Revealing the list of employers authorized to bring immigrants to Canada through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot is an important first step in combating immigration fraud.

Kelly Toughill
Analysis by Kelly Toughill

 

Changing your mind takes courage.

That’s why three Atlantic provinces deserve praise for revealing the list of employers authorized to pick Canada’s next permanent residents. Making the lists public will bolster faith in the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and frustrate those inclined to commit immigration fraud.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot is novel in two ways: it gives businesses unprecedented power to help shape the country, and it is Canada’s only regional immigration program. It is also important because it may serve as a template for new immigration programs across Canada.

Under the Pilot, the federal government sets basic language, education, medical and security standards, but hands designated employers the task of choosing who gets to live here permanently and, eventually, become a Canadian. The provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador decide which employers get to participate in the program.  The Pilot’s processing times are faster and language and education standards are lower than many other Canadian immigration programs. Also, applicants can get a temporary permit that allows them to come to Canada and start working immediately while their permanent resident application is processed.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot needs to not only be honest, but be seen to be honest. It won’t survive if it loses the public’s trust, and it’s too important to fail. 

The Pilot sparked interest from around the world when it was launched in early 2017. Potential candidates could only apply with the help of a company, but the provincial lists of approved companies were confidential: only provincial immigration officials and settlement agencies had access to the lists.

Many lawyers, consultants and settlement agencies received calls from potential applicants and offshore agents trying to find out which employers held the keys to the program. Some offered to pay for the secret list. One woman wandered from store-to-store in a Halifax mall, asking which companies were Pilot-approved.

In September, Newfoundland and Labrador became the first province to publish its list of designated employers. It was followed by Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick’s list is still secret.

The policy reversal is encouraging to those who would like to see the Pilot tweaked even more. Asked for their thoughts, a sample of lawyers, settlement workers, consultants and employers from across the region applauded changes made to the Pilot so far and offered more suggestions on how this important experiment can be improved.

These are the changes they applauded:

  • Temporary work permits are now issued for a full year, which allows applicants to receive health care while they wait for their permanent resident applications to be processed.
  • Spouses can now get work permits while the family’s permanent resident application is processed.
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada set up a special online portal to help employers with the paperwork required to make a job offer under the Pilot.
  • Companies new to Atlantic Canada can recruit through the Pilot if they are backed by one of four specific provincial economic development agencies.

These are the changes they say are still needed:

  • Documents verifying language levels and education should be required as part of the application for a temporary work permit under the program, not just when the application for permanent residency is filed. Some newcomers have arrived with a work permit issued only to discover they are ineligible for the Pilot because no one verified their language skills or education credentials.  
  • Self employment should count as work experience in determining who is eligible for the Pilot, particularly for highly skilled professions. Most applicants need work experience to qualify for the Pilot, but many professionals work on contract for companies. That means many engineers, software developers and financial consultants aren’t eligible for the Pilot.
  • The eligibility period should be extended for international students. Currently, they must apply to the student stream of the Pilot within a year of graduation from an Atlantic University or public college. Many who are in their second or third year of a post-graduation work permit don’t have the right kind of work experience to qualify for the Pilot’s two non-student streams.
  • Employers should use local or regional settlement agencies to develop pre-arrival plans, instead of agencies based outside the region that don’t know local conditions.
  • Companies that operate out of a private home, don’t have any existing employees and don’t have a record of substantial revenues should no longer be allowed to participate in the Pilot.

That last recommendation hints at a perennial problem: immigration fraud. Immigration programs attract fraud because the stakes are high, there is a lot of discretion about who gets in, and most decisions are made in secret. Giving companies the right to choose Canada’s next permanent residents and citizens adds a new layer of complexity to the potential for fraud. Someone is going to try to bribe an employer to hire them through the Pilot, if they haven’t already.

It is encouraging that companies can be removed from the list. So far, Prince Edward Island is the only province that has done so.

So here’s a recommendation: publish the results of a program that monitors employer integrity, with methodology and results but no names.

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot needs to not only be honest, but be seen to be honest. It won’t survive if it loses the public’s trust, and it’s too important to fail.

 

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This article is part of PPF’s three-year Immigration and Atlantic Revitalization project. Get our newsletter to keep up on the latest research.

Kelly Toughill is a consulting researcher with PPF, specializing in immigration policy. She is an award-winning journalist and Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, and is also the founder of Polestar Immigration Research.

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