Changes to immigration system applauded by industry

The Canadian construction industry is applauding a new federal government plan to help fill growing labour shortages by changing the immigration system to make it easier for skilled tradespersons to immigrate to the country.

“It sounds like great news and we have been very happy with the statements Minister Kenney has made recently about immigration policy, including statements in the federal budget,” said Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA).

“Of course, the devil will be in the details. But, we are very happy the government is committed to making reforms to the immigration system to make it more trades friendly.”

“It’s all positive, since we have been calling for change for a very long time,” Atkinson said.

Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced on April 10 that the federal government intends to modernize the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), in order to create a separate and streamlined program for skilled tradespersons.

The new program will focus on the recruitment of skilled trades, including occupations in construction, transportation, manufacturing and service industries.

“Overall, we are very supportive of the government’s direction in finally giving skilled trades workers their due,” said Terrance Oakey, president of Merit Canada.

“For a long time, skilled workers were not the focus of immigration policy, in fact they are discriminated against under the current point system. We are very happy the government is moving to change that.”

Currently, Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) applicants are using a 100-point grid, with a pass mark of 67.

The grid takes into account the candidate’s official language ability, education, work experience, age, job offers in Canada and their overall adaptability, which awards points for previous work or study in Canada, spouse’s education and relatives in Canada.

Some criteria in the FSW grid, such as years of education, favour professionals and managers more than skilled trades.

For this reason, skilled tradespersons currently make up only three per cent of all FSWs entering Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada had consultations with stakeholders on FSWP modernization over the past year.

During these meetings, stakeholders agreed that changes were necessary to make the program more accessible to tradespersons.

Atkinson said the CCA has always argued that the point system works against the trades and it makes sense to use different criteria or a different balance of criteria.

According to Oakey, Merit Canada has been asking for a complete overhaul of the points system.

The proposed Skilled Trades program would assess skilled tradespersons using criteria that puts more emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than formal education.

However, skilled trades applicants will need to meet minimum language requirements, given the importance of language as a determinant of immigrant success.

“The main thing for these reforms is language and the main question is what will be the pass mark for entry into the country,” said Richard Kurland, an attorney with Kurland, Tobe Immigration Law Firm.

“In terms of future direction, we want two language levels. One level would be for skilled occupations that don’t need a high standard and another level would be for highly trained professional like rocket scientists.”

He said it will be important for any new immigration system to provide uniformity and work in tandem with the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), which is necessary so all provinces will have the same language standards.

“The people that will be unhappy are those who can’t pass the minimum language requirement, but the government must do what is in the best interest of Canada,” Kurland said.

“There is a large supply of qualified applicants and it is in the best interest of Canada to select new citizens from this pool.”

If approved, further details about the Skilled Trades Program and the revised FSWP are expected to be announced later this year.

The 2012 federal budget first proposed a new skilled tradespeople stream under the FSWP to attract more plumbers, electricians, crane operators and construction workers.

The PNP changes will focus on economic immigration streams in order to respond quickly to regional labour market demand.

The federal budget 2012 also proposed to return applications and refund up to $130 million in fees to certain federal skilled worker applicants, who applied prior to Feb. 27, 2008 and have been waiting for processing to be completed.

A large backlog has developed over the last several years as applications have outstripped annual processing targets.

As a result, there are significant delays in processing applications, with some applications not being looked at for more than four years.

As of June 30, 313,825 applications remained in the backlog.

In 2008, the federal government issued instructions that the backlog would be processed on a lower priority basis than new applications over the course of several years.