Report says newcomers help fuel Canada’s growth, but policies should make it easier for them to stay

Toronto Star
October 25, 2008

Nicholas Keung
Immigration/Diversity Reporter

Immigration levels in the country will have to go up significantly for future economic growth, the Conference Board of Canada reports.

To meet long-term domestic labour market needs and to remain competitive in the global search for talent Canada will have to increase its number of immigrants from the existing 250,000 to 360,000 annually by 2025.

The report highlights what should be done to meet the country’s economic needs through immigration, including measures to allow the growing number of temporary foreign workers the option to become permanent residents. It also suggests increasing refugee intakes to maintain a well-balanced immigration system.

The study, released yesterday, came as Canada’s immigration system rapidly expands the temporary foreign worker stream to fill short-term labour market needs. As the report points out, this does not meet long-term objectives. The current changes have also made the selection process more restrictive for applicants as the Immigration Minister can cherry-pick prospective temporary migrants.

Conference board associate director Douglas Watt, the report’s author, said immigrant workers choose destinations best suited to their interests and should be given the option to remain in the country. This would help retain the best talent, while attracting other foreign candidates.

“Our policies are not just about what we want,” Watt said in an interview. “Migrant workers and immigrants also have wants.”

He did praise the government’s new initiatives, including: the provincial nominee program that allows each province to independently attract immigrants; relaxation of work restrictions for foreign students; and the newly created Canadian Experience Class that allows migrants here temporarily to apply for permanent status without leaving the country.

But Watt said more has to be done for migrants with temporary status to become permanent residents.

“Transparency about how the temporary and permanent systems actually work is crucial,” cautioned the report, titled Renewing Immigration: Towards a Convergence and Consolidation of Canada’s Immigration Policies and Systems, which looks at the immigration system from the perspective of Canada’s economic needs.

Officials have to be transparent to migrants about the selection criteria, wages and working conditions, and ensure they are aware of what social, health and community services they will have access to, the report noted. Ottawa must also help employers navigate the temporary and permanent systems to meet their labour market needs.

Last year, Canada admitted 475,965 migrants, but more than half of them were temporary workers and international students. In 2006, for the first time, Canada’s temporary foreign workers outnumbered the permanent residents admitted through the “skilled immigrant” and “economic” classifications.

With the increasing numbers of skilled immigrants and temporary workers, the report states refugee admissions, which have flatlined, should also be raised to meet the country’s economic needs.

Major Shifts in Immigration

• Nation-Building Immigration late 19th to early 20th century:

Countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States took in large numbers of immigrants. They were less concerned with specific skills and more oriented toward bringing in bodies to help build the new countries, though non-economic domestic considerations such as “country of origin preferences” played a role.

• Equal Opportunity and Humanitarian Immigration end of World War II:

Selection criteria based on country of origin were displaced by a new concern with “fairness” based on merit and humanitarian considerations. As the post-war skills and labour shortages gave way to labour surpluses in the 1960s and 1970s, the need for mass recruitment of immigrants waned. New immigration policies, such as Canada’s, began to focus on standards of general merit and humanitarian considerations.

• Skills Immigration in the late 20th and early 21st centuries:

Fertility rates declined and populations aged in the West as countries shifted to knowledge-based economies, prompting the demand for highly skilled labour. Many countries started to restructure their immigration policies to target these workers. Australia is the leader in adopting the fine-tuned selection approach to adapt to rapid economic and labour market changes. Canada and the U.K. are heading in the same direction, while the U.S. maintains the general merit and humanitarian tradition.

Source: Conference Board of Canada study-Renewing Immigration

Reference: Toronto Star