Canada halts immigration programs for skilled foreign workers
Ottawa is placing a temporary freeze on applications for two popular immigration programs that bring skilled foreign workers to Canada.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told a Calgary business audience that a six-month moratorium is necessary to wade through an existing backlog of applications to the Federal Skilled Worker Program and the Immigrant Investor Program.
Kenney said it’s necessary to hit the “reset button” because the current system is dysfunctional and puts Canada at a disadvantage in attracting the world’s brightest minds.
Many prospective immigrants choose to live in Australia or New Zealand instead because the application process is much quicker, said Kenney, speaking Thursday at an immigration policy conference in the city.
Applications for both programs were set to open July 1.
The Harper government is refunding some 280,000 visa applications submitted under the Federal Skilled Worker Program to the tune of $130 million. The move will effectively reduce the worker backlog to about 110,000.
The Immigrant Investor Program, meanwhile, has a backlog of about 25,000 cases involving more than 86,000 people.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Kenney said the moratorium will not result in fewer skilled immigrants coming to Canada.
“We’re not reducing the number of people we bring in – we’re just putting a freeze on the number of new applications that we put in the backlog,” he said.
“It’s about making the immigration system actually work.”
The new directive comes amid a number of recent changes intended to overhaul Canada’s immigration policies, including the controversial refugee omnibus Bill C-31.
Any amendments to the country’s immigration programs will be closely watched in Alberta, a province with one of Canada’s tightest labour markets.
Already, the Alberta Coalition for Action on Labour Shortages wants the Harper government and the province to do more to avoid what they say is a looming labour crisis.
The alliance, comprising more than a dozen business and industry groups, says a projected deficiency of 114,000 workers over the next decade is a serious threat to economic growth.
Immigration into Alberta has doubled in the last five years, but it’s still not enough to fill the skilled labour gap, Kenney noted.
One of the ways to deal with that is to get rid of the backlog and create a faster system that connects qualified people with available jobs.
“It’s not about the number of newcomers, it’s the speed of the system,” he said Thursday.
Eva Klein, a human resources professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, believes an overhaul to existing immigration policies is necessary to ensure that people granted entry into Canada have the right skills to meet the needs of employers.
“In spite of the fact that we have labour shortages, we have immigrants who are not working, even in Alberta,” she said.