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How to improve immigration policy to build more houses

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By Cédric Marin, immigration lawyer at Marin Immigration Law and founder at ImmInspect.com.

Immigration levels and the impact on housing are at the forefront of public debates. A common rhetoric to high immigration levels and the lack of housing is to build more houses. To build more houses, Canada needs more individuals in skilled trade occupations, like carpenters, bricklayers and heavy-machine operators. One solution is to provide more training and education for individuals already in Canada, another is to recruit foreign workers that already possess these skills.

When it comes to recruiting foreign workers for these trades, the current immigration pathways, like Express Entry and the Ontario Nominee Immigrant Program, do not recognize the reality of skilled construction workers:

  • A higher percentage of skilled trades needed to build houses only work part of the year. For example, 64% of bricklayers only work part of the year, while the average is 37% among all occupations. However, eligibility for most immigration programs requires one or two years of work experience (1,560 or 3,120 hours of work experience, capped at 30 hours maximum per week).
  • A higher percentage of skilled trades needed to build houses are self-employed. For example, carpenters are three times more likely to be self-employed than all other occupations in Ontario. Many immigration programs require individuals to be employed in an employee-employer relationship. Even if programs allowed for self-employment, it makes it increasingly difficult to show evidence of their duties and responsibilities, paid work and number of hours to qualify for these programs.
  • Overall, some of these occupations can be three times more likely to not have a high-school degree, but most immigration programs require some degree of post-secondary education.

Current immigration policies fail to meet the needs outlined above. They particularly neglect the specific circumstances of skilled construction workers, such as seasonal work, self-employment, and the lack of formal higher education. Consequently, these policies do not satisfy the urgent demand for skilled workers essential to the housing construction sector. 

Working for part of the year   

The current approach to recruiting more skilled tradespeople involves conducting targeted draws within systems such as Express Entry and the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP). This strategy selects applicants based on factors like their education, employment history, age, and occupation. This ensures that Canada recruits the most educated and skilled individuals.

However, a significant issue with these programs is their rigid work experience requirements, which do not align with the realities faced by skilled construction workers. For instance, Express Entry demands one year of Canadian work experience within the last three years for eligibility, whereas the OINP Employer Job Offer: Foreign Worker Stream necessitates two years of work experience in the past five years.

The nature of work in these trades is predominantly seasonal, meaning that they do not work continuously throughout the year. This seasonal work pattern makes it challenging for individuals to meet the work experience criteria of current immigration programs since it focuses on the length of the work experience, as opposed to the skills.

Consequently, a construction worker, such as a bricklayer, may need to work through three or four construction seasons to accumulate the two years of work experience required for eligibility or to earn points for two years of work experience in these immigration pathways. This is somewhat problematic when the work experience needs to be within the last three or five years.

Self-employed

Some immigration programs allow skilled construction workers to qualify through self-employment. However, although self-employment is recognized as valid work experience in some immigration programs, it is not recognized in others.

When self-employment is recognized and eligible, the challenge often lies in providing adequate proof of work experience. The question arises: how can one substantiate the hours worked? The difficulty increases if there is no formal contract detailing the individual’s skills and responsibilities, but rather focuses on the task and end results.

It’s not that qualifying for an immigration program with self-employed experience is unattainable, but rather, there’s frequently a mismatch between the documentation required by immigration programs and what self-employed individuals can typically provide. This discrepancy gives immigration officers greater leeway to reject applications due to “insufficient evidence,” even in situations where such evidence might not traditionally exist.

Education requirement

Immigration pathways often prioritize an applicant’s educational background as a significant criterion for eligibility. Education is undoubtedly a critical factor beyond their employment, and important in integrating in Canadian society.

With this in mind, when it comes to immigration pathways specifically designed for skilled trades, there’s a compelling argument for prioritizing practical abilities and work experience over formal education. Skilled trades encompass a wide range of occupations that require specialized skills, often acquired through hands-on experience, apprenticeships, or vocational training, rather than traditional academic routes.

Solution? A program that considers both past and future experience

Most existing immigration initiatives at both the federal and provincial levels necessitate that applicants showcase their past experiences, such as their prior employment and education. It places requirements on the amount of time in such occupations.

However, some innovative immigration pilots are now taking into account both past and future experiences, such as the Home Child Care Provider Pilot. These pilots permit candidates to simultaneously apply for a work permit and permanent residency, provided they fulfill certain prerequisites. Upon obtaining a specified amount of work experience and satisfying other requirements, applicants are awarded permanent residency.

Implementing a comparable scheme for skilled tradespeople could address the challenges associated with seasonal employment, self-employment and lack of formal post-secondary education.

By placing more weigh on future experiences, individuals could be required to obtain a certificate of qualification within a certain number of times after working in Canada in order to qualify for permanent residence. This is currently difficult for individuals that are not in Canada. This approach would not only recognize the significance of skilled constructions workers but also extend beyond the traditional focus on formal education and year-round employment.

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