Federal action will ease the Yukon’s labour shortage, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley assured Whitehorse business owners on Wednesday.
The Yukon’s foreign worker recruitment process has been streamlined through extension of an immigration agreement between the federal and territorial governments, she said with Yukon Education Minister Patrick Rouble at her side.
“To continue to grow, the Yukon needs immigrants,” said Finley.
“We in the Yukon have grown our economy to the point where we now have to grow our labour force,” said Rouble.
A new $800,000 web portal to improve tools and services for new immigrants was part of Finley’s announcement.
Canada is undergoing a severe immigration backlog, she said.
“Just a few years ago the (immigration) backlog was only 50,000 people. It’s now 925,000 people.”
Instead of taking six months, the entry process could take six to 10 years — if nothing changes, she said.
“This isn’t fair to the immigrants, it’s not fair to the families that are waiting to be reunited with them and it’s certainly not fair to the employers that want and need the talents and skills that these people have to offer.”
Hovering at around 4.5 per cent, the Yukon’s unemployment rate is at record lows. By comparison, Newfoundland and Labrador’s rate stands at 12.6 per cent.
While basically an extension of a 2001 agreement, the latest incarnation contains new features, such as giving the Yukon unlimited range in nominating foreigners for permanent residency.
The deal also ensures greater focus on settlement funding for French-speaking immigrants.
The Yukon Nominee Program has been kept in the agreement, which allows fast-tracking of immigration services for individuals who have been “nominated” by Yukon businesses.
As well, the agreement continues the Critical Impact Worker Program, designed to bring immigrants to fill unskilled or semi-skilled positions.
The Critical Impact Worker Program has received 112 Yukon applications since its inception in November 2007.
Several Whitehorse businesses consider the programs crucial in a lean, unskilled labour market.
“One of the biggest demands right now is for cashiers,” said Rouble.
The Westmark Hotel is expecting the arrival of five Fijians who were recently nominated as Critical Impact Workers, said Westmark manager Heather McIntyre.
Both Tim Hortons locations in Whitehorse employ 11 Filipino workers who entered Canada under a one-year temporary work permit.
Through the Yukon Nominee Program, the workers are now in the process of obtaining their Permanent Residency status, said Tim Hortons owner Dean Terry.
Another 25 workers nominated through the program will arrive soon.
The agreement has been a massive improvement over previous immigration programs, said Terry.
Under the Labour Market Opinion Program, operated through Service Canada, the option was one-year temporary workers, said Terry.
After workers returned home, re-application processes could easily take up to another year, leaving businesses critically short, said Terry.
With the opening of a larger Canadian Tire store, labour availability had become a chief concern, prompting the company to seek help from foreign markets, said Canadian Tire owner Dan Charlebois.
The new agreement reduced a nine- to 10-month process to a six- to seven-month process, but still falls far short of southern immigration programs, said Charlebois.
“Expedited immigration” in BC and Alberta shortens the process to only six to seven weeks, he said.
“We were unfairly left out of that equation.”
“We also have opportunities (for immigrants) in the health profession, engineering, mining — it’s really across the spectrum,” said Rouble.
“There’s no shortage of professional engineers in the Yukon,” said Richard Trimble, registrar for the association of professional engineers.
“There is a labour shortage (in mining), but a lot of that can be solved not so much by overseas immigration but by people (from other parts of Canada) … I haven’t heard about companies bringing in workers from overseas,” said Carl Schulze, president of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
In the medical profession, before Canada looks to bring in more foreign doctors, it should focus on the thousands of qualified doctors in Canada “driving taxi,” said Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association.
Federal immigration has lured numerous qualified foreign doctors into Canada, but they can’t practise because there’s a lack of avenues to attain accreditation, said Tadepalli.
“This is a classic case of ‘the head does not know where the tail is’ and ‘the tail does not know where the head is,’” he said.
The Yukon Nominee Program is a good method of obtaining qualified doctors for specific positions but it is “rarely used,” he said.