The province’s new pilot provincial nominee program, aimed at attracting newcomers who meet Ontario’s labour shortages, is set to be rolled out soon.
However, Ontario’s minister of citizenship and immigration says there should also be a modification of the points system to match labour market needs.
Mike Colle, Ontario’s first minister of citizenship and immigration, told the Law Society of Upper Canada’s 14th annual immigration law summit in Toronto last month that Ontario’s pilot provincial nominee program, similar to those already offered by other provinces, will be underway shortly, with consultations taking place in the weeks to come - but providing no definite timeline.
“We are very anxious to get your expertise,” he told the meeting of lawyers.
“The provincial nominee program is one of the tools we’ll use to fast-track immigrants who meet certain labour market needs,” said Colle.
He noted that such needs could include investors, those who meet skilled labour shortages, and high achieving students. He noted, however, that while other provinces have used the programs to attract immigrants, Ontario has no shortage of immigrants. The program is to bring in immigrants who can fulfil specific needs and shortages.
He also added that the government does not see the program as a fix for undocumented workers.
Currently, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon have provincial nominee programs.
However, in addition to the pilot provincial nominee program, Colle also added that the provincial government sees the need for a modification of the points system to match labour market needs, noting that the current system favours those with academic and language skills but almost prohibits those who have a labour market match but not a points match.
Other initiatives the government is also considering include a temporary foreign workers annex, where those who have a good record for two years would be allowed to apply for inland processing, he noted. The same might apply for students who show great promise, he added.
Colle said the goal for Ontario is to have a defined, pronounced role in immigration and to match needs to immigration.
“Our goal is ultimately to be much like Quebec,” he said. Quebec is able to establish its own immigration requirements through the Canada-Quebec Accord on immigration.
“Ontario unequivocally wants more immigration - we think immigration is a central part of our economic and social future,” he added.
The pilot program was originally announced late last year following the signing of the first Canada-Ontario immigration agreement in November, which Colle said the Harper government has agreed to uphold. The agreement will mean an investment of $920 million over the next five years in settlement and language services.
“It’s really a significant milestone, having that agreement,” said Colle.
However, Sergio Karas, a lawyer with Toronto immigration firm Karas & Associates told Law Times that while it is a positive step for Ontario to do a provincial nominee program, he is generally not a big fan of them because they are limited in scope.
“I have a lot of misgivings with respect to the provincial nominee programs in general. I think it would be much better for the federal government to fix the immigration system. I think these are only palliative measures that do not address the depth of the failure of federal immigration policy that is not selecting the appropriate mix of immigrants for Canada.”
He said the other problem with the provincial nominee system involves mobility rights as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“As long as the federal government starts basically parceling out responsibility for selection of immigrants to the provinces, we are not going to have a national strategy that addresses the problems of the nation.
We are going to have a fragmented strategy, we are going to have a fragmented policy, and we are going to have people using the program to allegedly move into one province but ending up in another because of the mobility rights.
“It’s much better for the federal government to once and for all assume its responsibility and review immigration policy in total. This is just a band-aid solution. All the provincial nominee programs are band-aid solutions,” said Karas.
“I would think it would be much more positive for all the provinces to get together with the federal government, and synchronize their immigration policies.”
He added the provincial nominee programs do not match newcomers with employers.
“I think that the provinces, instead of fighting about who’s going to nominate whom, they should throw down the gauntlet to the federal government and challenge the federal government to completely rethink immigration policy as a whole for Canada.
Not just province by province, because mobility rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights make it impossible to hold anyone accountable to live in any specific province,” he said.
“As a matter of policy, I don’t think it’s good policy to have 10 different immigration policies in Canada. I think we need to have just one and make it a good one.”