in the community.

“The PIN initiative really helps give more visibility to associations like ours by putting the word out there. This is just the beginning of something that could be really big.”

Reza Ghazi, president of the Iranian Canadian Network, agrees.

“PINs help us obtain knowledge we didn’t have and enhance our programs. Their forums enable us to exchange info, good or bad,” explains the Toronto mortgage broker. “The project is a great collaboration for everyone.”

Funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and sponsored by Scotiabank, PINs benefits employers as well as immigrants. With an increasingly diverse population, newcomers are both a source of international talents and market growth.

“We recognize that professionals coming into our country are not just prospective employees and managers, but also customers,” says Pankaj Mehra, director of India and South Asia markets in Scotiabank’s multicultural banking unit.

“Immigrant employees can be important ambassadors for the bank, by not only helping us grow our business, but also helping us strengthen our ties to their communities.”

Mehra still remembers the difficulty he faced getting a credit card when he first came here 16 years ago, because he lacked financial credit history.

Understanding the hurdles newcomers face, Scotiabank launched the multicultural banking unit to improve services, and created programs such as a secured credit card for newcomers to make the transition easier.

“The PINs are a win-win for employers and newcomers,” says Mehra, adding that employees have helped 1,500 newcomers through the bank’s mentoring program.

What does ‘Canadian experience’ really mean for immigrants?

What does ‘Canadian experience’ really mean for immigrants?
March 7, 2012 00:03:00
Bill Taylor
SPECIAL TO THE STAR

Three simple words, but they can add up to a Catch-22 for new immigrants looking for work: “Canadian experience required.”

If you can’t land your first job, how are you supposed to build that all-important breadth of knowledge?

There’s more to it, experts say, than getting up at the crack of dawn to drive your kids to hockey and stopping en route to pick up a double-double at Tim Hortons. And knowing what a double-double is.

The clichéd example of doctors and engineers driving cabs in Toronto is a truism for a reason, says Allison Pond: “It still happens more than it needs to. It’s still an issue.”

Pond is executive director of Acces Employment, a not-for-profit charitable organization with five locations across the GTA, handling about 16,000 clients per year and “very focused” on finding them jobs in their field.

Acces and other groups, such as TRIEC (the Toronto Region Immigrant Council), are beacons of hope in a sometimes barren landscape where newcomers can face everything in the job market from ignorance to outright discrimination.

The latter is almost impossible to pinpoint and prove. But it certainly exists, says Izumi Sakamoto, an associate professor in the U of T’s social work faculty, who has spent the past six years researching “Canadian experience” and just what is meant by the term.

“Some people think of Canadian experience as general cultural exposure living in Canada,” she says. “Others think that it is actual work experience . . . others think that volunteering and working in survival jobs would be sufficient. The problem is that nobody can really define a benchmark or competency requirement that can be shown or taught.”

“We’re trying to pinpoint tell-tale signs of discrimination. We all know, ‘Sorry. We can’t hire you.’ But what does that mean? It’s hard to nail down. Any employer always has discretionary power in hiring someone. You have five qualified candidates, so who do you hire? Probably the one you get along with best.”

Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director of TRIEC, says some employers use Canadian experience as “a catch-all.” Sometimes there are bona-fide legal and regulatory reasons, such as in the health-care, legal and engineering fields. In that case, the province has funded several bridging programs.

“But very often, it’s also used to say, ‘I’m not sure what your experience and education mean. I’m not sure how you’re going to fit into the environment.’ ”

TRIEC works with employers as a bridge to the talent, skills and experience immigrants bring.

“I’ve seen incredible progress over the eight years since we started TRIEC,” says McIssac. “Sometimes, though, while executives get it, it doesn’t always trickle down to the people who make the hiring decisions.”

She says smaller companies often understand “intuitively” that diversity and international experience can lead them into new markets.

“They’re nimble and smart and can turn things on a dime. It takes time for large bureaucracies to change. It’s like turning a ship.”

Genuine discrimination can create a toxic work environment, McIsaac says. “ ‘I’m not fond of the way you speak or comfortable with your culture, so I’m shying away.’ But it’s not good business. These places will run themselves into extinction.”

According to Sakamoto, the acquisition of soft skills are a significant part of Canadian experience.

“These may be elusive,” she says. “When do you ask questions? How does the boss operate? These are things you have to navigate.

“The simple answer is to be creative in the hiring process and initial integration with role models within the company. If you don’t have senior managers who are immigrants, what kind of message does that send?”

She’d like to see companies adopt a policy of having a certain percentage of immigrants on the short list for any job. They must also place less emphasis on where immigrant applicants were educated or got their experience, and more on what they have achieved and their transferable skills.

Banks are among the leaders in this. Sakamoto says CIBC doesn’t ask a candidate’s country of origin on its job application form.

TD has programs to improve newcomers’ language and soft skills. On a TRIEC video at hireimmigrants.ca, Craig Alexander, chief economist at TD Economics, talks about the company’s “English-French café,” informal get-togethers where immigrants meet other employees to chat, network and build relationships. Language trainers join in the conversations to provide guidance.

Alexander has also mentored newcomers in a program he says is “incredibly impactful” in revealing the challenges immigrants face.

But, over-all, the immigration “ship” takes some turning around.

“The Canadian government says we need more immigrants to strengthen the economy; the brightest people from outside to help us along,” Sakamoto says. “They go through the lengthy system of immigration, maybe spend their life savings and then. . . .

“We’re losing out here, because we’re not effectively integrating immigrants into our workforce.”

New Canadians settle in Toronto

According to the 2006 Census:

• Half of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada, up from 48 per cent in 1996.

• The city of Toronto had 45 per cent of the GTA’s over-all population, but 52 per cent of its immigrants.

• Between 2001 and 2006, almost 25 per cent of all new immigrants to Canada settled here.

• Half of all immigrants to Toronto have lived in Canada for less than 15 years.

• In 2006, the city was home to 8 per cent of Canada’s population, 30 per cent of all recent immigrants and 20 per cent of all immigrants.

• Almost half the population has a mother tongue other than English or French.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Employers could bump up prospects in immigration overhaul

Employers could bump up prospects in immigration overhaul
CTVNews.ca Staff

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney outlined his vision Thursday for a faster immigration system that would allow employers a greater say in selecting new Canadians.

"Immigration is playing an increasingly important role in our economy and we need a system that does a better job of attracting the people who have the skills that are in demand and getting them here quickly," Kenney said in the keynote address to the National Metropolis Conference in Toronto. "We have made some great strides towards an immigration system that is fast and flexible, but know that there is more work to do."

Kenney's plan would see employers have the ability hand-pick potential immigrants and bring them to the front of the line.

Kenney says he plans to redesign the immigration point system to be more flexible and place greater emphasis on language ability and youth.

For example, Kenney said, the language requirement for a foreign doctor would be different than that of a welder.

Kenney said Canada has to do a better job of attracting entrepreneurs, noting that in the U.S., half of the top 50 venture-capital backed companies were founded by immigrants.

He also promised to relieve pressure on the backlog in the system, as there are wait times of up to seven years in some categories.

"It makes no sense to tell people 'apply now, but put your life on hold for a few years before we'll even let you know if you qualify,'" Kenney said. "I will continue to make changes to create a faster, more flexible immigration system. Canadians need and deserve a system that boldly puts Canada's best interests first."

Birth tourism may change Canadian citizenship rules

'Birth tourism' may change Canadian citizenship rules

Canada, U.S. only developed countries that grant automatic citizenship to babies born on their soil.

By Prithi Yelaja, CBC News Posted: Mar 5, 2012 5:21 AM ET

The Harper government is considering changes to the citizenship rules to target so-called birth tourism — where a foreign national comes to Canada to give birth so the baby can get Canadian citizenship.

But critics say closing the loophole will deter bona fide immigrants and harm the economy in the long run.

“We don’t want to encourage birth tourism or passport babies, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the CBC’s Power and Politics in an interview. "This is, in many cases, being used to exploit Canada’s generosity. The vast majority of legal immigrants are going to say this is taking Canada for granted.

“We need to send the message that Canadian citizenship isn’t just some kind of an access key to the Canadian welfare state by cynically misrepresenting yourself.… It’s about having an ongoing commitment and obligation to the country.”

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is considering changes to the Citizenship Act to deal with the problem of so-called birth tourism. (Canadian Press)
The potential changes are part of the government’s plan to “modernize” the Citizenship Act, though Kenney admits he doesn’t have a handle on the extent of the problem.

The issue was brought to the government’s attention by hospital administrators and doctors in Montreal who complained that women without legal immigration status had given birth there and left without paying the bill, Kenney said.

A recent story by a Hong Kong newspaper also exposed unscrupulous immigration consultants who were telling pregnant couples how to come to Canada as visitors and give birth here to have a better chance of staying on humanitarian grounds or have their children obtain citizenship and later sponsor them.

Canada and the U.S. are the only nations in the developed world that grant automatic citizenship to babies born on their soil. Most other countries, including the European nations, as well as Japan, Australia and New Zealand require people to have permanent legal status prior to obtaining citizenship or require at least one parent to be a citizen.

There would be a provision for babies potentially left stranded without any citizenship under proposed changes, though such cases amount to only a handful a year, Kenney said.

"Any changes that we make would cover off the problem of stateless persons."

Critics say the government is overreacting to the issue of birth tourism.

“It’s an overblown knee-jerk reaction to a problem that the government has no formal statistics on,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Michael Niren.

“Does it happen? Sure it does, but the government should not move to throw out birth citizenship, which is entrenched in our democratic culture, based on some loosey-goosey evidence.”

The move may score the government points on a “hot button” issue like immigration but changing the law would be short-sighted because it would deter bona fide immigrants from considering Canada, Niren said.

“A protectionist approach may be politically savvy in the short term but it won’t support Canadians in the long run," he said.

“Which direction do we want to go as a nation? What kind of signal are we sending? The world is a global place today. Our population is getting older and smaller, so instead of keeping immigrants out we have to open the floodgates because we’re going to desperately need more and more workers to support our economy.”

Using fraudulent means or reasons to gain Canadian citizenship is obviously wrong and should be dealt with by closing administrative loopholes at hospitals or better screening of visitors admitted to Canada, Niren said.

But overhauling the Citizenship Act is “like using a nuclear bomb to kill an ant hill,” he added.

Instead the government should focus on fixing the immigration system, which Niren said is “broken” with long backlogs. “We’re losing the best and brightest applicants to other countries because of it.”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Business leaders cite skilled-labour shortage as priority

Business leaders cite skilled-labour shortage as priority
RICHARD BLACKWELL
Last updated Sunday, Mar. 04, 2012 8:16PM EST

The most recent C-Suite survey of Canadian corporate executives shows that despite the high level of unemployment, companies just can’t get all the people they need to fill the skilled positions that are available. (Golden Band Resources)

As Canada drags itself through a slow-motion recovery, one of the most pressing issues facing executives across the country is an acute shortage of skilled labour.

The most recent C-Suite survey of Canadian corporate executives shows that despite the high level of unemployment, companies just can’t get all the people they need to fill the skilled positions that are available.
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Federal spending cuts with a scalpel, not an axe, executives urge
Two-thirds of executives say they are having difficulty finding qualified employees, and one-third say the labour shortage is so severe it is preventing their company from growing as quickly as it could.

With a federal budget coming this month, the executives say they want Ottawa to temper spending cuts with some new investments in skills training, and to open up immigration laws to allow more foreign workers to fill empty jobs.

The problem extends far beyond the oil patch. Executive from the Maritimes to Ontario’s high-tech heartland to Western Canada share similar difficulties in matching employee skills to job openings.

“It is a national problem,” said Francis McGuire, chief executive officer of Moncton, N.B.-based Major Drilling Group International Inc. “It exists everywhere.”

While many of the tough-to-fill jobs are in technical, engineering or information technology positions, Mr. McGuire said, it goes far beyond that. In his company, which conducts intense outdoor work on drilling rigs, “it is very difficult to attract people,” he said. “Salaries are very good … but [people say] they don’t want to be out with the black flies and the snow and the cold and sleeping in camp and being away from home for 21 days at a time.”

Across the country, at trucking firm Trimac Transportation Ltd. in Calgary, chief financial officer Scott Calver said it is becoming increasingly difficult to find professional truck drivers. “It is a problem and it is getting worse,” he said, because many young people are not interested in the long hours required for the job, despite relatively high pay rates.

In Saskatchewan, mining company Golden Band Resources Inc. is having trouble finding geology and mining professionals, CFO Mark Thiel said. The province’s mining boom is creating a sellers’ market for skills, he noted, and the competition for qualified workers is fierce.

And in Waterloo, Ont., Brian Doody, chief executive officer of electronics firm Teledyne Dalsa Inc., said his company would like to expand into some new markets, “but the reality is we can’t get people locally to fill the ranks of our engineering and R&D teams to the level that we need to address those opportunities.”
Despite the fact that the Waterloo region is a centre of high-tech education, “the lack of young people pursuing further education in engineering, science and technology, is definitely a strain on our ability to grow,” Mr. Doody said.

Executives responding to the C-Suite survey clearly put the government on notice that it must deal with this issue. Eighty-nine per cent said increased spending in skills training and apprenticeships should be a high or modest budget priority, more than the 84 per cent who considered spending cuts a high or modest priority.

To deal with the skills shortage, many companies are bringing in employees from outside the country to fill jobs. Almost 50 per cent of the executives surveyed said they are looking at this option as a way to fill specific positions.
It would help if Ottawa streamlined regulations to make it easier to bring in foreign workers, said Jan Hein Bax, president of Toronto-based recruitment firm Randstad Canada. Right now there are restrictions that make this difficult, he said, adding: “I’d like to see the government helping industries to get talent from abroad.” Some executives say the federal government should even help pay for skilled immigrants to obtain Canadian qualifications.

When it comes to budget cuts, the vast majority of C-suite executives aren’t looking for Ottawa to slash spending across the board. More than 50 per cent said it would be wise to keep spending at current levels or make cuts of roughly 5 per cent. Thirty per cent called for a 10-per-cent reduction, and about 8 per cent felt Ottawa should cut more than 10 per cent.

Mr. Doody, of Teledyne Dalsa, said he thinks it would be a mistake for Ottawa to make across-the-board spending cuts in the budget. “I’d be happier to see targeted reduction in areas that are not as helpful to our economy and economic growth,” he said. It is crucial, for example, that the government maintain its commitment to research and development funding, he said. “I’d hate to see that scaled back.”

Mr. McGuire, of Major Drilling, said he recognizes the need for cuts to be made now, but he also feels low-income seniors have to be protected, and there should be significant amounts of money spent to train young people. “We have to absolutely avoid the phenomenon we’ve seen in Greece and Spain where you have 50-per-cent youth unemployment,” he said. “That would be a terrible burden for the country.”

Federal politicians should focus specifically on educating youth in information technology and related fields, he said, as that sector is crucial to the country’s future and will be a huge source of jobs. “If I was policy maker I would throw the whole bucket at it,” said Mr. McGuire, who was once New Brunswick’s deputy minister of economic development.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Migration through marriage just got harder


TORONTO - Ottawa has tightened the strings on foreigners who try to use a fraudulent marriage to gain Canadian citizenship.

The new law will force sponsored spouses to wait five years from when they are granted Canadian residence status before they can sponsor a new spouse.

There have been problems where sponsors sponsor a person believing there is a love connection only to have their spouse skip town with Canadian status.

The spouse could then sponsor another foreign spouse for money even though their sponsor would still be on the hook financially for them for three years.

"I held town hall meetings across the country to hear from victims of marriage fraud," Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said Friday.

"In addition to the heartbreak and pain that came from being lied to and deceived, these people were angry. They felt they had been used as a way to get to Canada. We're taking action because immigration to Canada should not be built upon deceit."

Kenney was joined by Sam Benet with the Canadians Against Immigration Fraud, who has been a victim of a fraudulent marriage.

"We welcome the steps taken by the Honourable Jason Kenney to stop marriage fraud," Benet said.

"These measures will definitely protect the integrity of our immigration system."

The point of the new law is to prevent people who willingly try to circumvent Canada's immigration law.

"Many of the people who took part in the consultations made it abundantly clear that marriage fraud poses a significant threat to our immigration system," Kenney said.

"Our government has listened to the victims of marriage fraud and all Canadians, and acted to crack down on those who engage in fraud and abuse Canadians' generosity and our immigration system."

There have been cases where a sponsored spouse advertises in their home country that they will sponsor a person for cash and keeps the business going.

"There are always going to be people smart enough to get around the system, but this will make it much harder," Kenney said.

The law is similar with restrictions imposed by Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Minister Kenney outlines vision of a fast and flexible immigration system

Minister Kenney outlines vision of a fast and flexible immigration system

Toronto, March 1, 2012 - In a keynote address to the National Metropolis Conference today, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney outlined his vision for a faster, more responsive immigration system that better meets Canada’s economic needs.

“Immigration is playing an increasingly important role in our economy and we need a system that does a better job of attracting the people who have the skills that are in demand and getting them here quickly,” said Minister Kenney. “We have made some great strides towards an immigration system that is fast and flexible, but know that there is more work to do.”

In his speech, the Minister highlighted recent changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program, where current applicants must have experience in one of 29 occupations in demand, or have a job offer in Canada.

He also noted the growing success of the Canadian Experience Class, which allows certain foreign students and temporary foreign workers to translate their Canadian work and education experience into permanent residence. And he lauded the growth of provincial and territorial nominee programs, noting the role they have played in spreading the benefits of immigration across the country and addressing long-term regional labour needs.

While recognizing these improvements, the Minister indicated that more challenges lie ahead in seeing his vision realized. He noted, for instance, that the current points system used to assess federal skilled worker applicants needs to be more flexible and intelligent. It should place greater emphasis on the importance of language, he said, while recognizing that the language ability needed to successfully integrate in Canada is different for a doctor as opposed to a welder. It should also place greater emphasis on younger workers with high quality credentials that can be recognized quickly.

The Minister pledged to do a better job of attracting entrepreneurs and investors to Canada, noting that we lag behind the U.S., where half of the top 50 venture-capital backed companies are founded by immigrants.

While noting progress to date, he also promised to do more to reduce the legacy of backlogs, where there are wait times of seven years or longer in some categories.

“It makes no sense to tell people ‘apply now, but put your life on hold for a few years before we’ll even let you know if you qualify,'” said the Minister. “I will continue to make changes to create a faster, more flexible immigration system. Canadians need and deserve a system that boldly puts Canada’s best interests first.”

A new immigration point system for Canada starts in 2012

A new immigration point system for Canada starts in 2012

March 1, 2012 00:03:00
Nicholas Keung
IMMIGRATION REPORTER

A revised points-based selection grid will be introduced to favour young immigrants with strong language skills, says federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Prospective immigrants in licensed professions will need to be pre-assessed to ensure they are likely to get certification in Canada before their applications are processed, Kenney said in Toronto at the annual gathering of Metropolis, an immigration research network that is about to lose its federal funding.

Currently, immigration applicants can skirt the mandatory language requirement by entering through the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provinces to select immigrants with job offers from local employers.

Under the new grid, to be introduced by the end of the year, Kenney said provincial nominees will face a higher bar as well, because research has shown that language proficiency enhances social and economic integration in the long run.

“We must make better choices. We must select immigrants who have the skills and traits we know will lead to their success, and qualifications that are already recognized in Canada, or can be recognized in a short time,” he said.

While the federal government does not plan to require spouses of applicants in the federal skilled worker program to undergo language tests, Kenney said they will be awarded more points if their spouses are proficient in English or French.

Calling the revised system “more flexible and intelligent,” Kenney said a welder with a job offer in Prince George would not face the same expectations with regard to language skills as someone expecting to work as a physician.

Plans are also underway to change the federal immigration programs for entrepreneurs and investors, though Kenney gave few details.

“In the United States, half of the top 50 venture-capital backed companies are founded by immigrants. We do not nearly do as well in Canada. We must do a better job attracting entrepreneurs and investors to Canada,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kenney said Canada will continue to offer protection to refugees and the family reunification program.

“I strongly believe that economic integration is the best path to social integration,” he said. If new Canadians can maximize their contribution to the labour market, social integration will quickly follow.”

Immigrant rule targets marriages of convenience

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Immigrant rule targets marriages of convenience

Newcomers must wait to sponsor another partner
By: Tobi Cohen
03/3/2012 1:00 AM

OTTAWA -- A five-year sponsorship bar to crack down on bogus marriages of convenience falls short of addressing the real problem, critics said Friday, shortly after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced the regulatory change.

Starting immediately, Kenney said spouses will have to wait five years from the day they are granted permanent residence status before they can sponsor a new partner.

The move is meant to prevent people from fraudulently marrying Canadians for the purposes of immigration only to leave them and then sponsor a new partner while their Canadian spouse is still financially responsible for them for three years.

"I held town hall meetings across the country to hear from victims of marriage fraud," said Kenney, who made the announcement in Brampton, Ont., just west of Toronto.

"In addition to the heartbreak and pain that came from being lied to and deceived, these people were angry. They felt they had been used as a way to get to Canada. We're taking action because immigration to Canada should not be built upon deceit."

NDP immigration critic Don Davies, however, said the new rule fails address those cases in which Canadian citizens are complicit in these bogus marriages.

Canada should be investing more resources into overseas immigration bureaus that vet applicants before they come to Canada in order to stop marriage fraud before it occurs, Davies said.

"Of all the problems in the immigration system -- we have a backlog of a million, wait times are appalling, we have hundreds of thousands of families in this country who are unable to sponsor their parents because there's a freeze... and Minister Kenney thinks the most important thing to legislate on is the relatively small number of people who are engaged in marriages of convenience. I don't think that that's where the focus of immigration reform should be," he said.

"Where I would put my focus is on prevention rather than the defeatist position of the minister which is simply to ramp up penalties after the problem has occurred and after the pain has been caused."

Davies fears the government will actually cut resources for overseas missions by five to 10 per cent as part of austerity measures being taken by all departments in a bid to erase the federal deficit by 2015.

Canadians will find out more when the budget is tabled on March 29.

The regulatory change comes less than two years after the Conservatives promised to tackle marriage fraud. In the fall of 2010, the government held online consultations to gather public opinion and ideas on how to address the issue.

The idea of a five-year sponsorship bar was proposed in the Canada Gazette last April and was followed by a 30-day public comment period.

The measure officially came into force on Friday and is just one of several actions the government is considering.
Public consultations will begin in the coming weeks on a proposed conditional permanent-residence provision that would deter people in newer relationships from attempting to gain quick entry to Canada when they have no plans to remain with their sponsoring partner.

According to the proposal first published in the Canada Gazette last spring, the sponsored partner in a marriage or common-law relationship of less than two years would be subject to a conditional two-year period of permanent residence.

The measure would bring Canada in line with other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, which have similar policies.
It's not clear exactly how many cases of marriage fraud occur every year in Canada, but victims' groups and immigration lawyers have said it's in the thousands.

-- Postmedia News
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 A20