CALGARY - A program which allows provinces to tailor immigration to fit local labour needs may look fine on the surface but a federal government evaluation has uncovered what it says are some troubling trends.
The program allows participating provinces and territories to nominate potential immigrants who they believe will meet particular economic and labour market requirements. It is the second-largest source of economic immigration to Canada and an estimated 42,000 to 45,000 people will be allowed to apply this year.
The evaluation by Immigration and Citizenship Canada says the majority of workers selected by the provinces are succeeding. More than 90 per cent declared employment earnings after one year in Canada and 70 per cent held a job in line with their skills.
But Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says there are problems. One is that less than one-quarter of nominees who moved to the Atlantic provinces stayed there compared with a 95 per cent rate in British Columbia.
Another is that too many of those coming to Canada have little or no proficiency in either official language. Kenney wants a minimum language standard for all provincial nominees and stronger links between their occupations and local job needs.
"It's a partnership, not an Ottawa-knows-best situation, but at the end of the day we are going to be quite assertive in saying that we do think it's best to have a standard, national language benchmark," Kenney said in Calgary on Thursday.
He said some provinces don't seem to care whether their nominees speak the language at all.
"I guess what we're saying to them is it doesn't make a lot of sense to invite someone to Canada who doesn't speak any English ... and some of the provinces have been, I would say, undervaluing language proficiency in their selection," he said.
Fraudulent immigration applications are significant, and there is a correlation between provinces that don't enforce a language requirement and a higher rate of fraud, Kenney added.
"Some of the people who have little or no language proficiency come in through these investor schemes that we've had to shut down because they were quite dodgy. There were some provinces allowing consultants to run fast and loose to attract people who had a lot of money but no language proficiency."
Kenney said there are always "people around the world, particularly in the industry of bottom-feeding, unscrupulous immigration agents and consultants, who are willing to cut corners in order to make money to get people to Canada."
In November, New Brunswick stopped accepting applications under a Chinese immigration pilot program after an internal review. The auditor general there has also flagged concerns after finding that the province accepted about 5,000 immigrants during a 10-year span but didn't track where they ended up living.
In Prince Edward Island, a former civil servant has alleged she saw senior provincial officials accept bribes to expedite immigration applications. Immigration Canada has forwarded that allegation to the RCMP, who are deciding whether to investigate.
In Nova Scotia, the government had to pay a $25-million settlement to immigrants who paid thousands of dollars for the promise of middle-management jobs which they never received.
Kenney said problems in Atlantic Canada can partially be blamed on a higher unemployment rate. As well, there may not be a strong established immigrant community to provide guidance and support.
"We need to work with the Atlantic provinces. They have benefited from this program. I don't want to be too critical of the program."