Evaluation of the Federal Skilled Worker program
The major conclusions arising from evaluation of the FSWP are as follows:
A. All stakeholder groups recognize a strong, continuing need for the Federal Skilled Worker Program.
Interviewees attributed the strong need for the program to the importance of skilled workers to the Canadian economy and the presence of skill shortages which result from economic growth combined with increased rates of retirement as the population ages (although economic data has not indicated widespread skill shortages). They also felt that the Program also contributes to increasing diversity in the social and economic fabric of Canadian society by supplying qualified and experienced workers. While most stakeholders see a definite need for the FSWP, Provincial Representatives are less likely to perceive a strong need because they view the FSWP as focused primarily on addressing the need for highly skilled workers over the medium-term. The FSWP is also viewed as being less responsive to changes in immediate needs than the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). Finally, the FSWP is also viewed as not fully addressing the needs of regional areas outside big urban cities where FSWs tend to concentrate.
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. 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) programs complement, rather than duplicate, the FSWP. While the PNP focuses on immediate needs including the need for less skilled workers, the FSWP focuses on highly-skilled individuals whose backgrounds should enable them to adapt to rapidly changing markets and form strong, long-term attachments to the labour market.
B. The findings from the IMDB analysis and the client surveys demonstrate that FSWs become established economically and meet the needs of employers.
Of the IRPA FSWs filing tax returns, the percentage reporting employment and/or self-employed income increases from 84% one year after landing to 89% three years after landing. Employment earnings also increase over time.
Ninety-five percent of the employers surveyed for the evaluation indicated that FSWs are meeting or exceeding 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 key informants.
IMDB data indicates that the average employment earnings of IRPA FSWs are higher than those of pre-IRPA FSWs. 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. IMDB regression analyses of FSW earnings also show that the selection regime significantly affects the level of income of FSWs. IRPA FSWs earn significantly more than their pre-IRPA counterparts.
The new selection approach emphasizing human capital is viewed by stakeholders as being more effective than the previous approach because it facilitates better economic success and integration of skilled workers, there is broader diversity in the occupational and professional backgrounds of FSWs, and skilled workers are generally more adaptable to changing labour market conditions.
D. Skilled workers who have arranged employment significantly outperform those without an AEO. However, some CVOA staff are much less supportive of using AEOs as they exist because of serious concerns regarding the integrity of arranged employment offers and the amount of work required to process those applications.
IMDB data shows that the average employment earnings for FSWs with an AEO49 (an average of $79,200 three years after landing) are significantly higher than the earnings of those who did not have an AEO (an average of $44,200 three years after landing). 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, the due diligence required to assess the validity of job offers and the legitimacy of the employers providing AEOs, and difficulties in performing that due diligence from abroad. In some offices, there are significant concerns about fraud 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. AEOs are less of a concern in the Buffalo visa office, where most such applications are from FSWs already in Canada.
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.
It was anticipated that moving to a more objective, transparent and efficient skilled worker selection process, involving fewer interviews and less frequent use of substituted evaluations, would reduce processing times and backlogs.
However, average 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). The backlog increased sharply from 330,000 in 1999, to over 600,000 as of the end of 2008.
Key factors that contributed to this increase in the backlog include:
- 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.
- Litigation. Due to the perceived inequity of these transition provisions, a number of applicants initiated litigation challenging these provisions. In response to these court challenges and some court orders, on December 1, 2003, substantive amendments to the IRPA regulations took effect, which provided for “dual assessment”, using either the selection criteria of the former Immigration Act (IA) or the IRPA, whichever was most advantageous to the principal applicant. The applications that underwent dual assessments after 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 target for the FSWP decreased from 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 tackle its backlog. For example, in the Hong Kong office the targets for 2008 were met mostly through processing priority applications (Ministerial Instruction), which means that not much progress was made in processing applications submitted under IRPA.
- 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 standardized 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.
- Adjusting the pass mark. While it was envisioned in the program design that the pass mark would be adjusted to manage backlogs, this has not occurred since 2003. Countries with similar programs such as Australia and New Zealand have introduced more flexibility by setting a pass mark and a pool mark which helps them better balance the demand and supply.
Findings from the client survey and case studies indicate that the application process and procedures are clear and understandable, information is accessible, and FSWs are generally satisfied with the services they have received. Stakeholders are somewhat less satisfied than FSWs with respect to the success of the Program in meeting the information needs of stakeholders and their applicants, and CIC managers and directors expressed some concerns about the success of the Program in providing quality services to FSWs and in effectively allocating resources.
F. Regression results from the IMDB indicate that factors of the selection grid significantly affect the level of earnings of the IRPA FSWs. While most key informants 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 various criteria.
The IMDB regression results indicate that the selection factors are an effective predictor of economic performance. In particular, the economic performance of FSWs is closely linked to whether they have an AEO as well as to their language abilities and work experience in Canada prior to obtaining permanent resident status. While the characteristics of the labour market will continue to evolve, this is not expected to directly impact the appropriateness of the current selection criteria. However, input from key informants, CVOA staff, and research on other similar programs suggests that consideration should 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 and reducing the upper limit of the age range for which maximum points are awarded. Suggestions for obtaining maximum points ranged between 35 to 45 years old.
- Establishing educational equivalencies for foreign degrees within the Canadian system and requiring credential recognition in regulated professions prior to applying for permanent residence.
- Reviewing the adaptability criterion particularly with respect to awarding AEO points under two different criteria, spousal education, definition of relatives in Canada, and introducing points for experience in working and studying in a country other than one’s country of nationality. In comparison to other countries, Canada places more emphasis on foreign experience and less emphasis on the adaptability criteria.
- Adjusting the pass mark on a more regular basis.
- Increasing the number of years that applicants are banned from reapplying for permanent residence if misrepresentation on their application is demonstrated (currently set at two years).
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 criteria, the characteristics of FSWs have changed under IRPA. Some changes in characteristics such as education (e.g. FSWs are more likely to have either a master’s degree or a PhD), knowledge of official languages (less report not knowing either official languages) and professional backgrounds (drawing from a more diverse range of occupations), occurred with IRPA. Other changes such as the drop in admission from Asia and the increased share of women also happened. A secondary outcome of IRPA is therefore the diversification of the profile of FSWs admitted under that regime.
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