Thank you very much, Bonnie, for your warm welcome here to the famous London Health Sciences Centre, one of Canada’s leading hospitals. It’s a real pleasure to be here with my colleagues Ed Holder and Susan Truppe, hardworking Members of Parliament for the London area, for an important announcement about our efforts to fundamentally reform and improve Canada’s immigration system, as part of our Economic Action Plan for long-term prosperity.
As you know, Canada has a proud tradition. As an immigrant-receiving country, we have for the past several years been maintaining the highest relative levels of immigration in the developed world, and the highest sustained levels of immigration in Canadian history. We’ve done that because we believe that newcomers are key to help fuel our future prosperity, and particularly to fill key skill shortages as we see an aging population and emerging skill shortages in the whole spectrum of skills in various regions and industries.
And one of those sectors of our economy where we will be seeing increasing skill shortages is in health care and health sciences.
Of course, in certain regions of the country, there is an acute shortage of medical doctors and nurses and other practitioners, and those shortages will only grow as our population ages. And, as that population ages, health needs will become more acute. It is therefore critical that our immigration system respond to those current and future shortages both in health sciences and across the whole spectrum of the labour market.
That’s why, in his speech at the World Economic Forum, Prime Minister Harper announced that our government would, through the Economic Action Plan this year, be bringing forward transformational change in Canada’s immigration system to better align our selection of newcomers with the labour market needs that we have now and in the future.
Now, the great paradox of immigration to Canada in the last three or four decades has been that, while we have maintained very high levels of immigration, and while our economy has acute labour shortages, too many newcomers find themselves unemployed or underemployed, and far too many foreign-trained professionals, including medical professionals, find themselves stuck in survival jobs as their savings deplete, as their skills atrophy, working just to put food on the table for their families, rather than being gainfully employed, realizing their potential in their skill or trade.
And that’s one of the reasons we need transformational change, to invite newcomers who we are confident, who have the skills where they can go to work in their profession upon arrival.
So, in the health sciences, for example, we need foreign-trained physicians who have a better-than-even chance of obtaining their license in a reasonable amount of time, and as much as possible, already have residencies or positions lined up with Canadian health authorities and hospitals. We need the same kind of system for nurses.
And so, our vision for transformational immigration reform is to move from our slow and rigid immigration system, which has had declining economic results for newcomers, to a system that is fast and flexible, that matches the incoming newcomers with the jobs that are available, ensuring that they have the skills to go to work upon arrival.
First of all, to get to that fast system, we’re going to have to deal decisively with a very slow-moving system that’s been burdened by enormous legacy backlogs — hundreds of thousands of applications in an endless queue taking us seven or eight years to process applications for newcomers, meaning that it’s just about impossible to link applicants for immigration with the jobs that are available today.
We are moving, in this Economic Action Plan, to deal decisively with that backlog by returning three-quarters of the applications in our system, so we can start fresh with a clean slate, with a just-in-time immigration system. By 2014, we will have a real-time immigration system, so that applicants who apply that year will have their applications assessed. If they are qualified they will be admitted within a few months rather than several years, making it much easier for employers like provincial health departments and hospitals to do recruitment from abroad, looking at the global labour market, inviting people into Canada and we will be processing them very quickly.
Secondly, we will be moving to a pre-assessment of quality and relevance of the education of immigrants to the Canadian labour market. Many of the newcomers who arrive in Canada learn that their degrees and diplomas aren’t relevant to Canadian employers or our licensing bodies. And so we’ll begin to do a pre-assessment of the relevance of their education to ensure they can actually succeed in Canada’s labour market.
And, thirdly, within a couple of years, we’ll be doing a pre-assessment of their credentials in licensed professions, working with the national bodies that represent the Colleges of Physicians, the law societies, the engineers, etc. – all 40 regulated professions – to do a pre-assessment of foreign credentials so that we can indicate whether an immigrant has at least an even shot at getting their license recognized so they can go to work. So engineers can be engineers and foreign-trained doctors can actually be physicians, rather than driving cabs, working the graveyard shift at corner stores, being stuck in survival jobs as their skills deteriorate.
You know, we all know how serious that problem is. The other day, I met a lady in Vancouver who is a radiologist who immigrated to Canada from Iran three years ago. She told me her story about how her husband — her husband’s a paediatric surgeon — and she had arrived in Canada three years ago. She broke down in tears in front of me, describing how for three years they have struggled but gotten no closer to being able to practise as physicians in Canada and that they had depleted their savings, their skills were atrophying and she said, “As much as I can’t stand my home country in Iran because of the government there, I’m going to have to go back now just to make an income so that I can pay, keep my son here in Canada, put him through college so that he can become – he can realize his dream as the physician who discovers the cure to cancer.” And I hear stories like that all too often. We owe it to newcomers to do everything we can to ensure their success, and we owe it to the Canadian economy to realize their potential, fully contributing to our economy.
That’s why today, I’m announcing another important element of our transformational immigration reforms. We will be bringing forward legislation, in the near future, to allow the Minister of Immigration to retrospectively apply what are called Ministerial Instructions, so that we can speed up processing of people who are in acute need in Canada.
The way our system has worked in the past is that everyone just gets into a queue, regardless of whether their skills are needed in Canada and it’s first come, first served. Well, we believe the immigration system, first and foremost, should serve the interests of the Canadian economy, and if we need, for example, foreign-trained physicians and nurses quickly and immediately, this new power will give us the ability to move them to the front of the queue, and process them in double time coming to Canada in a matter of weeks or months, rather than years. So, it’s about a more flexible system that responds to our labour market needs, and allows us to speed up processing to bring into Canada more quickly those professionals and trades people whose skills we need most acutely and most quickly. That’s actually a very fundamental change to go from a very passive system to a proactive system.
Secondly, we will be bringing forward legislation that allows the government to retroactively apply regulations for the selection of immigrants to those who are already in the queue. This means, for example, that as we reform the points grid for the selection of skilled workers to put more emphasis on language proficiency for those who want to work in licensed professions, to put more emphasis on younger workers who we know succeed better over time in Canada, to put more emphasis on Canadian as opposed to foreign work experience, we will be able to apply those criteria to those who are already in the queue.
Once more, the objective is to ensure their success.
This is all based on evidence. We’ve done a major evaluation of the outcomes of immigrants to Canada, as have a number of think tanks and every single study, every evaluation, every piece of data, tells us that younger immigrants tended to do better over their lifetime in Canada. Those with prearranged jobs when they arrive do much better, with incomes twice as high as those who don’t have prearranged jobs. Those with Canadian work experience of course do much better than those that don’t. And people with higher levels of language proficiency do obviously much better. And so this new authority will give us the power to ensure that amongst the literally billions of people who hope to migrate to this country, we select those who are most likely to succeed. People say we should have evidence-based policy.
That’s exactly what this is: Evidence-based immigration policy.
Finally, let me say that I’m very pleased as part of our reforms that we have created a new pathway to permanent residency. This is very important to London, a big university town. It will allow foreign students who have obtained a degree or diploma in Canada and have done one year of work in this country through the new open postgraduate work permit that we give them, to become permanent residents quickly from within Canada. In the past, we used to tell them to leave the country and get in the back of a seven-year-long queue, even though they were pre-integrated, had a degree or diploma that would be recognized by Canadian employers, and had perfected their English or French language skills. Now we’ll be inviting those people to stay in Canada, those bright young students who are set for success.
Similarly, that program allows highly skilled temporary foreign workers who have done two years of work in Canada to stay as permanent residents. That includes probably, I imagine, some highly skilled medical professionals working in this Health Sciences Centre, who are here on perhaps one or two-year contracts, perhaps here doing research work. Now they have a fast track to immigration if they want. If they’re given a job offer in this Health Sciences Centre, and they want to stay, we’re inviting them to do so.
I announced earlier this week that we’re actually making that program more flexible, so that the high skilled temporary workers who want to stay can do so after one year of work in Canada rather than two. We estimate this will result in thousands more highly skilled foreign professionals who have already got Canadian work experience staying in the country.
So these are just some of the very important, and I think exciting, immigration reforms that we’re making that will result in better economic outcomes and, as I say, will be filling acute labour shortages, particularly in areas like the health sciences in the future. As our population ages, as our labour force shrinks, we need a fast and flexible system that works for Canada, that works for our economy and also works for newcomers to ensure they realize their potential.
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