Competition for immigrants has Canadian companies looking to the U.S. for workers

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney says immigration numbers won't increase in 2013.'Move north young man, move north.'

According to a weekend story in the L.A. Times, employment recruiters from Alberta's oil sands industry have descended upon the state of California in a big way.

"Canada is looking to double production by the end of the decade. To do so it will have to lure more workers — tens of thousands of them — to this cold and sparsely populated place. The weak U.S. recovery is giving them a big assist.

Canadian employers are swarming U.S. job fairs, advertising on radio and YouTube and using headhunters to lure out-of-work Americans north. California, with its 10.2% unemployment rate, has become a prime target. Canadian recruiters are headed to a job fair in the Coachella Valley next month to woo construction workers idled by the housing meltdown."

The article notes that about 35,000 Americans a year come north for work — a figure that has grown significantly over the past decade.

But it's not nearly enough.

Canadian employers — especially those in northern Alberta — continue to complain about their labour shortages. And, with an aging population and a smaller pool of immigrants, the problem could be a lot bigger.

[ Related: Immigration levels to stay the same in 2013, Kenney says ]

The challenge is that despite the current worldwide economic woes, other jurisdictions around the world are feeling the same labour pinch and, like Canada, have chosen immigration as their policy solution.

Historically it was just Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia who 'battled' for immigrants. Now many developing countries have become proactive in luring skilled migrants, and thus have made the business of immigration increasingly competitive.

Moreover, the two countries that we have traditionally relied on for new workers — China and India — currently have fairly robust economies, resulting in fewer people wanting to emigrate.

It's a topic that even Stephen Harper highlighted last week, during his visit to southern Asia:

"Immigrants are going to be going to a whole lot of countries, mostly in the developed world, and Canada is going to have to get out there, compete, and make sure we get the immigrants both in terms of volumes and particular attributes: skills, expertise and investment capacity," he told the Globe and Mail.

Immigration attorney Michael Niren suggests that the Harper government might actually be hampering skilled-worker immigration with its recent throng of"restrictive" immigration regulations.

[ More politics: Harper among least trusted leaders: Poll ]

"As I have said before, our aging demographics requires we attract a skilled work force overseas to make up for the shortfall at home," he told Yahoo! Canada News.

"We can do a much better job especially by creating a more fair and balanced immigration system."

While Niren is sympathetic to the argument that government should train unemployed Canadians rather than bringing in foreigners, he says, for now, immigration is a necessity.

"If we are to be globally competitive  then there is nothing wrong with attracting talent from within and outside our borders," he said.

"Canada, after all is a land of immigrants. We built our economy and culture by welcoming newcomers. Taking a protectionist approach not only will isolate us globally but will harm us culturally and economically.

"The stakes are especially high given our aging demographics."

For the time being, at least, it seems like we're going to have to put out the the big old welcome mat.