Ottawa has reached a consensus with the provinces to establish a pool of skilled-worker candidates by the end of 2014 that will allow employers to cherry-pick potential immigrants to fill regional labour shortages.
By Nicholas Keung, Toronto Star
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Friday he is committed to working with his provincial counterparts to implement the Expression of Interest (EOI) system, whereby employers could screen and assess a pool of applicants for immigration consideration.
“We’ve had very fruitful discussions about the future of immigration in Canada,” Kenney said after the annual federal-provincial immigration conference in Toronto.
All the provincial government representatives — except Quebec’s immigration minister, who was absent from the meeting — agreed the immigration system has to be fast and responsive to regional economic needs.
However, Kenney was lukewarm to Ontario’s own immigration plan, unveiled earlier this month, that called for vastly increasing the number of skilled immigrants the province can hand-pick under the provincial nominee program — to 2,000 next year, and to 5,000 in 2014.
Currently, Ontario receives only a 5 per cent share of the 20,000 provincial nominees accepted across Canada each year.
“The concern for Ontario is that the number of immigrants coming to Canada is going down … Moving forward, we do have to find a way to co-operate and collaborate to rectify the situation,” said Ontario Immigration Minister Michael Chan.
“All provinces want their provincial nominee programs expanded because immigrants coming in are successful in getting jobs that match their skills.”
To reduce backlogs in the federal skilled worker program, Ottawa allowed provinces to “mine” applicants in the queue earlier this year, and Ontario is expected to nominate as many as 700 candidates above its 1,000 annual quota.
A source from Kenney’s office said the minister cannot commit to Ontario’s request to boost that quota because he has to balance all the 60-plus immigration programs, and any additional quota for the province has to come from somewhere else.
Details of the EOI system, based on a system used in New Zealand and Australia, are not available. But Kenney said a formula will be developed to decide the “distribution of skilled immigrants across the country.”
A recent provincial report found that Ontario has seen its share of immigrants to Canada drop by one-third, from 148,640 in 2001 to 99,000 in 2011.
While 70 per cent of immigrants settling in other provinces belong to the “economic” class — skilled workers and investors, as opposed to refugees and people reuniting with family members — economic immigrants account for only 52 per cent of newcomers to Ontario.