On the steps of Ontario’s legislature, as the evening sun glinted off a pale sky, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen welcomed businesses to apply for a special visa that will allow them to attract highly skilled workers and immigrants from abroad as well as hold out the promise of lower fees in the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
It’s a promising start to Hussen’s new policy, and one which will help Ontario improve labour market outcomes for immigrants and Canadian-born workers.
The goal of this new immigration visa is to provide a better pathway to employment for both immigrants and Canadian-born workers — and, more importantly, to ensure that immigrants and refugees can support themselves and their families while they’re in Canada.
To fill this demand, Hussen’s mandate letter called for more flexible ways to attract potential foreign workers and the province to use that flexibility to upgrade its ability to fill labour market gaps.
For immigrants and refugees, these pathways can and should mean rapid and seamless integration and placement in the jobs of their choice — whether they be in trades, construction, health care, agriculture, entrepreneurship or the trades of the future.
Working in a fast-growing, cutting-edge, innovation-rich economy like Ontario’s, however, can be challenging for those looking to build their lives here and be self-supporting.
This means bringing in both labour and skills. That’s where Hussen’s new visa can prove invaluable.
The program is designed to address labour market challenges in both occupations and industries, and allow employers to attract foreign and Canadian-born skilled workers who can fill those jobs with their skills and experience, while also helping those workers to become independent by sharing with them skills that are not currently in demand in Ontario.
This flexibility is crucial to avoid disadvantaging Canadians, those with lower education levels and experienced workers in industry segments that are in need of labour.
Where industry is concerned, Hussen’s new visa allows employers to search for skilled workers from around the world and match their skills with the specific needs of that employer. Employers will be able to nominate individuals whose skills match the Canadian needs of a particular industry or occupation, and those relationships will be strengthened, not weakened.
In addition to matching needed skills to the jobs, employers will also have to pay employers $500 for each foreign worker accepted under the new visa. That’s a more predictable, less punitive and much more flexible fee structure than the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and should help attract immigrants who would otherwise otherwise be turned away from Canada.
Thanks to Hussen, Canada is now free to attract internationally trained immigrants and refugees to Ontario and to better address our labour market needs.
There are hundreds of industries where this type of flexibility will help us attract the skilled workers we need to grow our economy. Ontario’s plans to use this new visa in specific areas of interest, such as the trades, construction and agriculture, could have massive benefits for the economy and workforce in these sectors.
Providing this flexible framework to welcome highly skilled newcomers will improve Ontarians’ work lives, social interactions and entire community. Ontario’s commitment to this visa shows that we’ve recognized the importance of creating a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees in order to improve their opportunities and those of all Ontarians.
Ontario and Canada need this innovation and investment in our labour markets. Labor market access, given the dramatic skill mismatches across our economy, is becoming a crucial piece of a balanced national immigration policy.
But our immigration policy must also encourage employers to grow their businesses here and invest in their workforce.
The one area where Ontario can demonstrate leadership in the rest of Canada is the successful use of this new visa as a gateway for highly skilled international workers.
Ontario is showing its commitment to enhancing our competitiveness and economic power. We owe it to the growing number of Ontarians who need a better life.
May Bialek is the manager of national advocacy and research at Canadian Council for Refugees. Matt Sutherland is director of federal and international legal at Canadian Council for Refugees.