Federal Skilled Worker Program to be refurbished

Proposed changes focus on trades, language skills, younger immigrants

The federal government is revamping the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) to reflect the importance of younger immigrants with Canadian work experience and better language skills.

“Since the development of the FSWP selection model, Canadian labour market needs have continued to evolve, marked by an aging workforce and a growing demand for highly skilled professionals,” said the government. “The proposed regulatory changes… will allow Canada to better select skilled workers who can hit the ground running upon arrival.”

FSWP’s points system was developed in the late 1960s and is used to judge skilled immigrant applications. Applicants’ skills are measured on a selection grid worth up to 100 points, and a minimum of 67 points is required to pass.

The proposed overhaul — to take effect January 2013 — would be the first since 2002 when the government lowered the passing mark and made minor changes to points allocations.

“They’ve noticed that there’s issues with immigrants maybe not necessarily integrating sufficiently well in society,” said Andréa de Rocquigny, a lawyer at immigration law firm Bomza Law Group in Calgary. “They’re trying to modernize the system in regards to meeting employers’ needs.”

The top three barriers highly educated immigrants face in obtaining meaningful employment are a lack of
official language skills, non-transferability of foreign credentials and a lack of Canadian work experience, according to the government.

The most significant change in points allocation is around language skills. The new grid increases the maximum points awarded for fluency in one official language from 16 to 24, and applicants can also receive up to four points for a second official language.

With these changes, language skills are worth a maximum of 28 points, up from 24.

The government is looking at this issue from a practical perspective, not just a paper perspective, said Amelia Chan, principal of Higher Options, an HR and immigration consulting firm in Vancouver.

“Employers are going to find that the new crop of people being accepted into the skilled worker program are hopefully going to be able to respond better to the work environment because their communication skills will be better,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll be more adaptable because they have the practical skills, language being one of them.”

The changes include a new mandatory minimum for language ability, which may be limiting for some employers, said Helen Park, a business immigration lawyer at law firm Ackah in Richmond, B.C.

“(For example), with a business like a Korean restaurant, it’s so hard to find an experienced Korean cook with the credentials under this new program that can speak English, (so) for some employers, this is going to be a difficult selection factor,” she said.

Another major change to the FSWP program is increasing the emphasis on younger immigrants. The revised grid would award immigrants aged 18 to 35 a maximum of 12 points. No points would be awarded for workers aged 47 and older.

The main reason behind this change is younger immigrants integrate more rapidly into the labour market and spend a greater number of years contributing to the Canadian economy, said the government.

“Younger people can adapt easier to a new culture, a new environment,” said Park. “Often, when they’re starting out in their careers, it’s easier to get the skills they need early on when they’re younger — I think it’s a welcomed change.”

While some employers may feel this will prevent them from tapping into more mature talent, there are other ways to bring in those key workers, such as the Provincial Nominee Program or the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, said Park.

“Some people in their mid- to late-40s are the people who are really experts in the field that could be contributing to an employer, but this is just one program out of all the programs,” she said.

The new grid system also reduces the total number of points for work experience from 21 to 15, and increases the years of experience required to achieve full points from four years to six years. These changes reflect the value Canadian employers place on foreign work experience and redirect the points to other areas such as language and age, said the government.

“Foreign work experience is largely discounted by Canadian employers when the immigrant first enters the Canadian labour market and it is a weak predictor of economic success,” it said.

While the total number of points for education has not changed — a maximum of 25 points — points under the new grid would be awarded based on an assessment of education credentials. Currently, education points are based on having a credential and the number of years required to obtain it. With the new system, points will be awarded based on the equivalent Canadian educational credential.

To determine this, designated organizations would work on a case-by-case basis to authenticate credentials attained in foreign jurisdictions and determine their equivalent value in Canada, said the government.

“Employers that aren’t familiar with foreign workers and foreign credentials will just stay away from it altogether — they’re just too intimidated. Whatever the diploma might be, it doesn’t seem to be as meaningful to them as something they’re familiar with,” said Chan. “(This will) even the playing field for someone who is coming in and bringing something a bit different.”

Arranged employment under the new system will still garner 10 points, but the process will be simplified and streamlined, said the government. With the proposed changes, employers would be required to apply for a labour market opinion (LMO) and the arranged employment opinion (AEO) would be eliminated.

This change will reduce the burden on employers if an employee wants to apply for permanent residence, said the government.

The new grid system also awards points for spousal language ability and eliminates the points previously awarded for education. This change is welcome because language is a better indicator of how a family will be able to adapt in Canada, said Park.

Canadian Experience Class

The Canadian Experience Class — a pathway to permanent residency for international students and highly skilled temporary foreign workers — is also undergoing changes. The government is proposing to reduce the Canadian work experience requirement from 24 months to 12 months, which would be implemented over the next three years.

This change will make it easier for people coming to Canada through one-year programs, such as a working holiday or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to apply for permanent residency, and for employers to hold on to their talent, said Chan.

Federal Skilled Trades Class

The government is also proposing the introduction of a new program — the Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC) — for skilled tradespersons to come to Canada.

Some criteria in the FSWP grid, such as years of education, have traditionally favoured professionals more than skilled trades, and skilled tradespersons only make up three per cent of all foreign skilled workers entering Canada, said the government.

The FSTC points system would assess skilled tradespersons based on criteria geared toward their reality, such as putting more emphasis on practical training and work experience rather than formal education, it said. This assessment would be more indicative of a skilled tradesperson’s ability to work in Canada.

“This is extremely beneficial,” said de Rocquigny. “Canadians have not really been keen on being certified and studying in a trade, so there’s a huge void in our workforce in trades and this will help employers get the tradespeople in to fill the positions they need to fill.”

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