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Express Entry Immigration System Starts Jan. 1, Leaving Employers Uncertain

The federal government is preparing to launch a new immigration system that gives skilled workers "express entry" into Canada starting Jan. 1, but first it's consulting business people involved — including some with reservations about it.

Under the new online express entry system, skilled immigrants will be matched with vacant jobs in at least 50 job occupations based on "scores that reflect their human capital and ability to succeed in the Canadian economy."

Only the "highest-ranking candidates" will be invited to apply for permanent residency and applications will be processed under six months or less.

The nine-member group being consulted includes the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, the Canadian Construction Association and the Information and Communication Technology Council. The government would not say who the other five members of the group are.

It was established in 2013 to provide the Department of Citizenship and Immigration with "input on the development and implementation of Express Entry," according to new information published in a government publication this week.

Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, says employers support the new system, because it will allow businesses to fill jobs where Canadians are not available.

"The idea is that more and more applicants will be coming in with that job offer already in hand," Anson-Cartwright said in a telephone interview with CBC News on Thursday.

A few more details about express entry were revealed in the government's publication this week:

- There will be no more paper applications except for people with disabilities.

- The government anticipates the number of requests for paper applications to be "extremely low."

- The move to electronic filing is expected to cost the government $6.7 million over 10 years (2015-2024.)

- While the document didn't say how much money the government will save by going paperless, it said "no known opposition to this proposal exists."

'The big uncertainty'

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents roughly 109,000 small businesses, has traditionally supported the Conservative government's business-friendly proposals, but it criticized the tightening of rules around temporary foreign workers.

Dan Kelly, chief executive of the CFIB, told CBC News his group is "a big fan" of the new system, except for the fact that "it will do zero" for employers looking to fill low-wage or low-skilled jobs.

"That is our criticism of the express entry system, that it still prohibits lower-skilled workers from coming to Canada and taking the jobs that are going begging in our economy," Kelly said in a telephone interview Thursday.

"Decades ago, when many of our ancestors came to Canada … they didn't come to Canada to take jobs in a lab," Kelly said. "They came to work on a farm."

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander has said the new express entry system it will transform the way Canada has been accepting skilled immigrants for the last generation.

The chamber's Anson-Cartwright said that while the government has given employers a first-hand look at the new online system, it will be some time before businesses can say how well the system is doing at matching skilled immigrants with open jobs.

Employers can't search

"The reality is until we actually have employers experiencing the process, we don't really know — and neither does the government — how well it will work."

She said employers will not have the same "privileged access" as the provinces and territories.

The provinces will have the option to search the express entry pool, while employers will have to rely on the government to identify potential workers.

"You'd rather see more detail and have a chance to make your own assessment, rather than waiting on individuals to pop-up through virtue of how they've designed the job system.

"That's the big uncertainty is how this job-matching system will actually work," Anson-Cartwright said.

The government will welcome 260,000 to 285,000 new permanent residents to Canada in 2015.

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