Evaluation of the Federal Skilled Worker program

Executive summary

Purpose of the evaluation

The evaluation of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), which addressed a series of evaluation issues and questions related to program relevance, design, implementation and  impact, is focused on the period after introduction of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) in 2002 and related regulations and before the implementation of the Ministerial Instructions (in 2008). More specifically, the objectives of this evaluation are to assess:

  • Program design and implementation, including timeliness, consistency and transparency of selection; and
  • The impact of the program to date at the immediate and intermediate outcome levels, including an assessment of the economic establishment of skilled workers.

The evaluation was designed to address the complexity of the FSWP by using multiple approaches and lines of evidence. In the course of the evaluation, data was collected and analyzed from a variety of primary (e.g. interviews, surveys and focus groups) and secondary sources (document and literature review, as well as federal government databases – Computer Assisted Immigration Processing System (CAIPS), Field Operations Support System (FOSS) and Longitudinal Immigration Database (IMDB)).

Federal Skilled Workers Program

The Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) was developed as a part of Canada’s immigration strategy, wherein permanent residents are selected based on their ability to become economically established in Canada. With the introduction of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) on June 28, 2002, the selection system for skilled workers was changed to respond to the dynamic labour market associated with today’s knowledge-based, global economy. Based on an objective and transparent points system, the new Federal Skilled Worker Program is intended to be more effective at selecting immigrants who will succeed economically. The program revisions reflected the need to1:

  • improve the economic success rate of skilled worker immigrants;
  • maintain the quantity of skilled worker immigrants; and
  • improve the transparency of the selection process

Applicants who wish to come to Canada under the Federal Skilled Workers Program must meet the Program’s minimum requirements2. Applicants who meet minimum requirements are then reviewed against the following six selection factors: i) work experience; ii) education; iii) language; iv) age; v) arranged employment; and vi) adaptability elements that involve factors such as a positive arranged employment opinion, spousal (partner’s) education, family relations in Canada, post-secondary study and work experience in Canada. To be eligible for a permanent resident visa under the FSWP, applicants must meet the “minimum number of points required of a skilled worker” or the “pass mark” set by the Minister. The pass mark was last set on September 18, 2003 at 67 points3.

Major findings and conclusions

The major findings and conclusions arising from the evaluation are as follows:

A. All stakeholder groups recognize a strong, continuing need for the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

Interviewees attributed the need for this program to the importance of skilled workers for the economy, and the presence of skill shortages, which have resulted from economic growth and the increasing rates of retirement associated with an aging population (although economic data have not indicated widespread skill shortages). They observed that the FSWP is consistent with departmental and Government–wide priorities in that it helps to strengthen the Canadian labour market and economy, maintain a stable workforce, and build a stronger and more competitive country. As well, they stated that the Program responds to the immediate and longer-term need for highly skilled professionals, and addresses Canada’s broader immigration objectives. Stakeholders suggest that by targeting different pools of workers and responding to different economic needs, the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) complement, rather than duplicate, the FSWP.

B. The findings from the IMDB data analysis and the FSW surveys demonstrate that IRPA FSWs become established economically and meet the needs of employers.

With respect to economic indicators, the IMDB analysis found that 89% of FSWs were employed or self-employed three years after landing.  Employment earnings for this group also increased over time.

Ninety-five percent of the employers surveyed for the evaluation indicated that FSWs are meeting or exceeding their expectations. Further, most employers (63%) had found it difficult to fill the position for which the FSW was eventually hired.

C. Adoption of the new FSWP selection criteria in 2002 has improved the economic performance of FSWs and is broadly supported by the interviewees.

IMDB data indicates that the average employment earnings of IRPA FSWs are higher than those of pre-IRPA. For the 2004 cohort, for example, employment earnings increased from $40,100 in the first year after landing to $47,500 a year later, while average employment earnings for pre-IRPA FSWs increased from $24,300 to $31,300 for the same time period. The percentage of FSWs reporting employment insurance receipts or social assistance benefits has also declined with the introduction of IRPA. Regression analysis of FSW earnings also shows that the selection regime significantly affects the level of income of FSWs. IRPA FSWs earn significantly more than their pre-IRPA counterparts.

D. Skilled workers who have arranged employment have significantly higher employment earnings than those who did not have an Arranged Employment Offer (AEO). However, staff at some Canadian Visa Offices Abroad (CVOA) have serious concerns regarding the integrity of AEOs as they currently exist.

IMDB data shows that the average employment earnings for FSWs with an AEO were $79,200 three years after landing, compared to $44,200 for those without.  Results from the client survey support this finding. In addition, the survey indicates that IRPA FSWs with an AEO are more likely to still be working for their first employer in Canada.

In the case studies, some CVOA staff expressed serious concerns over the level of fraud involved, and the due diligence required to assess the validity of job offers. The AEO fraud is commonly associated with job offers from non-existent employers, fictitious positions incompatible with the type of business or business operations, offers of convenience from friends or family members, and genuine offers with inflated job descriptions.

E. Processing times show that IRPA was successful in reducing the time associated with the selection decision and final decision. However, this was largely offset by an increase in the time required to complete the paper screening, as the rate of applications received exceeded the capacity to process them. Notwithstanding this, the revisions have resulted in a system that is more transparent, objective, and easier to understand.

Although the regulations relating to FSWP have moved towards a more objective, transparent and efficient process of selecting skilled workers, the processing times remained long and the backlog increased. Average overall processing times increased by 3 months (from an average of 20 months under pre-IRPA to an average of 23 months under IRPA). Reductions in the time required for the selection decision and final decision were largely offset by an increase in the time required to complete the paper screening (initial screening of the applications was delayed by the large number of files in the queue and competing priorities).

Key factors that contributed to this increase in the backlog include:

  • Litigation. The applications that underwent dual assessments after the introduction of IRPA, created delays in the application processing (the average processing time increased from 20 months under pre-IRPA  to 55 months for dual assessed applications).
  • Competing priorities and reduced visa targets. From 2002 to 2008, the minimum visa target for the FSWP decreased from about 116,000 to 67,000 visas. Applications received under the PNP, the Quebec skilled worker program and the Ministerial Instructions are given priority within the economic class, which often limits the ability to process IRPA applications received before Ministerial Instructions were introduced. Lowering the visa targets for the FSWP limits the ability of a CVOA to reduce its backlog.
  • Potential for fraud. Fraud is prevalent across the CVOAs visited, and is a major concern for visa officers. Some areas suffer from higher levels of fraud, which is at least in part evident in the level of the approval rates in different visa offices. In such cases, it may take longer to assess an application.
  • Limited access to effective tools and resources. A lack of standardised tools to aid in the assessment of language, education, and work experience makes it very difficult to achieve consistent, reliable and timely processing of applications.
  • High intake levels for applications. There was a surge in the number of applications received before IRPA came into effect in 2001, and again in 2004, when the pass mark was lowered from 75 to 67.
  • Adjusting the pass mark. While it was envisioned in the program design that the pass mark would be adjusted to manage the flow of applications received, this has not occurred since 2003. Therefore, intake of applications remained high as many applicants could qualify under the 67 points pass mark.

F. While most interviewees view the current selection criteria to be appropriate given the objectives of the Program, many identified potential opportunities for improvement with respect to the assessment process and the number of points awarded for certain criteria.

The IMDB data indicates that the selection factors are effective predictors of economic performance. In particular, regression analysis indicate that the economic performance of FSWs is closely linked to whether they have an AEO, as well as to their language abilities and previous work experience in Canada prior to obtaining permanent resident status. Among other factors from the selection grid, age, education, work experience and partner’s education also have a positive effect on employment earnings. Relatives in Canada and having studied in Canada for at least two years are the only two selection factors that have a negative impact on earnings.

To improve the FSWP, interviewees, CVOA staff, and research on other similar programs, suggest that consideration should also be given to: requiring formal language testing and placing greater emphasis on full fluency in one of the official languages; placing a higher priority on younger skilled workers; establishing educational equivalencies and requiring credential recognition in regulated professions; reviewing the adaptability criterion particularly with respect to awarding AEO points under two different criteria; spousal education; and the definition of relatives in Canada.

G. Most provincial governments prefer the PNP due to its perceived responsiveness about provincial priorities and needs. As the PNP has expanded in recent years, the levels for the FSWP have been reduced, to ensure CIC adheres to the annual levels plan.

Most provincial governments prefer the PNP, citing perceived advantages such as greater responsiveness to immediate labour needs and provincial priorities, the ability to attract workers who wish to settle in destinations other than major urban centers and shorter processing times.

In response to strong provincial support, the target for the PNP has increased from 1,500 visas in 2002 to 20,000 visas in 2008. According to official documents and available data, the minimum targets for the FSWP decreased from 116,000 visas to 67,000 visas over the same time period.

H. The characteristics of FSWs have changed and are more diversified with the introduction of IRPA.

In response to the changes in regulations and selection factors, the characteristics of FSWs have changed somewhat under IRPA, as FSWs selected under that regime are more highly educated and have a better knowledge of official languages. Other changes include shift in the source countries of applicants, illustrated by a drop in admission from Asia.

Even though China remained the top source country for principal applicants landing in Canada, the share of FSWs coming from that country went from 28% under pre-IRPA to 16% under IRPA. The occupational mix of FSWs also became more diversified with the introduction of the IRPA regulations. The majority (60%) of pre-IRPA FSWs were intending to work in professional occupations in natural and applied sciences (NOC 21), while the percentage of FSWs intending to work in these professions was much lower (33%) after IRPA was introduced. Another outcome of IRPA is therefore the diversification of the profile of FSWs admitted under that regime.

I. Information regarding points is deleted in CAIPS for applicants whose interviews are waived.

Recognizing that the CAIPS system was designed at a time where most applicants were asked for an interview, the database did not capture selection decisions for people who were not interviewed. With the new regulations, the majority of applicants are not interviewed as part of the selection process. Therefore, the information regarding selection decisions is lost in the CAIPS system. This makes it difficult to assess the impact of the selection criteria.

When the Global Case Management System (GCMS) is implemented, the system should be designed in a way that such information is kept for further analysis.


1 Canada Gazette “Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations”, Vol. 135, No. 50 — December 15, 2001

2 The minimum requirements under the IRPA are that the applicant have at least one year of continuous full-time paid employment or the equivalent in continuous part-time employment in the last 10 years in skill level 0, A or B in the National Occupational Classification (NOC). An applicant must also have performed the actions described in the lead statement for the occupation (or occupations) as set out in the description in the NOC and have performed at least a substantial number of the main duties, including all of the essential duties, as set out in the occupational description of the NOC [R75(2)].

3 Between June 28, 2002 and September 18, 2003, the pass mark was set at 75 points.

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