Opinion

Fees a good start — but provincial nominee program needs more work

Premier Brian Pallister has announced some welcome changes to the province’s immigration strategy, including measures to match immigrants with jobs and to attract more entrepreneurs to Manitoba.

Manitoba immigration lawyer welcomes new measures, but says changes can go further

Premier Brian Pallister talks with Joy Escalera, who came to Manitoba though the provincial nominee program, at a press conference in Brandon on Nov. 25, 2016. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister has announced some welcome changes to the province's immigration strategy, including measures to match immigrants with jobs and to attract more entrepreneurs to Manitoba.

The whole point of the provincial nominee program is to attract skilled workers to Manitoba who will have a positive economic impact on the province. The best way to achieve this is to ensure that immigrants have jobs in this province on day one.

Under the current system, many if not most of the immigrants that come to Manitoba arrive without jobs. While many are skilled and eventually are successful, these immigrants must first deal with being unemployed in a foreign country. Because of this, the government has programs — funded by taxpayers — to assist these new immigrants in finding jobs.

The better solution is to ensure these immigrants have jobs as soon as they arrive. That way they contribute both to Manitoba and their families more quickly. In addition, government monies spent to help immigrants find jobs in Manitoba could be reduced and redirected to the immigrants who need this service — refugees. 

The "partnership" that the province must create with industry is one that will allow Manitoba businesses and not-for-profits to directly choose the immigrants they want. Businesses and not-for-profits should be the ones nominating immigrants — not the government bureaucracy.  

This being said, government has a role to ensure that the immigration system is not being used to undercut Manitobans who are already in the workforce. In order to ensure this, the government should do three things.

Must not undercut Manitobans' jobs

First, as with the federal temporary foreign worker program, Manitoba must continue to insist that businesses and not-for-profits that bring in immigrants pay the arriving immigrant a wage at or above the median wage for the position. This will help ensure that the immigration program is not used to undercut the wages of Manitobans already living and raising families here.
Saskatchewan's minimum wage is still among the lowest in the country at $10.20 an hour. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Second, businesses and not-for-profits should have to establish why they need to hire from abroad and what they have done to hire in Manitoba first. In implementing this requirement, the government should not simply duplicate the federal red tape that surrounds the temporary foreign worker program. In the last few years, the federal temporary foreign worker program has been plagued with multiple rule changes and inconsistent decision making. To avoid this, the government must sit down in a meaningful way with business to develop clear, understandable and fair criteria.  

Frustrating process

Third, the government needs to actively address the frustrations not-for-profits and small and medium sized businesses have with the immigration program.  Currently, the process to bring a temporary foreign worker to Manitoba and transition them to permanent residency can involve submitting up to five different applications to four different government departments that span two levels of government. Businesses and not-for-profits should not have to rely on large HR departments just to bring in skilled workers from abroad.

While the focus of the provincial nominee program should be on immigrants chosen by employers, there is a role for extended family in Manitoba. One of the best ways to convince people to stay in Manitoba is if they have family here. However, the current system results in family immigrants coming to Manitoba unemployed. This puts an unfair burden on both taxpayers and the unemployed immigrant. Government should work with industry to create a service for Manitobans who want to match their relatives with jobs here in Manitoba. While immigrants chosen by employers should receive first priority for immigration, employer chosen immigrants who also have relatives here should be even further ahead.

Attract entrepreneurs

On the issue of attracting entrepreneurs to Manitoba, the province must do away with the prohibition that prevents self-employed individuals, business owners, owner-operators and individuals providing services as independent contractors from applying as skilled workers. In many cases, these individuals not only are gainfully employed but also employ Manitobans. While it is necessary to be assured that these individuals are genuinely working, checking tax records may be the simplest way to do this.

Immigrants hoping to find work in their professional field are getting some help from the Manitoba government. 2:11

Finally, the implementation of immigration fees for nominee program applications is long overdue. While some may question the amount of the fee, it is only fair that individuals expecting to receive a service from government pay for that service. 


Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg