Ontario has never had a formal immigration strategy. Throughout its history, immigrants came to the province from around the world, attracted by its economic opportunity, peaceful communities, and stable democratic political system. The federal government largely controlled the selection and admission of immigrants, sharing responsibility for immigrant settlement with the provinces, and most immigrants to Ontario experienced economic and personal success. Ontario did not need to articulate a government-wide strategy to attract and integrate newcomers.
Ontario, like many other jurisdictions, now faces new and different challenges.
Competition to attract immigrants is more intense than in the past. Other countries are more aggressively courting immigrants and many historical source countries are today becoming immigrant destinations, offering greater economic opportunity than they did before. While Ontario remains the top destination in Canada for immigrants, the number of economic immigrants to the province has steadily declined—from 89,079 in 2001 to 36,939 in 2011. Ontario is receiving fewer immigrants selected on the basis of their human capital—their education, skills, and experience—and their ability to integrate into Canada's labour market, which includes proficiency in English or French.
Ontario's value proposition to potential immigrants must be renewed.
An aging population, an anticipated future shrinking workforce, and skills shortages in sectors critical to Ontario's prosperity make this renewal essential. The transformation of the global and Ontario economies makes it all the more necessary.
The Government of Canada recently announced significant changes to both the administration and the focus of Canada's immigration programs. The general thrust of the changes has been announced, but many important details remain to be decided.
Together, these conditions present Ontario with a key opportunity. Other provinces and countries have identified clear objectives and new strategies for attracting skilled and workforce-ready immigrants who are able to adapt and succeed. It is time for Ontario to do the same.
Ontario's value proposition to potential immigrants must be renewed.
An immigration strategy for Ontario should be designed to achieve the following objectives:
These objectives should be pursued with an appreciation of the fiscal challenges faced by all governments—federal, provincial, and local. Our overarching advice is grounded in a belief that Canada is strengthened through immigration and that a nation building ambition should inform decisions on immigration. The success of Canada and its immigration system has in large part rested on Canada's ability to attract and integrate newcomers. Although there are circumstances when temporary workers are necessary and important to the Canadian economy, admitting immigrants to Canada as permanent residents, with access to services, rights, and on a clear path to citizenship, has been a key factor in the successful integration of immigrants and their children. In light of this, we believe Canada should reaffirm its commitment to attracting and settling permanent immigrants.
The Roundtable believes that immigration is key to Ontario's future prosperity and that the development of an immigration strategy should be an integral part of the province's overall economic strategy. The economic vision for the province's future should align with its immigration strategy. A greater role for Ontario in selecting immigrants will support this objective. Ontario's approach to immigration should work for all communities across the province. This includes ensuring that the Greater Toronto region remains a magnet for immigrants but also that other cities, rural, northern and remote communities, and Francophone communities all benefit from Ontario's immigration strategy.
Ontario must embed its immigration objectives across all of its ministries — from children's services to energy and infrastructure planning. An embedded strategy will ensure cross-departmental collaboration and produce better results than the actions of a single ministry.
Making the immigration system work better for Ontario requires a renewed partnership between the provincial and federal governments.
A successful strategy will also require better alignment and coordination with other governments and actors including the private sector, post-secondary institutions, and community organizations. Through improved partnerships, Ontario will be better able to promote and leverage its extraordinary strengths in attracting and retaining immigrants. These strengths include the diversity of our people and the dynamism of our economy. Ontario's future prosperity will hinge on our ability to connect globally, which will include increasing international trade, attracting investment from abroad, and acting as a hub in global exchanges of knowledge and skills. The global connectivity of Ontario's highly international population will be an essential ingredient in our continued prosperity. Ontario and federal policy makers must value and leverage this strength.
All of our specific recommendations are grounded in the recognition that Canada's Constitution shares jurisdiction for immigration between the federal and provincial governments. It is clear that making the immigration system work better for Ontario requires a renewed partnership between the provincial and federal governments. Successfully acting on the recommendations outlined in this document depends on this renewed partnership, and on a spirit of goodwill and engagement from both the Ontario and federal governments. The success of our province requires it.
Please note: This report represents the best advice of the Roundtable with regard to Ontario's goals, needs, and approach to immigration to the province. Unless there is explicit reference to a particular government or other actor, the Roundtable's advice describes our ambitions for the province as a whole. Achieving the vision outlined in this report requires engagement across governments, the private and not-for-profit sectors, and communities.
1. Over the long-term, the level of immigration to Ontario should be increased to at least one per cent of its population, or 135,000 people per year. At least 65 to 70 per cent of these immigrants should be economic class immigrants.
2. Selection processes should be fair, transparent, and facilitate diversity in the mix of immigrant source countries.
3. Economic immigrants should be selected based on criteria that emphasize human capital, rather than current occupation.
4. A revamped Federal Skilled Worker Program should continue to be the main source of economic immigration to Ontario.
5. The priority occupations list for the Federal Skilled Worker Program should be eliminated.
6. The Governments of Canada and Ontario should work in partnership on the design and operation of the new Expression of Interest (EOI) model.
7. The Government of Ontario needs to engage employers and municipalities in identifying labour market needs and challenges.
8. Efforts should be made through the Canadian Experience Class program to retain individuals who have experience working and studying in Ontario.
9. Selecting economic immigrants based on occupational and other narrow criteria should be done only on a limited basis.
10. Ontario's Provincial Nominee Program should be used to respond to specific occupational shortages and to the needs of communities, including Francophone and rural communities.
11. The Government of Canada should raise the cap on Ontario's Provincial Nominee Program from its current level of 1,000 to 5,000 people per year.
12. The Federal Skilled Worker Backlog Reduction Pilot should be extended to 2014 and expanded.
13. The Federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program should focus on recruiting high-skilled workers and workers in the skilled trades and facilitating the rapid filling of temporary vacancies.
14. Ontario should make better use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Agreement to accomplish its objectives under recommendation #13.
15. Ontario needs more information about temporary foreign workers.
16. Protections for temporary foreign workers should be strengthened to prevent abuse and unsafe working conditions.
17. The issue of undocumented workers should be addressed by both the governments of Ontario and Canada.
18. The Government of Canada should maintain and strengthen the Live-In Caregiver Program.
19. Ontario should attract and retain more international entrepreneurs.
20. The Government of Ontario should develop a marketing and promotion strategy to attract immigrants with high levels of human capital to the province.
21. A one-window, client-centred, “no wrong door” approach should be developed for all government services important to immigrants.
22. Pre-arrival information and services should be expanded.
23. Programs that target immigrants' networks to enable the effective integration of new immigrants —particularly family, friends, and faith groups - should be supported in Ontario.
24. Criteria for accessing settlement and integration programs should be coordinated across funders and service providers to ensure that temporary foreign workers, foreign students, refugee claimants, and new Canadian citizens can access these services.
25. Mentorship, internship, and bridge training programs should be expanded in Ontario.
26. Settlement and integration services should be measured and assessed based on immigrant outcomes.
27. Employers and communities need to be champions in the integration of immigrants.
28. Federal and Ontario government supports for refugees should reflect the need to provide longer-term services to many within this group.
29. The Government of Canada should continue to honour its traditional commitment to refugee claimants, including continuing to fund the Interim Federal Health Program.
30. The Ontario government should continue to work with professional regulatory bodies to improve the assessment and recognition of immigrants' qualifications, including academic credentials, practical training, and experience.
31. The Government of Ontario should ensure that aggrieved applicants for licensure have appropriate recourse.
32. The federal and Ontario governments should work together to ensure that the new federal credential and language assessment system is aligned with licensing bodies and not misconstrued as licensure.