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Changes to rules on trades overdue

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Citizenship and Immigration Canada has announced changes that will focus the federal immigration system on attracting skilled tradespeople as well as highly skilled immigrants with Canadian work experience. These changes are long overdue and provide Manitoba an opportunity to focus its immigration program to fill other gaps in the workforce.

Under past immigration programs, skilled tradespeople had a more difficult time immigrating to Canada than professionals. When workplace shortages began to emerge in skilled trades, there was no easy way for them to immigrate to Canada. Professionals, meanwhile, could still enter Canada but faced problems with being able to work in their chosen profession.

By setting up a system that will also deal with a tradesperson's foreign-obtained credentials before arrival, Canada should be able to ensure that they can make the maximum contribution to our society. While not all tradespeople will be covered by these changes, it's a step in the right direction.

Another positive change is the immigration priority that will be given to highly skilled temporary foreign workers already working in Canada. While individuals without Canadian work experience will not be automatically disqualified from immigrating to Canada, it is right to prioritize the immigration of temporary foreign workers who have contributed to Canada by working here, living here and paying taxes.

The third positive change was the creation of a "bridging" work permit that will allow temporary foreign workers already in Canada to continue to work here while their permanent residency applications are being processed.

Before the bridging work permit was brought in, many companies had to go through extra steps to allow temporary foreign workers already in Canada to continue their employment here. For many years, Manitoba was able to facilitate "bridging" work permits for immigrant applicants under Manitoba's program. By having this extended to other immigration programs, this benefit will be expanded to other works and companies.

The real test of the changes will be whether the immigration system will be able to process applications in a timely fashion.

When the previous program was cancelled earlier this year, the backlog had grown so large that some applicants had been waiting eight years for a final decision on their applications. If Canada cannot get its act together to process applications faster, these changes will result in no benefit.

As well, Canada will have to overcome its reputation as a nation that cannot be trusted. When the old immigration program was cancelled, the government announced it was also cancelling the applications of many individuals who had already applied to Canada in good faith.

The unilateral cancellation of immigration applications is the second time Canada has done something like this. In 2002, when new immigration laws came into effect, Canada declared that all immigration applications submitted before the new law was announced would only be assessed under the old law up to a certain date. The problem with this was that individuals who applied to Canada under the old law did not know about the new law when they applied nor did they have any control over whether Canada would process their applications. Only after this matter went to court did Canada back down and agree to process these applications under the old criteria.

Some will say the new rules will make it more difficult for families to reunite with their relatives from overseas and will make it more difficult for "low-skilled" workers to come here. While many of the federal changes are geared to skilled immigrants, the Provincial Nominee Program allows Manitoba to continue to attract family members and low-skilled individuals.

In fact, focusing on low-skilled workers and extended family may be the way the Manitoba program to remain relevant. If the federal program duplicates aspects of the provincial program, Manitoba may be better suited to focus on gaps still left in the federal system.

R. Reis Pagtakhan is a

Winnipeg immigration lawyer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2012 A15

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