Kenney set to fast-track foreign students for immigration

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has announced that he wants to admit more foreign students currently studying in Canada as permanent residents and potential citizens, though he also plans to maintain Canada's overall immigration level at the same tally that's been in place since 2007 — between 240,000 to 265,000 people.

Flanked by young foreign students from Carleton and the University of Ottawa, and fronted by a large sign that said "Faster Immigration," Kenney said Wednesday he is expanding the number of admissions under the Canadian Experience Class, which aims to recruit and retain international students who have studied and graduated in Canada as well as temporary foreign workers who speak one of Canada's official languages and already have Canadian work experience.

Up to 10,000 permanent residents will be accepted next year in the Canada Experience Class, up from 7,000 in 2012 and 2,500 in 2009.

Last month, Kenney's department marked its 20,000th immigrant under this class, after five years in existence. Admitting up to 10,000 in a single year represents a big jump.

The minister's annual immigration plan must be tabled in Parliament each year by Nov.1. It sets overall targets for how many newcomers will be issued visas to be admitted to Canada from abroad, as well as how many students and temporary foreign workers already in Canada will be allowed to stay.

Pointing at the students behind him, Kenney said, "These are the kind of bright young people we are trying to recruit." In the past, Kenney said, these kinds of students would be told to leave the country and apply for residency which could take up to eight years.

Kenney said that immigration is a tool to address the problems of Canada's aging population and shortage of certain types of skilled workers. "But we must do a better job of selecting those who can succeed quickly, who can integrate quickly, who can find and keep good employment, who can start successful businesses and add to Canada's prosperity."

"The data tells us [what to do]," continued Kenney. "The reforms we're making are based on evidence, on research and on data that tells us that the immigrants who do better over their lifetimes in Canada are those with a higher level of language proficiency in Canada and those with Canadian degrees and diplomas."

Kenney said he was under pressure from some provinces and from some interest groups to increase immigration levels. He accused the NDP of wanting immigration numbers to rise to half a million newcomers a year. But, Kenney said, he was very aware of polls suggesting that Canadians view immigration less favourably than in the past, partially because, he thinks, the unemployment level of immigrants is 14 per cent.

The NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims said she was disappointed that the government was cutting back on the family reunification that allows immigrants to sponsor their parents and grandparent. "This is a government that talks about families, and the importance of families. And yet once again it has abandoned the hundreds of thousands Canadian citizens by not increasing the numbers under the family reunification class."

Kenney said that his department is actually increasing the numbers for family reunification, especially for immigrants' parents, going from 17,000 a year to 25,000 a year. But he added that Canada cannot admit what he called "unlimited numbers of seniors."

Sims also accused the government of being obsessed with temporary foreign employees, such as mining workers, and said that companies, permitted to pay temporary workers lower wages, are actively recruiting them from overseas.

Kenney said that he was disturbed at the number of temporary workers who are often in jobs that can't be filled by Canadians, which he found "bizarre." But he added this was only a "last resort" for companies, and that his government is careful not to do anything that would stall economic growth.

"We are rebuilding our economic immigration programs to get higher levels of employment, higher levels of income, more immigrants realizing their potential contributing at their skill level, rather than coming to Canada and being stuck in survival jobs and being underemployed.