New Manitoba government faces immigration questions, Reis Pagtakhan writes

With immigration one of the largest drivers of Manitoba's population growth, Ian Wishart, the new minister responsible for immigration in Manitoba, faces some tough questions.
Ian Wishart was sworn in as Manitoba's minister of education and training and the minister responsible for provincial immigration. (CBC)

Earlier this month, Ian Wishart was sworn in as Manitoba's minister of education and training and the minister responsible for provincial immigration. With immigration being one of the largest drivers of Manitoba's population growth, Wishart will face questions. Should Manitoba charge immigration application fees to battle the deficit? Should the focus of Manitoba's immigration program be on businesses, entrepreneurs and employers, or should the focus be on family reunification?

Should Manitoba charge immigration application fees?

Since the Manitoba provincial nominee program began in the 1990s, Manitoba governments of both political stripes have processed immigration applications free of charge. The processing costs for these applications have been borne by Manitoba taxpayers.

In order to process the 5,500 immigration applications Manitoba is allowed per year, staff must be employed, IT systems maintained and office costs incurred. Who should pay these costs — Manitoba taxpayers or people wanting to immigrate to Canada?

Because of the way Manitoba has reorganized its immigration system, more than 99 per cent of the individuals invited to apply to immigrate to Manitoba are approved. With such a high approval rate, this is as close to a guarantee as possible.

As government wrestles with deficits, the question remains: is it appropriate for the government to charge fees for this almost guaranteed service?

Will Manitoba focus on employer-driven or family-driven immigration?

Manitoba's immigration system is broken down into two main streams. The skilled worker stream is an employer-driven immigration stream that focuses on individuals working in Manitoba as temporary foreign workers after being recruited to work here by Manitoba businesses. The skilled workers overseas stream is mostly for individuals who have never worked or studied here but have extended family in Manitoba.

Over the last year, approximately two-thirds of the individuals Manitoba has invited to apply to immigrate have come from the skilled workers overseas stream. Of these, only a minority had guaranteed job offers from Manitoba employers before arrival.

Newcomers learn to skate at Central Park in Winnipeg. The new Manitoba government has immigration questions to answer, Reis Pagtakhan writes. (Sara Calnek/CBC)
If Manitoba decides to focus on employer-driven immigration through the skilled worker stream, employers will be given a greater role in choosing future Manitobans. The advantage to employer-driven immigration is that new immigrants will arrive here with guaranteed job offers.

If Manitoba decides to focus on family-driven immigration through the skilled workers overseas stream, most of these immigrants will not come with guaranteed job offers. While they will be supported and selected by family and friends in Manitoba who are eagerly awaiting their arrival, they will immigrate here without jobs.

Should Manitoba focus on assisting businesses to recruit workers currently needed in our economy, or should Manitoba focus on assisting Manitobans who want to reunite with friends and family whom they have been separated from for months and, in some cases, years?

Will Manitoba expand its business immigration program?

In addition to the skilled worker and skilled workers overseas streams, Manitoba has a small business immigration stream for entrepreneurs. Last May, Manitoba's business immigration program was revised again. For 2016, Manitoba's plan calls for 200 business immigrants per year. This represents about three per cent of the total number of provincial nominees that Manitoba is allocated in a given year.

If Manitoba is serious about attracting entrepreneurs to create jobs in Manitoba, will it increase the number of business immigrants?

If Manitoba does increase the number of business immigrants, another important question will have to be answered. Will an increase in business immigrants result in a decrease in the number of employer-driven or family-driven immigrants?

Will Manitoba make it easier for self-employed persons to immigrate?

Separate from the business immigration stream, Manitoba's current immigration system does not allow self-employed people who do not meet the business program criteria to immigrate. Under the business program, an individual must have a minimum net worth of $350,000 and make a minimum business investment in Manitoba of $150,000 to qualify.

Smaller businesses, new startups and young entrepreneurs who do not qualify for the business program are the ones most affected. In my practice, I have come across a number of foreign students who have graduated from Manitoba universities and want to start new businesses. These individuals delay their business plans because of the lack of a route to permanent residence. In some cases, these individuals take on lower-skill jobs for the purpose of qualifying for immigration with a goal of quitting those jobs after becoming permanent residents so they can start their Manitoba businesses. There must be a better way to accommodate and promote entrepreneurship among young immigrants to Manitoba.

Reis Pagtakhan is an immigration lawyer with Aikins Law in Winnipeg.