Future Policy on Skilled Worker Applications

The new Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Monte Solberg, made some interesting comments when he was interviewed by this paper a couple of weeks ago.


One of the key decisions that will have to be made by he and his Cabinet colleagues is how to reform the federal selection system for skilled workers.  The present system is essentially broken in a number of respects.  In previous columns I have talked about the fact that many of the skilled workers the system is selecting are not the ones needed or desired by our 21st century labour market.


But beyond that issue, there is the one of client service and how to address the extremely long processing times experienced by skilled workers applying to immigrate here.  Because of the fact that there is a backlog of over 200,000 applications held in visa offices overseas, a skilled worker applicant applying now can typically expect to wait anywhere from 2-6 years depending on which visa office they have submitted their application to.  


Obviously, we cannot expect to attract the “best and brightest” around the world by taking their application and then depositing it in a black hole of processing limbo from which it only emerges years later.  Such people have an understandable expectation of being advised in a reasonable period as to when they can expect to start their new life in a new country.


Therefore, it was interesting to hear Minister Solberg comment on the situation in the visa offices in China and claim that it will be a priority of the Conservative government to reduce the backlog – or “inventory” as the federal bureaucracy likes to refer to it — of applications in offices like Beijing and Hong Kong.  It was even more interesting to hear him hint at the ways this will be accomplished.


As most readers are aware, skilled workers are assessed based on a points system that considers such factors as their language ability, age, education, work experience and ties to Canada.  Currently, the pass mark is set at 67.  One easy way to reduce the intake of applications, and thereby clean up the backlog, would be to simply raise the pass mark.


However, federal bureaucrats and, it appears, the new minister, are actively considering more radical changes to the system to gain a more firm control on the intake of applications.  One of these models involves instituting a “lottery system” not unlike what has been traditionally employed in the U.S.  


Under such a model, the federal government would set a ceiling on the number of applications that would be allowed into the system each year.  This ceiling would be determined both by the perceived labour market needs across the country and by the processing capacity of visa offices overseas.   


Applicants would be asked to submit an abbreviated version of the current application with a reduced fee of something in the range of say, $100.  If their application was selected from the accumulated pool of these “preliminary applications” in a kind of “immigration lucky draw” they would be asked to submit a full and complete application with the rest of the processing fee.  The expectation would then be that their application would be processed in a reasonable period – perhaps in no more than 18 months.  If they weren’t selected, they would be told their application would not be processed any further and that they could try again next year.  


The tricky part of such as system is determining how to set up the “lucky draw” to ensure that there is a desired mix of immigrants selected to apply in full each year.  Based on recent application trends, if the draw were completely random, the vast majority of applicants selected to submit full applications would be coming from countries like China and India.  The federal government, however, has long wanted to ensure that there is an appropriate mix of immigrants from different parts of the world.  This is one of the reasons the current system sees applicants from countries like China and India experience the longest processing times in the world, while applicants from European countries, for example, where the demand to come to Canada is not as great, can still get their applications processed in 2 years or less in some cases.


So expect the feds, if they do adopt this kind of system, to employ some kind of weighted lottery system to ensure a mix of immigrants that isn’t tilted entirely to Asian countries.  This will be an extremely controversial political decision and one that will have to be debated more openly than the current visa office resource allocation system that effectively limits the intake of immigrants from places like China by allowing processing times to increase to ever higher levels.