With one month left to the launch of a new immigration system that will give skilled immigrants express entry into Canada, the government has made public for the first time the details of the points system it will use to select foreign workers.

While the government is promising the new system will have "in demand" immigrants in Canada within six months, critics have expressed concerns about express entry being akin to a job bank serving government and industry.

Starting Jan. 1, skilled immigrants will be matched with vacant jobs where there are no available Canadian workers. After applying online and registering with the government's job bank, applicants will be entered into a pool. Only the candidates with the most points will be offered permanent residency.

A maximum of 600 points will be given to skilled immigrants who receive a permanent job offer from a Canadian employer or who have been nominated for immigration by a province or territory.

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said these are the ones that will be "picked first," in a written statement on Monday. He also noted the so-called "first draw" for permanent residency applications is scheduled for the last week of January.

Skilled immigrants will receive up to 1,200 points based on factors in two other categories:

  • A maximum of 500 points will be allotted for what the government is calling "core human capital factors" such as age, education level, language proficiency and work experience in Canada.
  • A maximum of 100 points will be assigned for "skill transferability factors," which include a combination of education level, foreign work experience and a certificate in the trades.

For instance, a maximum of 110 points will be allotted for age. Only those aged 20 to 29 will receive the maximum points in this category, while those aged 17 and under or 45 and over will obtain zero points.

Similarly, an applicant with the equivalent of a PhD will receive 150 points — the maximum allotted for level of education. Applicants with the equivalent of a high school diploma will only receive 30 points.

Concerns over lack of transparency, policy shift

A detailed list explaining how candidates will be ranked and selected based on the factors listed above was published in the Canada Gazette on Monday.

"Research shows these criteria will help ensure newcomers participate more fully in Canada’s economy and integrate more quickly into Canadian society," Alexander said.

Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer and policy analyst, has been supportive of some immigration changes made by the Conservatives, including the recent reform to the caregivers program.

However, when it comes to express entry, Kurland is concerned about the lack of openness.

"It is worth a try, but the design flaw is there is no transparency, oversight, or accountability for the operation of the new system. It is a recipe for political interference."

"The result can be justified in any case, but you will never know why one identically qualified person was selected over another."

Kurland said the government will in effect have full control in picking the winners and losers rather than processing applications on a first-come, first-served basis — as is the case now.

Morton Beiser, a professor of distinction at Ryerson University and founding director of the Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS) based in Toronto, has been raising questions about the government's shift in policy for some months now.

After reviewing the government's new points system on Monday, Beiser said certain aspects are still unclear.

"Under the old regulations, it was clear that if someone scored above a certain threshold, they were considered eligible to be granted an immigration visa.… Under the current provisions, it’s less clear."

While Beiser welcomed the say provinces will have about which immigrants come to Canada, he's skeptical of the role employers will play.

"It’s probably a good thing to give provinces more say in the process, but industry? This means that the immigration office becomes a recruitment office," he said.

Permanent residency

The government told CBC News that approximately 65,000 to 75,000 skilled workers will be offered permanent residency in 2015 under one of three categories:

  • 47,000 to 51,000 will come through the federal skilled worker class and the federal skilled trades class combined.
  • 21,000 to 23,000 skilled workers through the Canadian experience class.

An additional 46,000 to 48,000 skilled workers will receive permanent residency through the provincial nominee program under express entry, the government said.

Successful applicants will have to show proof they have enough funds to support themselves and their family. They will also have to undergo health exams and security checks.

The government has been consulting with a nine-member group representing employers from various sectors of the economy since 2013, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. 

Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills policy at the chamber, said employers are supportive of the new system, but are not clear on how skilled immigrants will be matched with available jobs.

"That's the big uncertainty," she said.