Feds should deliver on commitment to a renewed, effective Federal Skilled Worker Program


July 23, 2012

In his most recent Hill Times column, Playbook team member Erik Waddell discusses the federal government’s immigration strategy and the likelyhood that a revamped Federal Skilled Worker Program is on tap before the 2015 campaign.

The full text of Erik’s article is pasted below….

Wins on the immigration file are important to the Conservative government. It’s a sure bet that delivering onthis commitment will be a priority before the 2015 election.

By: ERIK WADDELL

Published: Monday, 07/09/2012 12:00 am EDT

OTTAWA—A lot of folks in official Ottawa have been parsing the results of the last election in hopes of gaining insight into what the next democratic event will look like. While there are many different readings of the tea leaves on offer, one thing is certain—success on the immigration file will be key to Conservative election hopes in 2015.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is one of the hardest-working ministers in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Cabinet. He has overseen a number of significant reforms at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, including reducing the time necessary to process refugee applications, taking action on immigration fraud, and tackling the very serious issue of human smuggling; all this while maintaining record high immigration levels.

As Kenney and other members of the government head back to their ridings over the summer, however, there remains some fairly significant work to be done by the public servants at Immigration Canada on a number of important files.

Key among these will be delivering on a promise to implement changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP). This program is intended to help find people abroad who possess skills and work experience underrepresented in the Canadian workforce, bring them to Canada, and then fast-track them to permanent residency so they can then contribute to the betterment of Canadian society and the Canadian economy.

The government has been making incremental changes to the FSWP for the past four years, largely in an effort to eliminate the massive backlog in processing applications that had dogged an otherwise good program. Thanks to Kenney and his officials, this backlog has now been dealt with and the FSWP can finally shift into high gear.

Immigration Canada plans to “create a just-in-time system that recruits people with the right skills to meet Canada’s labour market needs, fast track their immigration, and get them working in a period of months, not years.”

This is a laudable goal. There is no doubt that Kenney wants to see it met and in a timely manner. The real question is, will Immigration Canada be able to deliver?

Once Immigration Canada is made aware of what specific skill sets are lacking in Canada, immigration officials around the globe will then try and entice the right kind of worker to emigrate to the True North Strong and Free. In doing so, these officials would certainly like to rely on Canadian embassies and consulates to facilitate this work. However, with the reduction in staff and services at Canadian embassies, coupled with the recent job cuts at Immigration Canada and other departments like HRSDC, it seems reasonable to ask whether Immigration Canada has the capacity and expertise to implement a renewed skilled worker program without a backlog creeping back into the system.

After all, the key to a successful FSWP is being able to quickly identify the workforce needs, and then to quickly fill those needs.

As of July 1, 2012, Immigration Canada put a temporary stop on accepting applications for the FSWP, with the expectation that the program will be back and open for business in early 2013 after new regulations take effect. This also gives the bureaucracy a chance to try and retool its internal processes to avoid falling into the same red tape morass that bogged down this program last time around.

Wins on the immigration file are important to the Conservative government. It’s a sure bet that delivering on this commitment to a renewed and effective Federal Skilled Worker Program will be a priority before the 2015 election. Whether a promise made becomes a promise kept remains to be seen.

Erik Waddell worked as a communications and policy adviser for federal Conservative Cabinet minister Tony Clement from 2006-2012. He is now a public affairs and communications consultant.