Ottawa is right to attract more immigrants

The Conference Board pro-immigration level opinion. Money quote: “It’s prioritizing its immigration targets and devaluing the very high social-capital standards that underpin Canada’s system of economic immigration.”

As I have indicated a few times, I disagree with this approach as I think it understates, if not ignores, some of the inequality aspects of this policy:

In the short term, spending by immigrants can help fuel economic recovery, while the availability of immigrant labour will be essential in restoring the restaurant and hospitality sectors.

The federal government’s latest efforts to make it easier for immigrants with Canadian work experience to become permanent residents is another sign it’s committed to attracting more immigrants. 

Clearly, federal officials are convinced of the social, economic, and labour-market benefits of high immigration levels.

But what does their approach mean for the immigrants who will arrive at this challenging time? And what might this period teach us about our immigration system?

Earlier this month, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada invited 27,322 people to apply for permanent residency as part of the Express Entry program’s “Canadian experience” class. This draw from the pool of registered candidates was five to 10 times greater than the usual number of invitations made in a single draw.

The increase was made possible by significantly lowering the points threshold to qualify for an invitation to become a permanent resident. These points are awarded for a variety of social and human-capital reasons that align with long-term integration and economic resiliency, such as: education, age, knowledge of an official language, and experience living in Canada as a temporary resident.

This is the second major step by the federal government to ensure we continue to attract immigrants in large numbers, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Last October, Ottawa updated its three-year immigration planwith record targets culminating in 421,000 arrivals in 2023.

The new targets were warmly received by immigration advocates who hoped the federal government wouldn’t follow the lead of many other countries by restricting immigration because of the pandemic and the recessions caused by its associated public-health measures.

However, even advocates are skeptical that Ottawa can attract 401,000 immigrants in 2021 — not because of a lack of demand, as Canada’s appeal as a destination for emigrants has only increased during the pandemic. Rather, they fear that continued travel restrictions, and the news that mass vaccinations won’t arrive in Canada until this fall at the earliest, will have a dampening effect on immigration.

Even in 2020, the government relied heavily on those already in Canada to boost invitations for permanent residency. Research by the Conference Board of Canada shows that 60 per cent more permanent-resident “arrivals” were already in Canada than in the previous two years.

The latest move is a doubling-down on this strategy, and leans heavily on temporary workers and students who are already in the country.

In this way, Ottawa is making a clear trade-off. It’s prioritizing its immigration targets and devaluing the very high social-capital standards that underpin Canada’s system of economic immigration.
So how do we assess this trade-off?

The long- and short-term benefits of maintaining high immigration levels are clear. In the long term, immigration fuels economic growth, improves our ratio of working-age Canadians to retirees, creates more tax revenue, and supplies skilled labour to key sectors. Economic and population modelling by the Conference Board of Canada demonstrates that more immigration benefits the economy.

In the short term, spending by immigrants can help fuel economic recovery, while the availability of immigrant labour will be essential in restoring the restaurant and hospitality sectors, for instance.

Therefore, the government has good reasons to want to get as close to its immigration targets as possible, despite the challenges of COVID. The pattern of relying on immigrants who have Canadian experience, but lower social capital, might continue as long as significant travel restrictions remain.

But this doesn’t mean immigrants who arrive during this period won’t be successful or contribute as much to the Canadian economy. Our economic modelling indicates that even immigrants with comparatively lower social-capital attributes — for instance, refugee and family-class immigrants — still make significant contributions to the economy, especially over time.

Also, most newcomers with experience living in Canada will already have Canadian work experience. This helps with future job searches, as employers tend to assess Canadian experience more favourably than foreign work experience. They will also arrive at jobs with a better understanding of Canadian culture and workplace norms, and greater facility with our official languages, neither of which may be their first.

There is great short- and long-term economic value in trying to reach Canada’s immigration targets. In closely observing the progress of immigrants who arrive during and just after the pandemic, we can learn a lot about the value of Canadian experience, compared to other social-capital factors.

The key is not to let individual immigrants suffer for the sake of Canada’s economy and our understanding of the integration process. They should be monitored closely, and both government and the immigration sector should be prepared to offer additional support if they struggle.

Source: https://go.conferenceboard.ca/MDk0LUVHRi02MzkAAAF71qV7cSskUNcrhiS4-30l_NQZjeNl-F2yhUwu_YEwPrJPoUe8DYze02tYZtddvE27AJPjm1k=

Immigration levels plan: Reactions

Have been following the various reactions to date regarding the government’s (overly) ambitious targets for the next three years. Relatively few op-eds and commentary, possibly due to the focus on COVID and the US presidential election which are taking up most of the oxygen.

And much of the commentary focusses overly on the administrative issues, not the more substantive issues related to economic integration of immigrants during an economic recession, one that is likely to linger for a few years.

Have grouped these by constituency:

Business-oriented

The plan was welcomed by the business sector.

“There is widespread agreement across party lines that immigration is essential to long-term economic growth,” said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, which represents some of the country’s largest businesses.

“Newcomers bring energy, skills, new ideas and entrepreneurial spirit. They start companies, fill skill shortages, buy houses and pay taxes, … The minister’s plan will allow Canada to make up lost ground as the pandemic eases. It will inject new dynamism into our economy.”

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters even went one step further, saying Ottawa’s objectives were too modest and will not allow the country to catch up quickly enough over the coming months to compensate for the reduced number of immigrant admissions this year.

“Manufacturers are increasingly using immigration to supplement their workforce but there are not enough immigrants to meet the demand,” said Dennis Danby, its president and CEO, who represents 2,500 leading manufacturers in the country.

“If manufacturing is to be at the core of the economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis, we must do more in prioritizing immigration from the economic stream.” (Toronto Star)

As Canada’s leading voice on smart population growth, Century Initiative continues to advocate not just for increasing our population, but for policies to support that growth through investments in education and in the national and urban infrastructure that will allow our communities to grow in a sustainable manner. We also need to prioritize supporting parents with a national childcare strategy, and our children with early education programs.

Now is the right time to invest in growing our population. Environics Institute’s recent Focus Canada survey shows that a record two-thirds (66%) of Canadians reject the idea that immigration levels are too high, and that Canadians recognize the critical contribution immigrants make to our economy and our social fabric. We have a tremendous opportunity before us and welcome the opportunity to continue working with gover(nment to seize it in the interest of future generations of Canadians. (Century Initiative)

Opposition critics

Opposition MPs took aim at the way the government has handled immigration throughout the pandemic and questioned how the new targets would be achieved.

Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said the government is announcing new levels without a plan for how they will be safely implemented.

Jenny Kwan, immigration critic for the NDP, said she believes the numbers are “a bit of a hoax” because the backlog to process applications is so great that the targets will be hard to meet.

Christine Normandin, the Bloc Québécois immigration critic, said in French that Ottawa is taking the opposite approach to the Quebec system. She said the province takes only as many immigrants as it can process in one year, while Ottawa sets goals without taking into account its capacity to do the paperwork. (Globe)

That lower-end target is actually below the low end of the number of immigrants, pre-pandemic, the Liberals had planned to admit in 2021, pointed out NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan. 

“The Liberals demonstrate a lack of conviction in their targets and left the door wide open for immigration levels to decrease,” she said in a statement.

It’s also not clear how unused room is being carried over. 

For example: the Liberals had planned to admit 49,000 refugees this year. Next year, according to Friday’s plan, they are aiming for 59,500. 

While that looks like an increase of 10,000, the number of refugees who have actually arrived in the first eight months of this year was down nearly 60 per cent from 2019 arrivals. 

So it’s possible that the 2021 figures merely incorporate the shortfall from this year, as opposed to being an overall increase. Mendicino wasn’t clear when asked about that issue Friday.  (Canadian Press)

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government must not overlook the compassionate aspects of the immigration system, such as removing travel restrictions for asylum seekers and ensuring permanent residence status for migrant workers in recognition of their contributions during the pandemic.

“The immigration department’s processing abilities is still spotty at best and serious investment in staffing, far beyond what we’ve seen so far, is needed,” said Kwan.

“Without these investments, applicants are to expect significant increases in processing times for years to come, which were already long before the pandemic.” (Toronto Star)

Tweets from CPC critic Dancho:

The Liberals have failed to layout a plan to  bring in newcomers to Canada safely. No widespread access to rapid tests and the 14 day quarantine is not a financial option for many people. #cdnpoli https://twitter.com/RaquelDancho/status/1322270115921055746?s=20

They have no plan to better resource immigration department to fulfil the levels promised.  Liberals are simply adding to their massive, years-long immigration backlogs that fail to provide potential newcomers with certainty, dignity or respect. #cdnpoli https://twitter.com/RaquelDancho/status/1322270117384851456?s=20

The ministers announcement did not acknowledge the economic devastation caused by COVID-19 or the hundreds of thousands of Canadians facing unemployment since the pandemic hit and how these new ambitious immigration numbers will impact them. #cdnpoli https://twitter.com/RaquelDancho/status/1322270118290903040?s=20

International organizations

Either way, that Canada even continues to open its arms is welcome, said Rema Jamous Imseis, the UN refugee agency’s Canadian representative. 

“In an era of travel restrictions and closed borders, refugees continue to be welcomed by Canadians,” she said in a statement.

“The significance of this lifeline and the deep generosity of Canadians cannot be overstated.” (Canadian Press)

Academics

While experts had expected Ottawa to stay the course with its immigration goals — given the government had publicly stated immigration would be key to restarting the post-COVID-19 economy, they were surprised the Liberals would decide to take it up a notch.

Although critics have raised concerns about high immigration given that the country’s jobless rate hovered at nine per cent in September — after peaking at 13.4 per cent in May — from 5.6 per cent before the pandemic, some experts say the government is on the right track.

“The timing for expanding the program now is good. But I’m surprised how high the targets are they have set. I don’t know how realistic it is from a bureaucratic administrative perspective,” said Carleton University economist Chris Worswick, who specializes in the economics of immigration.

“I commend the government for thinking about immigration again. I was worried that it wouldn’t happen. I wonder if they’re being too ambitious. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll end up at a good place.” (Toronto Star)

Immigration lawyers and advocates

Immigration and refugee experts welcomed the move to grant permanent residency to those already in the country.

“I’ve always thought, even before COVID, that it makes a lot more sense to target people who are already educated here, or have work experience here, or at least have lived here. … These are people who are already demonstrating their genuine interest in Canada,” immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges said.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said her organization has urged the government to give permanent residency to those in Canada.

“What we need to see is that realization actually reflected in actual operations, actual policies, because at this point, the way the Immigration Department is working is running in completely the opposite direction,” she said. (Globe)

We need #StatusforAll and Fairness.
Today’s Canada’s Immigration Plan does neither. pic.twitter.com/xhsJtrZBtj— Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (@MWACCanada) October 30, 2020

Contrary to what the government is saying, there is NO INCREASE in IMMIGRATION LEVELS. Instead, there was a 150,000 shortfall in immigrants in 2020, and the government is trying to catch up for it by increasing 50,000 each year for the next three years. But as COVID-19 continues, these promises are unlikely to be kept.+

The overall proportion of new immigrants remain the same, with the primary focus on “high waged” immigrants. However, to qualify for these immigration programs, migrants must show 12-24 months of high-waged work. With COVID-19-related job losses disproportionately impacting racialized people, many migrants don’t have access to these jobs and won’t qualify. No plan has been announced to ensure full and permanent immigration status for all migrant and undocumented people right now.+ Many migrants — including care workers and former international students — were not able to complete requirements for permanent residency in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, there is no meaningful increase in numbers on fixing of rules for these migrants in today’s announcement. (Migrant Workers Alliance)

On the right

Recent polls have shown that Canadians are weary about increasing immigration levels in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A poll commissioned by True North found that an overwhelming 76% of Canadians strongly agreed with the idea of a temporary pause until a coronavirus vaccine is developed and unemployment drops to pre-coronavirus levels. Note: Polling firm unknown and thus is not credible

The poll results show a surprising consensus among political parties as well with 67% of Liberals wanting to impose a temporary pause, 66% of NDP voters and 89% of Conservatives. 

“Given today’s global circumstances of a public health pandemic and severe economic crisis, now is the perfect opportunity to revert back to our successful historic immigration model, listen to the majority of Canadians, and take another pause,” True North’s founder Candice Malcolm wrote when the poll was released. 

“It’s time for our leaders to listen to the people and do what’s best for our country.” (“True” North)

While the government touted the need for migrants to strengthen the economy, the unemployment rate in Canada, the unemployment rate currently stands at 9%, from an all-time high of 14% in May. Over 8 million Canadians applied for emergency COVID relief benefits in the form of the CERB. Canada’s unemployment rate was around 5% prior the pandemic. (Rebel Media)

Links:

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/10/30/canada-raises-immigration-targets-to-record-level-eyeing-covid-19-recovery.html

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-canada-aims-to-accept-far-more-immigrants-in-next-three-years/

https://www.nationalnewswatch.com/2020/10/30/open-arms-in-an-era-of-closed-borders-pandemic-era-immigration-plan-to-be-released/

https://www.centuryinitiative.ca/2020/10/30/statement-by-century-initiative-in-response-to-todays-announcement-on-canadas-new-immigration-levels-plan/

https://www.rebelnews.com/canada_to_increase_immigration_targets_after_covid_disruption

https://www.facebook.com/notes/migrant-workers-alliance-for-change/immigration-announcement-fails-to-ensure-fairness-status-for-all/10101179406532842/

Douglas Todd: Who cares about ‘winning’ the immigration debate?

Good for the Conference Board for inviting some more critical or sceptical voices like Todd (whose articles, as you know, I always find interesting).

On polling data, the picture is more complex than simply presenting one polling firm where the timing, question phrasing and methodology may somewhat skew results (e.g., Environics and Pew present a more positive portrait than IPSOS).

And not sure that immigration policy is developed in any less transparent manner than any other area of government policy, and where stakeholder groups, who follow the issues carefully, have more influence:

Politicians and corporations that want more immigrants in Canada are mounting marketing campaigns to “win the immigration conversation.”

At least the CEOs, think tanks and civil servants are upfront about aiming to promote higher immigration levels, which aligns them with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.

Where, however, does this leave all the Canadians in the mushy middle? That’s where most Canadians are at, according to immigration department officials and other migration experts who spoke at a Conference Board of Canada event held last week in Vancouver. The gathering was titled, “Winning the Immigration Conversation.”

Not many Canadians are extremists, either for or against current immigration policy or rates, polls suggest. The bulk of the population seems hazy about Trudeau’s plan to continue to increase immigration levels to 350,000 people a year by 2021, up from 260,000 when he was elected in 2015.

My sense is most Canadians are not eager to either “win” or “lose” the immigration discussion. Most of us don’t think immigration boils down to an either/or option. Some of us mostly want to know what’s going on, so we can be informed at the ballot box.

But as some speakers at the Conference Board event noted, Canada’s politicians and mandarins are almost unique in the obscure way they dictate the country’s powerful immigration policies from behind closed doors.

Kareem El-Assal, the senior immigration director for the Conference Board, asked me to speak at the “Winning the Immigration Conservation” conference so participants would not end up in the usual echo chamber, in which everyone basically agrees with each other.

El-Assal had seen my 2017 story on the clubby atmosphere that reigned among the more than 1,000 Canadians who work with immigrants, refugees and international students and attended Montreal’s Metropolis Conference. My article on that gathering was headlined, “The narrow view from the migration sector bubble.”

So I give credit to the corporate-sponsored Conference Board, a booster of high immigration levels, for welcoming diversity of opinion. It turned out some scholars, and even some civil servants, had their own skepticism about Canada’s immigration levels, which are arguably the highest per capita in the world.

I told participants I’m intrigued by philosophy’s two foundational questions: What is real? And how then shall we live? And I bring those questions to immigration matters.

What I’ve discovered in recent years on the migration beat is the vast majority of native Canadians (and to a lesser extent immigrants) don’t have a grasp on what is real about the increasing global migration of people, particularly into Canada. And it’s understandable.

Even though the Conference Board has launched its own campaign for increased immigration, El-Assal revealed data showing most Canadians don’t have the foggiest idea about a basic issue: How many immigrants come into Canada each year.

Only nine per cent of Canadians knew correctly it is between 150,000 and 300,000 annually. What’s worse, El-Assal said, when Canadians learn how many immigrants are actually entering the country, their support goes down.

“The populists may have a point,” Antje Ellerman, a political scientist at UBC, told the Conference Board gathering.

“Canada has a high degree of (immigration) policy-making behind closed doors.” The immigration agenda has “traditionally been dominated by the government and civil servants, and rarely engaged the public in meaningful ways.”

In addition, the complexities of immigration rules are not often covered by the media. That is the unfortunate case even though, for instance, almost half the populations of Toronto and Vancouver are foreign-born.

One concern is that if Canadians are purposely being kept in the dark about immigration developments, and even opposition politicians are afraid of raising the subject for fear of being labelled xenophobic or racist, how can the host society make wise choices about an issue that has defined the country?

Turns out many Canadians are concerned. Only 45 per cent believe immigration is “good for the economy,” according to a new Ipsos poll. Another 57 per cent believe “immigrants place too much pressure on public services,” be that health or transit systems. And almost 60 per cent say government is “hiding the true costs to taxpayers and society.”

Immigration officials are not alone in finding in the past couple of years that there has been a shift among Canadians about immigration. That is part of the reason Ottawa has launched a promotional campaign called #immigrationmatters.

Its public relations effort is getting out stories about immigration successes, especially at the neighbourhood level. Not a discouraging word will be heard from #immigrationmatters, of course, since it will support a major plank in this year’s Liberal campaign.

However, Ellerman is among those who think it unwise for governments in Canada, Europe or elsewhere to ignore the populist voices that worry about immigration. To do so, she said, could feed anti-immigration radicalism.

UBC economics professor David Green offered the audience some data-based realities about immigration.

One finding takes issue with frequent claims by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen that high immigration is the key to economic prosperity. Green highlighted how immigration has an almost imperceptible effect on long-term Canadian wages, not doing anything at all for per-capita income.

And although boosters of strong immigration frequently maintain it is absolutely necessary to counteract an aging Canadian labour force, Green’s studies show its effect is minimal, almost non-existent.

Immigration numbers would have to jump multiple times over to make even a small dent in the growing portion of seniors in Canada, Green said. In addition, most people who obtain citizenship status in Canada soon try to sponsor older family members to join them.

But immigration is not all about economics. Many of the speakers recognized reliable new opinion surveys show much of the public resistance to high immigration has mostly to do with culture.

Roughly one in two Canadians fear too many immigrants “do not adopt Canadian values.” Many in the host society feel they are losing command of their own cultural identities. Some migration specialists said such feelings should not necessarily be dismissed as xenophobic.

Give the swirl of powerful factors at play, what are we to make of efforts by Ottawa and its supporters to “win the immigration conversation”? Even though organizers of the Conference Board event said they came up with the title to be provocative, I’d say immigration policy needs more balanced attention than that found in win-lose campaigns.

In a democracy, the public could use as much information as possible about migration policy and trends. Who knows what would happen if Ottawa became more transparent? Reality has a funny way of surprising all of us.

Source: Douglas Todd: Who cares about ‘winning’ the immigration debate?

2018 Immigration Plan: Higher Levels and a Multi-Year Plan Will Benefit Canada’s Economy

Conference Board reaction to the Government announcement with a good summary. :

On the heels of the Government of Canada’s announcement that it will welcome some 310,000 immigrants in 2018 and is introducing a multi-year levels plan for just the second time in history, the Conference Board’s Craig Alexander offers the following insights:

“Canada’s decision to increase immigration will help sustain long-term economic growth in light of its rapidly aging population and low birth rate. Introducing a multi-year levels plan will improve the ability of governments, employers, immigrant-serving organizations, and other important stakeholders to successfully integrate newcomers into Canada’s economy and society.”
—Craig Alexander, Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist, The Conference Board of Canada.

Insights

  • Canada’s 2018 immigration target of 310,000 represents a 19 per cent increase compared with its newcomer intake between 2006-2015.
  • The immigration target will be 330,000 in 2019, and 340,000 in 2020.
  • Canada’s intake is the highest since 1913 and will represent about 0.90 per cent of the population by 2020 which is also high by historical standards. Unlike the past, however, Canada can no longer count on natural increase (births minus deaths) to grow its labour force.
  • Population aging is one of the biggest economic and fiscal challenges facing Canada.
  • An October 2017 report by the Conference Board shows that immigration is a strong driver of Canada’s economy. Today, 75 per cent of population growth is due to immigration. Canada’s population growth will come entirely from immigration as the number of deaths is forecast to outpace births by the early 2030s.
  • In the absence of immigration, economic growth and government revenues would slow, and Canada would struggle to fund vital social programs. Health care, for example, will only become more expensive to deliver as an older population requires more services.
  • Canada is introducing a multi-year levels plan for just the second time in its history. The plan will allow stakeholders to make informed decisions as they seek to integrate newcomers into the economy and society. For instance, city planners can more accurately project how many newcomers will be arriving over multiple years and what sorts of infrastructure investments are required to successfully absorb a larger population.
  • Canada first introduced a multi-year levels plan for the period between 1982-1984 but the onset of a recession effected the federal government’s ability to continue with the plan.
  • Opinion polls show that public support for immigration remains high. To maintain this support, it is essential that newcomers are equipped with the tools that they need to benefit the Canadian economy and complement domestic workers.

Source: 2018 Immigration Plan: Higher Levels and a Multi-Year Plan Will Benefit Canada’s Economy

What immigration target should Ottawa set for 2018? – Conference Board

An important and balanced take on the choices facing Canada and the government. The full report is worth reading as it makes a serious effort, through scenarios, to assess likely overall impact of increased levels, for GDP and more important, per capita GDP.

Unlike most immigration boosters, it also emphasizes the need for associated investments to ensure that immigrants integrate successfully into the economy and society (Doug Saunders in Maximum Canada makes the same essential point):

Federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is currently consulting with his colleagues and Canadians to identify the appropriate number. This is a much more challenging task than it sounds. Canada must not only consider demographic and economic metrics – such as birth, death and unemployment rates – but also “known unknowns,” such as the impact that automation will have on jobs in Canada. Immigration levels are also influenced by key social factors such as public opinion.

The Conference Board of Canada does detailed modelling on the impact of various immigration-level scenarios. We look at the effect on economic growth, income per capita, health-care costs, the ratio of workers to retirees and other metrics. Most importantly, we also consider the challenges of integrating newcomers into the Canadian economy.

While immigration is a huge benefit to our economy, the Conference Board estimates that $12.7-billion of potential is lost each year as a result of the labour market barriers that immigrants experience. This gap occurs in spite of the fact that immigrants are highly educated and bring many skills. Canada’s economic performance suffers through lost productivity, lower tax revenue and reduced purchasing power for immigrants.

Canada has made significant reforms in recent years to improve immigrant outcomes. These changes include: giving provinces and employers a bigger role in the selection process; increasing selection standards; and giving advantage to immigration applicants already in Canada, such as international students. Much work has also been done on the settlement front, such as increased investments in language training and providing immigrants with more information before they arrive in Canada.

In addition to these positive reforms, Canada can pursue other measures. Often, businesses are keen to hire immigrants but don’t know where to start. Governments can do more to help businesses navigate the immigration system and develop intercultural competency. Canada also needs to identify the right balance between accountability and flexibility for the settlement program. It is vital to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent prudently, while also giving settlement organizations the ability to be flexible and innovative to respond to the needs of immigrants and business within their local communities.

Source: What immigration target should Ottawa set for 2018? – The Globe and Mail

Full report: 450,000 Immigrants Annually? Integration is Imperative to Growth

Conference Board Immigration Summit: My Citizenship Presentation

For those interested, this is the latest version of my citizenship deck, being delivered later today at the Conference Board Immigration Summit. A mix of 2016 and 2015 data as some of the specialized datasets have not yet been updated by IRCC.

Businesses applaud changes to allow temporary foreign workers to stay as long as permits renewed

Yet another reversal of the previous government’s policy but partial  -the caps on company numbers remain with priority to be given to under-represented groups in Canada:

The government announced Tuesday afternoon it will allow migrant workers to continue filling jobs in industries ranging from meat-packing to tourism for as many years as their employers continue to renew their permit – in effect, making the presence of these temporary workers more permanent.

“Many people who fell under this category are people who would return to Canada, again and again and again, year after year,” said Michael Burt, director of industrial economic trends at the Conference Board of Canada. “It’s a positive thing in a sense that, broadly speaking, both employers and TFWs were looking for opportunities to stay in Canada to keep that relationship going.”

After four years of working in Canada, most migrant workers in occupations requiring little or no post-secondary education would then be unable to return here for another four years unless they secured permanent residency through a provincial immigration program.

That “four-in-four-out” policy was created by the Conservative government in 2011 to ensure that jobs filled by temporary foreign workers were truly temporary. It led to thousands of foreign workers remaining in Canada undocumented, and thousands more leaving while employers in industries like agriculture, food processing and hospitality complained of persistent labour shortages.

“It uprooted people who had lived and worked in the country for many, many years,” said Syed Hussan, an organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which is calling for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers upon landing.

In many cases, employers proved no Canadians were available for the jobs these workers were leaving behind so they could hire new temporary foreign workers to fill the roles. In others, the four-year limit, combined with other restrictions on the temporary foreign worker program, meant that jobs went unfilled even though employers increased efforts to recruit Canadians.

“It has had the effect of forcing a lot of people to go home that we should really be pursuing to stay in Canada permanently, as opposed to giving them the boot,” said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Kelly and other industry representatives are hopeful the Liberal government will soon follow through on its promise to develop pathways to permanent residency for lower-skilled workers, who are currently shut out of federal immigration programs.

…Some economists, such as Armine Yalnizyan at the left-wing Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, also support granting permanent residency to more migrant workers. Relying on a permanent stream of temporary workers destabilizes local labour markets by suppressing wages and opportunities for young Canadians, Yalnizyan said.

But others say the removal of the four-year limit blurs the distinctions between permanent and temporary immigration programs, raising questions about the future of Canada’s immigration system.

“What distinguishes the two streams now, when the idea of ‘temporary’ is taken out of the equation by removing the amount of time they can spend in Canada?” said Colin Busby, associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute.

It is unclear how Canada will balance taking in a large number of temporary foreign workers permanently with the permanent immigration system’s traditional focus on high-skilled workers to meet Canada’s long-term economic needs, Busby added.

But, for many in the agricultural sector, including Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council, long-term economic and social integration of temporary workers is precisely the point.

“There should be opportunities for them and pathways to become Canadian citizens,” she said.

Increased immigration urged to support economic growth amid aging population: Conference Board

This boosterism is in contrast to the more sober assessment (see Jason Kirby’s Canada’s demographic gap can’t be filled with immigrants):

Ottawa will need to raise its annual immigration level by one-third to 407,000 by 2030 to sustain its economic growth amid an aging population, says a new report on Canada’s demographic trends.

Currently, Canadians 65 and over account for 16 per cent of the total population, but the ratio is expected to rise to 24 per cent in the next two decades, according to the report by the Conference Board of Canada, released Thursday.

With a birth rate hovering around 1.55 children per woman and a longer life expectancy, researchers examined five scenarios of population targets between now and the year 2100, and their impact on labour force growth and government expenditures for health care and old age security benefits.

“The aging of Canada’s population will have a significant impact on Canada’s potential economic growth. Weaker labour force growth will have a negative impact on household spending, while a more slowly expanding economy will engender less investment spending,” warns the 54-page report.

“Weaker economic growth over the long-term will limit the amount of revenue that governments in Canada collect over the forecast period at a time when the aging of Canada’s population will require significantly more expenditures. . . Higher immigration can increase the growth of Canada’s labour force over the long-term and generate higher economic growth.”

The call for a higher immigration level came just as a new Angus Reid Institute poll this week found 68 per cent of Canadians said they prefer minorities to “do more to fit in” with mainstream Canada — and a drop in public support for multiculturalism.

While Immigration Minister John McCallum has hinted the Liberal government’s intent to increase the number of immigrants “substantially,” the Conservative party’s leadership race has sparked a debate over the needs to test would-be immigrants on “Canadian values.”

According to the conference board report, Canada’s natural rate of increase currently adds about 120,000 people to the population each year, but will drop progressively in the coming years as the number of deaths rises steadily and births decrease.

With the current annual immigration level at 260,000 (or less than 1 per cent of the 35 million population) and birth rate, Canada’s economic growth would slow from the current 2 per cent to around 1.6 per cent by 2050.

By reaching the 100 million population target in 2100, the report said Canada would need to increase its annual immigration levels to 407,000 a year by 2030.

From 2030 to 2050, it said, the immigration growth must be raised annually to 2.1 per cent of the population in order to improve Canada’s economic growth to 2.3 per cent by the middle of the century from the current projection of 2 per cent.

The impact of growing to 100 million people in 2100 can reduce old age security spending from 12 per cent to below 10 per cent of government revenues, as well as cutting the provincial health costs from 34.5 per cent to 29.2 per cent of provincial spending.

At that population growth rate, the number of new houses built would rise to 432,000 rather than 268,000 under the status-quo projection of 53.7 million population in 2100. Spending growth will also spread to durable goods and in investment, said the study.

“Higher immigration and fertility rates soften the significant cost strains on the Canadian system in the long-term,” the report noted. “However, over the next 25 years, Canada must also look to other solutions to address the impact of an aging population . . . Growth in the population is one level that can be part of the mix.”

Source: Increased immigration urged to support economic growth amid aging population | Toronto Star

Shaping the future of Canada’s immigration system

A number of opinions on the issues set out in the current immigration consultations (see earlier Collacott: Immigration ‘conversation” is public relations exerciseIRCC Discussion guide on immigration: What about citizenship?).

In addition to my comments below, views of Debbie Douglas (faster processing of family reunification), Harald Bauder (more funding for settlement, pathways from temporary to permanent residency), Jeff Reitz (greater efforts on employment) and the Conference Board (increased immigration levels, spread across the country):

Having inherited an immigration system plagued with backlogs and heavy-handed enforcement, the Liberal government says it’s keen to hear what you think needs to be done about Canada’s immigration future.

Since the beginning of the summer, Immigration Minister John McCallum and his parliamentary secretary, Arif Virani, have held more than two dozen roundtable meetings across Canada with settlement services organizations, businesses and community groups to get their thoughts.

Although the meetings are by invitation only — more are coming in August — the public can submit ideas by email to the minister. Since early July, more than 2,500 online submissions have been received. Submissions end Aug. 5.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will be reviewing the feedback from Canadians to help guide decisions on how many people we will welcome in the coming years and the future of immigration in Canada,” said a department spokesperson.

While the final report won’t be ready till at least the fall, the Star interviewed a group of immigration experts to weigh in on the national dialogue by identifying gaps in the system and offering solutions.

Meaningful and accessible citizenship:

Andrew Griffith, a former director general at the immigration department, said Canada largely has its immigration policies and programs right, but an independent review by a royal commission would be helpful.

He said the consultation questions are biased towards economic class immigrants and miss out on important areas such as citizenship.

“Most immigrants choose to become citizens as part of their integration into Canadian society. If we believe in immigration integration, we should support political integration, in addition to economic, social and cultural,” said Griffith.

“The main instrument for doing so is citizenship, given that allows for full participation in the political process.”

Canada’s naturalization rate has been declining, from the peak of 93.3 per cent for immigrants who came before 1971, to just 36.7 per cent among those who arrived between 2006 and 2007.

Griffith said Ottawa must set targets for naturalization as a benchmark, to assess whether its policies strike the right balance in making citizenship accessible and meaningful.

Officials must also regularly review citizenship requirements to ensure that different ethnic groups and immigration classes (economic, family and refugees) have comparable outcomes. Reducing the hefty application fee from the current $530 would make citizenship more financially accessible.

Source: Shaping the future of Canada’s immigration system | Toronto Star

The Hill Times has the political reaction to the (trial balloon?) of differential immigration fees:

The federal government is seeking public feedback on letting some immigration applicants pay more for faster processing.

That idea is one of many put forward in an online consultation document the government is asking members of the public to fill out as it gears up for an overhaul of the immigration processing system.

The NDP’s immigration critic and a pair of Liberal and NDP MPs say bringing in a two-tiered Canadian immigration system is out of the question.

“I wouldn’t support it,” said NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.). “By doing that, effectively you’re saying you can buy your way into the system and bypass everybody.”

“They’re absolutely creating a two-tiered system if that were to proceed,” she said.

However, Liberal MP Peter Fonseca (Mississauga East-Cooksville, Ont.) and a Toronto immigration lawyer say such a system could help to improve immigration processing.

The issue is one close to MPs’ hearts as much of their constituency work is tied up in helping constituents with immigration questions, including application processing.

Many MPs have two staffers in their riding offices and at least one attends to constituents’ immigration needs. The most common complaints of constituents about immigration issues are related to long delays in the processing times of applications for family reunification, refugees, spousal sponsorship, temporary foreign workers, visitor visas, and Canadian citizenship applications.

Immigration reform

Citizenship workshop @ImmigrationCBoC: Points of interest

Good workshop panel, with Charlie Foran and Arghavan Gerami joining me, with each of us covering different aspects.

Two points of interest for me that arose in the questions and discussion:

  • The impact of the physical presence requirement on internationally mobile professionals and business people. One CEO made the persuasive case that this requirement precluded citizenship for those based in Canada but whose frequent travel abroad meant they were not able to meet the minimum number of days in Canada requirement; and,
  • A former citizenship judge picking up on this point, noted the reduced role of judges in decision-making meant that the lack of days could not be balanced against the overall contribution such individuals made. The lack of discretion, introduced to provide greater consistency in decision-making (a valid policy and program objective), had consequences for this small but significant group.

Physical presence was introduced to address those who only had a legal residence or presence in Canada but who lived abroad, with the main examples being from Hong Kong and the Gulf countries.

Some early consultations and discussion on residency requirements suggested that making it four out of six years (being changed to three out of five years in C-6) would provide reasonable flexibility for those whose work took them outside Canada (e.g., truckers, pilots and a number of professions), while balancing the need to have the meaningful experience of Canada that came from living here.

I suspect that additional consultations and analysis would provide better data on how many people are affected, or potentially affected, with consequent reflection on whether policy and program adjustments are required.

Given the nature of the Conference Board audience, many of the plenary sessions focussed, directly or indirectly, on questions of business or investor immigration. Most of these speakers were advocates, given the nature of their organization or business, and largely ignored the body of evidence that previous programs had not generated significant economic returns.

One panelist even praised the Quebec model, despite the common knowledge that many if not most business investors in Quebec left, with Chinese investors in particular largely ending up in British Columbia, and who also advocated for a citizenship investor program similar to Malta and Cyprus.

Will be interesting to see if these comments on citizenship and business and investor immigration make it into the Conference Board’s immigration action plan and, if so, the precise nature of the recommendations.