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Report/Press release

2009 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada. Chapter 2 - Selecting Foreign Workers Under the Immigration Program

Date

2009

Authors

Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Abstract

Main Points

What we examined

In Canada, the federal government and the provinces and territories share jurisdiction over immigration. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) is generally responsible for the selection of immigrants and other foreign nationals and for ensuring that they are admissible—that is, that they do not present any risk to the health and safety of Canadians. The Department has also signed agreements with most provinces and territories allowing them to play an active role in selecting immigrants to meet the specific needs of their labour markets.

In 2008, Canada admitted about 250,000 people as permanent residents, including about 150,000 individuals and their immediate family members selected on the basis of attributes that would enable them to succeed in a dynamic labour market, such as education, professional experience, and official language ability. In addition, Canada allowed almost 370,000 temporary foreign workers in 2008 to fill a short-term need for labour.

We examined how CIC plans for and manages programs designed to facilitate the entry of permanent and temporary workers into Canada and the recognition of foreign credentials in Canada. In addition, we looked at the role of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) in supporting the planning and delivery of these programs, including the issuance of labour market opinions by its Service Canada offices. The audit covered the period from June 2002, when the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act came into effect, to 30 June 2009.

Our audit did not cover how CIC assesses whether applicants are admissible to Canada or how the provinces and territories nominate candidates for selection. Nor did we examine the Canada Border Services Agency’s processing of work permit applications at points of entry into Canada.

Why it’s important

Immigration has played an important role in the economic, social, and cultural development of Canada throughout our history. Its role is just as important today, given our aging population and labour force. Canada has an ongoing need for permanent workers with various skills and must compete with other countries to attract them. In addition, Canada has a need for various types of temporary workers to address short-term needs of the labour market, which vary from year to year and from region to region of the country.

It is critical that the government’s programs to facilitate the entry of permanent and temporary workers be designed and delivered in a way to ensure that the right people are available at the right time to meet the needs of the Canadian labour market. The choices that are made now will affect the kind of society Canada has in the future.

What we found

Although CIC followed a sound decision-making process in 2008 to design the Canadian Experience Class (a category of skilled foreign workers and students with Canadian work experience), the Department has made other key decisions without properly assessing their costs and benefits, risks, and potential impacts on other programs and delivery mechanisms. Program changes in recent years have resulted in a significant shift in the types of workers being admitted permanently to Canada under the immigration program’s economic component. We saw little evidence that this shift is part of any well-defined strategy to best meet the needs of the Canadian labour market.
The inventory of applications in the Federal Skilled Worker category has almost doubled since our 2000 audit and, in December 2008, represented more than 620,000 people waiting an average of 63 months for a decision on whether they would be admitted. Measures taken by CIC in 2008 to limit the number of new applications—for example, processing only those that meet new, more narrowly defined criteria—were not based on sufficient analysis of their potential effects. While it is too early to assess their full impact, trends in the number of applications received since the beginning of 2009 indicate that they might not have the desired effect, and CIC could be unable to process new applications within the 6 to 12 months it has forecast. Furthermore, CIC does not know and has not defined how much time it should take to clear the inventory of applications on hand when the measures were introduced.
CIC and HRSDC have not clearly defined their respective roles and responsibilities in assessing the genuineness of job offers and how that assessment is to be carried out. As a result, work permits could be issued to temporary foreign workers for employers or jobs that do not exist. In addition, there is no systematic follow-up by either department to verify that in their previous and current employment of temporary foreign workers, employers have complied with the terms and conditions (such as wages and accommodations) under which the work permits were issued. This creates risks to program integrity and could leave many foreign workers in a vulnerable position, particularly those who are physically or linguistically isolated from the general community or are unaware of their rights. Furthermore, weaknesses in the practices for issuing labour market opinions raise questions about the quality and consistency of decisions being made by HRSDC officers.
CIC has successfully introduced a number of initiatives and tools to address some of the inefficiencies we reported in 2000 in its processing of applications in missions overseas. However, efficiency gains will be seriously limited until an information technology system that has been under development for almost 10 years is implemented in missions abroad and CIC makes effective use of available technologies. In the meantime, employees in missions abroad are still buried in paperwork and spending a great deal of their time on clerical tasks. In addition, while the Department has developed a quality assurance framework that is available to all missions, immigration program managers are not required to use it or to report on quality assurance. Therefore, CIC still has little assurance that overall, decisions by visa officers are fair and consistent.
The entities have responded. The entities agree with all of the recommendations. Their responses follow each recommendation throughout the chapter.

Responsible institution

Office of the Auditor General of Canada

File Attachments

Links

Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis, Past policies, and Numbers of migrant workers

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Federal and National relevance

Languages

English