Canada’s struggles for skills

A new study by recruiting firm Hays PLC has reported that Canada is facing a severe shortage of skilled workers, and that the recent moves by the government to tighten up the process for hiring foreign workers has made the situation worse.

Among 30 countries ranked in order of the severity of the skilled worker shortage, Canada ranked ninth, behind Russia, Portugal and Mexico.

This ranking is not surprising. For the last several years, Canada has restricted the Federal Skilled Worker category, imposing criteria which drastically limited the number of skilled professionals eligible for Canadian permanent residence. This year, it re-calibrated the points required to qualify, placing a much higher emphasis on English language skills and youth.

On the temporary worker front, the government made the process of hiring foreign workers much more rigorous in response to allegations of outsourcing by a major Canadian bank.

These changes have made it difficult for industries facing a boom – the report names the construction industry as an example – to find the workers it needs. Engineers and mobile technology programmers are named as occupations which are required by employers.

The recent changes to the Labour Market Opinion process, which is required to hire foreign workers, significantly lengthen the time required to fill a labour shortage. In the meantime, Canadian businesses will struggle to meet demands for goods and services.

In the recent budget speech, a new system was promised to select immigrants based upon immediate employer needs. No time should be wasted in bringing this system forward, but Canada’s long term economic needs, which have been well served by the skilled worker category, should not be neglected.

Calling all Czechs!

The National Post reported on Wednesday that Canada will be lifting the requirement for visas for citizens of the Czech Republic. This is a welcome move, as it benefits Czech citizens who wish to come to Canada to visit family, study, or explore opportunities to find work. There has been no indication of a similar change in policy with respect to Mexico, whose citizens have faced visa requirements since 2009.

Silence is golden

It has been almost three months since Chris Alexander assumed the immigration portfolio from Jason Kenney, and there has not been one announcement of a major reform or change in law or policy.

This contrasts starkly with Jason Kenney’s term as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, when barely a week passed without a major and surprising change.

Many of these changes were controversial, such as the two year pause on parent and grandparent sponsorships, the pause on skilled worker applications, the drastic narrowing of the criteria for skilled workers, and refugee reforms which divide refugees into different categories and deny appeals and health care to refugees from certain countries.

Supporters of these changes point out that Canada’s immigration system was in desperate need of an overhaul, and that backlogs had ballooned to the point of discouraging potential applicants. It remains to be seen whether Kenney’s reforms will actually result in more efficient processing of applications.

However, warnings from the Maytree Society among others have expressed concerns that the pace of change has led to a lack of policy coherence. As the Maytree Society stated in its report last year; “There has not been a concerted attempt to look at the interaction among [the changes] and the bigger picture. Much has been driven purely by the priority place on managing intake and reducing or eliminating backlogs… We have seen, for example, the confusion and policy incoherence that is created by the simultaneous existence of federal programs, Quebec programs, and 11 separate Provincial/Territorial Nominee Programs with up to 60 subcomponents, in a country where mobility rights mean that many immigrants will not stay in the province that selected them.”

Given these concerns and the unprecedented pace of reform in immigration law and policy, Minister Alexander’s hiatus – whether intentional or not – may be a welcome change. It may provide time to evaluate the impact of recent changes as a basis for determining future directions.