A Good News Month for B.C. on the Immigration Front

The last month has brought some good news for B.C. with respect to immigration and the entry of foreign workers into the province.

First, there was the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration’s annual report to Parliament released on October 31, 2006. Although the immigration targets for 2007 that constitute the most newsworthy elements of the report were not very surprising – the federal government has raised slightly its overall target for 2007 to a range of 240,000 to 265,000 immigrants from the 225,000 to 255,000 range targeted for 2006 – the report also contained the final numbers of immigrants admitted in 2005 which point to some very encouraging trends for the province of British Columbia.

In 2005, B.C. received 44,767 immigrants. That’s the second highest provincial total in the country and a big boost from the 37,018 we received in 2004. Even more encouraging, when you look at the breakdown of the types of immigrants we are getting, it is clear that the province is attracting some of the most desirable immigrants – at least in terms of economic impact – that Canada is receiving.

Of the total number of immigrants received by B.C. in 2005, the province’s portion is heavily weighted towards economic class immigrants like skilled workers, business immigrants and provincial nominees. Just over 30,000 of our 2005 immigrants fell into these categories. Almost half of the total amount, 21,809, were skilled workers and another 6,520 were business immigrants. The latter number represents the highest total of business immigrants destined to any individual province – this despite the fact that Ontario receives far more total immigrants than us or any other province with over 140,000 in 2005. We also had the second highest total of province nominees admitted, a category of immigrants that makes perhaps the largest per capita economic impact.

It is also noteworthy that the types of immigrants that experience a longer lag period before bringing a positive economic impact — Convention Refugees and other types of protection persons — are for some reason not choosing to settle in B.C. in the numbers they are choosing other provinces. We received only 2,156 protected persons in 2005. This is only 10% of what Ontario received (their total was 21,890) and less than both Quebec (7,161 total protection persons), a province which received a comparable number of total immigrants (43,308), and even Alberta (2,247 total protected persons), a province that received less than half (19,399) of the total number of immigrants we did.

What is clear from these numbers is that for whatever reason – our more temperate climate, our growing economy, our cultural and ethnic diversity – B.C. is getting the some of the best and the brightest of those destined to Canada. Our slice of the immigrant pie is, while not the largest, arguably the most desirable of any province in Canada from an economic perspective.

Now, for employers in the province desperate for skilled and experienced workers this may come as cold comfort. But that is where the other bit of recent good news comes in. Several months ago, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Monte Solberg, announced the opening of two new Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) offices in Calgary and Vancouver devoted to assisting employers and their representatives navigate their way through our very complicated foreign worker policies and programs. But as readers of this column will know, CIC is often a bystander when it comes to the administration of the foreign worker program. While CIC sets the policy, the program is largely administered in Canada by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSDC) and, to a lesser extent, the Canadian Board Services Agency. But this past month, Minister Solberg showed he was not willing to allow bureaucratic divisions to prevent progress and announced several new initiatives designed specifically to assist employers in B.C. and Alberta, where demand for skilled and sometimes unskilled labour is highest.

The most important of these initiatives involves the creation of lists of occupations in demand — one for B.C. and one for Alberta — that will be used by Service Canada, the service delivery arm of HRSDC, to process applications from employers in these provinces seeking to bring in foreign workers. The net benefit for employers will be that they will not need to advertise the positions extensively before submitting their application to Service Canada if the occupation they are seeking to fill is on their provincial list.

This is definitely is a step in the right direction. However, one factor that was not addressed in the announcement of these initiatives was the fact that Service Canada is experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of applications for foreign workers from employers in B.C. and Alberta. The regional lists will no doubt bring even higher numbers of applications in these provinces as employers will be less reluctant to initiate applications when they no longer need to invest in extensive advertising beforehand. But this raises the possibility of whether the two-month or more processing times for these applications will now be increasing rather than decreasing as they should be.

Now, no word yet if Minster Solberg will be able to deliver increased staff to another Minister’s department. That would be an extraordinary bureaucratic feat indeed. But it is what’s needed next to ensure that the foreign workers that B.C. admits will be as beneficial to the province as the immigrants we are now lucky enough to be attracting.