Under the Harper government’s proposed changes to the federal immigration system, unveiled in the budget, a series of subtle moves is likely to combine into a significant shift for Nova Scotia.
Not all local employers are sure that a transformed system looks rosy. At a Halifax Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday, where federal Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney spoke, some came away uncertain whether the process will be a little too streamlined, feeding more newcomers into Alberta’s booming economy while Nova Scotia continues to struggle with labour shortages.
If the federal system gets !quicker — Ottawa now takes years to process most visa applications — new workers will be able to come to Canada for spec-ific jobs after employers pick their names out of a job bank.
The question is whether they’ll come to work for Nova Scotians, given this choice.
“It’s very hard to tell, but it sounded very much that it was going to be almost like a free market competition for immigrants and potential immigrants, and we want to make sure that there’s a level playing field — that Nova Scotia is given an equal opportunity to compete,” said New Democrat MLA Leonard Preyra (Citadel-Sable Island), who attended Kenney’s talk.
“Often our message doesn’t get out to those prospective immigrants.”
A question a Nova Scotia businessman submitted at the talk revealed a similar worry. He asked how employers in Nova Scotia can compete with those in Alberta in this kind of free-for-all?
“Competition’s a good thing for a businessperson, and I should hope you believe in it,” Kenney answered. “Whether you like it or not, there’s competition for talent in a global marketplace. You’ve got to get into the game. You’ve got to provide people with the right compensation package, the right future prospects.
“I don’t see it as a zero-sum game at all. For goodness’ sakes, there are billions of people who want to migrate here. It’s not like there’s a finite pool.”
The proposed changes are about making the system more flexible and responsive to Canada’s needs, Kenney said in an interview with The Chronicle Herald. He has also called it changing from a supply-driven system to a demand-driven system.
Immigrants who have job offers will go to the front of the line and be processed the quickest, he said. There will be a stronger language requirement, and in one change to the existing “points system,” applicants will now get extra points if their spouse also speaks English or French.
Foreign university students will be offered a short-term work visa when they graduate, and that can put them on the path to permanent residency, Kenney said. The ministry is also considering creating a new startup visa that would draw entrepreneurs with a business plan who secure Canadian investment.
In one proposal that drew spontaneous applause at the luncheon, Kenney said the government is working to streamline and shorten the process of evaluating and accepting foreign credentials, a way of keeping doctors and engineers out of low-paying service jobs.
He specified in an interview that Citizenship and Immigration hopes to commit to telling immigrants within a year of their arrival whether their credentials will be accepted.
Nova Scotia’s immigrant nominee program, which fast-tracks hand-picked workers through the federal process, is capped at 500 people per year.
Despite long-standing calls for the cap to be raised, considering Nova Scotia’s various labour shortages, Kenney said he doesn’t foresee a change. He defended the normal federal picking process as “an important nation-building exercise.”
An improved federal process could relieve some of the pressure on the nominee system.
But Preyra, who has closely followed Nova Scotia’s immigration system as a professor at Saint Mary’s University and as immigration critic when the NDP was in opposition, said he’s disappointed by the federal government’s failure to review the cap and a nominee system “that seems to be frozen in time.”
Still, it’ll take some time to see how such a slate of proposals translates into reality, Preyra said, and he’s optimistic.
“We’re watching it very carefully. We’re excited about the new opportunity.”
Source: the chronicle herald
Author: SELENA ROSS