Editorial: Helping foreign workers

Reducing immigration barriers is long overdue

Immigration is the federal department most likely to be viewed as the stodgiest and burdened with the most cumbersome processes. This is not necessarily a reflection of how the department operates, but it's a public perception that comes from hearing of the lengthy wait times, stacks of documents and bottomless quantities of patience required of those who are either trying to sponsor a family member to come to Canada or are immigrating here themselves.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is doing a bang-up job of dispelling that perception and showing just how flexible the federal government can be in meeting the demands of an economy that's just picking up momentum, coming out of the doldrums of 2008.

Kenney has announced the establishment of a new queue for skilled tradespeople, which will streamline things and make it easier for foreigners working in the trades to come to Canada and help fill shortages in the labourstarved resource-based and construction industries.

The new queue is long overdue, for as Kenney himself told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, "in the past, it was virtually impossible for skilled tradespeople to get in through our rigid economic programs at the federal level."

In fact, of the 48,678 people who came to Canada through the skilled worker program in 2010, skilled tradespeople made up only three per cent. That just goes to show how the barriers need to come tumbling down.

Lack of advanced Englishlanguage skills and the absence of a post-secondary degree meant people were often passed over, but all that will, thankfully, change by the end of this year. A "workable level of English," according to Kenney, will be all that is required as far as language fluency, while the 100-point grid typically used to assess a foreign worker's admissibility will be revamped for tradespeople.

The Alberta Federation of Labour is concerned that loosening the requirements for the admission of foreign tradespeople will divert interest and incentive for the next crop of Canadian-born tradespeople. However, one of the reasons the shortage exists is that Canadian youth are traditionally encouraged to go to university and pursue careers in the professions. There is a pervasive, if contradictory, attitude among Canadians that society couldn't possibly function without skilled tradespeople, but they'd rather see their own children eschew a future in the trades.

If Canadians aren't going to enter the trades in large enough numbers, employers have to look elsewhere because the work simply needs to get done, and someone qualified has to do it. In fact, part of Kenney's new plan includes setting up a list of qualified job seekers for prospective employers to peruse.

Kenney's reforms are a perfect example of the federal government being keenly attuned to the needs of the market. Instead of clinging to some stifling bureaucratic status quo, the Immigration department is responding accordingly to help industry, with the ultimate goal of promoting and maintaining the health and vigour of the economy.

Calgary Herald, Sun Apr 15 2012

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