On Nov. 9, Immigration Canada announced changes to its popular Canadian Experience Class. Since its creation in 2008, the CEC has been a popular program for skilled immigrants to acquire permanent residence and eventually citizenship.
Its introduction signalled a change in Canada’s immigration policy away from a “skills based” system where an applicant’s education and work experience were evaluated and assigned points, to an “experience based” assessment where individuals are granted status if they can demonstrate they have acquired a year of Canadian work experience.
Initially, I was enthusiastic about this new direction. I had heard many stories of highly skilled immigrants coming to Canada only to be unable to find work in their field due to their lack of Canadian experience or credentials.
The CEC was designed to address this issue by requiring people first acquire Canadian experience before applying for permanent status, demonstrating their ability to compete in the Canadian labour market.
One of the most compelling elements of the CEC was many foreign students who had graduated from respected Canadian universities were eligible to work in Canada for up to three years. This seemed to be an appropriate way of enabling foreign students to acquire permanent status without encountering the difficulty of having to locate a Canadian employer while overseas — a daunting prospect, especially for a recent graduate.
The CEC was a very popular program. In a press release dated Nov. 8, the federal government announced it had received over 25,000 applications under this category in 2013. What it decided to do about that however, was in my view unconscionable.
As a result of the government’s reassessment of the program, a cap of 12,000 applications was imposed, with sub caps of 200 applications in a series of “lower skilled” occupations — while a number of occupations were no longer accepted at all.
During the weeks since the announcement, I have met countless foreign students, many of whom are already on work permits and engaged in employment that until now would have allowed them to apply for permanent status in Canada. The government’s announcement pulled the rug out from underneath them. As a Canadian, I find this treatment callous and unfair.
As an immigration lawyer, I find this behaviour foolhardy and short-sighted. The Canadian government still believes Canada is the first choice for many foreign nationals including students and the highly skilled seeking to leave their homes and their families in the developing world for a better future. This is, in fact, not the case.
Canada is in competition with other industrialized nations for a small supply of highly skilled immigrants. Although it is true Canada’s multiculturalism and history of welcoming immigrants has caused it to be viewed favourably in many countries, the recent pattern of constant (often retroactive) change in immigration law and policy has left the Canadian legal regime unpredictable and unappealing to many foreign nationals who would be more than happy to come to Canada, but who are unwilling to risk tens of thousands of dollars paid to post-secondary institutions and years of their lives given the possibility the government might choose to simply change its mind and render them ineligible without any notice.
I often remark the government would never think to treat Canadian citizens as callously as it treats prospective immigrants. Perhaps in another time such behaviour might have been less foolish, but those days are past. If Canada wishes to maintain its immigration advantage and continue to welcome the best and brightest from all parts of the world, it must accept the fact that unfair, arbitrary changes made to immigration policy without notice to affected individuals will undermine that mission, ultimately harming Canada’s national interests.
The Canadian government has to learn to treat prospective immigrants like human beings or, better yet, paying customers.
Guest columnist Joel Sandaluk practises immigration law in Toronto at Mamann Sandaluk and Kingwell LLP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @JoelSandaluk.