Feds say increased immigration targets key for economic recovery, but critics wary of ambitious plan’s feasibility

The more fundamental question is not whether the government can manage these levels of immigration but rather whether they are appropriate given the COVID-induced recession and the impact on immigrant economic integration. Nick Nanos’ comments noteworthy:

The government plans to welcome more than 400,000 newcomers to the country next year, but Conservative MP Raquel Dancho is warning that backlogs in Canada’s immigration system could be a problem.

Ambitious immigration targets are part of the Liberal government’s economic recovery plan. The arrival of new permanent residents has plummeted this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut borders and restricted travel across the world.

Leading pollster Nik Nanos said the government doesn’t need to defend bringing in more Canadians, but “I think they have to explain what the urgency is to bring more Canadians in now when we’re in the midst of a pandemic—and I think those are two different issues.”

In late October, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) announced a new government target of 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021 as part of Canada’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, the first step in a plan that would see immigration levels increase by a little over one per cent of the Canadian population every year for the next three years.

As part of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fall economic update on Nov. 30, the government highlighted their commitment to “an immigration system that supports economic growth, diversity, and helps build vibrant, dynamic and inclusive communities.”

“Immigrants play an important role in driving Canada’s economic growth, contributing to half of the average real GDP growth over 2016-2019,” according to the statement.

But Ms. Dancho (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.), her party’s immigration critic, told The Hill Times that the Conservatives “absolutely believe that economic growth is also tied to immigration, and the family reunification that goes with it,” but she said she was skeptical of how the government would reach such an ambitious goal.

“They won’t even achieve half of their goal this year, and now they’re promising what we understand to be the largest influx of permanent residents ever in any single year in Canadian history next year. But I just don’t see how that’s going to happen,” said Ms. Dancho.

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho, her party’s immigration critic, says she has ‘a lot of concerns’ around the feasibility of bringing in more than 400,000 newcomers given backlogs in the system caused by the pandemic.

“If you look at what’s happening with confirmations of permanent residents, there’s well over 10,000 that we’re aware of abroad that were approved, did everything right—were highly skilled, set to come to Canada, sold their homes, took their kids out of school, quit their jobs—and then the government with their [Order In Council] that closed the border, said that they need the travel authorization form, and they haven’t issued those to most of those 10,000 people,” said Ms. Dancho.

“So if they can’t even get these 10,000 people already approved—real people that are suffering—I’m not sure how they’re going to get 401,000 permanent residents approved next year,” said Ms. Dancho. “I have a lot of concerns about that, even beyond the economic growth opportunity of immigration, just the feasibility of bringing in this many people when they’re frankly mistreating the people that they tried to bring in this year.”

Mr. Nanos’ firm Nanos Research took a poll on the issue in November and found that just under two in five Canadians think that Canada should accept the same amount of immigrants in 2021 as we did in 2019.

“What clearly exists is that when Canadians are asked about their support for immigration, accepting refugees and bringing new Canadians into Canada, when anyone tests on that principle, there’s a significantly high level of support,” said Mr. Nanos.

“Canadians understand that most Canadians have come from another place, that new Canadians contribute to the economy, and that we need new Canadians in order to stay prosperous,” said Mr. Nanos. “What we found, in the specific research that we’ve most recently done on immigration, is that there’s not a lot of appetite to bring in more people at this particular time.”

“There’s support—but we tested on the specific numbers,” said Mr. Nanos. “We tested on the 340,000 number—do people want more, do they want to keep it at the same level, or do they want less, and what was clear was that the appetite to bring in more than 340,000 at this particular point in time is actually quite weak.”

Mr. Nanos said he didn’t believe these findings means that Canadians are xenophobic or that they aren’t accepting of refugees.

“But they do see that the economy is in different levels of shutdown right across the country, that Canadians have uncertainty about their own job prospects because many people are being paid to stay home,” said Mr. Nanos.

Part of the personal brand of the prime minister and the Liberal government is being welcoming of refugees, according to Mr. Nanos, pointing out that one of the dividing lines when Mr. Trudeau won his first election in 2015 was the welcoming of Syrian refugees.

“So I see the welcoming of new Canadians as part of the DNA of the prime minister and the Liberal Party at this point in time, and it’s pretty clear [they] believe that it’s not only the right thing to do, but that it’s good for the Canadian economy in the long run, and is part of the growth strategy for Canada,” said Mr. Nanos.

Number of new permanent residents has ‘plummeted’ in 2020

Immigration Lawyer Colin Singer, who is the managing partner at Immigration.ca, told The Hill Times that the number of permanent resident arrivals has plummeted in 2020 compared to the year prior, with only 143,465 new arrivals in the first nine months of the year compared to 263,945 in 2019.

“With immigration levels set to rise above 400,000 newcomers per year [starting] next year, the federal government first plans to invest $72.1-million in a modern, digital platform for receiving and processing immigration applications,” according to Mr. Singer.

“It will then spend a further $15-million on enhancing foreign credential recognition, aiming to cut the time it takes for newcomers to integrate into Canadian society by finding jobs in their field more quickly,” wrote Mr. Singer in an emailed response to The Hill Times.

Claudia Hepburn, CEO of Windmill Microlending, a charity that offers microloans to help skilled immigrants and refugees to continue their careers in Canada, said the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the labour market shortages that Canada faces in many sectors, including health, IT, engineering and STEM, as well as transportation.

“Skilled immigration is crucial to any plan to solve those shortages, but sometimes they need help to become job ready,” wrote Ms. Hepburn in an emailed response to The Hill Times. “The not-for-profit sector plays a crucial role in helping immigrants become job ready. A successful plan for integrating immigrants into the labour force is as important to solving labour shortages as an ambitious immigration target. We need both.”

Along with increasing the numbers of immigrants, Canada also needs to make the pathways to employment as accessible as possible, according to Ms. Hepburn.

“This means investment in the communication of the resources available to assist in their employment journeys,” said Ms. Hepburn. “Support is also required for those resources and organizations with experience in assisting immigrants on their employment journey in order to enable them [to] scale and facilitate the increase in numbers.”

‘We need newcomers to help our economy bounce back’

Alexander Cohen, Mr. Mendicino’s press secretary, said Canada’s short term recovery and long term prosperity rely on immigration.

“We need newcomers to help our economy bounce back after the pandemic, and address the stark demographic challenges we face with an aging population,” wrote Mr. Cohen in an emailed response to The Hill Times. “Put simply: immigrants create jobs.”

“One in three business owners is an immigrant, and our plan sets out a path for responsible increases to immigration to help the economy recover, with about 60 per cent of admissions in the economic class,” according to Mr. Cohen. “Newcomers also represent about a third of those working on the front lines of the pandemic, like family doctors, pharmacists and nurse’s aides.”

“We’ll continue welcoming the best and brightest from around the world, who have contributed so much throughout the pandemic and bring the skills our businesses need to thrive.”

Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin, her party’s immigration critic, told The Hill Times that the province of Quebec is not necessarily looking to raise it’s immigration level moving forward—and that the province has in fact decided in past years to lower the rate of selection in order to deal with backlogs in the system.

Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin, her party’s immigration critic, says ‘we can be quicker on our feet to select people that will able to join the job market’ once tens of thousands of open case files for skilled workers are closed.

“There’s still something around 35,000 open case files for skilled workers that we want to have processed, so when it’s done, we can be quicker on our feet to select people that will able to join the job market,” said Ms. Normandin.

But in recent conversations with her constituents, Ms. Normandin said that she’s spoken with many industry representatives and business owners and has found that even in a context of high unemployment, it’s also possible to have workforce shortages.

“It’s possible to have both at the same time, and they’re a bit afraid that at some point, immigration will decide to cut on some streams of immigrations, for example the low wage stream, because of the high rate of unemployment,” said Ms. Normandin. “But it’s still hard to find members of the local workforce in some cases. Or when it comes to skilled workers, even though there’s a high rate of unemployment in Quebec, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’ll find welders with 10 years of experience.”

“So we still need immigration even though there’s a high rate of unemployment, and that’s something we hear a lot,” said Ms. Normandin.

Source: Feds say increased immigration targets key for economic recovery, but critics wary of ambitious plan’s feasibility

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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