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Canadian companies applaud foreign worker plan

A worker welds iron rods at the construction site of a commercial complex in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad Nov. 29, 2012. India's economy extended its long slump in the last quarter, with lower-than-expected growth keeping it on track for its worst year in a decade and underscoring the urgency of politically difficult reforms to spur a revival.

AMIT DAVE/REUTERS

Canada is creating a new program to fast-track the entry of foreign skilled tradespeople whose talents are in demand.

The Federal Skilled Trades Program is designed to combat a shortage of tradespeople that is hampering economic growth in Canada. Canadian companies applauded the Harper government's move, saying the existing skilled worker program made it difficult to import labour because admittance criteria put too much emphasis on postsecondary education.

"It was easier for somebody with a post-doctorate degree in ancient Greek pottery to get into Canada than somebody with 20 years of experience as a welder or an electrician," Canadian Construction Association president Michael Atkinson said.

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The new program, which will admit a maximum of 3,000 people next year, will begin accepting applications on Jan. 2, 2013, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Monday.

"For the first time in four decades … we will have a dedicated immigration stream in our federal immigration program for skilled tradesmen, people who are skilled to work with their hands and people who will be able to contribute enormously to Canada's economy," the minister said.

Eligible occupations will include electricians, welders, heavy-duty equipment mechanics and pipe fitters, among others.

The Harper government began its overhaul of admittance for foreign skilled workers during the 2012 budget, when it hit the reset button on a lengthy queue of foreigners who have been waiting for approval for half a decade or more.

Applicants under the new program will need to:

  • Have an offer of employment in Canada or a certificate of qualification from a province or territory to ensure that applicants are “job ready” upon arrival.
  • Meet a basic language requirement.
  • Have a minimum of two years of work experience as a skilled tradesperson, to ensure that the applicant has recent and relevant practice as a qualified journeyman.
  • Have the skills and experience that match those set out in the National Occupational Classification (NOC B) system, showing that they have performed the essential duties of the occupation.

To avoid backlogs, the Department Citizenship and Immigration is limiting applications in the program's first year to 3,000.

"This is not going to be like the old Skilled Worker Program with, with five-, seven-, eight-year wait times because there's no one in the queue in front of them. This is a fresh queue," the Minister said.

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But Mr. Kenney predicted the program will expand over the years ahead to become a mainstay. "I think the demand will pick up significantly, tracking demand in the labour market for skilled trades," he said. "I would expect to see this program grow and grow as an important factor of our immigration system."

The immigration department is drawing up a list of skilled trades' occupations beset by acute labour shortages. This list of what trades will qualify will be announced prior to Jan. 2. The Federal Skilled Trades Program will complement other immigration avenues already in place for skilled tradespersons, such as the Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Programs.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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