There is an ongoing need for the provincial nominee immigration program, a report released Thursday by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says, but it has some problems that need fixing – especially when it comes to fraud.

Kenney's department did an evaluation of the federal-provincial program that was started in 1998 to try to determine whether it is meeting its objectives.

The program, which allows participating provinces and territories to nominate potential immigrants based on their economic and labour market needs, is intended to distribute immigrants more evenly across the country and encourage the development of official language minority communities.

For a synopsis of the provincial nominee programs and quick links to each one, see Immigration and the provinces: Deciding whom to fast-track.

"As I've said in the past, we are excited about this program but realize that it needs improvement in key areas," Kenney said in a statement.

The review found that the provincial nominee program is meeting the needs of the provinces by filling skilled labour shortages and by contributing to population growth and attracting investment. All of the stakeholders consulted for the report –including labour groups, employers, program staff and immigrants who were provincial nominees – said the program should continue.

The goal of using the program to settle more immigrants outside of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, compared with other economic immigration programs operated solely by the federal government, has largely been met, the report said. Twenty-six per cent of all economic immigrants are destined for provinces other than those three, compared with 11 per cent in 1997, according to the review.

Program is spreading immigrants around

"The PNP has been successful with respect to the objective of regionalizing the benefits of immigration," it states.

But a number of problems have been associated with the federal-provincial program over the years, including the degree to which immigrants stay in the province that helped bring them to Canada.

The report found that retention rates vary: the lowest is in Atlantic Canada at 56 per cent and the highest were in Alberta and British Columbia, both above 95 per cent. Overall, the data shows that 82 per cent of provincial nominee immigrants who became permanent residents between 2000 and 2008 were residing in their province of nomination. The statistic is based on those who filed tax returns in 2008.

Kenney has spoken before about people pretending to go to one province and settling in another, and about the need to work with the provinces to shore up the program's quality.

"We just want to work with the provinces to make sure the people they are nominating are staying," he said Thursday at an event in Calgary to mark the report's findings.

The report released Thursday says there is inconsistent monitoring and evaluation of each province's program and no systematic way of collecting performance information. It also concludes that "there is a continued need for strong emphasis on program integrity as it pertains to fraud and misrepresentation."

'Fraud detection' flawed

It notes that some interviewed for the study said there are varying levels of rigour in the provinces when it comes to confirming whether applicants adhere to the eligibility criteria for the program. They raised concerns that "fraud detection is not at an optimal level" and more could be done, for example, on verifying documents.

"A potential gap in fraud detection" could be occurring because of a lack of training, the report concludes. It says the extent to which fraud is occurring is "not fully known."

Other findings:

  • After three years the average income of provincial nominees ranged between $35,200 and $45,100.
  • Results varied by stream and location but about 70 per cent of the immigrants surveyed held a job in line with their skills.
  • More than 90 per cent of provincial nominee immigrants declared employment earnings after one year in Canada.

The federal government wants to see more "evidence-based" identification of labour shortage needs in the provinces, the report says in its recommendations section. It also wants clarification on the role of visa officers abroad and on the provinces themselves in detecting fraudulent applications and suggests more training is necessary to cut down on fraud.

The review also found that the federal government's goal of encouraging official language minority communities is largely failing. That's not a priority for most of the provinces, it said.

A small percentage, 4.6 per cent, of applicants spoke French between 2005 and 2009.

The review covered the years 2000 to 2008 when more than 21,000 people applied for the program, a number that only includes principal applicants, not their spouses or dependants.

In 2012, Citizenship and Immigration Canada plans to admit between 42,000 and 45,000 people under the program, that includes their families.

In some provinces, provincial nominees represent a sizeable portion of all immigrants. Between 2005 and 2009, for example, 95 per cent of all landed immigrants in Prince Edward Island arrived there through the PNP, and in New Brunswick it was 74 per cent.

New Brunswick has had its share of controversy over the program. In 2011, the province's auditor general investigated it and criticized the failure of the provincial government in tracking the immigrants through the program. The RCMP was asked to step in and take a look at the program.

Ontario received only one per cent of its landed immigrants in the period studied through the PNP, according to the review.