If Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has his way, employers will soon play a much more active role in selecting newcomers, and those chosen will be put on a fast-track to admission to Canada.
But Kenney disputes the notion that the reforms will cede too much control to private interests.
“The reforms are not about completely handing over to employers the power of selection, but rather about increasing their role,” he told The Huffington Post Canada this week. “There will continue to be a certain criteria that people have to meet.”
In an editorial board meeting with HuffPost, Kenney detailed the Conservative government’s plan to better align Canada’s immigration system with labour market needs, and address a skills mismatch that he says has led to “a huge waste of human talent.”
“I think it’s almost immoral to invite people from the highest socioeconomic status in their countries of origin to come here to Canada and face an uncertain future [...] to get stuck in perpetual unemployment,” he said. “This makes no sense in a country with a skilled labour shortage.”
His solution: develop an Internet-based system that allows employers facing a labour crunch to select immigrants from a pool of qualified would-be Canadians.
“If they like what they see, [the employer can] offer them jobs, and they’ll be in Canada in a couple of months,” he said. “That’s the immigration system of the future, rather than someone whose education and experience may be completely irrelevant to the Canadian labour market coming here to sink or swim.”
Meanwhile, Kenney says the government intends to make it easier for certain classes of workers to immigrate, allowing foreign graduates of Canadian universities and high-skilled foreign temporary workers that have been employed for a year to become permanent residents.
“That is my favourite program,” he said. “I hope that in the future it will become the core immigration program because those folks have work experience, Canadian degrees. They already have a job lined up. They have perfected their language skills. They are set for success.”
But while most observers agree that government should take action to address the skills mismatch, some question the effect of putting employers in the driver’s seat of Canada’s immigration system.
Peter Showler, former chairperson of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, said allowing businesses to pick and choose the country’s newcomers hands “significant control over the selection of ideal immigrants to employers, who are acting in their own self-interest, not in Canada’s interest.”
"Employers are not selecting someone based on whether they are going to be an ideal Canadian. They are simply selecting them on a narrow focus of whether or not they can fill a particular job,” he told HuffPost in advance of Kenney’s visit. “They are not looking at any wider issues in terms of geographic distribution, how they are going to contribute to Canada, other than the fact that they can have a job, which is important, but is it the only important issue?"
Liberal MP and former Citizenship and Immigration minister Judy Sgro expressed similar concerns. Though she believes that immigrants should be arriving with the promise of work, she says that government -- not employers -- should determine who is let in.
“A business is going to look strictly at their needs, and the needs of today,” she said. “The government has a responsibility to try to do the very best to try to make sure that we’ve got a balance in who is coming to the country [...] There are a lot of things that have to be given consideration.”
But Kenney says the government will continue to be at the forefront of the immigration process, ensuring that newcomers meet a variety of benchmarks -- including minimum language proficiency and education -- before employers get involved.
“People will still go through the points system analysis so there will be people with high levels of [human] capital,” he said. “That means that if they come through an employment offer, and the company that hired them goes under or the job doesn’t work out, they will have the skills to transition out to another job quickly.”