Fix system before raising immigrant targets – expert

By Gerald V. Paul

Before increasing new immigrant intake targets, Canada should focus on improving immigrants’ labour market outcomes through reforms to the selection process, according to a report released on Wednesday, by the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “Improving Immigrant Selection: Further Changes Are Required Before Increasing Inflows,” author Christopher Worswick cites recent evidence of poor outcomes for recent immigrants that raise a caution for higher annual targets.

As Canada’s population ages, notes the author, growth in the country’s workforce will eventually be driven almost entirely by immigration. This has led to calls that Canada should increase its immigration targets from around 250,000 immigrants to around 400,000 immigrants per year. “Whether and to do so is conditioned by the observation that recent immigrant cohorts have had limited economic success in Canada,” says Worswick. “The wage differential of recently arrived immigrants versus Canadian-born workers has grown over time, and it is no longer obvious that recent immigrants can close this gap within their working careers. Hence, there is reason to be cautious about expanding immigration levels.”

Whether new arrivals are helping boost the domestic standard of living is central to policy decisions over the number of immigrants we accept each year, Worswick points out. Therefore, the success of Canada’s immigration programme should not be assessed based on whether the economy has expanded as a result of the new additions, but on whether productivity and efficiency – gross domestic product (GDP) per person – are rising as a consequence.

Reforms currently underway to improve the immigrant selection process – such as revisions to the skilled immigrant point system to better attract younger immigrants with higher levels of language fluency – should improve outcomes.

These reforms should be expanded upon and allowed to take effect before any proposed increases in immigration  targets are acted upon.

Worswick recommended several measures to further immigrant selection and allow for expanded immigration targets in the future:

Delays in processing applications must be cleared up for reforms to the screening process to take effect.

A better evaluation of an applicant’s skills should occur before arrival, entailing the cooperation of regulatory bodies for professional occupations, a formal process by evaluating degrees and certificates, and a greater role for Canadian employers to help select potential immigrants.

Allow the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream of admission to continue to expand. The CEC programme aims to enable easier immigration for foreign students with recognized Canadian credentials as well as for skilled temporary foreign workers with domestic work experience.

“If immigration is to play a more important role in offsetting demographic pressures and filling future labour shortages, reforms to the way in which we screen immigrants should be allowed to continue, processing backlogs must fall, and cautious steps must be taken when increasing immigrant levels,” concludes Worswick.