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New OINP Tech Stream, Smaller Communities Immigration Pilot Reflect 'Immediate Labour Needs,' Ontario Says


Tech leaders group, Northern Policy Institute welcome immigration-focused initiatives in Ontario's 2019 budget

The creation of a dedicated Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program stream for technology workers responds to "immediate labour needs" that have to be filled, the Ontario government says.

The government's new budget announced four major updates to the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) that include the new tech worker stream, a new pilot designed to bring highly skilled immigrants to smaller communities and revisions to the eligibility criteria for its Entrepreneur and Employer Job Offer: In-Demand Skills Stream.

The OINP allows Ontario to nominate a set number of economic immigration candidates for Canadian permanent residence each year.

A spokesperson for the government ministry that oversees the OINP said the changes announced in the 2019 budget came out of consultations held with businesses across Ontario.

"There are essential sectors in our economy that have immediate labour needs, like trucking, home care and tech. These are openings that have to be filled," Sarah Letersky, director of communications for Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, said in a statement to CIC News.

"Our changes will make it easier for skilled workers - from tech workers to truckers - to come to Ontario, contribute to our economy, and build better lives."

The budget gave no details about the dedicated immigration stream for technology workers. However, Letersky said they "will be released shortly" along with more information on the other changes to the OINP.

The Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) welcomed the creation of the tech worker stream, saying the need for skilled foreign tech talent will only grow more acute in the coming years.

The CCI represents leading high-growth technology companies headquartered in the province and had been lobbying the OINP to create a dedicated immigration stream for tech workers.

"Ontario's domestic tech sector welcomes the government's focus on addressing the province's skilled-talent shortage by accepting CCI's recommendation to introduce a new tech worker stream into the province's immigrant nominee program," the Council's Executive Director, Benjamin Bergen, said in a statement.

"Highly-skilled talent is like jet-fuel for Ontario's rapidly growing scale-ups and with Canada facing a shortage of nearly 220,000 skilled workers by 2021, increasing access to talent through strategic economic immigration is a welcomed step forward."

The OINP has targeted foreign tech workers in the past through its Human Capital Priorities Stream, which allows the OINP to search the federal government's Express Entry pool for candidates who meet the stream's provincial and federal eligibility criteria.

Tech-related work experience, however, is not a core requirement of the Human Capital Priorities Stream.

Smaller communities immigration pilot

Ontario's budget also calls for a new pilot initiative "to explore innovative approaches to bring highly skilled immigrants to smaller communities."

The Northern Policy Insitute (NPI) has been one of the organizations making the case for such a pilot to address mounting labour shortages in Ontario's rural and northern regions.

Charles Cirtwill, the Institute's President and CEO, said he didn't know their work would pay off this soon.

"We didn't know they were thinking about a pilot," he told CIC News. "It was a pleasant surprise to see it there."

The initiative comes on the heels of the federal government's new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, which will work with smaller and more remote communities in Ontario and Canada's Western Provinces and Territories to attract and retain foreign workers.

Cirtwill said whereas the federal pilot is more focused on immigrant retention, he believes the provincial pilot will be more directly linked to employer needs and "job opportunities and job availability."

"Everyone got excited when the federal pilot was announced, that perhaps that would be the way forward - but it's a very small program," he said. "To see that mirrored in the OINP means the ability to use international workers to fill those gaps, particularly in the short to medium term, is much more robust now than it was."

He said the Ontario pilot could be "more in line" with the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, which allows designated employers in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to recruit and hire foreign workers for jobs they haven't be able to fill locally.

One concern with the OINP pilot that Cirtwill flagged was the budget's focus on "highly skilled immigrants." He said actual labour needs in many smaller communities in Northern Ontario tend to be intermediate-skilled occupations classified as skill level C or D under Canada's National Occupational Classification (NOC).

"There are a lot of jobs in tourism, culture, retail and warehousing - middle-skilled jobs - that are not covered by any of the language we're seeing in the provincial budget," Cirtwill said. "That's a bit of a challenge - those are the jobs that are predominantly available and those are the ones we would like to see filled."

Both occupations were on a list of those facing shortages in Northern Ontario that the Northern Policy Institute put together at the OINP's request.

"It's good to see they targeted two of them - truck drivers and personal support workers," Cirtwill said.

"Those are big challenges, particularly in rural areas."

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