Canada has been a net immigration country since its inception and boasts a long and rich history of immigration that’s deeply embedded in its peoples’ sense of nationhood. Foreign-born permanent residents make up more than 20% of the country’s population, and newly arrived immigrants account for more than 50% of annual population growth. These immigrants make an enormous contribution to the country in both its ethno-cultural composition and its labor force.
The current immigration system particularly encourages young, bilingual, high-skill immigrants in order to build the country’s human capital during concerns about the aging labor force. The government has set in place certain education and skill provisions that provide an advantage for potential migrants who have work experience, higher education, and English or French language skills.
Since the 1800’s, Canadian immigration policy has continued to grow and change to suit the growing needs of the country and as its immigrants continue to come in large numbers. In 1976, the first Immigration Act was passed which emphasized family reunification and humanitarian concerns over economic interests, but this was changed in 2001 with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which stresses education, skilled work experience, language skills, and adaptability. Applicants with trade certificates and second degrees are awarded more points and other criteria is skewed to favor younger workers. Because of this, skilled workers from foreign countries who are having trouble finding work at home are coming to Canada to fill important gaps in the country’s aging labor force.
Why is Canada such a great country for immigrants? First, it needs immigrants to grow the population and fill shortages in the labour force. Canadians don’t reproduce enough to maintain their own population, thus immigration is the only way to expand the country’s size. Also, the Canadian workforce is aging. The post-WWII “baby boom” generation is now getting close to retirement age, and over the next 10 years or so many of the most skilled Canadian workers will be leaving their jobs to retire. New immigrants with skills are needed to fill the job vacancies because there is a shortage of young Canadian workers. So the Canadian government has good reason to continue to encourage high levels of immigration. For immigrants, the attraction is being able to live in a modern, stable, safe democracy where they can enjoy a high standard of living while raising their children in one of the best educational systems in the world.
There are currently several programs in place to bring skilled workers into Canada:
- Federal Skilled Workers Program
- This program is responsible for over 80% of all economic immigrant admissions and almost 50% of total admissions. Under the program, a skilled worker must have at least one year of job experience in a skilled occupation in order to qualify. Applicants are also evaluated on other criteria including education, age, proficiency in English or French, and adaptability.
- Temporary Worker Program
- Originally designed to fill labor shortages in high skilled occupations, this program was expanded in recent years to include hospitality, food, construction, and manufacturing which has led to an increase in the number of temporary workers admitted to the country.
- Provincial Nominee Program
- A foreign worker can also be nominated by a province for a work permit and/or permanent residence based on criteria set by the province. This program aims to distribute human capital gains throughout the country, not just Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal.
- Arranged Employment Opinion
- When a Canadian employer wishes to permanently hire a foreign worker, they may request an Arranged Employment Opinion (AEO) from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The wages and working conditions offered the foreign worker must be the same as those of a Canadian worker in the same position. This process adds additional points to the criteria for entrance for applicants under the Skilled Worker category.
It should be noted that the Canadian government is currently working on an overhaul of the skilled worker immigration system. The new “Express Entry” immigration system is expected to be released in January 2015. It will be an employer-driven program whereby a job offer from a Canadian company will be a prerequisite to apply for permanent residence. The government aims to process applications under this category in a few months, thus the name “Express Entry”.