Merry Christmas. No seriously, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Growing up in Bombay, Christmas was a special occasion. I remember getting all excited to go see Santa Claus at the Bombay Gymkhana. Given the lack of reindeer in Bombay and India in general, Rudolph was replaced by an aging camel, which I still find hilarious given the contrast of the speedy reindeer to the leisurely amble of the camel!

In school Christmas was celebrated with great pomp and we were taught all the carols by our music teacher. Once I started working, I enjoyed many evenings dining with my Goan friends singing, dancing and overeating! Moving to the Middle East, it was great to witness Islamic cities like Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Dubai having malls filled with Christmas trees and joy.

And then we migrated to Canada. And people wished us Happy Holidays! Several times when I responded by saying Merry Christmas people looked surprised. Then a Judge in Toronto decreed that a Christmas tree in City Hall would hurt the sensitivities of immigrants! And a bureaucrat in Quebec decreed decorations should not be displayed in places that the public would see or have access to.

And a joyous greeting fell prey to political correctness. How i wished these people in their enthusiasm to ‘protect’ my ‘feelings’ had met my portly dark Santa riding the bedraggled camel at the Bombay Gym they would have seen Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews all celebrate a time of the year!

And as Canada embraced multiculturalism, several Canadians (including the Prime Minister) wished immigrants Gong Hey Fat Choy, Happy Eid and Happy Diwali!

Confusing right?

This year is special. My five month old granddaughter will celebrate her first Christmas with her own stocking by the fire place. And I hope she grows up wishing Canadians Merry Christmas respecting their religion and traditions as much as they respect ours!

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

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New rules for skilled worker immigration program announced!

Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced today the final changes in the Federal Skilled Worker category.

In June 2012 the Minister froze all applications pending changes to the single largest category for immigration to Canada. The new selection system for the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) will take effect on May 4, 2013 at which time the program will re-open for applications,

“Our transformational changes to the (program) will help ensure that skilled newcomers are able to contribute their skills fully to the economy as soon as possible. This is good for newcomers, good for the economy, and good for all Canadians.” said Minister Kenney.

The Minister responded to this writer: “Development of new Federal Skilled Worker Program took 4 years: research & analysis of current FSWP, consultation, pre-publication, more consultation and now implementation.”

It is expected that the processing time for applications will now be closer to months than the traditional years of waiting for immigrants. Also, in order to prevent the historic backlogs, caps will be introduced to the category.

On August 18, 2012 in the Canada Gazette, the Minister identified the issue thus: “Research indicates that despite having higher levels of education than the general Canadian population, new immigrants continue to be subject to higher levels of unemployment and lower wages than Canadian-born workers. The top three barriers highly educated immigrants face in obtaining Canadian employment commensurate with their skills and education are the lack of official language skills, the non-transferability of their foreign credentials and a lack of Canadian work experience.”

The objectives for the FSW program outlined: Update the FSWC by rebalancing the points among existing criteria, introducing mandatory language thresholds, requiring an educational credential assessment at the time of application if the educational credential submitted is from a foreign jurisdiction, streamlining the arranged employment process, and reducing the potential for fraudulent job offers under the Arranged Employment factor;

What’s changed?

The passing grade for points remain at 67 out of 100.

Language (Maximum 24 Points): From 16 to 28 Points the 12 point increase is the single largest category in the point roster.   The test itself will no longer be a self-declared test but will go through either IELTS or CELPIP external testing bodies.  Secondary language points will decrease from 8 to 4.

Language levels with corresponding points will include soft skills and workplace language proficiencies like:

Basic: Understands the main points and important details of a conversation and can write routine business correspondence; able to participate in small group discussions and express opinions and reservations about a topic.

Moderate: Understands technical conversations and reading material in their line of work; asks questions, analyzes and compares information in order to make decisions.

High: Participates in business meetings and debates; understands a broad range of general and abstract topics; writes formal and informal notes and summary documents.

Age (Maximum 12 Points): The old system gave 10 points to anyone between 21 to 49 years and continued awarding points for age until 53! The revised selection grid would favour younger immigrants by awarding a maximum of 12 points for applicants aged 18 to 35, compared to applicants aged 21 to 49 who receive maximum points for age under the current grid, with one point being deducted per year with no points from age 47.

Education (Maximum 25 Points): Points will be based on Canadian educational credentials so all applicants will have to submit their qualifications to a credential evaluation service. Those wishing to work in regulated occupations will need the Canadian regulatory body to approve them.

A list of assessment organizations designated by the Minister will be made available early in the New Year. The assessment of foreign educational credentials will provide prospective newcomers with a more realistic understanding of how their credentials compare to education standards in Canada. It will also give them the opportunity to upgrade their education prior to coming to Canada if they choose.

Work experience (Maximum 15 points): The number of points allocated for work experience will be reduced to 15 from 21. However if they have at least one year of Canadian work experience they would get double the points than with the previous system.

Arranged Employment (Maximum 10 Points): The previous process of Arranged Employment Opinion has been eliminated. All applicants must now apply to Service Canada for Labour market opinions (LMO). Adaptability could add an extra 5 points.

Adaptability (Maximum 10 Points): One year of skilled work experience will get 10 points under the new rules. Spouses however would get 5 points for the same one year experience. In order to claim 5 points for a relative in Canada the relative must be at least 18 years of age.

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Immigration lesson from Noah!

The announcement from Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney on a new Federal Skilled Trades Program is a welcome step to help address Canada’s growing demand for skilled tradespersons.

“Ensuring Canada’s immigration system works for small employers in need of skilled trades’ people has been a concern for some time,” said Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “With the shortage of qualified labour in many parts of Canada growing once again, the launch of the Skilled Trades immigration stream is very welcome news.”

The criteria for application seem fairly straightforward, which should help employers suffering labour shortages get skilled tradespeople into the country fast.

The news report goes on to say, “In order to manage intake, avoid backlogs and ensure fast processing times, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will accept up to a maximum of 3,000 applications in the first year of the Federal Skilled Trades Program.”

This is a great step. To take it further, it would be great to see more such limits set up to prevent a return to the historic backlogs we have had in the past. Many countries accepting immigrants close the door on applications once their annual requirements have been met.  Sure, the quota will fill up in the first quarter with all applicants rushing to get in, but after that the department would be able to focus on processing these applicants faster.

And the lesson? Even Noah had to limit passengers on the famous Ark!

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