Globe and Mail
November 29, 2008

Romina Maurino
The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Fast-tracking the immigration process for workers in 38 high-demand occupations will dramatically reduce waiting times, the federal government announced yesterday amid opposition criticism that the criteria for skilled workers are “absurd.

The Conservative government’s vow to reform the immigration system has proved controversial, with some advocacy groups saying the changes would create two classes of immigrants.

Under the plan announced yesterday, immigration papers for workers in 38 occupations such as health, skilled trades, finance and resource extraction would be expedited. Geochemists, speech language pathologists, university professors, plumbers and chefs would also be fast-tracked.

The Tories say the reforms will seriously reduce waiting times for the processing of coveted workers to between six and 12 months from the current five to six years.

“It will allow us to turn the corner on the growth of the backlog in the skilled foreign worker category, which has now reached over 600,000 applications and is taking as long as six years to process,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

“We anticipate that they’ll see a significant reduction.”

Immigration targets for 2009 – between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents – will be roughly the same as this year.

Critics of the plan have said it would leave less-skilled workers permanently stuck at the back of the queue.

New Democrat immigration critic Olivia Chow called the government’s classification of high-demand jobs “absurd.”

“One on the list is financial services,” Ms. Chow said. “Didn’t I just notice that there’s a huge number of people being laid off in the financial services?

“Instead of a minister sending a decree from high above and politicizing it all, there should be a department that constantly updates what are the skills that we need in Canada.”

The reforms offer virtually no changes for permanent workers, she added, but will double the number of temporary foreign workers in five years.

Temporary workers drive down wages and don’t “establish roots in the community,” Ms. Chow said.

“It’s bad for the Canadian economy and it’s bad for them, because they cannot bring in their families and often are open to exploitation and abuse.”

The Liberals had complained bitterly about legislation that allowed the government to fast-track workers instead of treating everyone on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Fearing an election, the Liberals allowed the legislation to pass last spring.

The Conservatives say their opponents have little right to complain after allowing waiting times to balloon for more than a decade.

Mr. Kenney said that while the government is tracking any possible impact from the financial crisis closely, all provincial governments have said there continues to be significant labour market shortages in various sectors.

“The worst thing we could do in a period of economic difficulty would be to leave jobs unfilled in those sectors and areas that are growing … [and] where Canadians are not filling those jobs,” he said.

“Should we find that one sector is in real trouble a few months from now, we can obviously modify the instructions to reflect that.”

Reference: Globe and Mail