Minister Jason Kenney has been the face of Canadian immigration for some time. He held the post of Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism from October 2008 for nearly five years, until,the July 2013 cabinet shuffle when he became the Minister of the newly coined "Jobs" department, the Employment and Social Development Minister (formerly known as HRSDC, or Human Resources and Social Development Canada). He remains Minister for Multiculturalism, and thus has more than just a hand in the work he started five years ago.
While at the center of all things immigration, including being credited in large part for helping to win a majority government due to his political acuity and doggedness, he led an unprecedented era of change in immigration. In particular, the ALMO stream was introduced to create efficiencies in the foreign worker realm. Previously, LMOs had taken upwards of four months to process. The ALMO program curtailed this to two weeks and sometimes quicker. There had also been changes announced to the force of the program, including an employer "blacklist", but as of the spring when the media criticized the program, we have not seen any particular enforcement action being taken.
Then came increased media attention in April, 2013 due to a few different cases, and suddenly, the temporary foreign worker (TFW) program was the center of attention in Canadian immigration and government circles. As a result, several new measures have been introduced over the past 6 months, including the following big picture changes to engender the Canadians-first policy which was always the intention of the program:
- suspension of the ALMO
- a user fee of CAD 275
- more stringent and lengthy advertising rules
- removal of certain exceptions, such as entry-level wages for post-graduation students
- examination of any arrangements involving third parties and/or outsourcing
- renewed focus and questions regarding transition to a Canadian workforce
- new policies concerning wages and payroll structuring
- upcoming harsh new investigation and enforcement mechanisms
Mr. Kenney, while the minister of immigration, led the file, and to a large extent, will continue to lead the foreign worker file given his new duties which include overseeing the LMO program, and any new version of the ALMO that may be introduced.
 The Hon. Chris Alexander, Canada's new immigration minister, will also have responsibility for certain parts of the foreign worker program, such as new policies concerning LMO-exempt categories, such as the intercompany transferee category, as well as the operational side of work permit processing both in Canada and abroad.
Two Recent Speeches Speech No. 1 - Economic Club, October 8, 2013 (Toronto)
- Improving Canada’s economic prospects and performance, skill shortages and skill mismatches, turning them into good jobs for Canadians and greater prosperity for the long term
- Solving the issue of jobs without people and people without jobs
- Markets are still showing slow growth: Canadian recovery has been inconsistent across the country
- Under-represented groups in the labour market include youths and aboriginals
- Large unemployed populations in the north and west where major skills gaps exist
- While sustained labour market shortages prevent businesses from growing, wage rates have not risen as they should in an acute national labour shortage
- Yet, employers complain of gaps in gaming, IT, resources, construction
- Canadian Chamber of Commerce estimated that the skills shortfall by 2016 will be exacerbated by almost 550 000 unskilled workers who will not qualify for skilled vacancies that will exist, and that number could double to over one million by the year 2021.
- The Canadian Federation of Independent Business did a recent survey of small businesses, which determined that almost 300 000 full- and part-time private sector jobs still went unfilled in the second quarter of 2013.
- We need to do more to promote vocational training in high schools and apprenticeships.
- Canada has an average of 14 percent youth unemployment while Germany has five percent with 50 percent of young Germans doing academic post-secondary degrees, doing trades (and then going onto professions with those technical skills)
- One solution: employment-based training, through the Canada job grant
- Other opportunities exist through Apprenticeship Incentive and Completion Grants
- Other solutions to the mismatch problem include better interprovincial credential and licensing recognition (for Canadians as well as for immigrants).
Some of the shortfalls predicted by industry associations include the following:
- Engineers: 95,000 will retire by 2020
- Construction Sector Council says the sector will need 319,000 new workers between 2012 and 2020
- The Information and Communications Technology Council (the ICTC Sector council) says that by 2016, Canadian employers will need to hire 106,000 ICT workers.
- Mining Industry HR Council forecasts a shortfall of more than 100,000 workers
- Similar shortfalls are predicted in other sectors, including petroleum, supply chain, etc.
Speech No. 2 - Skilled Migration Conference, Oct. 18, 2013 (Calgary)
At the inaugural Skilled Migration conference held in a market which is perennially talking about difficulty finding labour, and is bordered by other provinces with the same dilemma (namely B.C. and Saskatchewan), Minister Kenney acknowledged having to balance some of these factors with countervailing problems in the country, including:
- 14 percent youth unemployment nationally
- In some places, including Toronto, that figure is closer to 20 percent - although these figures are not nearly as bad as some places in Europe such as Greece and Italy where it can be 40-50 percent
- So our labour market problems and long-term growth are good problems to have to contend with
- There are aberrations in the labor market around the country; for instance, auto parts manufacturers in southern Ontario, and fisheries in NB, are paying good wages, and yet they apparently are not attracting local workers, who complain about unemployment.
- Salaries are barely keeping up with inflation - which (as the Minister said in Toronto) one economic factor that is not consistent with a real LM shortage
- There is a difference between Canadians, unions, academics, and economists say about TFW program, vs. what employers say
- Adequate LM information, and specifically, sector-specific data. Government is working on improving the LM information system.
- We need to focus more on the skilled trades and apprenticeships - both getting our youth in to these programs and vocations, and creating more apprenticeship opportunities
- We need to remove interprovincial barriers to trade, so that it is no longer easier to move from Bulgaria to Ireland to practice as a physician than it is from Saskatchewan to Alberta
- Employers have to do more to invest in training
- TFW should be a last resort
- Round 2 to the reforms (after this summer) will be a discreet, i.e. limited and narrow ALMO program.
- Minister Kenney and his staff are working on a cabinet submission this Fall, with a transition plan
- He recognizes that the present long waiting times (as long as 6 months) are not practicable for business