Does the U.S. Need an “Express Entry” Immigration Policy?

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Like its neighbor to the north, the United States has been looking toward immigration reform in order to supply employers with highly skilled workers that, ostensibly, cannot be found in the domestic labor pool. Recently, the U.S. has upped the ante by proposing to allow the spouses of foreign workers here on temporary H-1B visas to obtain employment in the U.S., as long as the employees have petitioned for permanent U.S. residency.

Still, the H-1B visa is considered a temporary work-residency program, similar to Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The TFWP is experiencing an overhaul at the moment, however, following allegations that a McDonald's franchise was hiring foreign workers at the same time it was turning away qualified Canadians.

EOI gets and Express makeover

Another makeover to Canada's immigration process concerns the new Express Entry program, which will replace the Expression of Interest system. The new program plans to fast-track the most promising skilled immigrants into permanent residency in Canada, based upon their being " most likely to succeed ", rather than the order in which they applied.

This opinion will be rendered almost entirely by employers, who will also provide "advice" to the government regarding the economic potential of particular immigrants. Workers offered a job can expect to see timelines for residency shortened to six months or less, compared to the current two-year wait. Canada's Immigration Minister Chris Alexander noted that Express Entry has been developed specifically for employers to choose foreign workers who will then remain in Canada permanently .

Winners, losers

According to the Economic Times , Indians will be one group of foreign workers to benefit from the change. Beginning in January, prospective immigrants with college degrees and coveted skills will essentially be able to move to the head of the line, making quotas less problematic. Thousands of visas will be available for those with skills matching two dozen occupations, such as engineering, and 43 skilled trades, like carpenters and plumbers.

Over 50% of the 33,000 Indians that migrated to Canada last year were skilled workers, and Express Entry may increase those numbers very quickly. The Canadian government certainly seems eager: Earlier this year, Alexander was in Delhi, India, spreading the word about the new program.

Meantime, Canadian workers may find themselves at a disadvantage, if the protests over immigration hiring fraud are any indication. Though employers will now have to complete Labour Market Impact Assessments to prove that they were unable to hire a Canadian citizen for a particular job, time will tell whether or not Canadians are protected by the LMIA.

More countries are jumping on board

As Alexander pointed out to the Economic Times, Canada is not the first country to implement such immigration changes. Both Australia and New Zealand have also instituted systems that take a more active role in pursuing skilled immigrants than ever before.

Is it only a matter of time until the U.S. jumps on this bandwagon? I believe so. After all, employers in this country make the same claims regarding a dearth of skilled domestic labor as Canadian companies, and the speed with which next year's H-1B visa allotment was exhausted this past April greatly exceeded that of prior years.

Hollow argument?

I find the insistence of employers - both U.S. and Canadian - that there are no natural-born citizens of either country available to fill skilled job vacancies somewhat questionable. For instance, although both countries claim that jobs requiring expertise in science, technology, engineering and math go unfilled due to a scarcity of qualified candidates, the argument doesn't ring true.

For example, a recent U.S. Census Bureau report finds that 74% of college graduates with four-year STEM degrees are not working in STEM-related occupations, casting doubt on the argument that few qualified candidates exist for these jobs.

Canada's new rules will provide an unlimited number of visas for foreign students either studying for or receiving a PhD from a Canadian university - despite the fact that PhD candidates in the second-largest province of Ontario are having trouble finding jobs.

Both Canada and the U.S. have lingering domestic employment issues: Canada's unemployment rate sits at 7.1%, and the U.S. has a population of 7.5 persons working part-time because they cannot find full-time work. Instead of looking outside their borders for skilled workers with economic potential, employers of both countries should take a good look at their own local resources.

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