John Ivison: Liberals thwart badly needed skilled immigrants with mendacious political meddling

Header overly strong but substance important:

In a recent article in Foreign Policy, Parag Khanna of globalization experts FutureMap predicted that the Great Lockdown will be followed by the Great Migration, as the best and brightest move to exploit opportunities and fill labour shortages.

It would seem an inopportune time for the government of Canada to stop accepting applications from highly skilled workers from overseas. Yet that is exactly what the Liberals have done.

As my colleague Ryan Tumilty reported on Saturday, the high-skilled worker stream is backlogged, so despite nationwide labour shortages, the government is pausing new invitations because the department can’t process them.

The reason why Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is so backed up are entirely political.

For a variety of reasons, not least of which is that more immigration means more economic growth, the Liberals have committed to bringing in more than 400,000 permanent residents a year for the next three years.

Canada’s growth rate has been tepid in recent years, even with high levels of immigration. Absent the new arrivals, we’d be going backwards, as is clear from real GDP per capita data (in 2015, it was $51,158 per person; in 2020, it was $50,510, in constant 2012 dollars).

High levels of immigration are integral to the Liberal economic plan.

Yet those targets looked untenable during the pandemic, as international travel was suspended. Ottawa worked around the problem by granting permanent residency to thousands of temporary residents who were already employed or studying in Canada – the so-called Canada Experience Class.

The subsequent torrent of applications from students and temporary workers in Canada, coupled with the commitment to double the number of refugees coming from Afghanistan to 40,000, has resulted in bureaucratic resources becoming swamped. IRCC now has around 1.8 million applicants in a queue which is growing by about 20,000 every couple of months.

Part of the solution, according to an internal memo, is to cut the 110,500 skilled workers in the government’s target for next year by about half. The government says that there are still 76,000 skilled workers in the queue, so 2022 numbers won’t be affected. “The pause is temporary,” said a spokesperson for new immigration minister, Sean Fraser, who added that the government provided $85 million in new money to increase processing capacity.

But with around half of all businesses claiming to be experiencing labour shortages, the government has decided to meet its numerical targets, rather than focus where the needs are most pressing.

This is political meddling at its most mendacious. The government was able to boast about breaking the all-time immigration record in 2021, yet a quarter of those people were already here.

On refugees, no-one disagrees that Canada owes a duty of care to many people in Afghanistan but doubling the number of refugees from 20,000 to 40,000 will take two years to honour.

Andrew Griffith, a former director general at IRCC and author of a book on citizenship and immigration policy, said that the political choice to meet numerical targets, by allowing temporary residents to become permanent residents, meant that all other classes of immigrants became a lower priority. “It was a trade-off and, personally, I’m not convinced it was the right trade-off to make,” he said.

Griffith said the department would have warned the minister about the consequences of “bringing in the bodies” on the capacity constraints of other immigration streams. That advice appears to have been ignored.

The Liberals have so far stuck within the bounds that have traditionally governed Canada’s immigration policy, and which have ensured it has support in virtually all parties.

Immigration programs that are fair and economically-driven will continue to have widespread public support. People appreciate that we need new taxpayers to spread the burden of paying for an aging population.

In 2021, 58 percent of new immigrants were drawn from economic class programs; 26 percent from family class; and 16 percent from refugee and humanitarian class.

But the 2023 numbers may look quite different, if the number of high-skilled workers drops off dramatically and the number of refugees rises.

It has been a hallmark of this government that it has not been very effective at implementing policies, often because it is too focused on communications, and not enough on making things happen after they’ve been announced. This reflects a prime minister, who, in the words of one of his own senior members of staff, it “much more about: ‘what’s new?’”.

“He’s good at getting people super-excited, setting bold visions. But it creates real challenges in execution,” the staffer said.

This is a classic example. The “1 percent of population” immigration target probably got the inner circle “super-excited”, as, no doubt, did the 40,000 Afghan refugee promise.

But it may well be that there are consequences to those decisions which will see Canada miss out on tens of thousands of the globe’s most able engineers, heavy duty mechanics, plumbers, computer programmers, carpenters and database analysts.

Source: John Ivison: Liberals thwart badly needed skilled immigrants with mendacious political meddling

And, slightly different take, from Matthew Claxton:

What with COVID-19, and winter storms bearing down, and two days left until Christmas, it’s fair to say that few of us were paying attention to Canadian immigration policy on Dec. 23.

Which is a shame, because an announcement from the Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship showed that we’ve had a quiet revolution in how Canada accepts new permanent residents.

The government announced that 2021 was a record year for the arrival of new permanent residents – in total, 401,000 people had “landed” as permanent residents. Permanent residency is a major step towards Canadian citizenship, and it’s a massive driver of our population growth.

But in that announcement was a confirmation of something that Immigration has mentioned a few times in passing during the pandemic.

More than half of the folks who officially “landed” as permanent residents were already here.

“As we continue to struggle with the pandemic, we made the most of the talent already within our borders,” the announcement said. “The majority of these new permanent residents were already in Canada on temporary status.”

Yep. We increased our population of permanent residents by moving a bunch of people from one column in a government ledger to the other!

A significant number of permanent residents have always come from the ranks of temporary residents. In 2019, 74,586 of the 341,180 new permanent residents were already here on temporary status. But that’s just 21 per cent of the total number of new permanent residents, not more than 50 per cent!

In 2020, massive disruptions in travel due to the pandemic caused immigration rates to plummet just as the federal Liberal pledge to ramp up immigration levels was supposed to be coming into effect.

In the first year of the pandemic Canada admitted just 184,500 new permanent residents barely more than half the number from the year before.

I don’t actually have any particular objection to this change as policy. Making it easier to transition from being a temporary resident to a permanent one seems only just and fair, to me. If you’re good enough to work here or go to school here, surely you’re good enough to stay.

But the federal government didn’t make this change because they wanted to change the mix of people coming to Canada and becoming permanent residents. It wasn’t based on the idea that allowing increasing temporary residents to become permanent would be good for them, or good for Canada’s economy or culture.

It was done to hit an arbitrary number. The government had pledged to bring in more than 400,000 new permanent residents. Never mind how many were already here, some of them for years.

It doesn’t speak well that the government would see people, most of whom are future Canadian citizens, as mere numbers, a target that needed to be hit to meet an arbitrary goal.

Source: Painful Truth: Liberals hit artificial milestone on immigration – Aldergrove Star

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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