Canada’s immigration points system was introduced in 1967 as a method of tackling discrimination and prejudice from the process of choosing which immigrants to let in. This system essentially ignored an applicant’s race and country of origin, thereby giving minorities an equal chance as white skinned counterparts. The points system rewarded education, fluency in English or French and work experience. It enabled Canada’s immigration demographics to change dramatically. Led by China, Asians replaced white Europeans as the dominant immigrant group.
The idea behind the points based system was a visionary one at the time and several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, adopted the Canadian-style system. These countries have since taken the lead in managing a robust immigration program, by introducing an employer driven selection model. On January 1, 2015, Canada has tried to follow suit with the introduction of its new Express Entry Immigration System. But as has occurred since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, Canada is no longer the policy leader in the immigration industry.
Even today with most European countries and the United States looking for ways to close their doors to immigrants, Canada recently lifted its target for new permanent residents from 265,000 a year to 285,000. However, Canadian policy is changing and after coming into power in 2006, the Conservatives have moved solely toward letting in workers with job offers. The new “Express Entry system” greatly increases the weight given to offers of employment for people applying to become permanent residents.
New Zealand and Australia started giving preference to job holders in 2003 and 2009 respectively. Critics worry that in shifting to a policy based on economic logic, Canada is making the system more vulnerable to fraud and discrimination.
The original points based system was not without its flaws. While immigrants escaped discrimination at the entry gates, they often faced it during their job hunt. Further, employers did not always recognize skills and education acquired abroad, especially outside Europe. This led to doctors from Asia and Eastern Europe becoming driving taxis and architects working at convenience stores. Today, the unemployment rate among immigrants is nearly 50% higher than that of Canadian-born workers. But these figures are not reflective of current admissions to Canada.
Employer-led systems aim to reduce the mismatch between available jobs and immigrants’ skills, and encourage them to settle outside big cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, where the bulk of Canada’s immigrant population settles.
Initially, the government tried to please employers by sharply increasing the number of foreign workers allowed in temporarily in an attempt to fill low- and semi-skilled jobs that Canadians did not want. However, problems arose when instead of discriminating against immigrants employers went out of their way to hire them at lower cost.
Express Entry ranks economic migrants on a 1,200-point scale, with 600 points awarded to those with a job offer or a nomination under one of Canada’s provincial immigration programs. Those with the highest scores will be invited to apply for permanent residency under one of three economic entry programmes. The rest remain in a pool from which the government and eventually employers can cherry pick. The belief is this new system will help attract the engineers, information-technology specialists and health-care workers that Canada needs.
The changes deal with earlier problems by requiring that applicants prove in advance that their credentials are recognized in Canada and by requiring employers to show in advance that no eligible Canadian is available for the job. With the new scheme, applicants in their 20s get maximum points for age. Canada’s new ideal immigrant is younger, more polyglot, has already worked longer in Canada than the older version and, unlike him or her, has a job offer. The system has transformed the immigration department into a giant online manpower agency.
Visa officers fear that non-existent employers will offer fictitious jobs to residents’ friends and families making this employer-led system ‘fraught with fraud’, according to a survey commissioned by the immigration department. Immigrants who are tied to an employer for a fixed period are at risk of abuse. Unlike the old points system, which is neutral on race and nationality, the new one makes it possible for employers to discriminate in ways that are hard to detect.
Under the ‘adaptability’ category, the old points system gave applicants credit for family members in Canada; the new system does not have this provision. Jason Kenney, who preceded Mr. Alexander as immigration minister, tightened admissions of refugees saying that too many immigrants ‘take advantage of our country’. A court ruled that his cuts to spending on refugees’ health care were cruel and unconstitutional,
According to Mr. Alexander, today’s Canadians are younger and better educated than ever before with immigrants today having a much higher incidence of post-secondary degrees than the Canadian population at large. Canada’s future may look promising. But the past vision has clearly changed under the Conservative government.