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Major step-back on Canadian immigration system - Only those with ‘Canadian experience’ need apply

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CERIS Ontario


Rather than move past insular policies that devalue experience acquired abroad, Canada is going forward to perpetuate the increasingly common attitude that only “Canadian Experience” is welcome inside its borders.

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Rather than move past insular policies that devalue experience acquired abroad, Canada is going forward to perpetuate the increasingly common attitude that only “Canadian Experience” is welcome inside its borders.

On August 17, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) quietly unveiled a major overhaul of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the main economic immigration program commonly known as the “points system”. This announcement solidifies the changes to the immigration system CIC has been releasing for the past several months. In a recent report for the Maytree Foundation, Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl argue that the new system implements a “two-step process” for potential immigrants, who are now required to enter Canada as temporary foreign workers and pass language and “Canadian Experience” tests before being eligible to become permanent residents. While the new FSWP targets a younger and more “flexible” workforce that is presumably able to adapt to Canadian society, these changes effectively disguise how the government is simultaneously admitting more and more foreign workers into Canada through temporary visa programs. Rather than somebody chosen on merit acquired abroad, the new immigrant in Canada will be selected based on country of origin, race, religion and culture. It sounds like the government is betting that employers are more enlightened than the rest of society as to who will make the best Canadians.

In a globalized world where experience gained abroad is usually a highly sought after skill, why is the Canadian government so insistent on a concept that hasn’t even been defined by our country’s academics, business leaders, or community workers? “Canadian Experience” as a requirement for immigrant employment has been argued to be an institutionalized form of racism that allows employers to devalue the education and work experience gained in other countries. Many leading corporations have done away with “Canadian Experience” in their recruitment and hiring strategies to instead focus on transferable skills that immigrants bring either from working in Canada or abroad.

So why is the department’s Minister Jason Kenney taking a step backwards and penalizing people with international experience? Devaluing such credentials further sends a message to around the world that skills gained outside of Canada are worth less than those earned here. In its recent news release (September 24, 2012), the Ontario Office of the Fairness Commissioner raised concerns that this change may “validate(s) the discriminatory practice of devaluing work experience obtained outside of Canada” and “unintentionally encourage employers to violate the Ontario’s Human Rights Code”. Further, the Ontario Human Rights Commissioners (OHRC) launched a survey about “Canadian experience” in the job market because “[newcomers] often talk about the requirement for ‘Canadian experience’ as a big barrier to their entry into the workforce” according to Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner of OHRC (October 4, 2012). On the contrary, the federal government has increased their reliance on “Canadian experience” as a key criterion for selecting skilled immigrants. Along with a growing emphasis on immigration fraud and abuse as a key issue, the federal government is propagating a xenophobic stereotype that immigrants are not only worth less because of their backgrounds, but they are also likely to violate immigration laws.

Maytree Foundation President Ratna Omidvar has aptly pointed out (op-ed, Globe and Mail, May 9, 2012) that high language standards reflect the government’s interest to recruit more immigrants from Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other so-called “Western” countries rather than emerging economic superpowers like China and India that have fueled immigration over recent years. Are we going back to an archaic immigration model that picks and chooses, preferring Anglophone homogeneity over a multicultural mosaic?

Over the past ten years, Canada has increasingly admitted more foreign workers under temporary foreign work programs (now numbering over 300,000 per year) while introducing ways to scrutinize who is worthy of permanent residence. The new changes to the Federal Skilled Workers Program solidify this pattern of providing employers easy access to “flexible” labour, while limiting their rights and barring most from establishing themselves in Canada. Through strategic and questionable emphasis on “Canadian Experience”, the government is endorsing a highly prejudicial and discriminatory policy while diverting our attention away from a revisionist agenda for Canadian immigration; one that will produce a temporary and deportable labour force with a strong message that only a select few can become full members of Canadian society.


Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Policymakers, Journalists, Public awareness, Researchers, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, and Nova Scotia

Spheres of activity

Law, Management of human resources, and Political science