Daphne Bramham: Canada needs a long-term immigration plan

Unfortunately, it is being overly influenced by the Century Initiative, Business Council of Canada and others rather than more independent and critical analysis (hence my recommendation for a royal commission or equivalent Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast.).

Refugee crises, and responses, on the other hand are harder to predict and manage:

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Canada had already set the highest immigration targets in this country’s history, with the aim of increasing the population by one per cent a year, or by 1.3 million people within three years.

Those targets follow a record-setting 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021 — the highest rate since 1913 when there was an aggressive recruitment drive to “settle” the West.

Then, as now, the impetus isn’t humanitarian, it’s economic. With an aging population, Canada is depending on young, educated immigrants to ensure that we maintain our standard of living.

Immigration already accounts for almost all of the labour force growth and nearly three-quarters of our population growth.

The new targets favour the economic class — 60 per cent of newcomers are planned for that category, while 60,000 are in the refugee class.

Details about where they will go or how the provinces, municipalities and settlement service agencies will accommodate such levels of immigration against a backdrop of COVID and a national housing shortage have yet to be worked out.

Not that it matters now.Those targets were set aside with Canada’s open-ended promise last week that an unlimited number of Ukrainians are welcome for as long as they want in response to what is Europe’s largest migration since the Second World War.

As of Monday, two million Ukrainians were on the move, with estimates that as many as another two million may follow.

But that pales in comparison to the nearly seven million who have fled the long-running war in Syria. Canada fell short of its promise to settle 81,000 of them by the end of 2021, after initially bringing in 25,000 in little more than 100 days during 2016.

COVID is part of the reason, but there were also additional demands put on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in the fall after Ottawa promised safe haven to 40,000 Afghans.

Now, there are the Ukrainians.If the Canadian government has any idea whether 100 Ukrainians or 40,000 might be arriving, that information hasn’t been shared with provinces, territories, cities or settlement service agencies.

How, where and when Ukrainians might be arriving, nobody’s been told. Many might want to settle in the Prairies where there is already a large Ukrainian-Canadian population, but refugees often prefer Toronto and Vancouver.

And who’s coming? Daily images from reception centres in Poland suggest that most are likely to be women and children, along with the elderly and, in the coming days, we may see more of the infirm. There are also reports of unaccompanied minors arriving in Poland.

Of course, these are early days. But information is essential to ensuring immigrants and refugees get what they need when they arrive.Most critically, it is anybody’s guess right now whether there are enough (affordable) roofs to put over their heads.

The B.C. government is in the dark. It is “looking forward to hearing more details from our federal counterparts and how best B.C. can respond to support Ukrainian newcomers under these new measures,” said an emailed statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The province doesn’t have an immigration ministry.

“B.C.’s priority is to ensure that everyone who arrives in the province receives the supports and resources they need to live a dignified, healthy and safe life.”

Among settlement service providers, there is an appreciation for what Canada is promising, but also “an anxiousness” about what Chris Friesen described as “a free-for-all”.Friesen is chief operating officer for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., one of Canada’s largest settlement organizations.

Canada’s immigration system was under siege before the Ukrainian crisis. There were 1.8 million applications stacked up at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as of October.

The backlog included 760,000 applications for spousal sponsorship, skilled worker and temporary-to-permanent-residency, and 550,000 for permanent residency.

It was exacerbated by “trade-offs” that needed to be made to Afghanistan resettlement objectives, according to an October memo obtained by immigration news website CIC News under access to information.

Canada promised last fall to resettle 40,000 Afghans who worked for the Canadian Armed Forces and international humanitarian organizations or as judges, journalists and senior officials in the former Western-backed government. So far, only 7,550 have arrived.To deal with Ukrainians, some Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff are now being relocated and operations are being adjusted in offices in Europe, Canada and around the world to process the applications.

The applicants will include Ukrainians looking to come temporarily for an unspecified period or permanently; Ukrainians currently visiting, studying or working on temporary permits who are now also eligible for unlimited work permits; and under a special family reunification program.

And, of course, it’s expected that with 1.4 million Ukrainian-Canadians, there will be widespread interest in applying under the existing private refugee sponsorship program.

But with the country’s economic future reliant on immigration, Canada needs more than short-term targets and crisis management.

It needs a long-term blueprint that meshes economic aspirations with compassionate and humanitarian aims, as well as the resources to make that happen.

Provinces, territories and municipalities need similar plans. By the time people arrive, it’s too late to start building homes, hospitals, schools, libraries and other infrastructure.

Professional organizations and accreditation bodies also need to be engaged. It’s unfair to everyone when labour shortages exist to continue bringing professionals and skilled tradespeople without providing timely and accessible pathways for their qualifications to be recognized.

Canada has done well so far, stumbling along. But now there is too much at stake for everyone — newcomers, Indigenous people and multigenerational citizens.

Canada needs a plan not only for the next three years, but for the next generation.

Source: Daphne Bramham: Canada needs a long-term immigration plan

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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