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Canada urged to speed approval of skilled immigrants




Nicholas Keung

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The Toronto Star

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Ottawa’s new skilled immigrant selection system must process applicants within two months if Canada hopes to outbid other countries in attracting the world’s best and brightest, warns a new report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
Immigration Minister Chris Alexander is set to launch the brand new “Expression of Interest” processing system (EOI) in early 2015 to replace the decades-old “first-in, first-out” mechanism for the federal skilled workers program.
Although Alexander says the system could shorten processing time down to six months, the report points out that comparable systems, such as Australia’s, take as little as 58 days to bring in skilled immigrants.
“The speed of the system is the single most important factor in determining whether employers will participate in the EOI system,” said the report to be released Tuesday.
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“The Government of Canada has signalled that the EOI system will process applications within approximately six months, from Invitation to Apply to arrival in Canada. That is too long.”
The proposed system is viewed as a huge opportunity to reverse the decrease in skilled-worker immigration to Ontario, which has seen its share of economic immigrants decline by 49 per cent, from 95,091 in 2001 to 48,930 in 2012, due to federal policy changes.
Ottawa has capped the number of skilled immigrants pre-screened and nominated by Ontario employers to 1,300 a year, a meagre 4.8 per cent of the overall allocation across Canada. The EOI system is expected to allow Ontario employers to tap into the talent pool to address labour shortages.
“The current system is hurting our ability to attract talent,” said report author Josh Hjartarson, vice president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which represents 60,000 businesses — many of them small and medium-sized operations eager to take advantage of the EOI.
“The new system presents a hug opportunity for businesses,” Hjartarson said, “but only if it is designed in a way that works for small- and medium-sized employers.”
The proposed system is a two-stage process.
First, prospective immigrants file applications to “express interest” in immigrating to Canada and submit to a pre-screening to ensure they meet the minimum criteria to be placed in the pool of candidates.
Second, qualified candidates will be selected by the federal government and provinces based on local labour market needs or identified by employers with a job offer. Only those who are selected will be given an “Invitation to Apply” to submit their applications for permanent residence.
Unlike the Australian system, Ottawa has signalled that it will serve as the matchmaker and won’t allow employers to browse the profiles of the potential candidates, said Hjartarson. Instead, candidates are likely to be automatically matched with employers using a series of algorithms and a revamped Canada Job Bank.
Hjartarson said this would prevent employers from properly assessing the best fit for the job based on the candidate’s “soft skills” such as critical thinking, teamwork and analytical skills, through means such as multi-stage interviews, tailored questionnaires and aptitude tests.
In 2012, 87 per cent of candidates in New Zealand’s EOI system were already in the country as temporary workers or international students, the report says, and 92 per cent already had a job or job offer. The EOI is an opportunity to facilitate and expedite intracompany transfers and referrals from branches overseas, it said.
The report also recommends that Ottawa follow other countries in using the EOI to accommodate employers with low and semi-skilled labour needs through “prioritization rules.”
As much as employers want to hire Canadians first, Hjartarson said, labour mobility remains an issue.
“Sudbury needs caregivers and there are potential Canadian workers, but they are not willing to move there. That’s the reality,” Hjartarson said.
The chamber of commerce, in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, surveyed employers across the province last year. It found 30 per cent of Ontario businesses experienced difficulty filling a job within the past 18 months because they could not find someone with the right qualifications.


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