The Canadian government is forging ahead with a new immigration system that will offer "express entry" to qualified immigrants starting in 2015 as a way to help fill open jobs for which there are no available Canadian workers.

Express Entry, formerly known as Expression of Interest, will be "a swifter path to Canada that will select immigrants based on the skills and attributes that Canada needs based on those identified by government but also by employers," said Immigration Minister Chris Alexander during a news conference in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Tuesday.

While the change in the name of the program was quietly announced in a news release two weeks ago, the government has been remodelling Canada's immigration system for the last 18 months or so.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

Express Entry is different from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program which has come under heavy criticism after CBC uncovered several instances where employers are favouring foreign workers over Canadians.

In those cases, the government has launched investigations, and revoked or suspended foreign worker permits pending the outcome of the investigations. The program is also said to be under review.

Liberal immigration critic John McCallum sent the auditor general a letter on Tuesday asking that his office audit the TFW Program. In a telephone interview with CBC News, McCallum said an audit could shed light on whether "the program is being used to displace Canadian workers or drive down wages."

Alexander said Canadian employers would be able to bring in workers through the Express Entry system with the long-term view that they would remain in Canada.

"You can bring your labour market opinion, your job offer, to the Express Entry system and ensure that the person you need comes to Canada as an immigrant, not as a temporary foreign worker. Not as someone who is here with an uncertain future and likely to go back, but as a full immigrant to Canada," Alexander said on Tuesday.

"And that I think is going to be very exciting because it's going to make the match between our economic immigrants and their families, and the needs of the Canadian job market much stronger."

Finding 'a match'

Under Canada's new immigration system, which would come into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, 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.

Those applicants would then see their skills matched with labour needs identified by the provinces and territories, as well as employers.

While the subject of skills shortages has been hotly debated, Alexander maintained, "there are many parts of the country that have acute skills shortages, there are many sectors that have acute skills shortages."

In those instances where "a match" has been identified, Express Entry could be offered to anyone who has put in an application through one of the following four programs:

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

Alexander said prospective immigrants who apply through the Provincial Nominee Program could also benefit from the system but only if the province and territory in question has brought their program under the federal one.

"Provinces and territories will take their own decisions. We're in close touch with them. We have their support for the Express Entry system, they're very excited about it. And those that choose to come in early will benefit greatly," Alexander said.

Having a valid job offer, or a provincial or territorial nomination would guarantee that Express Entry candidates receive an invitation to apply for permanent residence.

Other features

Under the new program:

  • Canada will be able to select "the best candidates" who are most likely to achieve success in Canada, "rather than the first person in line."
  • An improved Job Bank will make it easier to find matches between Canadian employers and Express Entry candidates.
  • The government will invest $14 million over two years and $4.7 million per year ongoing to ensuring the successful implementation of Express Entry.
  • Qualified applicants can expect faster processing times of six months or less when invited to come to Canada, down from a wait of up to two years.

NDP immigration critic Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe was critical of the new system, saying it, "will promote the exact queue-jumping the Conservatives say they are trying to combat."

“This new program will put applicants in limbo because they may never be given a definitive answer on their application,” said Blanchette-Lamothe in a written statement.

McCallum told CBC News today that Canada's current immigration system is "anything but express." The Liberal immigration critic said he would like to see the government explain how it will process these applications in six months or less.

Alexander was in Richmond Hill on Tuesday to mark "the record number" of Chinese students and permanent residents welcomed to Canada in 2013.

China was once again "a top source" country for permanent residency in Canada, Alexander said.