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Policy change affects immigration numbers

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In recent years, Canada's immigration system has undergone radical change. Have these changes resulted in the 16 per cent drop in new arrivals, or are there specific Manitoba problems that have caused this decrease?

Until recently, the majority of immigrants to Canada could qualify to immigrate without having a job offer from a Canadian employer. Today, priority is given to foreign nationals already working in Canada, who have been recruited to fill vacant jobs, or who have studied in Canada. In essence, Canada's immigration system has gone to one where employers choose immigrants from one where immigrants choose Canada.

From 2007 to 2011, less than one-third of Manitoba's immigrant nominees came in categories for which a job and job offer were required. During this period, almost 70 per cent of nominees did not require jobs or job offers. To this extent, Manitoba is out of step with the rest of Canada.

The move to an employer-driven immigration system has many positives. It ensures foreign nationals coming to Canada not only have jobs waiting for them, but they fill positions for which Canadian employers face shortages. While some have criticized employer-driven immigration, charging that this causes Canada to focus on fixing short-term work shortages as opposed to bringing in future Canadians who can generate a long-term economic benefits, the fact is the old system often brought in individuals who arrived unemployed and struggled to make ends meet.

An employer-driven system allows businesses to fill jobs to better meet the demands of their customers. With the increase in globalization, it is important that Canadian companies are able to compete on the world stage. The ability to access talent from anywhere is key to allowing Canadian companies to compete globally.

While there are advantages to employer-driven immigration, what is being sacrificed is family reunification -- a key to Manitoba's immigration program. While Canadians and permanent residents can still sponsor spouses and children, it is getting tougher to assist one's siblings, cousins, parents and other relatives unless they have jobs or job offers. For those who do qualify without job offers, the number of available spots has been reduced.

On a provincial level, family reunification used to be a large component of provincial nominee programs. As late as last year, four provinces had immigration streams that allowed for overseas relatives to come to Canada without job offers. Since May 2012, three of those provinces, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, changed or eliminated their family programs. While family members can still immigrate to those Canadian provinces, a job connection or business investment is necessary.

Manitoba is the only province with a viable program that still allows family members and friends to immigrate to Canada without a job offer, previous work in Canada, or previous study here. This allows Manitoba to strike a balance between employer-driven immigration and family reunification.

Manitoba, however, is redesigning its program to make it more restrictive. When the final details are announced in April, Manitoba may be criticized by those wanting to see more family reunification. When compared with what is happening in the federal system and in other provinces, however, Manitoba should be congratulated for keeping the immigration program open to a form of family reunification.

With Manitoba offering a form of family reunification, there is a potential that other Canadians will move here for the purpose of assisting their relatives to immigrate. Before changes were made to family immigration in Saskatchewan, it was reported some Canadians moved there to take advantage of its program. After their relatives arrived in Canada, they returned to their original province. Manitoba must guard against this to maintain program credibility.

While the current federal system does not provide for a great deal of family reunification, there is still some hope. Ottawa is scheduled to roll out its new skilled-worker stream in May and is also scheduled to lift the freeze on the ability of Canadians and permanent residents to sponsor parents and grandparents in the fall.

The final rollout will go a long way to determine the openness of the federal government to family reunification.

R. Reis Pagtakhan is a

Winnipeg immigration lawyer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2013 A15

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