The federal government is addressing one of the main criticisms of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program through a new immigration system it plans to launch in 2015.

Starting in the new year, the government will offer express entry to qualified skilled immigrants who want to come to Canada as permanent residents, as a way to fill open jobs where there are no available Canadian workers.

The government has been reviewing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,​ which has come under increased scrutiny following a series of stories by CBC News reporting alleged abuses of the programThe results of that review and ensuing reforms will be unveiled soon.

One of the ways Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau had proposed to fix the program for temporary foreign workers was to have the government "recommit itself to bringing permanent immigrants here who have a path to citizenship."

Express entry, according to the federal government, will do what the program for temporary foreign workers can't: it will ensure that skilled immigrants are able to settle in Canada permanently to help meet the country's labour needs.

"Canadian employers will be able to consider express entry candidates when they are unable to find Canadians or permanent residents to fill job vacancies," said Alexis Pavlich, a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, in an email to CBC News.

Under express entry, prospective immigrants would see their skills matched with labour needs identified by the provinces and territories, as well as employers.

Jobs offered to qualified immigrants would be subject to Labour Market Opinions (LMOs), which are required to prove the need to hire a foreign worker over a Canadian.

Only the highest-ranking candidates would receive an invitation to apply for permanent residency. Once that invitation is received, the government promises to process it within six months or less.

Recruiting doctors, engineers, accountants

In preparation for the launch of the new immigration system, the government recently increased the number of applications it will accept from skilled immigrants looking to come to Canada as permanent residents and doubled the number of occupations for which they can apply.

The Canadian government is actively recruiting skilled immigrants in 50 different professions: from family physicians, specialists, and registered nurses, to civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers, to financial managers, auditors and accountants.

The new list was published by the Immigration Department under "ministerial instructions," which governments use to change laws without debate.

The government began accepting 25,000 applications under the Federal Skilled Worker Program on May 1, 2014, up from 5,000 applications it accepted the year before. This is a "last call" for applications the government will accept under the current immigration system before the new system kicks in after the new year.

The number of eligible occupations skilled immigrants can apply for more than doubled from 24 to 50. A total of 10 occupations were dropped from last year's list, and 36 new professions were added.

The government has received 157 applications, according to statistics posted on the government's website on Friday — just over a month since the new measures were announced. 

Three occupations have attracted the majority of those applications:

  • 43 skilled immigrants applied to work as financial and investment analysts.
  • 39 applied to work as computer programmers and interactive media developers.
  • 20 applied as software engineers and designers.

Shift in immigration policy

With the launch of the new system a few months away, party critics and immigration experts are beginning to raise questions about the government's shift in policy.

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, said the changes to Canada's immigration policy are significant and deserve a full and transparent debate.

'Canada's immigration policy has shifted in the direction of expediency and naked pragmatism.'— Morton Beiser, professor of distinction at Ryerson University

"We, as a people, have not had a chance to discuss it and our representatives in Ottawa have not a chance to debate it," Beiser said in a phone interview with CBC News.

"This plus some other changes that have happened are not minor tweaks, these are major changes."

Beiser said express entry would essentially be "a big job bank" serving government and industry.

"Canada's immigration policy has shifted in the direction of expediency and naked pragmatism."

Beiser, who was inducted into the Order of Canada for his work as an advocate for immigrants and refugees, said that diverting temporary workers into a more permanent stream could be a good thing, but he wondered whether one's economic contribution ought to be the deciding factor when selecting skilled immigrants.

"There are all kinds of problems that one can get into when one makes an immigration policy basically a job recruitment policy."

Role of Labour Market Opinions?

NDP critic Lysanne Blanchette Lamothe also expressed concern at the lack of consultation and debate around a new system that will change the way Canada has accepted immigrants for the last generation. She worries employers will have too much say in the process.

"At the end of the day, it's the provinces and businesses that will choose who will immigrate to Canada," Lamothe said in a telephone interview with CBC News.

The New Democrat said she was also concerned about the role Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) would play in the new immigration system.

"We saw a lot of problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program because of the LMOs and the fact that they cannot give a good evaluation of our labour market right now," Lamothe said.

The Immigration Department said it is working with the Department of Employment and Social Development to strengthen the LMO process.