ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

At a news conference to announce the signing of a new agreement between the federal and Ontario governments which will help skilled immigrants get licensed and find jobs in their fields

York University
Toronto, Ontario
November 22, 2013

As delivered

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Wonderful to be here with you today, and the only thing that needs to be added to that biography is that I was born and grew up in Toronto. So it’s nice to be back home. 

And I do feel very much at home on the campus of York University, having an institution that has touched my life at every stage, certainly as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration but also in Russia when the Schulich School and so many of your faculties were among the pioneers in making connections with post-Soviet Russia, Eastern Europe and across the board: research, settlement programs that are now deeply relevant to the work I’m doing now. 

And it’s great to follow you, sir, and be here at a podium with the leaders of one of Canada’s truly great universities to make an announcement that is of relevance to us all because it goes to the question of ensuring our immigration programs are successful, and ensuring that we help new Canadians and students, many international students who are becoming new Canadians, unlock the potential they know they have and we know they have. 

And I’m really delighted to be here with two ministers from the Ontario government to show that our partnership is strong and that our determination to get these programs right is particularly strong. 

So on behalf of Prime Minister Harper and the Government of Canada, thank you for being here today. Thank you for including me in this announcement. As you know, immigration is a key part of our Government’s plan to grow the economy, spur job creation and ensure long-term prosperity for all Canadians. 

We need to remind ourselves of that economic logic to immigration, of the desire of immigrants themselves to work in their fields, to build lives, to provide for their families and to contribute to the next phase of growth of a Canadian economy that we all admire in many ways, that we’re all doing our part to strengthen, but which we are depending upon immigrants to drive forward to a greater scale almost than ever before. It is 65 % of our labour market needs that are now, given our demography, given unfilled jobs, that are now being accounted for by immigration across this country. And that number is expected to grow. 

But to ensure that immigration genuinely fuels our future prosperity, we need to select immigrants who are ready, willing and able to immigrate into Canada’s labour market and fill roles in our economy where we have existing skills shortages. And I think the key word there is able, because we know they’re ready and willing, almost everyone who comes as an immigrant to Canada. But the ability to integrate depends on institutions, depends on processes that are outside of our control and have sometimes been too complex. 

So today’s announcement is about strengthening that ability to participate. Now, some might think that our work ends once we identify and select the immigrants we need at our missions in Delhi or Manila, which is very much in our thoughts these days, or elsewhere on any of the continents of the world where immigrants are now coming to Canada from. But this is really only the beginning. 

We must also ensure that immigrants can then actually put their skills to use in our labour market as soon as possible after they arrive. This is easier said than done, ladies and gentlemen, because, as you know, skilled workers in regulated professions, and I’m unsure of the numbers here, but I’m quite confident there are more regulated professions now than ever before, given the sophistication and specialization of our economy, all of these people must have their credentials recognized and obtain licensure, recognition of their qualifications, before they can begin working in their field in Canada. 

And the criteria for licensure established by regulated professions are of unquestioned importance. Of course, they come in different shapes and sizes for different professions. But let’s be clear, Canadians have a right to expect that the doctors who treat them, or the engineers who design and build our bridges, meet our country’s high standards. I mean, that is, after all, one of the reasons why Canada is a popular destination for immigration, because we have these high standards, because we have the high quality of life that goes with an economy dependent on professionals who are truly excellent in their fields. 

That said, it can be very challenging, as many of you know from your personal stories, from your families’ stories, from stories you’ve heard from friends or colleagues, for even the smartest and most determined of newcomers to get their qualifications recognized in Canada. This task can sometimes present frustrating and insurmountable barriers for immigrants to find meaningful employment.

The arrival in Canada of highly-skilled immigrants should help foster economic growth and prosperity. That’s the objective. But every year they spend struggling to get their credentials recognized not only discourages them, it costs them – and Canada – dearly.      

Every day that a new immigrant spends fighting to get those qualifications recognized is a day lost certainly in their career. It’s a day of discouragement and it’s a loss for Canada and for all of us as Canadians who really want newcomers to be able to contribute soon and quickly. 

In order to help address this reality, the Government of Canada now requires federal skilled worker applicants first to have their foreign educational credentials assessed by a designated third party to determine whether they compare with Canadian standards. And ladies and gentlemen, that now happens, it must happen outside of Canada as close to the beginning of the process as possible, and that is a huge improvement. We didn’t do that before. Only a decade ago, we did not do that. And it’s helping to close this gap and make sure that the recognition process is expedited. 

And that comparison, that objective third-party assessment of credentials allows the future immigrant to be on a path towards having their credentials recognized. We want that path to begin as far in advance as possible, ideally long before the newcomer steps onto Canadian soil.

We want to keep pressing that, pushing that assessment upstream in the immigration process so that potential newcomer applicants are clear about what will be required, about what the expectations are long before they set foot in Canada. But we must also help the newcomers already here overcome the hurdles they face in getting their foreign credentials recognized. 

We must help equip newcomers with the tools they need in order to begin working in the profession of their choice. And that is the beauty of the Bridge to Work Training program. It helps immigrants enter the labour market and find jobs that match their level of education and skills. It also gives immigrants access to programs to enhance their workplace language skills. 

And this is important because studies continue to show time and time again, that a newcomer’s success in Canada is largely determined by their ability to communicate in English and French. There is a direct correlation. And we know that not all newcomers come with a high level of English or French. The level is going up, but their ability to master English, French or both quickly, soon after they arrive, is directly linked, directly proportional to their chances of success in the economy in the job market. 

Now, today, I’m pleased to announce the signing of a new bridge training agreement between the federal and Ontario governments. As part of this agreement, our Government will invest $16.6 million over three years to support a total of 87 bridge training projects in this province. 

These projects will help newcomers in skilled professions get the training, support and Canadian work experience they need in order to get their credentials recognized, find work in their fields of expertise and contribute to the Canadian economy. Increasingly, an immigration system that responds to labour market needs means working in close collaboration with stakeholders across the board: public sector, private sector, provinces, territories, licensing bodies, employers obviously, educational institutions very much so. 

This partnership with Ontario is in that vein. It’s crucial, because in order to get our immigration system to where it needs to be, we must get foreign credential recognition right, and I look forward to continuing this work with my Ontario counterpart, Michael Coteau. We’re off to a good start, having been in frequent contact since I came into office, and he’s showing me the ropes with regard to some of the challenges that we have in this huge province and this huge Greater Toronto Area. 

This issue is a tough nut to crack, but we’ve made real progress together with provincial and territorial partners in trying to make the path towards certification in Canada an easier one. For example, concrete example, there is now a streamlined process for internationally trained professionals in 14 priority occupations to have their foreign credentials and experience assessed within one year. And that was not the case in these professions beforehand. 

We’ve had to convince, persuade the professional associations to show them that it is to their advantage to streamline these processes, to make the assessment process and the re-credentialing process more robust in some cases, and that is naturally to everyone’s benefit. 

And of course, through the Bridge to Work Training program, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario are helping reduce the barriers to employment and licensing for skilled workers. This partnership between our two governments, together with institutions across the province, will help newcomers get the leg up they need in order to get their foreign credentials recognized, and ultimately succeed. 

Because let’s remind ourselves, ladies and gentlemen, where we’re going with this great Canadian immigration story, of which we are also rightly proud. We have reduced backlogs by about 50 %. We’re going to take them down further. We have reduced processing times. We have created new programs to bring younger people, those with proven English and French skills, those with the skills we need to Canada in larger numbers. 

But on January 1, 2015, we are moving towards an Expression of Interest system, which I’ve been talking about now since July 15th, and Jason Kenney was talking about before that, which is really seeking to be a just-in-time delivery system for Canadian immigration. We are going to be saying to the whole world, if you’re interested in coming to Canada, tell us, express interest, and then we’ll be inviting those from this very large pool that we know we really need, that the provinces and territories have told us we really need, that universities and other employers have told us we really need, to apply, and aiming to process those applications within six months. 

Compare that with waiting times some of you have had to endure in federal skilled worker programs and so forth. It will be challenging. It is an ambitious target. But we know we can do it, and we need to do it, to remain at the forefront of innovation and of performance in terms of delivering the best immigration programs in the world. Canada’s are truly second-to-none. 

And let me simply close by emphasizing how important our partnership with York University is, with universities across the country, not only because you teach thousands, tens of thousands, you know, whole cities, towns and city-size communities, so many of the skills that are vital for our economy in the future. 

But because the international students that are here in numbers now, are increasingly our new immigrants because you, and you mentioned this with the opening of this new enterprise institute at the Schulich School, you are the start-up centres within this start-up nation that is Canada, and that’s why we have a Start-up Visa that is aiming to bring new entrepreneurs from around the world to partner with angel investors, venture capital people, incubators, many of whom have links to campuses like this, to make sure their ideas connect with Canadian research and turn into the businesses of the future. 

And finally, you’re our partners in the whole settlement process, helping to ensure that newcomers feel welcome, that they complete their education, that they connect with Canadians, that they connect with the job market, that they feel at home, that they are oriented, connected and unleashed in, through their full potential on the Canadian economy and in Canadian communities and society. 

Every time we step onto your campus and other campuses across the country, we feel that energy, we feel that all of those processes are literally underway and it’s a pleasure to be able to add some more resources to strengthen a partnership like the Bridge to Work Training program to ensure our immigrants maximize their contributions to our economy, and the benefits to themselves and to us all. 

Thank you.

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