Points system attracting more skilled immigrants

But some changes still needed
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/16/2006

In the past 20 years, the number of skilled immigrants coming to Canada has increased dramatically due to the points-based immigration system, according to a new study.

The study,

Impacts of the Point System and Immigration Policy Levers on Skill Characteristics of Canadian Immigrants

, found that increasing the proportion of economic-class, or immigrants who enter under the points system, raises the average skill levels of all immigrants, not just economic-class ones. In 2000, 58.7 per cent of immigrants entered under the points system, compared to only 34.9 per cent in 1980. This was accompanied by a startling increase in the proportion of immigrants with an undergraduate or post-graduate degree, from 7.6 per cent in 1980 to 34 per cent in 2000.

Queen’s University professors Charles Beach and Alan Green in Kingston, Ont., along with Carleton University professor Christopher Worswick in Ottawa, all economics professors, used Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Canadian Landings Database to separate out the impact of business cycles and unemployment rates to prove the points system is responsible for the increase in education levels.

“Even when you net out lots of other things, you find there is a highly significant effect,” said Beach.

Economic-class immigrants are also becoming better educated. The study found 60.9 per cent of immigrants who entered under the economic or points-based system in 2000 had some form of post-secondary education, compared to 35.6 per cent in 1980.

The study attributed the majority of this jump to the increase in the maximum points that could be awarded for education from 12 in 1980 to 21 in 1996, a value that held through 2000.

The points-based system has existed since 1967 but has undergone various changes since that time, with some categories being given more weight, some disappearing altogether and new ones being added.

Beach took part in the last round of changes in the mid-1990s when a parliamentary committee reviewed the system. One of the recommendations, which the government implemented, was to shift the emphasis in the points system away from seeking people in particular occupations and instead focus on a human capital approach, such as education level, language fluency and work experience, said Beach.

“It puts more weight on broad characteristics that will make arriving immigrants adapt more quickly to the rapidly changing Canadian economy,” he said.

But the points system isn’t perfect, said Beach. There are two key areas where it can be improved.

The system puts too much weight on white collar professional skills and not enough weight on blue collar skilled tradesmen, he said. This happened because no one predicted the current oil and gas and construction booms in Western Canada.

“We should consider revising the points system in a way that will put some weight on skilled tradesmen,” said Beach.

Secondly, the system only takes into consideration the skill characteristics of one individual in the family unit, usually the adult male, said Beach. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, look at the skills of the husband and wife pair, something Beach would like to see Canada do.

“If the individual is admitted, you admit the whole family unit including the spouse and the kids,” he said. “It’s harder on the family unit if they come over but only the father can get a job.”

The study found that calls to increase immigration to fill Canada’s looming labour shortage are premature. Increasing immigration actually results in a lower-skilled and older pool of immigrants.

The study concluded that raising total immigration inflow by 100,000 per year (an increase of 35 per cent from current levels) would reduce the average years of education of economic-class immigrants by 2.6 per cent and increase the average age by 1.7 per cent.

The study didn’t look at the experience of immigrants once they arrive in Canada and therefore didn’t address the hot topic of skilled immigrants not being able to find appropriate jobs. However, Beach plans to examine this issue next.

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