Naomi Alboim and Elizabeth McIsaac

The federal government has set immigration levels for 2007 at between 240,000 to 265,000 new permanent residents, up about 15,000 over last year’s target. This is largely a result of expected labour shortages in the context of an aging population.

Recent evidence, however, indicates skilled immigrants to Canada face significant barriers to finding employment commensurate with their experience and education.

The trouble partly stems from too many cooks spoiling the broth. The multiplicity of stakeholders involved in the task of improving employment opportunities for skilled immigrants makes finding and implementing policy solutions a complex task. Likewise, the existence of separate areas of responsibility and accountability between federal and provincial departments and ministries produces challenges in co-ordination at every jurisdictional level. In short, confusion reigns.

Another part of the problem derives from the “policy silos” at the federal level created by the division of responsibilities between the departments of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). The former is responsible for selection and settlement of immigrants – though not specifically their labour market integration. The latter is responsible for labour market programming in general, though not specifically targeted at immigrants. The end result is that no department is specifically tasked with the issue of immigrant labour market integration. As a result, this important responsibility falls between the silos.

Sorting this confusion will not be easy. There appears to be a will, if not yet a way. The past two federal budgets made explicit investments aimed at improving labour market outcomes for skilled immigrants. Most recently, the proposed Foreign Credential Referral Office, with a $13-million investment over two years, represents yet another response to an already cluttered mix of policy instruments, funding arrangements and jurisdictional complexities. As such, it could either become a useful tool to help clarify the landscape and improve its coherence, or it could add to the noise and confusion.

In a study published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, we outline a variety of policies and directions that would improve the employment outcomes for skilled immigrants.

Clarify federal role

First and foremost, the federal government’s role in immigrant employment needs to be sharpened and clarified. It is the critical player in sorting through the confusion and thus needs to play a role as a funder, co-ordinator and facilitator. Ottawa will be integral in efforts designed to improve services for language assessment and training, employer outreach, mentoring, bridge training, student loans, and subsidized work-experience programs.

Clarify labour needs

Second, federal/provincial agreements need to be enhanced so that the specific labour market needs of different regions and how these align with immigration can be more effectively addressed. There is also a need to recognize municipalities’ roles and improve their capacity and resources for planning and for providing services.

Clarify credentials mandate

Also of great importance will be clarifying and enhancing the stated mandate of the new Foreign Credential Referral Office.

More specifically, the office should encourage the creation of networks among employers and prospective immigrants while the immigrants are still overseas. It should also provide a one-stop referral service that requires the federal government to work closely with provinces and stakeholders to organize a national clearing house to provide information on occupational requirements, programs and services, with a clear point of access.

Finally, the new Office should develop tools to improve credentials and skills recognition in Canada. This means better involving the institutions that have direct responsibilities in this area such as assessment service providers, occupational regulatory bodies, postsecondary institutions and employers.

Canada has been a major beneficiary of immigration in the past. If Canada is to continue reaping the immense benefits of immigration today and into the future, changes to our policy and program architecture need to be made, led by the federal government in collaboration with provinces, cities, employers and other major stakeholders.

Reference: The Globe and Mail