The federal government is making good on a promise to facilitate immigration for skilled tradespeople who are desperately needed in Canada, yet often fail to meet the requirements of existing programs that tend to favour white-collar professionals.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Monday that Canada would open its doors to 3,000 skilled tradespeople starting next year under a new immigration stream set to launch Jan. 2, 2013.
Qualifying applicants will need to have a prearranged job offer in Canada or a certificate of qualification from a province or territory that proves they’ll be “job ready” when they arrive.
They will also be required to meet only basic French- or English-language requirements, a lower threshold than the federal skilled worker program that awards applicants points based on criteria like language proficiency and post-secondary education.
“For the last three or four decades … it has been virtually impossible for skilled tradespeople to immigrate to Canada through our skilled worker program because it placed emphasis on academic training and formal post-secondary education,” Kenney said at a news conference in Mississauga, Ont., just west of Toronto.
“That’s why we are lowering the language benchmark for tradesmen to a basic level, enough so they can safely work in the Canadian environment and have enough English or French to integrate but we do not require high levels of proficiency in this program.”
While the government has toughened language rules for many streams in recent months, Kenney said it is necessary to loosen them for this particular group if Canada is going to find workers who can fill labour market gaps in certain parts of the country.
Citing figures from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Kenney noted Canada is poised to experience a shortage of up to 163,000 construction workers, 130,000 oil workers and 10,000 skilled workers in the steel trades over the next decade.
Yet of the 60,000 skilled workers admitted each year, he said just three per cent enter the skilled trades.
He urged provincial and territorial governments as well as employers to invest more in vocational and apprenticeship training for Canadians, including skills training for young people and aboriginals who have higher levels of unemployment. That said, he admitted many have made such investments yet there remains “acute shortages” that only immigration can resolve.
“I have been hearing from Canadians who say ‘what about those who came to this country in the ’50s and ’60s who had construction trades and skilled trades … Why won’t we let them come to Canada anymore?’ And then I heard from employers desperately crying out for skilled tradespeople to help them fuel their expansion,” he said. “This is about having an immigration system that works for Canada, works for our economy, works for newcomers, fuels our long-term growth and prosperity.”
On hand for the announcement at an aerospace parts plant, Michael Atkinson of the Canadian Construction Association welcomed the news.
He said the current skilled worker stream, which is under review and poised to relaunch in the new year with updated criteria, is not “trades friendly.” It’s been more likely to accept someone with a “post-doctorate degree in Ancient Greek Pottery” than a 20-year veteran welder or electrician, he argued.
“(The) Construction Sector Council says that we’re going to need some 320,000 new workers by 2020 just to replace those that will be retiring in the intervening period and to keep pace with the high demand our industry currently is seeing,” Atkinson said. “So the measures being announced (Monday), we couldn’t welcome with greater anticipation and greater excitement.”
Under the new stream, applicants will require at least two years of work experience as a skilled tradesperson. Their skills and experience must also coincide with requirements laid out in Canada’s labour market classification system.
Electricians, welders, heavy-duty equipment mechanics and pipe-fitters are among the occupations that will be eligible for the new stream.
Kenney said the federal government is working with the provinces and territories to determine exactly which skilled trades are experiencing labour shortages, and a full list will be available before the program launches.
Kenney first announced the new stream in the spring budget.
Until now, skilled tradespeople generally applied through either the Canadian Experience Class, which welcomes those who studied in Canada or were already working here temporarily, or the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provinces to select immigrants who meet local labour market needs.