Canada relies heavily on newcomers for population and employment growth. That means our immigration policies are among the most important decisions we make in shaping our nation.

Unfortunately, our federal government is now leaving many of these decisions up to provinces and even individual employers and universities, which do not always have the national interest in mind.

Rather than deal properly with the backlog of people applying to come to Canada under the federal skilled worker program, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government simply expanded shortcuts to get here through provincial and temporary worker programs.

In a study on immigration policy released this week, Naomi Alboim compellingly argues that this devolution of federal responsibility and control has skewed our policy away from economic immigrants with the language skills and abilities to become successful citizens toward those who fill regional or temporary labour needs.

For the first time in our history, we are accepting more temporary workers than permanent immigrants. Regrettably, this dramatic policy shift was made without any serious public debate. Harper’s government did much of it by giving the immigration minister extra powers in an amendment buried in a budget bill last year.

The minister has used those powers to limit skilled workers to specific occupations or those with a job offer. This excludes many who could contribute significantly to Canada. It also creates frustration for those who do come only to discover that the list of 38 “in demand” occupations is out of date and jobs in their field are hard to find.

Under the Harper government, there has also been a troubling growth in low-skilled temporary workers who provide employers with cheap labour but have no hope of becoming citizens. There is a real danger that when their work term ends, some will go underground rather than leave the country. They will then create an undocumented class of illegal immigrants, as in the United States.

Given all this, how can we hope to get the integrated, successful immigrants we need for a prosperous future?

Fundamentally changing our immigration policy should not be done quietly, as it has been. We need a vigorous debate in the next federal election, with all the parties clearly laying out their visions on the issue. As Alboim notes, “It determines who we will be tomorrow.”

Reference: Toronto Star