Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a news conference regarding the new selection criteria for the Federal Skilled Worker Program

Ottawa, Ontario
December 19, 2012

As delivered

Thank you very much Daniel. Welcome to my almost daily briefing here as we continue to make important changes to Canada’s immigration system. Thank you for your interest.

As you know, the reforms that we’re making are designed to dramatically improve the economic outcome of newcomers and to help Canada’s productivity as our workforce shrinks and our population ages. We need the talent and energy of newcomers from around the world – the best and brightest – to help us build a strong and prosperous economy. That is why for the past year, since the Prime Minister’s speech at the World Economic Forum, we’ve been rolling out elements of dramatic important reforms to Canada’s selection of economic immigrants, to do a much better job of selecting those who can work at their skill level upon arrival in Canada, fully realizing their potential and fully contributing to Canada’s productivity and prosperity.

For too long, too many newcomers who arrived in Canada have ended up finding themselves stuck in under-employment and unemployment, struggling to get by.  Over 70 per cent of economic immigrants to Canada end up working in fields other than those for which they were trained, and unacceptably, the unemployment rate for new immigrants to Canada is twice as high as the general population’s unemployment rate, while the unemployment rate for immigrants with college degrees is four to five times higher than that for people born in Canada with college degrees. And for 40 years, we’ve seen a relative decline in average incomes for immigrants to Canada as compared to the overall average incomes in the country.

This is an unacceptable paradox, at a time when we have a growing problem of labour shortages in many regions and industries of our economy. And so our pro-growth economic immigration reforms are designed to do a radically better job of connecting the newcomers who we select with the jobs that are available now, and will be in the future. The idea is simple. It’s to select the people who can actually get to work at their skill level in the occupations for which they were trained, realizing their potential immediately or shortly after their arrival, allowing them to help us fill some of the skill and labour shortages that exist now and will in the future. In other words, rather than bringing engineers to Canada to drive cabs or doctors to be  corner store clerks, we want the engineers who we select to actually be able to work as engineers, and the doctors to be able to work as doctors. Rather than bringing in a quarter of a million newcomers from around the world every year, many of them to face unemployment or under-employment while businesses struggle to fill labour shortages, we want to address those labour shortages increasingly through the newcomers who arrive.

That’s why today I’m happy to announce the implementation of a project we’ve been working on now for about three years, and that is the fundamental reform of our flagship immigration program, the Federal Skilled Worker Program. This is the points system, which is considered in much of the developed world as something of a model for the selection of economic immigrants. We did a major baseline study of the results of the Federal Skilled Worker Program a couple of years ago which demonstrated very strong results. In fact, since the current points grid came into effect in 2002, with a higher assessment of language ability in English or French, we have seen improved results. But still the results lag behind those of other Canadians, and so we can and will do a better job.   

Today, I’m announcing changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program’s points grid that are based on the research that we’ve done. This is an evidence-based policy. This is based on data. This is based on research – not just that of my department, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but also of academics, think-tanks and others who have told us that newcomers who arrive with a higher level of English or French language proficiency do better during their lives in Canada. They get better incomes and better jobs over a longer period of time.

The data also tell us that younger immigrants tend to do better. They’re more flexible and adaptable and of course, have a longer period during which they can contribute to Canada’s economy. And we, of course, learned that people who have pre-arranged employment when they get to Canada, or Canadian work experience, do better than those who don’t. In fact, those with pre-arranged employment who arrive in Canada earn twice as much in terms of income as those who arrive without a pre-arranged job. And of course, we’ve learned that it’s critically important, as much as possible, to select immigrants who will have little or no difficulty in obtaining their license to practice in regulated professions, or whose education will be recognized as being at or close to the Canadian standard.

So I’m here today to announce that when we reopen the federal skilled worker program for new applications in May, we will be requiring applicants to have their foreign educational credentials assessed by a designated and qualified third party to determine how well they compare with Canadian equivalents. Under the new selection system, applicants will be awarded points according to how well their foreign credentials compare to completed credentials in Canada. I need to stress here that these new educational credential assessments will not replace the more in-depth assessments that provincial regulatory bodies use to license professionals coming from other countries, but they will help to screen out applicants who don’t have the necessary credentials successfully to enter the Canadian workforce.

Early in 2013, I will be designating the third party organizations that will be authorized to carry out these mandatory assessments of all potential immigrants under the federal skilled worker program. The changes I’ve announced today are all intended to allow Canada to select the best and the brightest in a competitive global market for skilled labour. We’re committed to building an immigration system that’s nimbler, more flexible and more responsive to today’s labour market realities.

Finally, I must say, our efforts to reduce the backlog in all of our immigration programs, particularly this one, have led to a dramatic reduction since 2008. This program alone had a backlog of 640,000 cases, and it took us seven years to process new applications. That was unacceptable. Now, with our efforts, there are about 100,000 applications in the backlog, and soon, by the end of 2013, we will have a just‑in‑time system. That means that new applications will be processed in a year or less. This will give us an important advantage in the competition against other countries, like Australia, for the most talented people. We are very optimistic about these reforms, and I will now take your questions.

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