‘We want you to stay’: Canada opens door to permanent residence for 90,000 international graduates and temporary workers with one-time program

One-time or a pilot? Addressing some long-standing equity issues. Doing so during a downturn when some sectors are unlikely to recover soon (e.g.., hospitality, travel, in person retail) is risky. Will be interesting to follow the economic outcomes of Permanent Residents that are admitted under this policy:

Canada is rolling out a one-time special immigration program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 recent international graduates as well as temporary foreign workers with work experience in essential occupations.

International students will qualify for the new program if they have graduated from an eligible post-secondary program within the past four years, after January 2017, and if they are currently employed. They do not need to be in a specific occupation to meet the requirements.

The program is also open to temporary foreign workers with at least one year of work experience in one of the 40 health-care occupations, as well as 95 other essential jobs across a range of fields, such as caregiving and food production and distribution.

This time-limited immigration pathway will take effect on May 5 and remain open until Nov. 5 or until the target is reached.

“The pandemic has shone a bright light on the incredible contributions of newcomers. These new policies will help those with a temporary status to plan their future in Canada, play a key role in our economic recovery and help us build back better,” Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said on Wednesday.

“Our message to them is simple: Your status may be temporary, but your contributions are lasting — and we want you to stay.”

The Liberal government has made immigration a critical part of Canada’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery with plans to welcome 401,000 permanent residents in 2021, after the annual intake of immigrants nosedived by 45.7 per cent last year to just 185,130.

The 90,000 intake under the new program will account for almost a quarter of this year’s overall immigration goal.

With the border remaining closed to non-essential travel, many would-be immigrants who have already been granted permanent residence have been unable to come to Canada. 

It has prompted officials to shift gears and focus more on prospective candidates who are already in Canada and normally would face a lengthier process to qualify.

In February, Ottawa raised eyebrows when it issued 27,332 invitations — five times more than its previous high of 5,000 people — to hopeful candidates already living in this country.

Mendicino said these are unprecedented steps taken to create “the fastest and broadest pathways” for permanent residency and toward achieving the 2021 immigration level plan through a series of “smart choices.”

“We need workers who possess a range of skills in a range of sectors within our economy to keep it going forward and accelerate our economic recovery,” he said.

“We value those who are highly educated, those who are highly skilled, but we also need people who work in the agriculture sector and in trades and construction sector who provide manual labour to build our communities. For too long, we haven’t been able to provide these pathways.”

Among the 90,000 spots of the program, 20,000 will be dedicated for temporary foreign workers in health care; 30,000 for those in other selected essential occupations; and the remaining 40,000 for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

All candidates must have proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages, meet general admissibility requirements; be authorized to work and be working in Canada at the time of their application to qualify. Migrants who are already out of legal status won’t be eligible.

To promote Canada’s official languages, three additional streams have also been created for French-speaking or bilingual candidates, with no intake caps.

The business community welcomed the new immigration pathways, saying the newcomers will strengthen Canada’s economy when they are needed most.

“They fill labour-market shortages, offset our aging population and broaden the tax base, thereby helping fund social and public services,” said Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, whose members represent all major industries in the country.

“COVID-19-related restrictions have hit Canada’s immigration system hard, significantly reducing the number of newcomers entering the country. The (immigration) minister’s plan addresses this challenge by welcoming urgently needed talent.”

Although the program opens up a short-term window for thousands of migrants who are able to meet restrictive criteria, advocates say it still maintains the fundamentals of the temporary immigration system that will continue to keep many migrants in limbo.

“This announcement is a start, but without fundamental change through granting full and permanent immigration status for all, it will simply not be enough,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change based in Ontario.

Mendicino said the immigration department has recently hired an additional 62 officers to boost its processing capacity and the new program will only accept applications online to allow remote processing by staff, most of whom are still working from home.

He said processing immigration applicants within and outside of the country are not mutually exclusive, and officials will continue to process applications of those who are abroad because Canada needs immigrants to fill labour market needs and replenish an aging population.

These special public policies, he said, will encourage essential temporary workers and international graduates to put down roots in Canada and help retain the talented workers in need in the country.

“Imagine you’ve been asked to bring in the greatest number of permanent residents in the history of the country. People could’ve said, ‘Put a pause on immigration.’ We said no, because we believed we need to continue to grow our economy through immigration,” said Mendicino.

“Newcomers create jobs. They create growth. They give back to their community. They are rolling up their sleeves and invested in Canada”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2021/04/14/we-want-you-to-stay-canada-opens-door-to-permanent-residence-for-90000-international-graduates-and-temporary-workers-with-one-time-program.html

IRCC requirements and eligible occupation list: https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/mandate/policies-operational-instructions-agreements/public-policies/trpr-canadian-work-experience.html#annex-b

Faut-il vraiment réduire les seuils d’immigration?

Taking issue with the PQ position on reduced immigration levels (similar to Lisée’s arguments posted earlier):

Dans une lettre parue le 9 avril, l’économiste et président du Parti québécois, Dieudonné Ella Oyono, affirmait que, devant la rareté de main-d’œuvre qui touche plusieurs secteurs de l’économie québécoise, « augmenter les seuils d’immigration n’est pas une solution soutenable à long terme, ni du point de vue économique (chômage élevé) ni du point de vue social (pression sur les services publics). » Cette conclusion nous semble toutefois fondée sur des prémisses erronées.

La position que défend M. Oyono se base sur un examen du taux de chômage des immigrants reçus au Canada entre 2016 et 2020. Or, on devrait plutôt faire remonter l’analyse à 2006, puisque les données publiées à cet égard par Statistique Canada remontent à cette année. Il en ressort un portrait plus complet et on évite ainsi la comparaison avec 2020, une année atypique en raison de la pandémie.

Entre 2006 et 2019, le taux de chômage des immigrants reçus âgés de 15 ans et plus a diminué de 45 % au Québec, passant de 12,8 % à 7 %. Cette diminution s’est observée chez toutes les catégories d’immigrants, des plus récemment arrivés aux plus anciennement établis. Le taux de chômage de la population née au pays a pour sa part diminué de 38 % durant cette période, passant de 7,4 % à 4,6 %.

La raison de cette embellie est fort simple : depuis la crise de 2008, la croissance de l’économie a été soutenue, les baby-boomers ont quitté par milliers la population active après avoir atteint l’âge de la retraite, et le nombre de postes vacants dans les entreprises du Québec s’est multiplié, dont une majorité pour des emplois requérant peu de formation ou d’expérience. Cette situation a profité aux personnes récemment entrées sur le marché du travail, dont les personnes immigrantes.

Dans ce contexte, pourquoi se priverait-on de la contribution de celles et ceux qui ont le projet de s’installer au Québec, notamment pour pouvoir y vivre en français ? Selon un argument souvent mis en avant, plus le nombre de personnes immigrantes augmente dans un pays, plus il deviendrait difficile de les intégrer. Dans une étude parue en 2019, l’IRIS montrait au contraire que les États qui affichent les proportions les plus grandes d’immigrants sont aussi ceux qui les intègrent le mieux sur le plan économique. On le voit d’ailleurs en Ontario où, comme le souligne M. Oyono lui-même, le taux de chômage des immigrants reçus est plus bas qu’au Québec, alors que la province de Doug Ford accueille, toutes proportions gardées, plus d’immigrants que celle de François Legault.

Quant à l’argument voulant que les personnes immigrantes représentent une charge pour les finances publiques, mentionnons au contraire qu’à mesure que les années passent et que leur participation au marché du travail s’accroît, leur contribution au Trésor public (et donc au financement des services publics) augmente elle aussi.

Certes, les inégalités persistantes entre travailleurs immigrants et natifs exigent, comme le souligne là encore M. Oyono, que l’on se donne les moyens d’y remédier. Augmenter le nombre de cours de francisation et faciliter la reconnaissance des diplômes et des expériences acquis à l’étranger sont bien entendu des mesures qui font partie de la solution, mais lutter contre la discrimination en emploi, qui touche particulièrement les personnes racisées, l’est tout autant.

L’immigration ne pourra à elle seule remédier au manque de main-d’œuvre que connaît le Québec et qui s’accentuera dans les années à venir, étant donné le vieillissement de la population. Par contre, réduire les flux migratoires en provenance de l’étranger ne fera qu’aggraver le problème. Inversement, il faut éviter de voir les personnes qui souhaitent s’installer au Québec comme une simple force de travail au service des entreprises et plutôt les considérer comme des citoyennes et des citoyens à part entière qui apportent beaucoup plus qu’ils ne coûtent à la société d’accueil. C’est là une des clés de leur intégration.

Peut-être y a-t-il des raisons politiques qui en poussent certains, à l’instar de M. Oyono, à rejeter l’idée d’une hausse des seuils d’immigration. Cependant, les raisons sociales et économiques le plus souvent invoquées pour défendre une telle position reposent sur une analyse inexacte de la situation des personnes immigrantes au Québec.

Source: Faut-il vraiment réduire les seuils d’immigration?

Douglas Todd: Slow vaccine rollout threatens Trudeau’s lofty immigration target

Of note:

Canada’s vaccine rollout, which is slower than 41 other countries, threatens Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chances of reaching his record target for immigration this year. But that could benefit young Canadians and recent migrants struggling to find work during the pandemic.

University of B.C. geographer Daniel Hiebert has found COVID-19 has elevated the number of “underutilized” workers in Canada to almost four million — many of whom will compete with the 401,000 immigrants Ottawa is welcoming in 2021, in addition to temporary workers.

Saying Canada is only about “halfway” through resolving the pandemic through vaccinations, Hiebert told the influential Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C. (AMSSA) it will be a “really significant challenge” to “economically integrate 400,000 newcomers into a labour market with nearly four million looking for work — or more work. It’s completely unprecedented.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Slow vaccine rollout threatens Trudeau’s lofty immigration target

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=

Mahboubi, Skuterud – An Economic Reality Check on Canadian Immigration (Part I), Part II link

Good and needed critical thinking regarding the limitations and weaknesses of the government’s immigration plan and approach:

COVID-19 travel restrictions hobbled Canada’s immigrant admissions in 2020. In response last fall, the federal government revised its 2021 targets upwards, saying it was necessary for our economic recovery.

Showing its commitment to the ambitious target, on February 13 the government issued invitations to a record-breaking 27,332 applicants in its Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program, which targets applicants with Canadian work experience, and are therefore more likely to be living in Canada.

But to issue so many invitations, it was forced to drop its Comprehensive Ranking System cut-off score in its Express Entry system to an all-time low of 75, far below the previous record of 413. This strategy is analogous to a university doing away with entry standards to significantly boost enrolment. If history is an indicator, there is good reason for concern.

The primary objective of Canada’s economic-class immigration programs is to leverage immigration policy to boost the economic well-being of Canadians. To do that, we need immigration inflows to raise GDP per capita, not simply increase the population.

To assess if we are achieving this objective, Canadian researchers examine earnings of new immigrants. Since workers’ earnings comprise roughly two-thirds of GDP, we need new immigrants to earn more than the national average if we are to raise GDP per capita.

Unfortunately, the evidence is that Canada has historically struggled to achieve this objective, and continues to struggle. The hard reality is that we saw a substantial deterioration in the earnings of subsequent cohorts of new immigrants and an increase in their relative poverty rates from the early 80s to the early 2000s.  

This prompted numerous reforms of skilled immigration policies since 2005, primarily directed at improving immigrant selection, including introducing pre-migration mandatory English/French language testing and education credential assessments. A key piece of the policy reform was the 2015 introduction of the Express Entry system.

Rather than admit applicants who have met the minimum requirements of one of Canada’s economic-class programs on a first-come, first-served basis, the Express Entry system skims the cream of the applicant pool on a regular basis using a tool known as the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The CRS assigns each applicant a score between zero and 1,200 using a set of criteria, including age, education, and work experience. The factors and their relative weightings were determined by a statistical analysis predicting immigrants’ earnings during their first 10 years in Canada.

While there is evidence that these reforms have helped curtail the deterioration in immigrants’ earnings, they continue to experience significant economic integration challenges. For example, a recent Statistics Canada study shows that international students who graduated in 2010-2012 earned considerably less than domestic graduates in their first five years after graduation.

Shortfalls of former international students are also evident when their earnings are compared to domestic graduates with similar degrees in similar fields of study.

The economic challenges of Canadian university-educated immigrants are, in fact, exceptional. Whereas university-educated immigrants from India who settle in the United States outperform their US-born counterparts with similar education, the average earnings of Indian-born university-educated immigrants in Canada fall significantly below their Canadian-born counterparts. This reflects the continuing truth that US universities and salary premiums attract the world’s best and brightest while Canada’s relatively generous welfare state attracts migrants less sure of their talents.

Examining the 2016 earnings of recent immigrants admitted under an economic-class program, we find that CEC principal applicants had higher average earnings than the non-immigrant population. When we also include their spouses and dependants, their combined average earnings were only slightly lower than prime-age non-immigrants (Figure 1). This small difference reveals both the success of Canada’s CEC program, but also the risk of forgoing CRS standards to reach immigration targets.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has held 170 Express Entry draws since January 2015. The median CRS cut-off score in past draws was 461 and has never dropped below 413. Lowering the standard to 75 means admitting immigrants who will experience more significant economic-integration challenges. Doing so during an economic crisis with high levels of joblessness seems ill advised.

In the government’s defence, all 27,332 CEC applicants who received invitations in February’s draw have at least one year of Canadian experience, and it is likely that a high percentage are currently employed, and in all likelihood many close to the front line during the pandemic. There are unquestionably compelling ethical reasons for providing these workers and their families with pathways to permanent residency.

But there is a risk in using economic-class programs to achieve humanitarian objectives; it compromises the ability of the Express Entry system to achieve its economic objectives.

The Tinbergen Rule says that for every policy target there should be at least one policy instrument. When there are fewer instruments than targets, the ability of policy to achieve its targets is compromised. Let us make sure that all our immigration programs do at least one thing well, instead of everything badly.

Tomorrow, we examine the potential consequences of increasing immigration during the crisis.

Source: https://www.cdhowe.org/intelligence-memos/mahboubi-skuterud-–-economic-reality-check-canadian-immigration-part-i

Part II: https://www.cdhowe.org/intelligence-memos/mahboubi-skuterud-–-economic-reality-check-canadian-immigration-part-ii

Yalnizyan: Our temporary residents provide a resource we can’t ignore

Armine’s piece coming out of Ryerson’s CERC panel a few months ago.

I remain sceptical regarding maintaining current target levels during a recession and lowering the CRS minimum points to 75 (essentially, anyone 25-34 with one years Canadian work experience) as a good immigration strategy in terms of economic and social outcomes.

And, as StatsCan helpfully remained us, not all temporary workers will necessarily want to transition to permanent status:

Over the last decade or two, about one third of temporary foreign workers and one quarter of international students became landed immigrants within 15 years after their first arrival. TFWs who had low earnings tended to have low earnings after becoming landed immigrants.— feng hou (@fenghou9) March 7, 2021

Worried about immigration during the pandemic? You may be shocked to learn that for every new permanent resident admitted to Canada in 2019, almost three temporary residents were admitted to work or study. Immigration refers only to permanent residents, so any conversation about immigration is only talking about 28 per cent of all the people entering Canada.

This little-known statistic directly informs a recent conversationabout Canada’s Immigration Plan at Ryerson University, the core theme of which is that we could miss a remarkable opportunity if we don’t see the whole chessboard.

In particular, the surest path to an equitable post-COVID-19 recovery involves increasing the number of immigrants Canada accepts by expanding the paths to permanent residency for people already studying and working here, Canada’s temporary residents. That single reform could bolster Canada’s future in both the short and long run. Here’s why:

It comes as no surprise that Canada’s immigration intake was almost cut in half as a result of COVID-19, bringing us back to levels last seen in the late 1990s. Those levels are not good enough for the post-pandemic future, which will be marked by population aging and a shrinking working-age cohort.

The pandemic accelerated a process already in play, with more people over 55 exiting the workforce than entrants aged 25 and younger. This dynamic hastens that moment when Canada’s net labour-force growth goes negative if not for the addition of workers born outside Canada. A shrinking Canadian labour force, with little or no productivity growth since 2015, is a recipe for economic decline. That’s not a future anyone wants.

Nonetheless, some experts are worried about Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s pledge to make up for the shortfall in the 2020 target of 341,000 new immigrants by increasing targets over the next three years: 401,000 new immigrants in 2021, rising to 421,000 by 2023.

For critics, it’s too soon for such ambitious plans. COVID-19-related job losses and foregone hours of paid work mean the current labour underutilization rate is over 18 per cent. Given that the pandemic hit low-income workers the hardest, and that low-income workers are disproportionately women, youth, racialized minorities and recent immigrants, it could seem counterproductive to add more people to the mix as the nation’s hardest-hit citizens struggle to find their feet again in the post-pandemic world. Indeed, the Conservative immigration critic, Raquel Dancho, describes the goal of accepting 1.2 million new immigrants by 2023 as “pure fantasy.”

Higher targets do raise legitimate concerns about the well-known challenges of integration, given the current inadequacy of settlement services. But is the Liberals’ plan really so unattainable and undesirable?

Consider the numbers: Canada accepted more than 1.2 million newcomers in just one year, 2019, (see Chart 1) through permits for both permanent and temporary residency — a number that has increased steadily over the years, particularly among for those brought into Canada for economic reasons.

In 2019 (see Chart 2), about 30 per cent of those who entered Canada as permanent residents had made the transition from temporary-resident status. We can easily accommodate 1.2 million new immigrants over the next three years if we draw from the ranks of temporary residents who already work or study here. They have adjusted to life in Canada to some degree. Providing them with better settlement services like subsidized housing, English/French as a second language instruction and learning supports is a low-cost, high-yield return on public spending that also creates new jobs for Canadians.

Ironically, admitting more immigrants may be the surest path to a more equitable recovery, if one looks at the entire system of the intake of newcomers, including temporary residents. We don’t know for sure how many want to stay, but there’s plenty of demand for pathways to permanence among the more than 530,000 international students, 459,000 migrant workers (via the International Mobility Programs) and 77,000 temporary foreign workers who were in Canada as of December 31, 2020, and that’s in the middle of a pandemic. It is hard to believe that this deep well of human aspiration could not satisfy most, if not all, of the minister’s goal of adding 50,000 more immigrants this year. More generally, failing to integrate those who are already here studying and working and who want to stay is like leaving money on the table.

Though hard to imagine right now, we will soon be looking at widespread labour shortages. While population aging creates an unprecedented opportunity to increase skills and employment opportunities for whole groups of systemically underemployed Canadian residents, like the ones hardest hit by the pandemic, we’ll nonetheless need more newcomers to address temporary and permanent labour and skills shortages.

Historically, we have admitted more permanent residents than temporary ones to address labour shortages. But in 2006 the lines crossed. Ever since, we’ve admitted more migrant workers than economic immigrants. Take a hard look at the trajectory in Chart 2 and ask yourself: can you imagine living in a society where the vast majority of economic newcomers are migrants? Is this the future you envision for Canada?

The shift described in Chart 2 erodes workers’ rights in industries like accommodation, food service, personal services, elder care and child care, long-term care, and some types of manufacturing. These sectors, which have long relied on low-wage immigrants, reduce costs even further by turning to migrant workers with even less ability to exercise statutory labour protections. Exhibit A: seasonal agricultural workers, the essential workers who make sure we are fed, but may not be able to protect their own health and safety. Most come back, year after year; but this year some couldn’t even get tests or take time off when they fell ill with COVID-19. We can do better, for them and for us.

This process has begun. Small steps to create more pathways to permanence started in 2019, with a new pilot for personal care workers, joined by two others in 2020 for seasonal agricultural workers and live-in caregivers, and one for health-care workersin 2021. To these measures was added the recent federal invitation to basically everyone in Canada to put in an application to become a permanent resident. Last month the federal government drew 27,800 people from these applications. 

Canadian immigration is based on a point system, and the lowest score of applicants was 75. A normal draw features applicants with 400 points, sometimes more. Does this downgrade the “quality” of immigrants and hence their ability to integrate? No. They were already here, studying and working, but at risk of losing their status and deported during the pandemic. This was effectively a regularization program. (Note: Canada hasn’t had a major regularization program for residents without status since the 1970s, under Trudeau père. If not during a pandemic, when should such measures be taken? Never?)

We should celebrate, not be afraid of these measures. Permitting more migrant workers to transition to permanent status increases their ability to access labour protections and basic human rights. If we reduce exploitation of these workers, we improve working conditions for everyone in the workplaces where they are employed.

The de facto “two-step immigration process” that has emerged in recent years has been primarily driven by business demands for faster intake of newcomers, but could lead to better integration and lives for “low” and “high” skilled workers alike. If temporary foreign workers are good enough to work for us, they are good enough to live among us, permanently, if that is what they wish.

Let’s not look at the immigration story with our eyes wide shut. How we live with others will define the labour market, society, and future of Canada.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2021/03/06/our-temporary-residents-provide-a-resource-we-cant-ignore.html

Saunders: How Canada learned what’s wrong with its immigration system – by slamming its borders shut

Usual thought provoking column by Doug Saunders, even if I am more sceptical regarding the government’s approach:

How do you find 401,000 immigrants to become new Canadians when nobody’s even allowed to enter the country? That was the puzzle Ottawa faced at the beginning of the year, after the federal government set admirably high annual immigration targets in 2020 that will bring in 1.2 million people over the next three years in a bold effort to build economic growth through population expansion.

Air and land borders have been shut tight because of the coronavirus pandemic, and neither immigrants nor refugees have been arriving – 2020′s immigration intake was the lowest since the 1990s. The new targets, representing more than 1 per cent of Canada’s population per year, would produce immigration rates Canada hasn’t seen since the 1960s – but begin during a border-closing pandemic. Opposition and business critics said our immigration bureaucrats could never meet that target.

Two weeks ago, those bureaucrats announced a solution that was surprising and potentially ingenious. But it also revealed some of the deep flaws in an outdated and overcomplicated immigration system that was designed for restriction rather than growth, and that leaves hundreds of thousands of families in Canada unable to participate fully in its economy.

In essence, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino recognized that most of those 401,000 immigrants are already living and working in Canada, and often have been for years – they just don’t have the right kind of visa, or haven’t accumulated right number of points along our Byzantine immigration pathway, to qualify for permanent-residency status and eventual citizenship.

On Valentine’s Day weekend, as it does every few weeks, the Immigration Department sent out invitations for selected temporary immigrants, all of whom have worked in Canada for at least a year, to apply for permanent-resident status. Instead of the usual 3,000 to 5,000 invitations, though, it sent out more than 27,000, and hinted that this high rate would continue for some time. In order to find enough current residents to invite, the number of points needed was lowered dramatically. (Canada’s long-established points system, properly known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, awards points toward permanent status for such things as work experience, education and language skills.)

Immigrants who expected to have to wait months or years longer, and to jump through dozens more bureaucratic hoops, suddenly learned they were on a pathway to become Canadians. Immigration lawyers, who found themselves deluged with clients last week, said the supply of qualified high-quality people was always here; it just took a crisis for the government to see it.

“Yes, they can hit the 400,000 target because there are half a million temporary foreign workers and international students in Canada right now,” says Raj Sharma, a Calgary-based immigration lawyer. “I think they’re going to meet the target, and it’s going to have repercussions on the way they do things – they always should have prioritized people already living in Canada.”

Drawing on immigrants with lower point scores is not a case of “scraping the bottom of the barrel,” as Mr. Sharma notes, because the great majority of those in Canada on a temporary basis (with only a few possible exceptions, such as seasonal agricultural workers) are able to be here, for study or work, precisely because they have skills and are fluent in a Canadian language. What has denied most of these people and their families access to citizenship is not a lack of actual skills or experience, but a complex and often self-contradictory set of rules and classifications.

For example, a temporary worker employed for a year as an accounts-receivable clerk does not earn enough points to qualify under normal rules; the same worker employed as a bookkeeper does. In some provinces, an immigrant employed caring for elderly and disabled people in their own homes is ineligible to apply for permanent residency, while an immigrant doing the same work in a long-term care facility is.

At root are two decades-old assumptions behind our immigration system, both of which have been challenged by the pandemic. The first is that highly skilled, educated and fluent immigrants are a comparative rarity and a lengthy weeding-out process is needed to find them. The second is that immigrants divide neatly into two groups of very different people: temporary and low-skilled, and permanent and high-skilled.

That hasn’t been true for decades. Not only are most “temporary” immigrants to Canada people who are educated and considered middle-class in their countries of origin, but temporary low-wage work is most often used as a stepping-stone to permanent work in professions or skilled trades, or to small-business ownership. A high proportion of temporary-immigrant women employed as live-in caregivers and nannies, for example, have postsecondary diplomas and degrees from their home countries.

These assumptions have exacted a high cost on Canada’s economic prospects, by leaving large numbers of newcomers in a limbo state, unable to invest in their communities, start legal businesses or set down family roots because they’re not eligible to become Canadians – even though they’re here because the economy needs them. In the early 2000s, under prime minister Stephen Harper’s earlier policies, a majority of immigrants in Canada were temporary foreign workers without access to permanent residency.

The later Harper years and early Trudeau years saw pathways to permanent residency created for most classes of temporary workers and students. In the prepandemic years, several thousand people per month were making this transition, though few of them were lower-wage immigrants from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, who face difficult bureaucratic hurdles regardless of their skill or education level.

The pandemic shone a light on this problem. The jobs deemed “essential” – and thus the jobs that expose employees to the greatest coronavirus risk – are very often the ones held by immigrants who have the least possibility of becoming Canadians.

“I do think that COVID-19 provides an opportunity to rethink our immigration policy, given what we have seen in terms of essential workers, traditionally undervalued and underpaid,” says Andrew Griffith, a former director-general of Canada’s immigration department. He doesn’t believe it will be necessary for the government to permanently lower its points-score requirements for permanent residency, especially during a pandemic recession. Even though there are many labour shortages in low-skill fields, much of that demand is filled not by primary immigrants but by their relatives – the family members who accompany them, and who they later sponsor.

This crisis may have come along at just the right time. If Canada wants to reach a level of population density that provides the most ecological, economic and cultural benefits – especially in a world whose borders and markets are becoming less open – it doesn’t have much time. As recent academic analyses have pointed out, Canada’s projected peak population this century (double its current level) may be difficult to reach because many of our chief countries of immigration are watching their own population growth levels collapse and are trying to hold onto their own populations.

What the pandemic has shown us is that newcomers are not guaranteed to be available when we need them, and might not always be willing to jump through all our hoops – not when other wealthy countries, including warmer ones, may be willing to make better offers.

An immigration policy designed for a growing, educated population needs to do three things.

First, it needs to keep families intact – an immigration system built on unaccompanied individuals is bad for immigrants and bad for Canada, as it leaves out the long-term population benefits of immigration.

Second, it needs to avoid leaving people stuck in Canada for a long time without a clear pathway to citizenship. This is true for both refugee applicants and immigrants – it is a huge wasted opportunity to have hundreds of thousands of ambiguous-status individuals knocking around the country, unsure if they should invest in this country or some other one, or when they’ll know for sure.

We wrongly think of our “points system” as assessing the intrinsic worth of an individual, but in fact most immigrants build up points during the time they spend in Canada. Might it make more sense to allow them to accumulate those points not before but after they earn permanent-resident status? That way, the earnings and savings they build up during that time will be used to build a stake in Canada’s society and economy.

But the flip side of a generous and large-scale controlled-immigration system is that removal of non-qualified people should be quick and decisive – ideally through economic incentives rather than far more expensive deportation. Immigration and citizenship should be valued and treated as precious accomplishments, and that means making decisions quickly and fairly.

And finally, the system should allow rapid movement between categories and classes of immigration – ideally without changing anything. Someone in Canada as a temporary medical-industry worker should be able to become a university student, or a permanent-residency applicant, without having to pay lawyers and questionable immigration agents to navigate a labyrinth of applications, waiting lists, lotteries and restrictions. The number of immigration categories, and steps, could easily be cut in half without any detriment to the system.

Canada will never be an open-borders country, and it will never need to return to the era of mass immigration, as we experienced a bit more than a century ago. We can double or triple our population this century within current immigration rates, and without lowering our standards – but we need to start taking advantage of the immigration assets we already have. If nothing else, the pandemic’s border closings have taught us that we need to do things differently.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-how-canada-learned-whats-wrong-with-its-immigration-system-by-slamming/

Douglas Todd: Economists question decision to boost immigration during pandemic

Good and needed questioning:

Canadian economists are questioning why Ottawa is setting record immigration targets in the middle of unprecedented unemployment caused by the pandemic.

More than 1.7 million Canadians are looking for work, and the economists are warning that the Liberals’ aggressive new target of more than 400,000 new immigrants in 2021 will likely hurt the country’s low-skilled workers, particularly those who have recently become permanent residents.

Source: Douglas Todd: Economists question decision to boost immigration during pandemic

Canada lowers threshold for immigrants to get permanent residency

Money quote by Mikal Skuterud: “What the government did on Saturday is signal very clearly, our only objective here is to hit the target,” rather than a substantive policy rationale:

Ottawa has made it easier for thousands of immigrants living in Canada to become permanent residents, a sign that policy makers are focused on hitting an aggressive target for 2021 after last year’s intake fell way short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Immigration Canada invited 27,332 people to apply for permanent residency through Express Entry, a system designed to approve applications in six months or less. The candidates were part of the Canadian Experience Class category, which requires immigrants to have at least one year of recent work experience in the country.

The weekend invitation was more than five times larger than the typical draw under the program. Draws tend to happen every couple weeks and usually result in just 3,000 to 5,000 invitations. This time, to send out significantly more invitations, Immigration Canada slashed the number of points required to get an invite.

Nearly all of those people – 90 per cent – are already living in Canada, the federal government said. The move reflects efforts by Ottawa to prioritize those already in the country to add 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021, a target that has been complicated by border restrictions because of COVID-19.

Canada is coming off an exceptionally weak year for immigration. Roughly 184,000 new permanent residents were added in 2020, the lowest since 1998, and well short of the 341,000 target. To make up for that setback, Ottawa has ramped up its intake goals for the next three years.

Express Entry is one avenue for becoming a permanent resident. In gaining entry to that pool of candidates, people are assigned a score that’s based on a number of factors, including English or French language skills, age, education and work history.

For each draw, a cut-off score is set. Typically, the minimum score for those in the Canadian Experience category is above 400. Successful candidates were often younger than 30, had strong language skills, advanced degrees and extensive Canadian work experience.

This time, however, the points threshold for the weekend draw was just 75, essentially allowing all available candidates to qualify.

For many observers, the lowered cut-off was a seismic event for the Express Entry system. Mikal Skuterud, a University of Waterloo economics professor, likened Saturday’s move to a university dramatically lowering its grade requirements to boost enrolment.

“What the government did on Saturday is signal very clearly, our only objective here is to hit the target,” he said.

The abrupt shift sent immigration lawyers scrambling to contact clients on the weekend who had been advised to hold off on applying because their scores were considered to be too low.

The changes open a path for many immigrants to become permanent residents who may have otherwise struggled, such as people in their 40s and older and who may have a bachelor’s degree or less education, said Mark Holthe, an immigration lawyer in Lethbridge, Alta., who specializes in Express Entry applications.

“These people are here. They’ve been working, they’ve been paying taxes, they speak the language, they’re adjusted,” he said. “They’re quality candidates every bit as much as those with super-high human capital.”

But the weekend draw also cast uncertainty over the Express Entry system, raising questions about whether Ottawa intends to keep its criteria lowered for future draws, or boost targets for other immigration streams.

“What the government has done is basically throw away the playbook,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas. “They have really transformed the Express Entry system into a lottery ticket. The message that has been sent overseas is that this is a government that is desperate to meet their quotas.”

Mr. Karas said the aggressive targets in this recent draw have exhausted the pool of domestic candidates in the Canadian Experience Class program, meaning future draws will likely have to target people living overseas.

Prof. Skuterud questioned the timing of Ottawa’s immigration push, given tough labour conditions during the pandemic. As of January, there were nearly two million people who fit Statistics Canada’s definition of unemployed – largely, that one must be available and searching for work – while another 700,000 wanted work but weren’t looking.

“The evidence is overwhelming, that immigrants who enter labour markets during recessions … struggle more than immigrants who don’t,” he said. By lowering the points cut-off, “that means having immigrants who are going to struggle more.”

The sheer size of the weekend draw is also likely to upend immigration targets set by various provinces under the Provincial Nominee Program, which frequently draws from the same pool of domestic candidates. The Alberta government, for instance, had planned to restrict its provincial nominees to only those immigrants already working in Alberta.

“Instantly their whole pool of candidates is going to be gutted,” Mr. Holthe said. “They’re going to have to look at people that are outside of Canada now, I believe, in order to meet those targets.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-ottawa-goes-on-blitz-to-boost-immigration-make-up-for-pandemic-induced/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Morning%20Update&utm_content=2021-2-17_6&utm_term=Morning%20Update:%20Canada%20lowers%20threshold%20for%20immigrants%20to%20get%20permanent%20residency&utm_campaign=newsletter&cu_id=%2BTx9qGuxCF9REU6kNldjGJtpVUGIVB3Y

Immigration likely to miss targets again in 2021: RBC

Not a great surprise. RBC also called relatively early the decline in 2020, estimating a decrease of 170,000 compared to 2019 https://bit.ly/covid-immigration-rbc :

Immigration, a key driver of the Canadian population and economic growth, is likely to remain stalled in 2021, says RBC Economics in a new report.

In 2020, Canada only managed to meet just over half of its pre-pandemic immigration target of 341,000 new residents, RBC said, as 184,000 people settled in the country amid an array of border restrictions caused by Covid-19.

The government is aiming to add 1.2 million new residents over the next three years to help make up for the shortfall in 2020, the report noted.

However, RBC projected that the ongoing effects of the pandemic will see immigration totals fall short again in 2021, with 275,000 new permanent residents predicted for the year ahead.

Continued border restrictions, significant quarantine requirements and substantial processing delays are all weighing against strong immigration totals for the current year, the report noted.

Additionally, the number of new applicants for permanent residency has dropped notably, and there isn’t much of a backlog of immigrants who have been approved but haven’t yet moved to Canada. This suggests that “even if borders open up soon, it will still take time to increase the flow of new immigrants back to pre-pandemic levels,” the report said.

“In the long-run, Canada does have the capacity to hit the ambitious targets set out last fall and population growth from new immigration will again return as the main driver. However, with the effects of the pandemic looking more likely to remain into the spring and summer, the headwinds listed above will keep immigration into Canada low throughout most of 2021.”

Source: https://www.investmentexecutive.com/news/research-and-markets/immigration-likely-to-miss-targets-again-in-2021-rbc/

RBC report: https://thoughtleadership.rbc.com/canadian-immigration-interrupted-a-look-ahead-into-2021?_ga=2.80358033.760756181.1613593885-1292850278.1613593885