Immigrant system overhaul affects Sask. worker shortage

December 20, 2012 - 12:21pm
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Canadian Press
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Canadian Press

The points system used to decide who can immigrate to Canada is getting a makeover and that has implications on the skilled worker shortage in Saskatchewan.

The federal government is going to focus on language proficiency in either English or French and younger workers. There will be fewer points awarded for work experience.

The changes were unveiled by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Wednesday.

Pam Schwann, executive director of the Saskatchewan Mining Association, is happy to see the program is getting a reassessment. The government stopped accepting new applications under the skilled worker program in July in advance of rejigging the system. The program is expected to re-open in May when the new changes will take effect.

"They strengthened it by making sure that there is a language proficiency requirement in either English or French because that really translates into a safety environment, so that's positive," said Schwann.

There is a new immigration stream for skilled trades and changes to the Canada Experience Class, which allows people already working or studying in Canada to get permanent residency sooner.

The points system sees would-be immigrants graded on a scale of 100, with points awarded for language ability, age, education, work experience and adaptability to Canada.

The pass mark is 67 and that won't change under the new system.

What is being amended is the way the points are allocated and also how language and education credentials are assessed.

For example, the maximum number of points awarded under the age category was 10 and that was given to anyone between the ages of 21 to 49.

Under the new system, the maximum number of points awarded for age is 12, with 18 to 35 year olds eligible under that category.

The mining industry in Saskatchewan, however, often looks for older immigrants to fill jobs.

"We typically use immigration for hard-to-fill positions in terms of engineering, IT or special financing. Those typically are people in the mid-career range," said Schwann.

A dependency on the labour market opinion is also "burdensome" for the mining sector, said Schwann. Companies have to demonstrate they have been advertising for a position in several mediums to prove nobody in Canada can fill the job, even if it is understood within the industry there is a need.

"Over the past three to five years and through different provinces, we know that it is very difficult let's say mining engineers or mechanical engineers. You still have to advertise for a standard period of time," said Schwann.

When it comes to language, the new system mandates a minimum level of language proficiency and adjusts the number of points allocated accordingly to favour those with a strong command of either English or French.

But being bilingual will have less weight, with the ability to speak a second official language given fewer points. An analysis of the program changes published in August for public consultation said research has suggested that there's no evidence indicating speaking a second official language has any bearing on positive economic outcomes for applicants.

Applicants will also have to pass a language proficiency test.

Under the education component, applicants will now have their credentials assessed ahead of time to see how they compare to the Canadian system and then points will be allocated to match.

Meanwhile, the number of points allocated for work experience will be reduced.

-with files from the Canadian Press

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