In Canada, We Choose Skill over Skin Color. You Should Try It, America | Opinion

A million immigrants over three years? Well, yes and no.

Canada changed the way it does immigration business about four years ago. The scales were completely tilted to give "immigrant status" to people already legally here. They complete their university studies in Canada, then get post-grad work in key occupations, and register their interest online with Immigration Canada to stay permanently. They get points for studying here, working here and paying taxes, and if they are young with great language skills, they are considered 'top scorers.' And an automated system e-mails an "invitation to apply." They usually become "immigrants" about a year later.

What Canada doesn't say is that the vast majority of these one million immigrants will be people who have legally been living in Canada for years. These are not strangers coming to a strange land.

The cost savings to government and immigrants are huge. Government does not shell out for language programs, public assistance, career training, or even unemployment costs, because the person has already hit the ground running. Integration costs are close to zip, when you are already living here, working, and paying taxes.

What really is going on is that the label on their forehead is changed from "temporary person" to "permanent resident." These are not strangers. These are neighbors who have been already here for years, and are contributing to Canada.

And, Canada now chooses skills over skin. It used to be based on "where you came from." Not now. An automated immigration point system selects immigrants objectively. Third-party verification companies independently assess language and educational credentials, all paid by the applicants. Those verification certificates and work experience references are then uploaded into the online system. And for those "extra points" for having a close relative in Canada, the proof is uploaded in the form of birth/marriage certificates. Settlement funds? Tax and records tell the tale. There are no interviews. None are needed.

The "secret sauce" is that Canada has invested in harvesting solid, long-term data on the economic performance of immigrants, and based on that, created a point to select the best prospects. On top of that, the system is also designed to be nimble enough to deliver, with a surgeon's precision, "designer immigrants" for specific needs by using a "Ministerial Instruction." This is a key, flexible, powerful tool that instructs the automated system to select, for example, engineers living in northern Alberta, or cabinetmakers from Kelowna.

Canada also gives each of its provinces a quota to choose their own immigrants. After a province selects a person for immigration, their application goes into a federal visa processing centre, and the person is granted permanent resident status—which makes them eligible for citizenship three years later.

It is still possible to immigrate to Canada without first studying, working, and living here, if you are among the global elite in terms of human capital. Possible, but only for a select few.

That's the new secret recipe. We are going to take a million immigrants in three years, but really, not from overseas.

It is still possible to gain permanent residence status in the "Family Class" if you are sponsored as a spouse, child, or parent. But not as an uncle or aunt, cousin, or sibling. Processing is about a year.

And lengthy processing was another political vein-opener that Canada fixed by the masters of the immigration system by one simple executive decision: do not take in more files in a year than you can process in a year. The system will not take in additional Economic Class cases for processing when processing times will exceed a year. Cut intake when the bin is full. That's how Canada manages operations.

The exception to this rule are spouses and children, and additional processing resources can be added if there is a surge in intake. Pretty much everyone and everything else: wait until the system can accommodate.

What you get is predictability, the best human capital, with access to permanent residence restricted to those legally entering the country, legally working and paying taxes, with proven track records, from within Canada, that their prospects of economic success are excellent, all based on strong long-term data. It is an "evidence-based'" system that selects what Canada needs to build a strong country, without looking at where you come from or what you look like.

Give it a try. It's a nation-builder.

Richard Kurland is an immigration lawyer, policy analyst, and editor-in-chief of Lexbase - Canada's largest immigration periodical.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.