The federal government's consultations on a new immigration system to give skilled workers express entry into Canada starting Jan. 1 included a nine-member group representing some of Canada's biggest employers — and at least two of those groups say they are taking a wait-and-see approach on the new system.

Under the new online express entry system, skilled immigrants will be matched with vacant jobs in at least 50 occupations based on "scores that reflect their human capital and ability to succeed in the Canadian economy."

Only the "highest ranking candidates" will be invited to apply for permanent residency and applications will be processed in six months or less.

The nine-member group being consulted includes the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, the Canadian Construction Association and the Information and Communication Technology Council.

The government confirmed on Friday the other five groups represented on the panel are:

  • Canadian Restaurants and Foodservices Association.
  • The Immigrant Employment Council of B.C.
  • Irving Shipbuilding.
  • Oilsands producer Syncrude Canada.
  • Hylife Ltd., a global hog producer based in Manitoba.

The nine-member group was established in 2013 to provide the Department of Citizenship and Immigration with "input on the development and implementation of Express Entry," a posting in the Canada Gazette said.

Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said employers support the new system, because it will allow businesses to fill jobs where Canadians are not available.

"The idea is that more and more applicants will be coming in with that job offer already in hand," Anson-Cartwright said in a telephone interview with CBC News on Thursday.

A few more details about the express program were revealed by the government this week:

  • There will be no more paper applications, except for people with disabilities.
  • The government anticipates the number of requests for paper applications to be "extremely low."
  • The move to electronic filing is expected to cost the government $6.7 million over 10 years (2015-2024.)
  • The Canada Gazette didn't say how much money the government will save by going paperless, but said "no known opposition to this proposal exists."

Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, told CBC News on Friday that officials have consulted with hundreds of businesses from various sectors of the economy in every region of the country.

Doesn't address low-skilled workers

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents roughly 109,000 small businesses, has traditionally supported the Conservative government's business-friendly proposals, but it criticized the tightening of rules around temporary foreign workers.

'It still prohibits lower-skilled workers from coming to Canada and taking the jobs that are going begging.' - Dan Kelly, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Dan Kelly, chief executive of the CFIB, told CBC News his group is "a big fan" of the new system, except for the fact that "it will do zero" for employers looking to fill low-wage or low-skilled jobs.

"That is our criticism of the express entry system, that it still prohibits lower-skilled workers from coming to Canada and taking the jobs that are going begging in our economy," Kelly said in a telephone interview Thursday.

"Decades ago, when many of our ancestors came to Canada … they didn't come to Canada to take jobs in a lab," Kelly said. "They came to work on a farm."

Alexander has said the new express entry system will transform the way Canada has been accepting skilled immigrants for the last generation.

'The big uncertainty'

The chamber's Anson-Cartwright said that while the government has given employers a first-hand look at the new online system, it will be some time before businesses can say how well the system works at matching skilled immigrants with open jobs.

"The reality is, until we actually have employers experiencing the process, we don't really know — and neither does the government — how well it will work," she said.

Employers will not have the same "privileged access" as the provinces and territories, she added.

The provinces will have the option to search the express entry pool, while employers will have to rely on the government to identify potential workers.

"You'd rather see more detail and have a chance to make your own assessment, rather than waiting on individuals to pop up through virtue of how they've designed the job system. 

"That's the big uncertainty is how this job-matching system will actually work," Anson-Cartwright said.

The government will welcome 260,000 to 285,000 new permanent residents to Canada in 2015.