Skilled workers blocked: critics

Ottawa could end up in court defending new immigration rules

The federal government could soon find itself in court defending its immigration policy.

Ottawa introduced new immigration rules last June, but a group dedicated to changing the rules, The Federation for Better Immigration Policy, contends Ottawa’s immigration policy is preventing highly skilled workers from making it into the country and doing irreparable harm to Canada’s reputation as a prime destination for skilled immigrants.

It also says thousands of would-be immigrants suffered damages as a result of the changes. The federation intends to file claims against the government for up to 3,000 people.

“Immigration has turned mean and nasty,” said David Rosenblatt, an immigration lawyer and founder of the group.

Many people paid to apply for immigration under the old system and when the government changed the rules, making it more difficult to get into the country, application fees should have been refunded but weren’t, he said.

“Imagine if you went and put a down payment on a car and then the dealer says we are not making that car anymore, and we are keeping your money,” he said.

The court case is just the legal battle in a larger philosophical war about how immigrants are selected.

Critics of the current system say the requirements for immigration are too onerous, preventing highly qualified workers from getting into the country and thousands more from even applying (see sidebar). Rosenblatt believes Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) created the high standards to discourage people from applying so the department can get through the high number of applications already in the system. But he fears that strategy could discourage people who are thinking about coming to Canada from ever applying again.

Most employers may not have noticed it yet but these changes could lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of people coming to the country for years to come, he said.

Immigration practitioners who met in late March with Daniel Jean, director general of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s International Region, say they were told 26,000 new applications were received between June 2002 and February 2003 — a drop of 75 per cent from the same period the year before, said Rosenblatt. He added that at the current rate Citizenship and Immigration will only fill 67,000 skilled worker spots this year, well short of its target of 150,000.

“What these numbers show is that the new immigration rules are an absolute failure, particularly with respect to skilled worker applicants, which our country so desperately needs to replenish its workforce and economic base,” said Rosenblatt.

CIC however denies ever claiming applications were down 75 per cent or that only 26,000 applications were received, though it would not provide Canadian HR Reporter with actual numbers.

After the new rules took effect there was a drop in the number of applications from the year before, but applications in 2001 were extraordinarily high, and many still are being processed, said Susan Scarlett, a spokesperson for CIC.

“With the massive volumes of new applications that we received in 2001 and 2002, we are absolutely confident that we will be able to bring in the number of new residents for 2003 and for 2004,” she said. “There is no question that we will be able to deliver on our commitments.”

Jeffrey Reitz, a professor of ethic immigration and pluralism studies at the University of Toronto, said that Canada has always had a reputation as being “open for immigration” but the changes suggest that is no longer the case. Changes may be in order but he said HR departments have a role to play to maximize the use of foreign trained labour.

One of the problems with the old system was that skilled workers were coming to Canada and weren’t able to find work in their fields. This looked like a problem in the selection process, so the government changed the criteria, said Reitz. But the problem largely stems from the inability of HR professionals to assess immigrant worker credentials, he said.

“HR managers need to be trained on credential recognition,” he said. HR professional associations need to be promoting these issues and offering more courses so their members become better at integrating immigrants into the workforce.

That’s not to say the selection criteria didn’t need to be revised, though the new criteria are still flawed, he said.

The selection system puts too much emphasis on work experience, he said. “It is clearly the case that younger and better educated people do better (after immigrating),” he said. “You can’t be young, highly educated and highly experienced at the same time.”

Not good enough for Canada?

Under THE old immigration system an applicant needed 70 points out of 110. Now applicants need 75 out of 100, and the points are much harder to obtain, according to The Federation for Better Immigration Policy. The group provides a number of example applicants it claims do not qualify under the new system.

•Mr. L is a 42-year-old tool-and-die maker, an occupation that is suffering a shortage of workers. He is from the Ukraine and completed a three-year apprenticeship training program. He is fluent in English, has 11 years of work experience as a tool-and-die maker in his home country and has been working in Canada as a tool-and-die maker for the past year on a work permit. HRDC approved an extension of his work permit to allow him to continue working for his Canadian employer. Mr. L is married, but his wife did not attend college or university. He is eligible to receive only 69 points and therefore does not qualify under the new immigration regulations.

•Mr. S is a 27-year-old computer systems analyst from India. He is fluent in English and has completed a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering. Mr. S has four years of work experience as a computer systems analyst. He has an uncle who is a permanent resident of Canada but is eligible to receive only 72 points.

•Mr. X is 38-year-old biochemist from Germany. He has a PhD in biochemistry, and has eight years of work experience as a biochemist at Germany’s most prestigious research university. He is fluent in English and is married, but his spouse did not attend college or university. He is eligible to receive only 72 points.

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