Patrick Grady
Two Cheers for Immigration Minister Kenney’s Elimination of the FSW Backlog
March 30, 2012

On budget day 2012 Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced that 284,000 immigrant applications filed before the rules were changed in February 28, 2007 will be eliminated and full fees refunded. This will reduce the backlog of applicants under the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) Program from 420,000 to 160,000.

While this courageous step, which the Standing Committee on Immigration strangely enough failed to mention in its reports on options for dealing with the backlog, will attract much criticism from the immigration lobby, it had to be done if the Government really wants to regain control over immigration. Without being obligated to take applicants from the backlog the Government should be able to bring immigrants to Canada within six to twelve months instead of up to 11 years under the backlog. This was convincingly characterized by the Minister as being essential “to making our immigration system truly fast and flexible in a way that will sustain Canada’s economic growth.”

Indeed, an alleged legal obligation to bring in all those in the backlog was seriously undermining Canada’s ability to choose the immigrants most likely to succeed in Canada’s competitive labour market. It meant that immigrants would continue to be allowed in who had qualified under old rules that had already been proven inadequate with respect to the employability and language qualifications of the immigrants selected based on the poor performance of the immigrants so selected. In addition, it was an unfortunate fact of life that these immigrants admitted from the backlog would end up being much older than desirable by the time they actually gained admittance because of the long expected wait times, including the many years most had already spent languishing in the backlog. Continuing to bring in all of these immigrants with stale qualifications would virtually guarantee a continuation in the deterioration of the performance of immigrants in the labour market.

Now that the decks are cleared and there is no overhang of FSWs that have to be admitted in preference to more highly qualified recent applicants, the Government will at least have an opportunity to select immigrants who are more likely to be successful in the labour market. The most promising approach is to tie their admission to good-paying job offers (as is currently being done to some extent under the new rules by giving priority to applicants with Arranged Offers of Employment).

However, it should be recognized that, while eliminating the backlog is a major step in reforming Canada’s dysfunctional immigration system, there are many additional steps that also must be taken. Even after eliminating the pre-2008 FSWs, a backlog of over 700,000 immigrants will remain (based on the total backlog of one million applicants reported by the Government to the Standing Committee on Immigration last fall). Of these, 165,000 are parents and grandparents who can be expected to make little or no economic contribution to Canada and who will make large claims on health and social services. This is an issue being addressed in the Government’s ongoing consultations.

The next, and even more difficult, step the Minister will need to take to earn the third cheer will be to cut back the number of immigrants in the levels plan from the unsustainable quarter million admitted over the last six years. But, for the present, legislating away the pre-2008 FSW backlog is definitely a good start, for which the Minister and the Government deserve two hearty cheers.