Ontario seeking to double skilled immigrants to address labour shortage

TORONTO — Ontario is calling on the federal government to double the number of immigrants allowed into the province under a program aimed at boosting the skilled workforce.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton says the province is facing a significant labour shortage that has been intensified by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says doubling the number of immigrants allowed under the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program from 9,000 to 18,000 a year will help tackle that shortage.

The number of job vacancies in Ontario has increased from 234,000 in October of last year to almost 316,000 vacant jobs last month, according to Statistics Canada.

While all industries are dealing with a labour crunch, 38,000 jobs in health care, 29,000 in food services, 24,000 in manufacturing and 21,000 in construction were unfilled in the second quarter of this year.

McNaughton says he reached out recently to the newly-appointed federal Immigration Minister, Sean Fraser, to call on him to increase the number of skilled workers allowed into Ontario under the program.

“We’re asking the new minister and the federal government to double it and do it as quickly as possible,” McNaughton said.

“Immigration is one of the key economic drivers of Ontario’s growth, one that can be used strategically to fill critical gaps in labour supply and ultimately create more jobs in our communities.”

A spokesman for the federal immigration minister said Ontario receives the largest number of economic immigrants among all provinces and territories.

“We are currently reviewing Ontario’s request to increase the number of newcomers under the (program) as we finalize next year’s immigration levels plan,” Alexander Cohen said.

The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program allows foreign skilled workers and international students to apply to the Ontario government to be nominated for permanent residency in the province, but the federal government makes the final decision on approving the applications.

The province nominates people who have the skills and experience needed in Ontario.

McNaughton said the program had the capacity for 6,750 immigrants when the Progressive Conservatives came to the power in 2018. He said he’s worked with the federal government to increase that to about 9,000 immigrants this year.

Ontario wants more control over the number of immigrants allowed under the program, as well as process of selecting them, McNaughton said. Currently, health-care workers and those working in skilled trades are most needed in Ontario, he said.

“There’s tens of thousands of more new Canadians coming here through the federal government, and we want to have more control over that selection process,” he said.

“We want an efficient, effective system that’s going to do a more effective job of filling these labor shortages.”

McNaughton said Ottawa should also provide more funding for foreign credential recognition efforts, improve the temporary foreign worker program, and help ensure international students stay in the province after they graduate in Ontario.

Cohen of the federal immigration department said Ottawa has committed to working on those issues.

“We agree with Minister McNaughton that all three of these issues are essential in strengthening our immigration system so it can continue to support Ontario’s short term recovery and long term prosperity,” he said.

A recent study by the Conference Board of Canada found that economic immigration programs tend to bring highly-educated and highly-skilled immigrants the country, but the pandemic has shown that essential workers are also needed in the labour market.

“Canada’s economic immigration system has a strong focus on highly educated immigrants, but this does not always correspond with the labour demand in essential sectors,” said the study published Monday.

It found that several industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, retail trades and food services, are relying on temporary workers and over-qualified immigrants.

“Over-reliance on temporary workers and widespread overqualification are risks to the resilience of essential sectors,” the study found.

“One of the ways to mitigate these risks is to provide the pathways to bring permanent residents with the right skills, experience, and training to work in essential occupations.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2021.

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