New immigration system must be faster, client-focused: Report

Ontario Chamber of Commerce makes 13 recommendations
||Last Updated: 01/08/2014

The federal government must ensure upcoming changes to Canada's immigration system reflect the needs of employers, according to a report released by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

The report, Think Fast: Ontario Employer Perspectives on Immigration Reform and the Expression of Interest System, provides advice to the federal government as it finalizes the design of the Expression of Interest (EOI) system, a new process for selecting and processing the majority of new immigrants to Canada.

Slated to be introduced in early 2015, the EOI system will give employers a key role in selecting future Canadians through job offers, said the chamber. In the new system, many immigrants will have jobs before they arrive in Canada.

"EOI won't work unless employers buy into the system," said Allan O'Dette, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. "If it is to succeed, the federal government must heed the advice of employers."

Canada must aim to have the fastest system in the world — the speed of the system is the single most important factor in determining whether employers will participate in the EOI system, according to the report. Under the Australian model, visas for permanent residence are processed within 58 days. The Government of Canada is proposing a six-month processing time under the EOI system.

"This wait is far too long for businesses, many of whom have jobs that needed to be filled yesterday," said O'Dette.

The EOI system must also be client-focused, said Think Fast. In order to successfully encourage prospective immigrants and employers to use the EOI system, the federal government must view both parties as customers. This implies, at a minimum, one-window access to an online system, a 24-hour hotline for employers and immigrants, and minimal paper burden.

"A simple, customer-focused system will attract the participation of small and medium enterprises, the linchpins of our economy," said O'Dette. "These employers typically do not have the time or resources necessary to navigate a complex system. Reduce the time and effort required to navigate the system, and they will participate; make the system too complex and bureaucratic, and they won't."

The EOI system must also be marketed internationally to top foreign talent, said the report. An “if you build it, they will come” strategy will not work — Canada must aggressively brand itself to potential immigrants as the world's best place to live, work and do business.

"Other countries are upping their games when it comes to attracting top talent from abroad. Our long queues and slow processing times for skilled immigrants are hurting our competitiveness. The EOI represents a big opportunity to fix our dysfunctional immigration system, if it is designed properly,” said O’Dette.

The report can be found at OCC.

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