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Snap changes to immigration rules unfair

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Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently made a surprise announcement entitled "Improving the Canadian Experience Class." The Canadian experience class is an immigration program that allows foreigners with Canadian work experience to live here permanently. Reviewed more closely, the change is not an improvement at all.

Not only do the changes take away immigration opportunities for individuals with Canadian work experience, they do so unfairly.

The Canadian experience class allows foreign skilled workers who have worked in Canada in managerial, professional, technical or skilled trades occupations to immigrate here. To qualify, these individuals must have worked in Canada for at least one year in the last three years and must pass an English or French test.

If there is any type of immigrant to encourage to come to Canada, it is immigrants with Canadian work experience who are functional in English or French. These immigrants have high skills and Canadian experience and training. In addition, many are currently working in Canada and contribute to our economy, help their employers build their businesses, and pay Canadian taxes.

The changes cap the number of foreigners with Canadian work experience to be accepted under the program. For the next year, only 12,000 applications will be accepted. With the announcement approximately 15,000 people with Canadian work experience will be admitted in 2014, the demand for this program will outstrip the supply.

In addition, the federal government also said it would no longer take applications from cooks, food service and retail sales supervisors, accounting technicians and bookkeepers, and administrative officers and assistants. Before the "improvements," these people could all apply under the Canadian experience class. Suddenly, without warning, their ability to apply was taken away.

In the past, changes to immigration programs came with weeks or months of notice. Blindsiding potential immigrants with abrupt change is unfair. Had the government made the changes effective at the end the year, there would be a level of fairness.

This is not the first time the Harper government has treated prospective immigrants unfairly. In 2011, they put a freeze on family-class applications for parents and grandparents with one day's notice. In 2012, they unilaterally cancelled applications made by thousands of foreigners under previous immigration programs. If Canada wishes to gain the confidence of individuals who we want to attract to this country, it is important we give people adequate notice of any changes.

The decision to restrict the applicants with Canadian work experience is even more curious when the government is simultaneously pushing legislation through Parliament to create a new immigration process called an "expression of interest."

While details of this plan have not been fully worked out, the Canadian government has announced this system will be in operation by January of 2015.

According to the government background documents, prospective immigrants can indicate their interest in coming to Canada by providing the equivalent of a resumé. Foreigners who meet the eligibility criteria will have their expression of interest placed in a pool and ranked. Canada would then invite the "best candidates" to apply. In addition, Canadian employers and provincial nominee programs will be allowed to find candidates in the expression of interest pool that meet the skills requirements of the domestic workforce.

While the expression of interest system has its benefits, and should be a good change overall, why should we bring in people with no Canadian work experience when there are perfectly good candidates with Canadian work experience waiting to apply? If anything, Canada should increase the number of applications from people with Canadian work experience. Clearly, people who are already living, working and paying taxes here will have a better chance of successfully integrating than a foreigner who has never been here. Increasing applications for people with Canadian experience should be used in addition to the expression of interest system.

If the government wants to limit the number of immigrants with Canadian work experience, they can mitigate this damage by providing more resources to the provinces to select immigrants through their provincial nominee programs. The Canadian government recently announced a record number of provincial nominees will be approved in 2014. Given the surprise cut to the number of applicants with Canadian work experience, it would be nice to see the Canadian government make a surprise announcement increasing provincial immigration numbers.


R. Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 28, 2013 A15

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