Building a data-based immigration system

Building a data-based immigration system
The firm where I work recently hosted a roundtable with Minister of Citizenship, Refugees, and Immigration John McCallum along with several business leaders in Canada. As part of the minister’s on-going commitment to review the International Mobility Program and his ministry’s relationship to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, consultations are being held to discuss the nature of business in Canada.
It was extremely satisfying to hear the minister speak so freely about immigration to Canada, and while some of the discussion centred on what Canadian business leaders need, it also centred around what is good for Canada. What does Canada need in order to continue to grow and lead in a world where companies and people are increasingly more mobile?

To my mind, this is a critical discussion. We live in a world that is mobile and globally accessible. There are few places cut off from this reality and the fact is, more and more people want to be mobile. They want to feel flexibility with when and where they work and what their lives should be like.

I, like many lawyers who do any kind of cross-border work, see this all the time. The majority of the employees I help move around the globe have worked in at least one other country separate from their country of origin/residence. They want experience. They want flexibility. They want to see the world and are, in the case of many of my clients, highly skilled enough that they are able to do this on a company’s dime.

It’s not just the employees that benefit. There has been an increase in the number of companies that have created operational centres of excellence around the globe. These are centres where talent is captured, honed, and then farmed out globally to projects and clients that are not only paying the company for the service, but also benefitting from the work. Whenever we talk about these types of centres, there seems to be an elephant in the room. It seems most people believe that when companies operate in this manner, it’s all about outsourcing and offshoring to save money despite whatever positive benefits might be gleaned in Canada. The idea of moving any jobs to another global location often doesn’t sit right with us.

Sometimes that may be the case, but not always. We can’t paint all immigration policy and strategy with the same fear that drove us into this confusing quagmire that is our current immigration system. This means reviewing the current policy/process (as the minister’s office is currently doing) and looking at the results and possible solutions through a data analytical lens.

To have an immigration system supported by data would create policies and programs based on the realities of the global market, as well as Canada’s demographic needs. It would mean being able to sell that reality to the Canadian people. But it also means educating the public on whatever realities the data reveals.

I fully accept that some of my long-standing beliefs or perceptions of the Canadian labour market may be skewed by the lens through which I see it. I work with businesses every day that cannot find the talent they need in Canada. In some cases it is because there is a shortage of a certain skillset, but sometimes it is because they are moving into processes or technologies not yet used in Canada but already used broadly in Europe. Bringing in the latter type of worker is a benefit to Canada in many ways. It continues to move our technologies forward. It brings in workers who can train and guide Canadian workers on these technologies. This in turn makes Canada and Canadian companies competitive not just locally, but globally. This is just one example of how foreign employees are used in Canada.

Being able to support these types of assertions with numbers (which to some degree I can do now, but won’t do so here in respect of the privacy of my clients and space) grounds us in our beliefs. We may still not like it. It still may not sit well, but if we have trustworthy data that has been gathered in a reputable fashion, we have a point to start the dialogue from.

In the end, this is what events like the one recently held at our firm give us — a chance to sit around a table and share our individual points of view. The minister seems open to it, as did the people sitting around the table. I am confident this type of constructive dialogue will continue throughout the minister’s other consultations, and beyond. As a lawyer within this industry, I will go forward with an open mind to the best ways to create a system that works well not just for business, but for all of Canada. This is a moment where Canada can and absolutely must assert itself as a global leader in migration policy.

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