Opinion: Immigration decision shows fed ‘disconnect’

It was a decision somewhat lost in the din of other federal government miscues this summer, such as Tony Clement’s recent and somewhat inexplicable long-form census trainwreck.

But Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s recent removal of IT workers from its “fast track” program – one that allows relatively quick and easy processing for in-demand IT specialists from other countries, under Canada’s Foreign Worker Program – is so wrong-headed, it even contradicts the government’s own policy on innovation.

As a little background, the government says it can’t keep up with the pace of processing fast-tracked workers – in the first quarter of this year alone, the government says there were more than 33,000 applications.

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Minister Jason Kenney said at the time that the changes are necessary to avoid creating even more backlogs in applications. He went on to say that the number of applications received in the first quarter of this year exceeded the department’s ability to process them.

So, in response, the feds have capped number of visa applications to be reviewed from skilled immigrants at 20,000 over the next 12 months.

It also removed nine occupations, including IT workers, from its streamlined process. That process allows workers to avoid having to complete the dreaded labour market survey, which can be both time-consuming and (if you’ve ever had to deal with the professional stonewallers at HRSDC) extremely frustrating.

That can’t be good news for the heads of some of Canada’s most preeminent technology firms, who went on record just before the changes were announced.

“We would like to hire more people,” said Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada, in a media report from late June. The report came out about a week before the announcement, but Mr. Kawale declined to be interviewed for this piece.

“I think our industry is going to go through another growth phase, and it does concern us that we will not have the right kind of talent that will fuel our growth,” he said. “We had the same concern in the late 1990s when the first boom came along.”

This certainly doesn’t sound like someone in an industry with enough skilled workers, though I don’t expect you to take Mr. Kawale’s word for it.

So how about CGI VP Renaud Caron, who in the same piece said his company is also feeling the heat from a shortage of skilled IT workers?

“Integrating immigrants into our workforce is very important to maintain the quality and the quantity of our workforce,” Mr. Caron said.

Indeed, the move would even seem to contradict Canada’s own Innovation Strategy, which is tasked with “attracting and successfully integrating highly skilled immigrants into the Canadian economy and society.”

It’s in this sense that CATAAlliance CEO and president John Reid, who has been an immigration legislation watcher for decades, says the move is a step backwards for the country – and he’s right.

“If you’ve got excess demand, why don’t you see if you can extract any possible benefit from it instead of shutting it off,” he says, adding no high-tech categories are now eligible for fast-tracking.

“You would think the one thing that should have remained, to drive the government’s own innovation agenda, is the fast-track feature. If I’m a company that needs to bring someone into Canada with special skills, I should have the whole system behind me. Because that person will go elsewhere.

“There’s a disconnect there,” he continues. “It’s contradicting the larger messages, so why write big policy papers unless you’ve connected all the dots together. We’re talking about attracting and keeping the best talent and, well, that’s a global business.”

Unfortunately, this government doesn’t seem as concerned with keeping Canada’s technology industry competitive.

Let’s hope the next one will.

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