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paper series

Missing the Point(s)

The declining fortunes of Canada’s

economic immigration program

Edwina O’Shea
Bosch Fellow, Transatlantic Academy
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Missing the Point(s)
The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program

Transatlantic Academy Paper Series

April 2009

Edwina O’Shea*
Bosch Fellow, Transatlantic Academy

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Origins of the Points-based Selection System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s: Emerging Discontents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Preparing for a New Century . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
Economic Immigration Post IRPA: Continuing Malaise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Ad Hoc Responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Back to the Future: Bill C-50 and a Return to Labor Market Driven Criteria . . . . . . . . 22
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

* Edwina O’Shea is a senior policy analyst with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, most recently
working on asylum and refugee issues. She has conducted comparative analyses of Canadian and U.S. asylum polices and
practices, as well as research into decision-making in the Canadian refugee resettlement program. Ms. O’Shea has also
worked in Canadian diplomatic missions abroad conducting refugee, immigrant, and non-immigrant selection in Thailand,
Nepal, Singapore, and Kenya. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political studies from Queen’s University and a master’s degree
in political science from the University of Toronto, Canada. The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author
alone, and do not represent the views of Citizenship and Immmigration Canada.
1 Introduction

Finding the right model to manage an economic 600,000 are economic migrants. As a result of this
immigration program is certainly a topical backlog, processing times have lengthened to the
challenge. In Europe, several countries are in point that applications wait three to five years
the process of moving from traditional family- for a decision. At the same time there is evidence
dominated immigration to systems based on that recent immigrants earn considerably less
selection for economic potential. France, for than Canadians—and that the gap is larger than
example, has set the goal of selecting half of its was the case for previous cohorts of immigrants.
immigrants on economic criteria. The Canadian public is well aware that many Canada has a
immigrants selected for their skills and education long tradition
Canada has a long tradition of managing an are underemployed.
economic immigration program, but despite 40 of managing
years of experience the Canadian system is today In the past two years a series of measures have an economic
in a state of flux. Change is nothing new within been implemented, some administrative and immigration
the Canadian system: since its beginning in the others legal. Most dramatically, in 2008, legislative program, but
1960s, there has been a consistent tension between amendments brought the promise of far-reaching despite 40 years
pressures to respond to the demands of the labor change. But what really can these measures achieve? of experience
market and a sense of how immigration might meet Do they really address the causes of the present the Canadian
the longer-term needs of the country. dilemmas? What can new immigrants expect as a system is today
result of the recent changes? And does this mean in a state of flux.
There can be no doubt that the current system that the Canadian model for selecting economic
is facing severe pressures. More than 800,000 immigrants—the human capital model—has been
people have applications pending a decision, by proven a failure?
far the largest number. Of that number roughly

Missing the Point(s): 3

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
2 Origins of the Points-based
Selection System

Contrary to popular belief, the Canadian points criteria based on objective factors that assessed the
system for selecting economic immigrants skills and experience of individual migrants.
predates the 1976 Immigration Act. In fact, it
dates back to the mid 1960s, when the Canadian The proposals set out in the 1966 White Paper were
immigration system was at a crossroad. Despite implemented in 1967 through two main initiatives.
initial reforms in 1962, vestiges of national First, with the creation of the Department of
preferences that favored migrants from Europe Manpower and Immigration, responsibility for
Henceforth, and the Americas remained embedded in the both labor market and immigration policy was
economic system. These preferences had brought the combined within the same organization. This
immigration program into visible conflict with the administrative structure was seen as essential to
immigrants would
Canadian Bill of Rights, which came into force in realizing the vision of an immigration program that
be assessed
1960 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of was responsive to the needs of the Canadian labor
against a set of market. Next, regulations were enacted establishing
selection factors criteria such as race, national origin, or religion.
At the same time, the immigration program was what came to be known as the “points system”3 for
that measured the assessment of “independent” immigrants (that
seen as disconnected from the economy, with
the potential of is, immigrants not sponsored by a Canadian family
sponsored migrants dominating admissions,
the individual regardless of their skills or experience. Sponsored member).
to successfully immigration had been uncontroversial in the Henceforth, economic immigrants would be
establish herself decade of economic growth following the end of assessed against a set of selection factors that
in Canada. World War II, but became controversial in the measured the potential of the individual to
1960s as the demand for skilled labor increased successfully establish him or herself in Canada.
even as unemployment among lower skilled
The factors addressed two broad sets of attributes:
workers grew. In 1966, the Liberal government first, what today would be called the applicant’s
released a White Paper1 on immigration policy “human capital”—for example, his or her education
that laid out proposals for reform.2
and language ability. The second element of the
The White Paper recognized the role of selection factors sought to align the immigration
immigration in supporting both economic process with the needs of the labor market.
and population growth. While it affirmed the
The primary link between the selection factors and
importance of family reunification as a component
the labor market was a factor coined “occupational
of the immigration program, the White Paper
demand.” Tracking the demand for specific
announced the government’s intention to better
occupations within the national labor market
align the immigration program with the needs
was the responsibility of the manpower side of
of the labor market and complete the work of
the new department, which maintained a list of
removing the last vestiges of national or racial
occupations in demand as a tool for immigration
preferences from the program. The means of
officers. The factor identified as “specific vocational
achieving this goal would be universal selection
preparation” is a measure of the amount of training
and education required to work in a particular
  Department of Manpower and Immigration. White Paper on occupation. It overlaps both with education, a
Immigration. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1966. 
  In Canada a “White Paper” is a statement of settled 3
  CIC. Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and
government policy that is usually followed by legislative or other Immigration.
initiatives. publications/legacy/chap-6.asp#chap6-7

4 Transatlantic Academy
Table 1. Selection Factors in the 1967 Immigration Regulations
Factor Maximum Units Notes
Age 10
Education 20
Language Ability 10
Demand While the 1967
Specific Vocational regulations
Preparation (SVP) laid the basis
Personal Suitability 15 for a selection
system that
Bonus Factors would be familiar
to Canadian
Employment/ Ten units awarded for an approved job offer; or if immigration
10 practitioners in
Designated occupation listed on the Designated Occupation List
Employment 2009, it remained
Assisted Relative 35 to 50 Depending on the nature of the relationship embedded in
legislation dating
back to 1952.
Pass Mark 50
Source: Green and Green, 19994

human capital factor, and with occupation, a assessment of human capital factors. In addition,
labor-market factor, but because of its alignment however, an immigration officer’s subjective
with the applicant’s ability to work in the Canadian assessment of the applicant’s “personal suitability”
labor market can be considered as primarily a (not anywhere defined) was worth up to 15 points.
labor market factor. Labor market factors made up Finally, reflecting the long-standing connection
a potential maximum of 35 points, with 50 points between family links and immigration criteria,
required to pass. These factors were, therefore, not the presence of family members in Canada could
sufficient in themselves to determine the success of win the applicant between 35 and 50 bonus points,
an application. clearly enough to make the difference between
success and failure.
In addition to education (20 points) and language
ability (10 points), the applicant’s age was also While the 1967 regulations laid the basis for a
assessed, with up to 10 points awarded. A total of selection system that would be familiar to Canadian
40 points were potentially at stake based on the immigration practitioners in 2009, it remained
embedded in legislation dating back to 1952. In
  Green, Alan G. and Green, David A., “The Economic Goals of the early 1970s, a new Liberal government, headed
Canada’s Immigration Policy: Past and Present” Canadian Public
Policy, Vol. XXV, No. 4 1999.
by Pierre Trudeau, undertook the task of more

Missing the Point(s): 5

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
comprehensive immigration reform, followed by available for education was reduced, from 20 to 12
a process of public consultation centered around a (with the maximum points awarded to high school
Green Paper5 published in 1975. The Green Paper graduates). The weight of the immigration officer’s
was the basis for national consultations, led by a subjective assessment of personal suitability was
joint committee of the House of Commons and reduced, but the value of family links to Canada
Senate; hearings were held across Canada in 21 remained important. Overall, up to 48 points were
cities, and the committee received more than 1,400 potentially at stake based on labor market factors,
written briefs. On the basis of the committee’s while human capital elements amounted to only 32
report,6 legislation was enacted in 1976. Two years points; these changes made by the new regulations
later, new regulations were enacted that brought the represented a clear shift toward greater alignment
act into force.7 As part of the 1978 regulations, a with labor market needs.
revised set of selection factors were established.
In addition to the revised selection factors, two
As Table 2 shows, only modest changes were other innovations in the 1976 Immigration Act are
made to the selection factors first established in worth noting. Annual planning of immigration
1967. Based on recommendations made by the levels was now required, with the government
joint parliamentary committee, an effort was obliged to report to the House of Commons on its
made to strengthen the labor-market relevance plans for the following year. The act also recognized
of the selection criteria. This was reflected in the that the Constitution makes immigration a shared
introduction of a new factor that awarded points jurisdiction between the federal government
based on the number of years of experience in and provinces, and required regular consultation
a particular occupation. The number of points between the two levels of government in the annual
planning exercise. As part of the evolving dynamic
of relations between Quebec and the Federal
  In Canada a “Green Paper” is a tool used to support public
debate on a particular issue; it lays out possible options, without government that marked the 1970s, this shared
committing the government to action. jurisdiction was given real force in 1978 through an
  Special Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of agreement that devolved authority for the selection
Commons on Immigration Policy, Report to Parliament. Ottawa:
Queen’s Printer, 1975.
of economic immigrants to the government of
  CIC. Forging Our Legacy: Canadian Citizenship and

6 Transatlantic Academy
Table 2. Selection Factors in the 1978 Immigration Regulations
Factor Maximum Units Notes
Age 10
Education 12
Language Ability 10
Specific Vocational
Preparation (SVP)
Experience 8
Personal Suitability 10

Bonus Factors
Employment/ Ten units awarded for an approved job offer; or if
Designated occupation listed on the Designated Occupation List
Assisted Relative 35 to 50 Depending on the nature of the relationship

Pass Mark 50
Source: Green and Green, 1999

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The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
3 Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s:
Emerging Discontents

The economic downturn that hit Canada With the lifting of restrictions on independent
in the early 1980s with accompanying high immigration that accompanied economic recovery
unemployment led to measures to reduce in the mid 1980s came renewed attention to the
immigration, and in particular measures were taken effectiveness of the selection criteria, with concerns
to limit independent immigrants. The result can be evident that immigrants were being selected who
seen in Table 3. Thanks to measures that effectively might not have the personal attributes necessary to
restricted access to economic immigrants who had successfully integrate in Canada. As Table 4 shows,
The economic an approved job offer, the economic component the selection criteria was amended to rebalance the
downturn that hit of total immigration scarcely exceeded 30 percent human capital/labor market factors, with points
Canada in the until 1986, when the arranged employment penalty being transferred from occupational demand to the
early 1980s with was lifted. language factor. Several other changes were made
accompanying high to enhance the government’s ability to manage the
unemployment led selection system.
to measures to
reduce immigration. Table 3. Economic Immigrants as Component of Total Immigration, 1983 to 1992
Year Total Immigrants Percentage
1983 24,187 89,192 27.1
1984 26,079 88,276 29.5
1985 26,112 84,345 31.0
1986 35,839 99,353 36.1
1987 74,103 152,069 48.7
1988 80,220 161,574 49.6
1989 90,145 191,550 47.1
1990 97,930 216,445 45.2
1991 86,507 232,803 37.2
1992 95,803 254,818 37.6
Source: Green and Green, 1999

8 Transatlantic Academy
Table 4. Selection Factors, as Revised in 1986
Factor Maximum Units Notes
Age 10
Education 12
Language Ability 15 Raised from ten
10 Reduced from 15
Demand With the lifting
Specific Vocational of restrictions
Preparation (SVP) on independent
Experience 8 immigration that
Personal Suitability 10 accompanied
New tool designed to managed levels; set at five points economic recovery
Demographic Factor 10 in the mid 1980s
came renewed
attention to the
Bonus Factors
of the selection
10 criteria.
Assisted Relative 10 Substantially reduced

Pass Mark 70 Raised from 50

Source: Green and Green, 1999

Missing the Point(s): 9

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
The years following 1986 saw continued debate original vision of the 1978 regulations, with
over both immigration levels, in particular the increasing emphasis placed on core human capital
balance between economic and other immigrants, factors—language and education—and less weight
and the effectiveness of the selection factors. given to the role of the labor market.
Again, the balance between human capital and
labor market relevance was at play, with particular In addition to the amendments to the selection
attention given to the need for better educated criteria, the early 1990s saw increased interest
The early 1990s workers in the rapidly evolving economy. In 1993, in adjusting the balance between economic and
saw increased as part of a package of amendments to the act and noneconomic immigrants. Provinces, employers,
regulations, the selection factors were amended, and academics were increasingly making the
interest in
again to reinforce the human capital component argument that the modern Canadian economy
adjusting the
in the form of the education factor. Taken together needed not only better educated immigrants, it
balance between needed more of them. Despite the increase in total
economic and with the 1986 measures, the effect was by 1993
to move a considerable distance away from the immigration post-1986, the share of economic
Table 5. Selection Factors, as Amended in 1993
Factor Maximum Units Notes
Age 10
Raised from 12; university or other postsecondary
Education 16
credential required to exceed ten units
Language Ability 15
Specific Vocational
18 Raised from 15
Preparation (SVP)
Experience 8
Personal Suitability 10
Demographic Factor 10

Bonus Factors
Assisted Relative 5 Reduced from ten

Pass Mark 70 Raised from 50

Source: Green and Green, 1999

10 Transatlantic Academy
immigrants had not reached 50 percent by 1992.
The result was a policy decision in 1996 to strive
for what came to be known as the “60/40 split” in
which immigration levels planning would reflect the
goal of 60 percent of immigrant admissions coming
from the economic categories, with the remaining
40 percent drawn from family reunification and
refugee categories. While not a legal requirement, The result was a
this policy goal was largely achieved in subsequent policy decision
years, as is shown in Table 6. in 1996 to strive
for what came to
be known as the
“60/40 split” in
Table 6. Economic Immigrants as Component of Total Immigration, 1993 to 2003 which immigration
Economic levels planning
Year Total Immigrants Proportion
Immigrants would reflect the
1993 105,662 256,703 41.2 goal of 60 percent
1994 102,312 224,397 45.6
of immigrant
1995 106,632 212,872 50.1
coming from
1996 125,370 226,073 55.5
the economic
1997 128,351 216,038 59.4 categories, with
1998 97,911 174,197 56.2 the remaining 40
1999 109,251 189,955 57.5 percent drawn
2000 136,292 227,458 59.9 from family
2001 155,718 250,638 62.1 reunification
2002 137,864 229,049 60.2 and refugee
2003 121,045 221,349 54.7 categories.
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada (Facts and Figures 2007)8

  CIC 2007. “Facts and Figures 2007 Immigration Overview:
Permanent and Temporary Residents.” Citizenship and
Immigration Canada. Retrieved at
resources/statistics /facts2007/index.asp

Missing the Point(s): 11

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
4 Preparing for a New Century

By the mid 1990s, and despite modest legislative reference at all to labor market demand. Instead,
and policy reforms earlier in the decade, there was a the focus was entirely on what the report referred
sense within the government that more fundamental to as “core competencies,” defined as education,
reform was necessary. The Immigration Act language ability, and experience in any skilled
was now 20 years old and had gone through occupation. Other recommendations included a
numerous ad hoc revisions. In November 1996, proposal that provinces take on greater responsibility
an independent Legislative Advisory Group for the selection of immigrants whose admission
During the 1990s (LRAG) made up of three independent experts would meet specific social or economic needs, as
research by was appointed to undertake a comprehensive study determined by each province. Often overlooked
both academics of the act and regulations. In December 1997, it at the time, this concept would take on increasing
and officials delivered its report, entitled “Not Just Numbers: A importance in later years. The government
began to point Canadian Framework for Future Immigration.” The responded to the LRAG report following a process
to evidence that report called for an ambitious program of legislative of public consultations with the publication in 1998
reform: in place of amendments to specific sections of a White Paper, entitled “Building on a Strong
recent economic
of the existing law, an entirely new legal framework Foundation for the 21st Century.”10 In the White
immigrants were
was proposed. Paper, the government laid out its vision for a
experiencing reformed economic immigration selection system.
more difficulty During the 1990s, research by both academics The government noted the evidence that immigrants
integrating into and officials began to point to evidence that were experiencing deteriorating earnings, and
the Canadian recent economic immigrants were experiencing pointed to a selection system, with occupation
economy than had more difficulty integrating into the Canadian demand at its core, that had first been conceived in
been the case economy than had been the case in the 1970s. the 1960s. In fact, the government argued, the effort
Academic studies in the previous two decades to micro-manage immigration based on demand
in the 1970s.
had recognized that new immigrants experienced for specific occupations in the national labor market
lower earnings than Canadian-born workers, but was ineffective and created unrealistic expectations
that the gap narrowed and eventually disappeared. among new immigrants.
Beginning in the 1990s, research started to point
to a widening gap that narrowed more slowly than Instead, and building on the LRAG recommen-
in the past.9 Although immigrants in the1980s dations, the White Paper proposed a selection
and early 1990s were better educated and more system based on the concept of “human capital.”
highly qualified than previous cohorts, their Immigrants would be assessed against selection
economic situation had actually deteriorated factors that addressed the skills and competen-
in comparison to the earlier groups. cies needed for success in the rapidly changing,
knowledge-based economy. Central to the “human
Despite these findings, which raised concerns capital model” were language ability, education, and
about the value accorded by Canadian employers experience in any skilled occupation. No assess-
to education and training outside of Canada, the ment of labor market demand would be included,
LRAG report recommended a new system for although immigrants with an approved job offer
selecting economic immigrants that made no would receive bonus points. Instead of a high
  Picot, Garnett & Sweetman, Arthur, 2005. “The Deteriorating
Economic Welfare of Immigrants and Possible Causes: Update 10
  CIC. “Building a Strong Foundation for the 21st Century:
2005.” Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series New Directions for Immigration and Refugee Policy and
2005262e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch. Legislation,” 1998.

12 Transatlantic Academy
subjective assessment of an immigrant’s personal only five points are awarded to high school graduates
suitability, immigration officers would award points and no points for less than high school. Language is
based on objective indicators of potential to adapt, also heavily weighted and is worth up to 24 points.
such as previous work or study in Canada by either Under IRPA applicants may be required to submit
the applicant or his or her spouse. proof of language ability, normally based on an
assessment of a third-party language test such as
This vision was realized in 2002 with the the British Council ILETS. Adaptability, which
implementation of the Immigration and Refugee replaces the former personal suitability factor, is The IRPA
Protection Act (IRPA). Table 7 lays out the human based on a limited number of specified attributes, selection factors
capital selection factors that included a pass mark such as the presence of relatives in Canada or
set at 67 points. represent an
previous work or study in Canada, is worth up to
almost complete
IRPA assigns relatively little weight to an applicant’s ten points. Applicants between the ages of 21 and 49
ability to work in a specific occupation. While receive a full ten points against the age factor, which
of a “human
a substantial number of points are awarded for represents a slightly wider range than was the case
previously when applicants older than 44 began to capital model”
experience in a skilled occupation (defined as for managing
an occupation at the National Occupational lose points.
Classification level 0, A, or B), it matters little which As can be seen in Table 7, the IRPA selection immigration.
occupation. There is no longer any concept of jobs factors represent an almost complete realization of
in demand or designated occupations. In place of the a “human capital model” for managing economic
focus on an applicant’s training and experience in a immigration. The only nod in the direction of
specific job, under IRPA visa, officers focus more on responding to labor market requirements is in the
the applicant’s education and language ability. The retention of ten bonus points for applicants with an
education factor, which is worth up to 25 points, is approved job offer. The critical factors are clearly
heavily weighted in favor of university qualifications:

Table 7. Selection Factors in the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations
Factor Maximum Units Notes
Age 10 Applicants between 21 and 49 receive full points
Education 25
Language Ability 24
Based on objective criteria; includes five units for
Adaptability 10
presence of relative in Canada

Bonus Factors

Pass Mark 67
Source: Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 2002

Missing the Point(s): 13

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
education and language ability, worth a possible 49 governments. In the years following the imple­
points between them. The emphasis on these two mentation of IRPA, all ten provinces began to
factors, and in particular the weight assigned to expand the size and scope of what were known
university education, was somewhat controversial as provincial nominee programs. Established
at the time, as trade unions and employers warned through individual agreements between the federal
that skilled trades persons would be disadvantaged government and each province, the provincial
in favor of white-collar workers. Although nominee program provides flexibility to respond to
consistent with the direction of amendments in specific local needs that may not be well addressed
1986 and 1993, this emphasis was also at odds with by the IRPA selection criteria. Initially, the number
emerging research on the economic integration of of applications that each province could nominate
immigrants in Canada. in a given year was limited, but the numerical caps
contained in the federal-provincial agreements
In addition to changes to the selection criteria for were gradually eliminated, and provincial
skilled workers (formerly known as independent nominee numbers grew each year following IRPA
immigrants), IRPA affirmed the role of provincial implementation.

14 Transatlantic Academy
5 Economic Immigration Post IRPA:
Continuing Malaise

In the years following the introduction of IRPA, proportions. By that year12 some 800,000 people
public and stakeholder discontent with the state of had applications pending a decision; more than
the immigration program, and in particular with 500,000 of the applications were in the traditional
the economic immigration program, focused on skilled worker category. The cause was quite simply
two main concerns: long and growing processing a situation in which demand out-paced both
times, linked to a massive inventory of unprocessed the government’s desired level of intake and the
applications, and the perception that skilled system’s operational capacity. IRPA had maintained
immigrants were wasting their potential after the statutory requirement for annual levels By 2006 some
arriving in Canada (the apocryphal immigrant taxi planning through the requirement that the minster 800,000 people
driver with a Ph.D.). Both of these concerns were of immigration present an immigration plan to had applications
real and pressing. For example, in 2007, over half of parliament each year. The total number of planned
pending a
the applications finalized had been in the inventory admissions remained remarkably consistent in
decision; more
for more than three years. A substantial number the post-IRPA period, in a range between 220 and
than 500,000 of
(20 percent) had been waiting for a decision for 260,000 immigrants in all categories.13 As more
more than 68 months—almost five years!11 These applications were received than were finalized, the the applications
processing times certainly make Canada a less backlog grew and processing times lengthened. Or, were in the
attractive destination for potential immigrants; the more accurately, more skilled worker applications traditional skilled
long lag time between application and arrival also were received than could be finalized, the backlog worker category.
means that immigrants selected under IRPA only of skilled worker applications grew, and processing
started to arrive in Canada several years after IRPA times for skilled workers grew longer, as is shown
came into force. in Table 8.

At the same time, academic research continued to What is common to the categories that boast
show that immigrants were earning less compared relatively quick processing is that applications are
to native born Canadians, and that their education processed as they are received, and because there
and professional credentials did not bring them the is no limit on output, applications do not have
same reward that a Canadian would expect. Less to wait in a backlog for their turn. The federal-
well known, but of great concern to practitioners skilled worker category does have a limit, albeit
and immigration experts in Canada, were several an administrative one that is simply a function
trends, outlined below, that contributed to both the of the relationship between overall immigration
backlog and declining immigrant outcomes. levels and the priority economic categories. As will
be shown, the priority economic categories have
Processing times and the “backlog” grown, and in turn the number of federal-skilled
While inventories, or backlogs, were nothing new worker admissions has shrunk, meaning that
in the world of Canadian immigration, by 2006 applications wait longer for a decision.
the scale of the problem was reaching mammoth

  See remarks by the Honorable Monte Solberg, minister of
citizenship and immigration, before the House of Commons
Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, May 10,
  Source: application processing times as posted on CICs public
web-site. Note that these figures are global; applications in 13
  See the Annual Report to Parliament, 2003 to 2008. Available
some offices were finalized more quickly while others took even at:
longer to finalize. asp

Missing the Point(s): 15

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
Table 8. Processing Times in Selected (finalizations) created a perfect storm that led to
Immigrant Categories, 2007 the situation in which more than half a million
applicants must wait years for a decision, a major
blow to Canada’s ability to compete with other
Processing time (months)
Immigrant major immigrant-receiving countries.
for 50 percent/80 percent
of cases Deteriorating immigrant outcomes
Between 1980 By the middle of the present decade, academic
and 2000, the All Applications 12/37
studies were confirming the trend of declining
earnings of Federal-Skilled
36/68 immigrant earnings, in comparison with both
immigrant men Workers
native-born Canadians and earlier immigrant
fell by 13 percent, Quebec-Skilled cohorts. These findings, which drew on a
while the earnings Workers longitudinal immigrant database maintained by
of Canadian- Provincial Citizenship and Immigration Canada, as well as
born men rose Nominees census and tax-filing data, showed that earnings
by 10 percent. Family Class remained well below Canadian norms despite the
(spouses and 5/8 increasing weight in the late 1990s of immigrants
partners) selected for their economic characteristics—and
Family Class despite reforms in the late 1980s and early 1990s
(parents and 11/21 that were intended to make the selection criteria
grandparents) for economic immigrants more in tune with the
modern economy. This finding is of particular
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada14 concern because the late 1990s were also years of
strong economic growth, with strong employment
growth. Between 1980 and 2000, the earnings
But the limited room to finalize skilled worker of immigrant men fell by 13 percent, while the
applications is only part of the explanation for the earnings of Canadian-born men rose by 10 percent.
backlog of federal-skilled worker applications. Prior Earnings for immigrant women did rise by 6
to IRPA, applicants who did not have experience in percent during the same period, but this was still
an occupation listed on the General Occupations well behind earnings growth for Canadian-born
List—an occupation in demand in the Canadian women.15 Immigrants in the 1990s were also less
labor market—were barred from applying. Post- able to close the earnings gap over time than had
IRPA, any applicant with at least one year of been the case for earlier immigrant cohorts. By
experience in any skilled occupation may submit the early years of the present decade, immigrants
an application. Without the control previously who arrived in the 1970s were earning more than
afforded by the occupational demand factor, intake Canadian-born workers while immigrants who
of skilled worker applications ballooned. The arrived in the 1980s were earning 85 percent of
combination of rising intake and falling output Canadian salaries. Immigrants who arrived in the

  Picot, Garnett & Sweetman, Arthur, 2005. “The Deteriorating
Economic Welfare of Immigrants and Possible Causes: Update
2005.” Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series
2005262e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.

16 Transatlantic Academy
1990s were earning roughly 70 percent of Canadian important tendency can be observed with respect
salaries, though this figure in part reflects the to foreign work experience, where experience in
shorter period of time spent in the workforce.16 “nontraditional” countries provides fewer returns
than does experience in the United States or
Along with findings of declining earnings, even Europe. Taken together these findings suggest that
over time, came evidence that immigrants with the decline in the economic performance of recent
university education and professional qualifications immigrants can be explained in large part as the
were unable to benefit from those qualifications in result of the changing composition of immigrant These findings
the job market. While immigrant degree holders, intake. As immigration from “nontraditional” suggest that
for example, did report higher earnings than source countries increased, fewer immigrants
less qualified immigrants, they remained well the decline in
arrived in Canada speaking English or French at
behind their Canadian counterparts. Immigrants the economic
the same level as native-born Canadians, and their
from “nontraditional” source countries in Asia, performance of
experience and credentials are less valued by the
Africa, and South America, were worse off than recent immigrants
labor market.17
immigrants from Western Europe. A more can be explained
in large part
as the result of
the changing
composition of
immigrant intake.

  Aydemir, Abdurrahman & Skuterud, Mikal, 2004. “Explaining
the Deteriorating Entry Earnings of Canada’s Immigrant
Cohorts: 1966-2000.” Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper
Series 2004225e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.

Missing the Point(s): 17

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
6 Ad Hoc Responses

Foreign credential recognition the various requirements to be licensed to work in

As the declining economic fortunes of recent
immigrants became better known both within Growing numbers of provincial nominees
governments and in the broader public, the issue
of foreign credential recognition became a matter As was noted earlier, following the recommendation
of considerable controversy. Although academic of the LRAG report, the federal government
research, as described above, suggested that the began in the late 1990s to negotiate agreements
most important factor affecting immigrant earnings with provinces, delegating authority to provincial
was the lack of recognition by Canadian employers authorities to nominate economic immigrants.
of overseas experience in “nontraditional” source The federal government retained responsibility for
countries, this was not the aspect of the problem admission, including ensuring that applicants met
that resonated with the public. Instead, driven health, security, and public safety criteria, but the
largely by stories of immigrant professionals unable economic assessment was made by the nominating
to work in their field due to obscure or unfair province. These applicants were not assessed against
licensing procedures by Canadian authorities, the the federal selection factors. While the number of
federal government sought to find ways to help provincial nominees admitted each year was initially
immigrants gain recognition for their education very small, by 2005, the year in which backlogs and
and qualifications. Very quickly this effort ran into processing times for skilled workers began to receive
legal complications: provinces have constitutional real attention, the number of provincial nominees
jurisdiction over the many independent licensing was becoming more significant.
bodies, and given the fractitious state of relations As is shown in Table 9, the annual admission of
between the two levels of government, federal provincial nominees grew quickly from less than
prescriptions were unwelcome. After considerable 500 in 1999, the first year of the program, to more
intergovernmental discussions, the federal than 17,000 in 2007.
government established in early 2007 a new Foreign
Credential Referral Office (FCRO) with a mandate While the program had originally been conceived
to assist immigrants in navigating the complexities as a way to provide flexibility to respond to
of the licensing process. No substantive legal or specific local needs that were not well addressed
regulatory changes in the credential assessment by IRPA’s “human capital model,” it quickly
process resulted from this initiative, but at least became attractive to applicants and their legal
immigrants would now have easily accessible representatives as an alternative to the long
resources available to help them make sense of processing times affecting the skilled worker

Table 9. Provincial Nominee Admissions, 1999 to 2007

Year 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
(including 477 1,252 1,274 2,127 4,418 6,288 8,047 13,336 17,095

Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada (Facts and Figures 2007)

18 Transatlantic Academy
category. This is because, as described above, in late 2008 may reduce demand for foreign labor,
provincial nominee applications are processed as there will likely be some lag time before numbers
a priority category, with no numerical limit. With fall significantly.
admissions nearing 20,000 in 2007, this priority
processing was beginning to have an impact on Two factors drove the recent increase in temporary
the number of skilled worker applications that foreign worker arrivals. The first, a new openness
could be finalized. to lower-skilled workers to meet demand in certain
regions of the country was largely unconnected to
This trend toward
Expansion of the Temporary Foreign the permanent immigration program. A second
a two-step
Worker program factor, though, was directly linked to backlogs and
processing times for skilled workers. Frustrated process helped
Parallel to the permanent immigration stream, with delays in the permanent immigration system, drive temporary
Canada has for many years allowed foreign employers began to seek to bring prospective foreign worker
nationals to work on a temporary basis, filling immigrants into the country using temporary volumes to record
short-term or specialized needs in the labor work permits (usually issued in a matter of weeks levels, and forced
market. With the exception of agricultural rather than the year needed for a skilled worker the government
laborers who come to Canada under the auspices application to be processed) and at the same time to reallocate
of bilateral agreements with Mexico and several began to lobby for a new approach to selecting resources from
Commonwealth Caribbean countries, most of economic immigrants that would emulate the permanent
these temporary foreign workers filled jobs that two step process in the United States and other
were highly skilled. Generally employers wishing immigrant
developed countries. While workers in Canada
to hire a temporary foreign worker are required to processing.
with temporary status had always had the option
show they have been unable to locate a qualified of submitting an immigration application at a
Canadian. There are exceptions, for example, Canadian consulate in the United States (a process
under the North American Free Trade Agreement known as the “Buffalo Shuffle”), in early 2007,
(NAFTA), professionals and certain other skilled the government announced a new immigration
workers may work temporarily in Canada (as may category that would provide a streamlined path
Canadians in the United States). to permanent residence for workers who had
spent at least two years in Canada, as well as
The number of temporary foreign workers
foreign students who had completed their studies
admitted to Canada, as well as the total population
in Canada. This trend toward a two-step process
of foreign nationals working in Canada with
helped drive temporary foreign worker volumes
temporary status, began to grow dramatically
to record levels, and forced the government to
in 2005 (see Table 10). The trend continued on
reallocate resources from permanent immigrant
through 2007, and while the economic downturn

Table 10. Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada, 1997 to 2007

Year 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Admitted 107,221 116,651 119,775 111,016 103,426 112,720 122,848 139,279 165,198
Total 165,755 178,587 187,561 182,694 180,884 199,867 225,481 257,028 302,307
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada (Facts and Figures 2007)

Missing the Point(s): 19

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
processing to the handling of temporary visa and The requirements of the new CEC represented
work permit files, reducing the operational capacity a dramatic departure from the IRPA selection
to finalize skilled workers as a consequence. criteria. Divided into two streams, one for persons
who had been working in Canada as temporary
Canada Experience Class foreign workers for at least two years, the other
for persons who had been foreign students in
In early 2007 the Canadian government announced
Canada, the CEC moved away from the points
plans to amend the IRPA regulations creating a
Each of these system. In introducing the CEC, the government
new economic immigration category—the Canada
measures sought made clear that applications processed under
Experience Class (CEC). As described above, the
to respond to one the new category would be given priority in
new CEC was a response to growing frustrations
aspect or another processing that would mean processing times
with lengthy processing times for other economic
of the discontents equivalent to Provincial Nominee or Quebec
immigration applications, a problem explicitly
selected cases. This would mean applications
plaguing the post- acknowledged in the Regulatory Impact Statement
would typically be finalized within 12 months or
IRPA economic that accompanied the publication of the proposed
less, as compared to the 36 to 68 months required
immigration regulations. Interestingly the regulatory package
to finalize a skilled worker. Equally important, the
program… For the also pointed to other concerns with the existing
CEC would be implemented “within levels,” that
most part, though, skilled worker category, noting in particular that:
is, for every CEC immigrant issued a visa, there
the solutions “the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) would be one fewer spot for another applicant—in
addressed only is facing challenges that are hampering practice one fewer skilled worker. Both these
the symptoms, our labor market responsiveness and our decisions only added to the pressure on the skilled
not the causes, ability to compete internationally for skilled worker category.
of the problems. workers...the FSWP’s emphasis on formal
Impact of the ad hoc responses
education limits its responsiveness to labor
market demand for skilled tradespersons…. Each of these measures sought to respond to one
as a result, employers are increasingly turning aspect or another of the discontents plaguing the
to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to post-IRPA economic immigration program. For
meet their human resource needs…”18 the most part, though, the solutions addressed only
the symptoms, not the causes, of the problems. In
Less than six years after the implementation of a
some cases, the new measures actually exacerbated
comprehensive new act and regulations, which had
the difficulties facing the established skilled
entirely endorsed the vision of a human capital-
worker program. For example, the combination
based selection system, the Canadian government
of increasing Provincial Nominee volumes and
announced that the system was broken. Moreover,
the introduction, within levels, of the CEC as a
the principal failings identified in the regulatory
new priority category meant that there would be
package, a lack of responsiveness to the labor
progressively less space in the levels plan and fewer
market and an overemphasis on formal education
resources available to process skilled workers. In
were, ironically enough, central to the “human
the absence of new funding, increased numbers
capital model” concept itself.
of temporary foreign workers, while responding
to employer demands for timely processing, also
diverted resources away from the permanent
  Canada Gazette, Vol. 142, No. 32 – August 9, 2008.
18 immigration program, again reducing the

20 Transatlantic Academy
operational capacity to deal with skilled workers outcomes for recent immigrants. No doubt because
and other immigrants. of the political difficulties that would arise from any
discussion of the reasons why Canadian employers
The creation of the FCRO was an attempt to fail to recognize experience in many of the major
respond to concerns about barriers that were source countries for Canadian immigration,
causing immigrants to fall behind economically. that problem has so far gone unrecognized and
A worthy initiative, it is by design limited to a unaddressed.
modest role in helping immigrants understand
the intricacies of the credential recognition In this context, it is important to note that
process. The federal government, hampered by the because of the large inventory of applications
constitutional division of powers, was unable to received before IRPA came into force and slow
come to grips with the more fundamental problems processing times, none of the evidence about
of a balkanized and often frankly protectionist immigrant performance available has any bearing
approach to credential recognition by Canadian on the effectiveness of the IRPA model. Even as
authorities. An even greater weakness is the stakeholders raised doubts about the value of the
fact that there is clear evidence to suggest that “human capital model,” the data that prompted
credential recognition is not the most important their concerns is limited to immigrants who were
factor contributing to declining economic selected under the pre-IRPA criteria.

Missing the Point(s): 21

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
7 Back to the Future: Bill C-50 and a
Return to Labor Market Driven Criteria

Although plans for the CEC had been announced listed occupations range from highly-skilled
in the 2007 Federal Budget, proposed implementing professionals (engineers, geologists, doctors, and
regulations had not even been made public when nurses) to managers of various sorts (construction
the government announced a second and much managers and financial managers) and even
more ambitious reform effort. In February 2008, apparently lower skilled trades (plumbers,
again as part of the federal budget, plans were electricians, and cooks).19 Applicants who had an
announced to amend the Immigration and Refugee approved job offer, or who were actually residing in
The most Protection Act. The government’s stated goal was Canada and had been either working or studying
obvious impact to make the immigration program more responsive for at least one year, regardless of their occupational
of the ministerial to labor market needs. The legislative amendments experience, were also made eligible to have their
instructions that were subsequently introduced in parliament immigration applications assessed.
is to return as Bill C-50 had two main components: first, IRPA
was amended to eliminate the legal requirement to The most obvious impact of the ministerial
the Canadian instructions is to return the Canadian economic
make a full and final decision on all applications;
economic immigration program to its roots. The creation
and second, the minister of immigration was given
immigration of a list of occupations “in demand” and to make
new authority to make instructions relating to the
program to processing of applications, including the possibility access to a full assessment contingent on previous
its roots. that certain applications would simply not be experience in a listed occupation was a central
processed. feature of the 1967 immigration regulations, and
remained an important part of the selection criteria
Following passage of Bill C-50, and an election that until 2002. One difference between the present
returned the Conservative government to power, system, as modified by C-50, and the earlier
ministerial instructions were made under the new selection systems is that occupational demand is
authorities. The instructions provided that all not part of the points system: once applications pass
skilled worker applications received after February through the “gate” established by the ministerial
27, 2008 (the date of the budget announcement) instructions they continue to be assessed against
would have to meet certain criteria in order to the IRPA human capital factors. But there can be
be eligible for consideration. Those applications no doubt that the program as a whole is now more
that did not meet the new eligibility criteria connected to labor market demand than was the
would be returned, along with the processing case with the original IRPA scheme.
fee. Other immigrant categories, including
Provincial Nominees, business immigrants, family The changes introduced by Bill C-50 are expected
reunification applicants, and refugee applicants, to have a significant impact on the ability of the
were unaffected by the instructions. system to make timely decisions. New applications
will very quickly be either screened out or, for
For skilled workers, the ministerial instructions those that meet the terms of the instructions, put
restricted eligibility for processing to applicants into process on a priority basis. The goal is to
who had at least one year of experience in an achieve processing times comparable to Provincial
occupation that was considered to be in demand Nominee or other priority economic categories,
in the Canadian labor market, an initial list
of 38 occupations that had been identified in
  For full text of the instructions and listed occupations please
consultation with provincial authorities and see
employers was included in the instructions. The instructions.asp

22 Transatlantic Academy
meaning that most applications would be finalized and which are waiting for processing at Canadian
within six to nine months from submission. Of visa offices all around the world must still be
course this result is in part dependent on keeping screened. Depending on future immigration levels
the number of eligible applications to a manageable and the number of new applications that meet
number. An initial assessment of applications the requirements of the instructions those old
received since February 2008, which will now applications could face wait times far longer than
be subject to screening against the instructions, the current 36 to 68 months. It is also likely, given
suggests that roughly 20 percent will qualify the litigious nature of the Canadian immigration
for a full assessment. The remaining 80 percent system, that the instructions and the legislative
will be returned unprocessed. It is important to authorities on which they are based will soon be
note, however, that the 600,000 skilled worker challenged in the Canadian courts, a process which
applications submitted prior to February 27, 2008, can take years to resolve.

Missing the Point(s): 23

The declining fortunes of Canada’s economic immigration program
8 Conclusion

What are all these measures really likely to achieve? continues that trend. As for CEC, the fact that it is
Are any of them likely to make a real difference in limited to workers or students with experience in
the lives of future immigrants to Canada? And is a skilled occupation (NOC 0, A, or B—the same
there evidence that really demonstrates the failure threshold as IRPA skilled workers) means it is
of the human capital selection system? unlikely to do more than divert a relatively small
number of cases from one category to another.
The answer to the latter question is clearly no. The
While there is present debate in Canada should not be taken as Whether the new approach to managing the
no doubt that evidence that human capital model is a failure; in economic immigration program will help improve
fact, evidence is simply not yet available one way or the fortunes of new immigrants to Canada is less
recent immigrants
another. The most recent available data draws from certain. Prospective immigrants will have a better
face integration
the 2001 census and immigrant cohorts from late idea of the state of the Canadian labor market,
challenges, the 1990s, well before IRPA implementation. The jury thanks to the existence of the list of occupations
most pressing is still out on immigrant outcomes with the “human in demand, and the Australian experience
issues facing capital model,” but measures like the FCRO are suggests that assessing labor market relevance
the system unlikely to achieve much on their own. as part of the immigration process is one factor
relate to intake that can help achieve better economic outcomes
management While there is no doubt that recent immigrants for new immigrants.20 But as Hawthorne notes,
face integration challenges, the most pressing issues the Australian approach is based on a number of
and not the
facing the system relate to intake management elements, including measures such as mandatory
selection model.
and not the selection model. As we’ve seen, intake language testing and pre-immigration credential
management issues have drastically reduced space recognition that remain outside the scope of the
for skilled workers. The return with C-50 to an Canadian system.
Occupational Demand List is really about intake
management. C-50 should mean faster processing In sum, the lack of attention to the main underlying
times for new skilled worker applicants, who meet causes of declining immigrant outcomes means that
the criteria in the Ministerial Instructions. But for any real change seems unlikely. The system itself
applicants who have been waiting in the backlog may become less clogged, but the fundamentals
the future seems bleak. Processing times for old including the human capital selection system have
cases will almost certainly increase dramatically. not changed. Overall, despite considerable attention
and debate, fundamental change still seems far off.
It is ironic that many of the measures that were
designed to provide a faster alternative to the
skilled worker category themselves contributed to
the worsening situation in recent years. C-50 simply

  See Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. “The Impact of Economic
Selection Policy on Labor Market Outcome for Degree Qualified
Migrants in Canada and Australia.” IRPP Choices, Vol. 14, No.
5 May 2008.

24 Transatlantic Academy
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