Journal of Commerce, Aug 20 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Unions and contractors in Alberta disagree about the merits of a new federal government immigration program.
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley outlined recently the details of a proposal, which targets temporary foreign workers (TFWs) and foreign graduate students.
It will allow applicants with managerial, professional, technical or trade work experience to become permanent residents and eventually Canadian citizens.
"Choosing newcomers based on knowledge of our labour market and experience within Canadian society would make Canada a more attractive destination for skilled individuals from around the world," said Finley.
"International students and skilled workers would be more likely to choose Canada if they knew their time in Canada and contribution to Canadian society would assist in their eligibility to apply to stay permanently."
The program is open to TFWs with at least two years of work experience and graduates of post-secondary programs lasting at least two academic years, provided they have at least one year of work experience.
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is extremely critical of the federal government's proposed new measures to fast-track citizenship for only certain classes of TFWs.
"By restricting this benefit to only professional, technical and skilled occupations, the government is setting up a permanent underclass of unskilled temporary foreign workers who will be deprived of the rights to citizenship being extended only to elite workers," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour president.
"The great majority of temporary foreign workers in Alberta do not fall into the privileged O, A and B designated occupations."
Only 14,842 temporary workers or 39.8 per cent of all TFWs in Alberta would have been included in this program in 2007, according to McGowan.
This means 22,415 other, lesser skilled temporary foreign workers would have been excluded.
He said the federal government has left out unskilled service sector workers and labourers (level D), which is the fastest growing occupational category for TFWs in Alberta. In 2007, this category accounted for 6,338 workers.
McGowan argued that the government is creating a class of exploited workers, who can be endlessly cycled back to their home countries when their work in Canada is done.
Merit Contractors Association strongly disagrees with the AFL's position and supports the federal government's proposal.
"What McGowan doesn't understand is the federal government is constipated," said Bill Stewart, vice president of Merit.
"There are about 900,000 people waiting for admission to Canada for landed immigrant status. This is a six-year backlog. The system needs a laxative."
Currently, there is no immigration pathway that values experience in Canada as a key indicator of a newcomer's likelihood to succeed.
The federal skilled worker program is the most important avenue available for people who want to become permanent residents.
It was designed for overseas immigration and does not focus on Canadian experience.
Skilled tradespersons and TFWs may not qualify to immigrate under this program because they often lack sufficient formal education to qualify.
Critics also argue that the program is being compromised by long waiting times caused by the backlog of applicants being processed at Canada's missions abroad.
Stewart explained that the latest numbers he has from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) show that only 524 skilled trades people were admitted as landed immigrants in 2003 and 2004.
The Canadian Experience Class was announced in the 2007 budget and is a key element of the Harper government's immigration plan.
CIC estimates that 10,000 to 12,000 people will come to Canada in 2008 under the program.
"How many of these workers will come to Alberta?" asked Stewart.
"If we assume 1,000 people come to Alberta, this is still a drop in the bucket."
According to the Construction Sector Council, 31,035 workers will be needed for Alberta to keep pace with investment new construction projects between 2008 and 2016.
Another 21,271 workers are required to replace retiring baby boomers in the same period.
Canada helping temporary foreign workers and foreign students to get residency
Last week the Canadian Department of Immigration and Citizenship announced the details of the proposed Canadian Experience Class, which helps temporary foreign workers and foreign student graduates get residency visas in Canada.
Canadian Visa Bureau, August 20, 2008
The new avenue for Canadian residency visas will mean work experience will have more weighting when the Immigration Department is considering a person's application for residency.
The Canadian Experience Class will help foreign nationals on a Canadian work permit or a Canadian study permit to use their managerial, professional, technical or trade work experience as points towards their applications for residency and citizenship.
The applicants using the Experience Class will still need to prove their English language ability and their occupational skill level. Final changes to the Immigration Bill will be made after a 15-day review period.
"The Canadian Experience Class is one more measure this government is proposing to make our immigration system more attractive and accessible to individuals with diverse skills from around the world, and more responsive to Canada's labour market needs," said the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Diane Finley. "This new proposed avenue for immigration would also go further to spread the benefits of immigration into smaller centres across Canada."
The Minister is hoping that the changes will encourage more people to stay in Canada permanently and attract more skilled workers to the country.
"Choosing newcomers based on knowledge of our labour market and experience within Canadian society would make Canada a more attractive destination for skilled individuals from around the world," added Minister Finley. "International students and skilled workers would be more likely to choose Canada if they knew their time in Canada and contribution to Canadian society would assist in their eligibility to apply to stay permanently."
However, according to the Journal of Commerce, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has raised concern about the proposal.
"By restricting this benefit to only professional, technical and skilled occupations, the government is setting up a permanent underclass of unskilled temporary foreign workers who will be deprived of the rights to citizenship being extended only to elite workers," said Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour President.
Alberta is desperate for more skilled workers to move to the region; currently 900,000 skilled workers are waiting to get visas approved to move to Canada and Alberta are will be needing around 50,000 of them. According to the news provider, the Construction Sector Council has said 31,035 skilled workers will be needed to maintain development progress over the next eight years and a further 21,271 workers will be needed to replace the retiring baby boomer generation.
In related news, the Canadian Government has also recently amended the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, the Foreign Credentials Referral Office, improved resettlement programs, and streamlined the application process for skilled migrants so that more skilled workers and temporary workers can contribute to the Canadian community.