03/14/2012 05:22 EDT | Updated 05/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Getting PhD Immigrants Out of Cabs and into Their Field

The upcoming federal budget is expected to include major immigration reforms. The reforms are aimed at refining and expediting the immigration selection process. The ultimate goal is to increase the odds of success for new arrivals by matching Canada's needs with potential immigrants.

Canada is in a global competition for talent and skills. We need qualified immigrants to enhance our labour force and expand our tax base. Most of the medium- to long-term challenges our country is grappling with can be addressed to a considerable extent with immigration: Skilled labour shortage, aging population, and fiscal pressure on shrinking government revenues can be mitigated to a large degree with smart immigration policies.

Ratna Omidvar, the President of the Maytree Foundation, offered valuable input on how the government can improve the immigration selection process: "We must remember that immigration selection is not simply about headhunting, but about nation-building." We can't stop there though. In addition to overhauling the selection process, we need to ensure that our immigrant integration methods are modernized and reformed as well.

Over the last 30 years, immigrants' success rate has been dropping dramatically. This should be a major concern for policy makers.

During the early 90s, under a Liberal government, Canada adopted major reforms to the immigration selection process where greater emphasis was placed, as it is now, on recruiting more skilled and educated immigrants. At that time it was done, as it is now, as an important step to help Canada emerge from an economic downturn and to fuel economic growth. What the evidence suggests is that while we have been successful at attracting educated immigrants, we need to increase the efficiency of their integration.

Currently, much of the immigration settlement resources are directed at funding language training classes and job search workshops. We need to rethink conventional methods deployed to help new arrivals.

The biggest challenge immigrants face today is finding employment that utilizes their skill. Mentorship programs have proven incredibly valuable in helping immigrants find permanent employment within their field of expertise. The government needs to expand existing mentorship programs. This initiative will help immigrants attain their first "Canadian experience" job, removing the biggest obstacle many face.

The government can take a leadership role by identifying mentorship opportunities within the federal bureaucracy, the largest employer in Canada. The government also needs to strike partnerships with professional associations and regulators to create a transparent roadmap for each profession in each province making it clear to immigrants early on what steps they are expected to follow if they want to convert their foreign credentials.

Currently, there is a lack of clarity and transparency for such steps and the federal government can quarterback the creation of a standardized process for accreditation. The federal government needs to also work with post-secondary education institutions and the regulatory bodies to ensure that pre-packaged programs are ready and affordable for new arrivals who want to update their credentials.

Positive social integration is an essential component of successful economic integration. The government should encourage new immigrants to be involved in Canadian society by requiring volunteer hours with accredited social organizations. Getting involved with credible social organizations will exponentially increase immigrants' understanding of Canadian society and facilitate valuable networking opportunities. Volunteer hours can be rewarded by waiving citizenship exam requirements or other incentives.

Overall, the federal government needs to create an independent commission that would gauge and monitor how well immigrants are economically and socially integrating into Canadian society. The "Immigrant Success Commissioner" would annually report to Parliament trends and facts and also recommend policies insulated from political rhetoric and manipulation.

The federal government can also embark on an educational campaign that promotes stories of successful immigrants and their value to employers and local communities. The government can help improve perceptions the public may have of the skills and experience immigrants bring to Canada.

Successful immigrants are happy immigrants. Successful and happy immigrants are productive members of society. Unhappy and desperate immigrants will search for jobs elsewhere or may resort to finding ways to game the system.

The process of selecting immigrants is incredibly important. We also need to modernize our settlement methods if we want to ensure overall success for immigrants and Canada.