In January, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will introduce Express Entry, an electronic system that will allow qualified foreign nationals to immigrate to Canada in under six months.

The system will manage applications for permanent residence from immigrants who participate in one of Canada’s federal economic immigration programs. According to CIC, this will help Canada meet its current and future labour market needs. 

While Express Entry has been touted as the next great thing in Canadian immigration policy, there is still confusion about how it will actually work. 

Here is what the federal government should do to make sure the immigration system is fair to both Canadian workers and Canadian businesses:

Equal services for foreign nationals and Canada’s unemployed

Our immigration system must ensure that Canadian citizens and Canadian permanent residents have access to jobs before foreign nationals. 

Under Express Entry, foreign nationals will be able to post what are essentially resumes for Canadian employers to review. A job offer from a Canadian employer increases a foreign national’s chances of immigrating to Canada.

If the government is creating what I will call a resume bank for foreign nationals, the same service must be created for Canada’s unemployed. 

The federal government should be wary of creating a system that makes it easier for Canadian employers to find foreign nationals than it is to find unemployed Canadians for jobs. Qualified Canadians and permanent residents should be offered jobs first.

Equal access to Express Entry for all Canadian employers

The federal government must ensure that all employers can access the Express Entry list of prospective employees on a level playing field. 

If job offers to foreign nationals are made on a first-come, first-served basis, large employers with the resources to review the Express Entry list on a regular basis may be able to cherry pick the best candidates. 

It is important that small and medium-size businesses that may not be able to match those resources be given an equal opportunity to recruit potential employees from this resource. 

Avoid expediting occupations through Express Entry

It is unclear if the federal government will create a priority list of occupations that will be expedited through Express Entry. The latest report is that a priority list will not be created, and this is a good thing.

The federal government's historical experience with priority lists is that they result in an uneven distribution of immigrants throughout Canada. 

Since different occupations are in demand in different regions of the country, creating a list of priority occupations may result in certain regions benefiting more from immigration than others.

Instead of creating a priority list of jobs, the federal government should accept only skilled workers for which a Canadian employer has already established that there are no qualified Canadians or Canadian permanent residents willing and able to do the job.

If a priority list must be created, small provincial and territorial lists are the best option. 

By creating local lists, the government will avoid the possibility of one region benefiting from an influx of skilled immigrants at the expense of another. 

With the help of local lists, immigrants from all over the world can make better choices about where they want to move.

Follow Manitoba’s method when employing low-skilled workers

The federal government should copy the Manitoba model when it comes to the immigration of so-called low-skilled workers to Canada. 

For a number of years, Manitoba has allowed these workers to immigrate to Manitoba if it can be shown that these workers have worked in Manitoba for at least six months and that there are no Canadians or Canadian permanent residents willing and able to take on the job. 

If the federal government adopts these criteria, Canadian employers, who cannot find local labour to fill jobs, will be able to get the employees they need to grow and maintain their businesses.

Open Express Entry to individuals selected by provinces for immigration

From what has been described so far, not all provincially-chosen immigrants will be eligible for the Express Entry system. Provinces are able to determine the needs of their workforce, and as a result, it is important for these individuals to be able to immigrate to Canada as soon as the need for them is identified.

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg

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