OCASI Comments on Bill 161, Ontario's first-ever immigration legislation


Ontario Minister of Immigration tabled Ontario’s first ever immigration legislation in the Legislative Assembly yesterday, February 19, 2014. Bill 161, An Act with respect to immigration to Ontario and a related amendment to the Regulated Health Professions Act, 1991 spells out Ontario’s commitment to immigration and its vision for the future, as well as introduce significant changes that will benefit migrant workers and internationally trained health profession immigrants.

The following is OCASI’s quick summary of the highlights. In brief, the Bill enshrines in law certain components announced in Ontario’s Immigration Strategy of November 2012, and certain practices that are already in place.

We will develop a more detailed analysis as we prepare to participate in Committee hearings on the Bill.

Brief Highlights:

  • The Bill makes a strong statement about the value of immigration to Ontario, specifically recognizes the importance of family and humanitarian commitments, and makes a commitment to francophone immigration.
  • The Bill recognizes municipalities and employers as important partners but is silent on the role of the community-based non-profit immigrant and refugee-serving sector. This is a disappointing omission, one that should be remedied at the Committee stage.
  • The Bill enshrines in law the Minister’s power to set target levels for immigration selection programs and apply selection criteria that will benefit Ontario. This is an attempt to address growing concerns about the significant reduction in overall Ontario immigrant arrival numbers, and specifically the percentage of economic immigrants to the province. Immigration is one of the factors driving economic growth and performance, and a drop in numbers can have troubling consequences. However, any change will have to be negotiated with the federal government.
  • The Bill enshrines in law, Ontario’s role in establishing and funding settlement programs. Nothing will change as a result. Ontario’s investment in settlement and integration programs, while small compared to federal government investment, forms a critical component of the service continuum and provides opportunity to meet the needs of un- and under-served groups.
  • The Bill introduces an Employer Registry (similar to Manitoba legislation) for those who hire migrant workers from overseas. It creates an inspection, investigation and enforcement function, including giving inspectors the power to enter and inspect premises without a warrant or court order, and the power to share registry information with other governments. The Bill does not cover the relationship with the Federal government – an important component since at present Employers must apply directly to the federal government to recruit migrant workers. Presumably this would be a point of future negotiation between the governments.
  • The Bill also introduces a Recruiter Registry and penalties for violating Registry conditions. They can include a fine, jail time and performance bond as well as a public ban for a period of time. The proposed Registry will work well with components of Bill 146 - Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014, tabled in the legislature in December 2013 and which proposes to ban recruitment fees.
  • The Bill proposes to improve access to health professions by Internationally Trained Immigrants by imposing requirements for timely decisions, transparency and reasonable application fees. This will address long-standing concerns regarding barriers to access, and address the gap in the 2006 Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act.