The federal government is looking to match skilled immigrants with unfilled jobs, in what it's calling a new "fast and flexible system of economic immigration" it intends to have in place in January 2015.

Under this new system, which the government has compared to "a dating site," Ottawa would act as chief matchmaker between immigrants who want to move to Canada for work and Canadian employers looking to fill job vacancies.

"We're looking for an economic match," said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in an interview with CBC News.

Alexander is currently working to build an "expression of interest" system to manage applications for immigration to Canada.

"We are moving from defence to offence. We're moving from a passive system to a proactive system. We're moving from a system based on processing whatever applications showed up, to a system focused on recruitment of the people that we know we need," Alexander said on Jan. 23.

By next year, Canada will no longer be obligated to process all applications in the order they were received.

The new system would work in two stages.

First, prospective immigrants would apply to express their interest in coming to Canada. In doing so, they would answer a series of questions about their professional skills, their education, languages spoken, etc.

In the second stage, Alexander said, those applicants would see their skills matched with labour needs identified by the provinces and territories, as well as employers.

That means provincial governments and employers alike would have access to the pool of applications — in essence, an "employment database" that did not exist before.

"We will share it with employers in a way that protects privacy," Alexander said.

Employers to play key role

Under the proposed system, employers would play a key role in searching the pool for prospective candidates, conducting interviews and identifying candidates.

Only once a match has been identified would the skilled immigrant be invited to apply for permanent residence.

This new system of immigration would apply to anyone who has put in a bid through one of five immigration programs:

  • Federal skilled workers. 
  • Federal skilled trades. 
  • Canadian experience class. 
  • Business class.
  • Provincial nominees.

Alexander said the federal government doesn't want to "pick the winners," per se.

"We can't socially engineer this ourselves. We need data from across the federal government … the provinces, as well as strong input from employers to make these determinations."

"It's going to give us a much more tailored immigration flow and a workforce that will make itself at home in a Canadian economy much more quickly."

'This wait is far too long for businesses, many of whom have jobs that needed to be filled yesterday.'—Allan O’Dette, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce

Under the new system, the government is proposing to shrink the processing time from upward of two years to six months.

According to a report issued by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, employers will buy into the new system only if it's fast.

Aiming to cut the processing time down to six months, did not appear to win employers over.

“This wait is far too long for businesses, many of whom have jobs that needed to be filled yesterday,”  Allan O’Dette, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said in the report.

Canada's system is said to be modelled after similar systems which are already in place in New Zealand and Australia. Under the Australian model, visas for permanent residence are processed within 60 days.

The government must ensure the new immigration system reflects the needs of employers, the report said.

Details missing

While the system is still a year away from being implemented, it's not the broad strokes of the system that worry the opposition parties, but rather the lack of details about a new system that will process the majority of new immigrants to Canada.

"There are a lot of details missing. We feel that they want to flatter themselves about what they're doing but at the same time when we are asking for details, we have none," said NDP immigration critic Lysanne Blanchette-Lamothe in an interview with CBC News last Thursday.

The government introduced the new system in Bill C-4, a budget implementation bill which has since been passed despite the lack of details.

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum said that "in principle it's probably a good idea, but we have some issue with the details."

"I have come to the conclusion that immigration is becoming much more of a buyer's market than a seller's market. Countries like Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. are all in competition for immigrants because we all have an aging population," the Liberal MP said in an interview with CBC News last Thursday.

McCallum said the onus is on the federal government to persuade prospective applicants to immigrate here instead of taking their skills elsewhere.

"The really important point is to use this expression of interest system to radically speed up our immigration, and it's not at all clear that the government has got its sights high enough," said McCallum.

But according to Alexander, reducing the processing time to six months is not only "doable," it's "exciting" from an economic perspective.

After all, the government is looking for a long-term match.

"We don't want break-ups and divorces in this case. These are people coming here for the rest of their lives," Alexander said.

"Making that match is more challenging than ever, but when you get it right, the benefits are greater than ever."