Monday, 19 May 2008

Lessons from Australia where pragmatism, not altruism, is the best policy.

The following can be read in full here at the Toronto Star.

Aussies fix immigrant woes

Australia's fine-tuned system more successful in getting newcomers jobs, study suggests

May 12, 2008 07:43 PM
Nicholas Keung

An Australian-style system for selecting skilled immigrants that includes mandatory English testing and credential assessments could be the answer to Canada's classic newcomer conundrum: the doctor who ends up driving a cab.

Or so a new study suggests.

Australia and Canada once had similar criteria and "points" systems for selecting immigrants in the skilled category – and similar outcomes.

But Australia fine-tuned its screening system over the past decade, and its degree-holding newcomers are doing much better than those arriving in Canada
, said the new study to be released today by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The fact that Canada and Australia had similar selection systems that produced similar results is an indictment against Canada's immigration system. It means our system is seriously flawed and is need of correction. But what kinds of corrections should Canada undertake?

Based on census data, Lesleyanne Hawthorne, a renowned migration policy researcher from the University of Melbourne, found that about 65 per cent of migrants with a university degree who arrived between 1996 and 2001 had jobs within six months in both countries. Of those in professional fields, only 30 per cent had found work in their field within five years.

Having a job is not the same as having a job within your field. Though 65% found work within six months of arrival we cannot count this as a success without details as to what jobs they found. A professional engineer from India working part time as a security guard in Canada is considered employed but is not employed in his field. We shouldn't consider this a success story yet this is an all too common a story of immigrants who throw away their careers and waste away their skills in Canada at jobs for which they are over qualified.

However, since 1999 Australia has simply excluded an increasing number of applicants thought to be at risk of not getting jobs in their field, through stringent English testing and assessment of their credentials by authorized bodies.

Australia has also tweaked the way it allocates points for things like education, age and work experience, and has shifted its emphasis from "altruism to pragmatism." Based on labour needs, additional points are granted to applicants with skills that are in demand and to those who have Australian-certified qualifications or experience.

By 2005, initial employment rates for Australia's skilled immigrants shot up to 83 per cent.

For reference purposes the study the article is reporting on is called The Impact of Economic Selection Policy on Labour Market: Outcomes for Degree-Qualified Migrants in Canada and Australia and it was commissioned by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Statistics Canada and Service Canada.

There are a few things we can learn from this study that Canada should implement to fix its immigration system.

The first is that Canada should lower its immigration intake. This isn't stated in the article but it is implied by the fact that Canada has the highest immigrant intake in the entire world with never ending calls to increase the numbers. If Canada sincerely desires to repeat Australia's success then we should allow the same proportion of immigrants per capita to Canada as Australia does.

Canada should also access the language skills and job skills of immigrants entering Canada via the skilled immigrant stream by Canadian professional governing bodies before they are allowed to land in Canada. This can be done at Canadian consulates around the world where standardized tests developed by Canada's professional and labour groups can be administered to potential immigrants. This would curtail the amount of "credentials fraud" in countries like India where degrees can be bought and not earned. Canada should only allow those immigrants who pass the tests into the country. And, a passing grade on the tests would give the immigrant credential recognition and a running start when they arrive in Canada.

Canada should cater its immigration system to current labour market needs and not projected ones based on an outdated and arbitrary points system. Projected labour market needs are based on assumptions that are not always valid let alone come to fruition whereas current labour market are real and observable. There is no sense in bringing in IT specialist from India when there is a shortage of plumbers.

Canada should also severely restrict the family reunification class to spouses and dependent children and that's it. Too many unskilled relatives of working age who have neither the language skills or the job skills to succeed in Canada have entered the country through this class of immigrant because job skills and language skills are not stressed in this class. This is a case where pragmatism defeats altruism. To allow in a skilled immigrant and then his or her spouse and dependent children is pragmatic. To allow this individual to sponsor unskilled uncles, aunts, nephews, brothers, sisters, parents, etc. is altruistic. Canada's immigration system is not an extension of the foreign aid program. The immigration system exists to benefit the country and by implication its citizens and not to satisfy the materialistic fantasies of foreign people.

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