Fast-track immigrant program expanded – GTA – Fast-track immigrant program expanded: Ontario hopes changes to provincial initiative will keep professionals from going elsewhere
February 21, 2009.   Nicholas Keung, IMMIGRATION/DIVERSITY REPORTER

Worried that it’s losing talented newcomers to other provinces, Ontario is expanding its immigrant recruitment fast-track program despite the economic downturn.

The province yesterday announced reforms to the two-year-old program that allows it to “nominate” applicants for immigration based on labour needs and provincial priorities. The program is intended to help employers and multinational corporations in Ontario recruit and retain talented professionals, as well as investors.

Ontario has seen its annual immigrant intake drop over the past four years by more than 21 per cent – to 110,583 last year. It is the only province with consecutive declines.

While the trend may be proof of Ottawa’s success in spreading immigrants more evenly throughout the country, it could also threaten Ontario’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness when the economy recovers. “Now, more than ever, it’s critical that Ontario’s employers have the resources they need to compete at home and abroad,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Michael Chan told a news conference yesterday at Toronto General Hospital.

“This program allows them to strengthen their competitive position and helps our province seize opportunities for jobs and growth.”

The program, renamed Opportunities Ontario, will double the annual quota from 500 to 1,000 nominees. Other changes include:

More job categories that qualify, to 350 from 20.

International students may take jobs outside their field of study.

Qualification thresholds for investors cut to $3 million from $10 million; new jobs to five from 25.

Launched in May 2007, the program has attracted about 470 nominees, including a few investors.

Despite recent suggestions by federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney that Canada might consider reducing its overall immigrant intake in light of the economic meltdown, Chen said newcomers have contributed to the province during good and bad times. “The difficult financial time should not be used as an excuse to close the doors on immigrants,” he said.

Dr. Gary Levy, medical director of Toronto General Hospital’s multi-organ transplant program, said the provincial nominee program helps employers attract global talents. The University Health Network, including the Toronto General, has brought in nine health professionals from around the world through the program; three more are pending. “It has attracted a number of international stars,” Levy said.

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