Canada's Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley will be leaving for New Delhi on October 31 to spend a week there to assess Canadian immigration operations in India.
In an exclusive interview on Friday, she said, "I will see our operations, and how things are working on the ground. I hear a lot of stories. I want to see firsthand what's happening."
Finley said her interest is also to "send out a message that Canada is looking for talented (Indian) people, looking for the best and the brightest to come here."
It is widely known that a large number of foreign qualified professionals who come to Canada go from pillar to post for certification of their credentials, and the employers insist on their Canadian experience before they can be hired with the result that they are forced to accept any job, just to live. The job that may be completely unrelated to their profession.
"We had some problems in the past, (but) in the last 21 months (since the Conservative government came to power) our government has taken a lot of steps to make it easier firstly for new comers to to get in (the country) and secondly, once they are here, to integrate (into the work force) as productive members of our country," Finley said.
As part of this initiative, Finley recently announced the "opening of the referral office" in New Delhi (and also in Beijing) which will "be an agency type of thing, whereby people can through the Internet, personally or telephone find out how well they qualify compared to the Canadian standards for various regulated professions.
The regulated professions have different standards from province to province and so we can't directly influence them. We can't do credential assessment, but what we can do is provide newcomers and would be newcomers with a map as to how to get through the maze. How to get through these hurdles (for) credential assessment ideally before they get here so that if there's a gap between their skill levels and what the Canadian standards are, they can work towards upgrading their skills closing that gap before they even arrive here," she said.
This suggestion has earlier been made by a number of organisations and professionals themselves.
Finley said she announced Phase 1 of this programme recently. She added that she would provide more details of this programme while she's in India as her efforts would be to assure qualified professionals there that if they opt to come to Canada they may not have to face serious challenges integrating into the work force as people earlier faced.
"I am planning to announce the second phase of this programme soon," she told this reporter.
That will be an expansion of the first phase, which will include "a pilot project that we will be running in India."
When asked in concrete terms what kind of progress the government has made in attending to complaints of these foreign qualified professionals who are already in Canada, Finley said, "Obviously each case is unique. But we have focused on several things: one is getting temporary foreign workers get here faster, especially the ones in high demand professions. That's one aspect of it. The other is making it easier for them to stay here."
Before this reporter met Finley at the Federal government's downtown Toronto offices (located in the massive Sun Life towers), she was having a round-table with a group of South Asian business people and others and temporary visas was part of the discussion. That's why invitees included representatives from Tata Consultancy, Aidtya Birla group, Polaris Software Lab Canada, and immigration attorneys, etc.
Ravi Jain, immigration specialist with Green and Spiegel, who was among the invitees, said in an interview subsequently, "Canada is doing a great job in Ontario (where processing time for temporary workers is 3 weeks), but out West (British Columbia, Alberta, etc.) the processing time is 6 months. (Service Canada is responsible for confirming labour market shortages before these type of work permits may be issued)."
"We need more 'pre-approval' offices and we need officers to be able to use their discretion to conclude that there would be a significant benefit to the issuing the work permits," he told Finley.
Finley later said Ottawa has "a new programme coming (soon) under certain conditions where you apply for permanent residence within the country. We work with the provinces to streamline the process and to allow them to set higher targets for the professions they need the most."
It is widely known that this varies from province to province as their needs vary depending on their economies: "One province really needs skilled tradespeople, like welders, electricians and bricklayers. Another province needs medical people."
So, the federal immigration department allows them to "set their own priorities and once they choose people, the federal government is committed to expediting those applications."
The Canadian government, Finley said, has also "put $300-million new money into settlement funding as we know how important it is to help newcomers to integrate into the new community, to learn Canadian ways while applying for jobs, to learn the English language as it applies to their professions."
Finley said some of the new immigrants require help even "to learn how to handle the transit system."
That's why Ottawa has "put lot of money into lot of programmes. We have signed special agreements with 3-4 provinces now so that they can deliver on the settlement funding. Let us face it -- without that help, people don't move ahead fast enough and we are helping people to get work in their field or at least in a related field much faster, get the credentials sooner, close that gap so that they become productive faster for their sake and for the country's sake much sooner."
Finley was rushing for her next appointment and hence, didn't have time to explain as to which parts of India she would be travelling to. She's certainly going to Chandigarh as there are reports of the Canadian consulate-general in Chandigarh facing a lot of problems with some inside sources claiming they in fact advised the former Liberal government against opening that office, but it had political connotations and so Prime Minister Jean Chretien went ahead.