The following was presented by Colin R. Singer, Attorney, as the key note speaker at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada – Ontario Administration of Settlement & Integration Services (Oasis) Settlement Sector Conference held in Toronto on January 29, 2003.
I am pleased to be your key note speaker today and I would like to thank the Department of Citizenship and Immigration and particularly the Ontario Administration of Settlement & Integration Services for endorsing my credentials and inviting me to be your key note speaker for this conference.
Indeed it is an understatement to suggest that these are very challenging times in the Canadian immigration industry.
But before I continue any further however I would like to share with you a candid reflection. In preparation for this presentation I thought that it might be helpful to review the definition of Settlement Officer described in the Canadian National Occupation Classification. I am sure that many of you are quite familiar with this tool. To my displeasure however, I did not find that the description and more particularly the occupational title, was a true reflection of what I believe your title should be. It is my sincere hope that following my presentation you will all be inclined to use the title of “Settlement Professional” to describe yourselves in the future. I suggest that “Settlement Professional” is more reflective of the rapport that you develop with your clients – Newcomers to Canada, on a day-to-day basis.
What I propose to discuss with you in this presentation is how as settlement professionals, we can all successfully address the challenges that lie ahead.
I – Canadian Immigration Policy
A) – May 1993 – June 2002
Recent demographic results show that between 1991 and 2001 1.8 million newcomers were admitted to Canada with 58% from Asia and the Middle East; 20% from Europe; 11% from Caribbean source countries and Central America; 8% from Africa and 3% from the USA. Incredibly, Toronto accounted for 800,000 of these arrivals.
Canadian immigration policy closely mirrors recommendations outlined in successive annual OECD reports during the past 10 years.
The OECD comprises of 30 members countries and undertakes annual studies in a number of areas, including labour and migration trends.
Current Canadian policy can be traced to OECD recommendations as well as the 1993 liberal government’s Red Book election promise calling for immigration levels to reach 1% of Canada’s population.
Each year the Immigration Minister tables in the House of Commons annual target levels providing for immigrant landings in the following calendar year. Target levels are largely based on the numbers of applications that are anticipated to be finalized in the following year, taking into consideration many factors including the absorption and settlement capacities of newcomers.
In the mid 1990’s following the introduction of a comprehensive skilled worker program, based on the infamous General Occupations List, annual arrivals to Canada ranged from 210,000 – 225,000 (40%-50% economic class, without any previous ties to Canada).
These numbers fell far short of the stated objectives announced in 1993 but were still within the +/- 10% range of the annual target levels announced by the Minister.
During the period 1995-1998, Canadian immigration was being presented as a commodity to the world at large. Immigration Program Managers at source country visa offices were encouraged by National Headquarters to allocate a portion of their functions to program promotion as inventories of applications at missions abroad remained fairly soft.
During this period, application processing times were fairly reasonable and quite predictable – 80% of applications were processed to final disposition in a period of approximately 12-24 months. Those who wanted to migrate to Canada and were qualified could do so in a fairly reasonable time.
During the past five years since 1998, three factors in my view have significantly contributed to a dramatic increase in the numbers of applicants:
- Increased need for temporary software and related IT workers in Canada, USA & the UK (The so called Y2K “problem”);
- Increased world wide migration brought about by many converging factors; and,
- Increased use of the Internet reflected by the number of persons having access to the Internet in the USA, Europe and in developing countries.
If we reconcile these trends with the substantial reductions in government spending that took place during the period 1997-1999, where budget cut-backs and layoff of personnel were especially pronounced at CIC, the foundation for program failure and program overhaul was set.
During the recent five year period (1998 – 2002) the numbers of pending applications dramatically increased concurrently with application processing times: 700,000 pending applications (globally) in June 2002; processing delays in Bejing 7-10 years; New Delhi 5 years, Hong Kong 4 years; Buffalo 2+ years.
Following an exhaustive study, formulators of Canadian immigration policy have recently and in my view correctly concluded therefore that a successful immigration program must take into account no less than the following (8) Eight important factors:
- Without a mechanism of control, high inventory levels of pending applications for permanent residence and unreasonably long processing delays are likely to remain a part of the Canadian immigration landscape.
- An effective immigration program requires reasonable and predictable processing delays.
- A successful selection process requires simplicity in order to administer and deliver 250,000 annual admissions.
- Controlling inventories can be accomplished through the use of a fluctuating, (retroactive) pass mark.
- Applicants with prior ties to Canada will likely have increased chances to economically settle.
- Immigrants should be selected based on broad, meaningful skill sets rather than occupation driven selection models.
- Allow the provinces greater decision making in the selection of economic class immigrants.
- Ensure that admissions closely monitor the absorption capacity of newcomers by the provinces.
B) June 28, 2002 – Immigration & Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)
Under IRPA, new selection rules were introduced featuring a simplified selection grid, enabling processing of a large number of applicants, while emphasizing language, higher education, employment experience, family stability and previous ties to Canada.
Clearly, the current objective (from a selection perspective) is to reduce current inventories (i.e. retroactivity, current pass mark = 75). In the future, we can expect that inventories will likely be stabilized with a pass mark ranging from 71 – 74 points.
II – Post IRPA – The Challenges Ahead
Thomas L. Friedman, one of America’s leading commentators on world affairs, a New York Times columnist and author of “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” recently commented that success within the new globalization system requires two very important dimensions, properly interconnected together:
- Continued deep rooted and ever narrowing specializations within our specific fields of expertise, combined with
- A keen sense of understanding of the bigger picture in order to enable development of an effective strategy/objective.
Applying this theory to the context of this conference, I believe that settlement professionals, in order to be successful in the future, must develop a thorough understanding of the bigger picture both in Canada and in source countries abroad and continue developing an increased knowledge within their specific fields of expertise.
But clearly, high immigration levels present a number of challenges. Some of you recall that last month I responded in a commentary published in the Editorial Section of the National Post, to some harsh criticisms of current government policy in the immigration field. These are only some of the challenges.
Let me share with you what I believe are important issues for settlement professionals, that arise from the post IRPA era.
A) Successful settlement strategies begin prior to submitting applications for permanent residence.
- Study, Work, Visit
Research has demonstrated that applicants with substantial ties to Canada have increased chances for successful economic settlement.
Encourage prospective applicants to visit, study or work.
Government policy evidenced by current selection rules, clearly favour applicants with prior ties to Canada.
- Enhance language proficiencies before applying.
- Encourage and seek potential applicants with higher education.
- Seek potential applicants with strong ties to family.
These are the types of candidates that are currently being sought.
BROADEN YOUR CURRICULUMS – STUDY THE BIGGER PICTURE
SOME BIGGER PICTURE SUGGESTIONS (12):
B) Develop a basic understanding of the changing labour market trends in Canada.
Statistics Canada reported that in 2002 job creation was the highest in many years, yet placement professionals, job boards convey a sense of difficulty in the past six months.
IT professionals? Not basic programmers.
Job creation in Ontario was predominantly in the construction and skilled trades sectors, healthcare including (veterinarians, nurses, technical and related occupations in health, social workers, and medical laboratory technicians) and certain service sector occupations.
C) Develop an understanding of salary ranges for selected occupations in Canada.
Employers will be more inclined to hire a foreign trained candidate who is prepared to accept a salary at the lower end of the salary scale rather than the higher end.
D) Develop an understanding of the hiring practices of Canadian employers with respect to foreign nationals in general.
a. Discrimination does it exist?
b. Identify countries that have higher education programs that are recognized by Canadian employers?
India – IT professionals, engineers.
Philippines – Nursing.
E) Become knowledgeable about access to professions & trades and lobby for reductions in arbitrarily restrictive red tape facing foreign-trained professionals.
Weekly Globe and Mail Poll found that of 3,355 respondents, 40% urged licensing bodies to adapt standards to consider foreign training.
Clearly many of the professions are overly protective despite obvious shortages. We need to lobby those responsible to bear pressure unto the old practices of professional bodies in order reduce the effects of shortages in certain professions.
F) Become knowledgeable about Provincial subsidy and training programs offered to employers who agree to hire newcomers.
G) Present a realistic picture to prospective applicants of the immigration process & prospects for settlement:
- Immigration processing delays are a part of the landscape (1-2 years).
Under the old rules, settlement strategies generally began once the client arrived in Canada as a permanent resident. Under IRPA settlement begins prior to and during the application process.
- Settlement will likely require from 6 months to two years of skills upgrading in Canada.
You may recall that the former Minister Caplan frequently referred to terminology that we must select candidates who can “hit the ground running”. Well under IRPA, this concept has no meaning. Clearly this concept is unreasonable. Settlement requires newcomers to carefully understand the challenges, the risks and the costs that are required in order to successfully settle in Canada.
H) Become familiar with immigration programs in the provinces: For example, the Province of Québec selects 42,000 immigrants annually. No single province (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, New Brunswick will issue more than about 1000 Provincial Nominee Certificates.
I) Listen to your clients and identify developing trends.
J) Network with settlement professionals in other provinces to identify new trends and solutions to address such trends.
K) High immigration levels in Canada clearly present challenges on our urban infrastructures. Experts agree that cities are the fundamental building blocks of prosperity for both the nation and for our families. Yet according to Marc Weiss, Chairman of the Prague Institute for Global Urban Development, “There is the crazy notion that the way to deal with a city’s problems is to keep people out of them”.
While I am surely not suggesting that we all become experts on urbanization issues, it is useful as part of the bigger picture, if we become somewhat knowledgeable of these issues as it relates to providing settlement assistance to our clientele.
L) Speak out and share your views with others. Dispel the myths, clarify the realities and let the community know how the current strategies can be improved.
M) Above all, exercise patience, compassion and empathy for those incurring difficulty in their settlement projects.
Canada has often been characterized as a cultural mosaic, quite distinguishable from the cultural melting pot that is found in the USA.
Immigration has always played a significant role in building Canadian society.
All indications are that this trend will very likely continue and will increasingly require the involvement of skilled settlement professionals.
I strongly encourage all participants in this forum to embrace these challenges so that our strategies will help to ensure the success of Canadian immigration policy in the years to come.