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Canada: New Immigration Rules Favor The Well Educated

Ottawa, 27 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Proposed changes to Canadian immigration law will make it harder for some groups of newcomers to get into the country.

The new "federal blueprint," as it is called, places stronger emphasis on post-secondary education as one of the admission criteria. The proposals include adopting a model which selects highly educated individuals "who are better able to adjust to the changing Canadian economy" rather than "trying to match foreign workers with shortages in the job market."

The discussion paper also recommends that command of English or French - Canada's two official languages - be an important determinant in selecting immigrants.

A Toronto immigration lawyer, Benjamin Trister, says the emphasis on education will effectively rule out admission for skilled trades people because many have little more than a high school education. "Under this proposal, the trades are dead," said Trister.

He adds that trades people already have a hard time gaining admission into Canada and if higher education becomes a basis for selection, it will mean people with skills in high-needs areas will face "insurmountable hurdles."

For example, says Trister, "we face massive shortages in such areas as tool-and-die making and truck driving and you don't need a university degree to be a trucker - you do need training."

Under Canada's current system, would-be immigrants are awarded points based on their command of language, occupation, age and other factors. Under this system, education is worth 16 percent of the total while, under the proposed new model, it would count for up to 30 percent of the total.

Dougall Aucoin, the director of economic policy and programs for the Immigration Department, stresses that the paper is just a starting point. He says it is open to changes and that it will "likely be months before legislation is introduced." However, he adds that government studies show that the more highly educated an immigrant is, the easier it is to adapt to life in Canada.

Aucoin says: "What our research findings tell us is that the higher the education you have, the better chance you have of succeeding in our Canadian economy. It's not so much the occupational niche that you intend to operate in that's important, it's the fact that you have education and you have the knowledge base."

Another major change being proposed is in the awarding of points based on specific occupations. Under the existing system, would-be immigrants receive more points if their jobs are in high demand in Canada. The new proposals would make no distinctions based on occupation. Therefore, says Trister, a foreign-born lawyer - whose training makes it difficult to practice in Canada - would have a better chance of qualifying as an immigrant based solely on education.

The discussion paper touches on this by saying there is a concern that the new proposals "may have the unintended effect of barring entry for the vast majority of skilled trades due, in particular, to the high weight assigned to education."

The document is currently being circulated to immigration lawyers and consultants across Canada for their comments and suggestions. Trister says he is "pleased" that the government is seeking "opinions from community leaders" but adds that it is also based on statistics that are more than five years old.

Among the statistics, Aucoin says that in 1995, 11.6 percent of immigrants with a trade certificate or non-university diploma received welfare payments compared to 7.9 percent of university-educated immigrants.