Canada Proposes New Immigrant-Selection Application

By Catherine Skrzypinski Dec 18, 2013

The Canadian government plans to introduce a new model of immigration selection in January 2015 that aims to connect prospective migrants with potential employers.

Policy experts said that Canada’s Expression of Interest (EOI) model would have two stages:

First, a potential candidate would express interest in immigrating to Canada by providing his or her skills and work experience in an informal electronic application. Applicants could also be assessed by other factors, such as education and language ability. If qualified, a candidate would be placed in a selection pool.

Next, federal and provincial/territorial governments—and, potentially, private employers— would select prescreened candidates from a Canadian government database. Those with in-demand skills and/or job offers would be invited to submit a full application to immigrate to Canada.

Former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney compared the Web-based application management system to “a dating site” in The Globe and Mail in January 2013. Josh Hjartarson, vice president of policy and government relations at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in Toronto, used a similar analogy, observing that the Canadian government would play the role of “matchmaker” between employers and foreign workers.

“An EOI system has the potential to make Canadian immigration more responsive to addressing the needs of the Canadian labor market,” said Marisa Feil, an attorney at FWCanada in Montreal, in a news statement. “If the system generates widespread participation, it would benefit skilled immigrants, since they can arrive in the country with employment offers, as opposed to having to go through the lengthy process of seeking employment.”

Currently, foreign workers applying for a Canadian permanent-resident visa send in the required documents and then wait to be processed on a first-come, first-served basis—with no guarantee of employment.

“[The existing immigration system] is largely broken,” Hjartarson said. “New immigrants to Canada say it’s hard to find a job and have no connections in the workforce when they arrive. [The EOI system] may solve this problem.”

An EOI system would improve processing times and prevent backlogs, predicted Christina Norris, director of strategic policy and planning at Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), in Ottawa. Under Canada’s current immigration-selection system, the average wait time for visa and work-permit applications is between 12 and 18 months. The EOI system should cut down the wait time to 4-6 months.

Immigration experts believe that Canada is facing a skills shortage and should look outside the country for talent. According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian labor force is projected to grow between 20.5 million and 22.5 million people by 2031, and one out of every three people could be born outside Canada.

Immigration Pools Down Under

Canada is following in the footsteps of Australia and New Zealand, as both Commonwealth countries have implemented the selection-pool immigration model in recent years.

Australia has managed its skilled-migration program since July 2012 through

SkillSelect, an online portal that enables workers and business professionals to apply for a visa through an EOI.

New Zealand’s EOI, which began in 2003, is a points-based system by which candidates must score at least 100 points to file an application. Its visa-processing time averages around 58 days, according to Hjartarson.

“Both programs in Australia and New Zealand are very successful, and [Canada is] learning from them,” Norris said.

Notably, the government held consultations with employers and business associations throughout Canada—in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Halifax and St. John’s—during the fall of 2012. Participating employers commented that the online system should be flexible and user-friendly and work for small and midsize enterprises, as well as for larger corporations.

“The government believes Canada can and should compete actively to attract the best and brightest newcomers to resettle here,”Norris said.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer in Toronto.

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