Canada should focus on permanent skilled migration

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Naomi Alboim, vice-chairperson of the Policy Forum at the Queen's University School of Policy Studies, said that Canada's immigration policy focuses too much on temporary labor migration policies and short-changes the economic benefits of permanent skilled migration.

Talking in front of a Toronto audience of academics, policy makers, and immigration workers on 26 September 2008, Alboim stated that Canada has typically focused on "nation building" rather than short-term labor market needs. However, she feels that this is no longer the case.

The number of temporary foreign workers has increased significantly compared to permanent skilled migration, according to Alboim. Unfortunately, she noted, 40 percent of skilled migrants end up leaving Canada within one year of immigrating to the country.

She blamed the problem on shifts in specific labor markets, such as a recent downturn in the manufacturing sector, that leave temporary workers stranded in Canada without jobs.

She also said the problem with temporary migration is that it is entirely employer-driven. It encourages employers to hire temporary migrants for permanent positions with lower pay, driving down wages and taking jobs away form Canadian citizens.

Alboim noted, that due to falling birth rates, Canada will depend on immigration for 100 percent of its net labor force growth by 2025.

Because of this, Alboim said that federal and provincial governments should work in tandem to create a more structured immigration framework, and that Canadian immigration policy should look beyond the short-term. Alboim also feels that migration policy should focus on better integrating first and second generation immigrants into the economy.

While skilled immigrants are better educated than their native-born counterparts, Alboim said, they are generally underpaid and working in jobs for which they are over-qualified. She said that this is mainly because most immigrants coming to Canada in recent years originate from non-English speaking countries.

Alboim stated that language and communication skills are the most important criteria for immigrants integrating into the Canadian economy.

Efforts underway

The Canadian government recognizes some of the weaker areas of its immigration policy and has been making attempts to solve some of these problems.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) actively funds a number of provincial and local programs aimed at integrating migrants. These programs generally focus on language training and employment related resources such as foreign credential recognition.

In addition, recent changes to Canadian immigration law will allow the Immigration Minister to prioritize applications under its federal skilled worker category. The federal skilled worker category is a points-based permanent immigration scheme similar to those found in the United Kingdom and Australia.

It is hoped that these legislative changes will help Canada reduce immigration application backlogs and help solve labor shortages more efficiently.