Canada wants to welcome 500,000 more immigrants in 2025. Can our country keep up?

The Globe’s Matt Lundy is doing some of the best reporting and analysis of immigration these days, with this article raising one of the elephants in the room, housing availability and affordabilty, healthcare, infrastructure:

Every year, Canada adds a big city – in a sense. The mass of individuals are spread around, mostly to urban centres, but increasingly to suburbs and far-flung communities. They are here to work, to study, to build a better life.

The expansion is historic. From July to September, Canada’s population grew by around 285,000, a 0.7-per-cent gain that was the largest since Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949. More than 700,000 people have been added over the past year, roughly the same as the population of Mississauga, the seventh-largest municipality in the country.

The trend picked up when the federal Liberal Party came to power. Since 2016, the country has grown at nearly double the rate of its Group of Seven peers. For the most part, that growth is driven by immigration.

The push is deliberate. Policy makers say higher immigration is necessary to fuel Canada’s economic growth, and in particular, to ease labour shortages that have frustrated the corporate sector.

It is, however, a population boom with its share of growing pains

Consider that over the past year, fewer than 200,000 housing units were completed. There were 3.6 new residents for every home added, the highest ratio since at least 1991. Affordability is deteriorating in most places. There is a fundamental mismatch between home supply and demand – and the population boom is contributing to the divide.

At the same time, Canadian governments are struggling to deliver basic services. Surgeries are getting cancelled in crammed hospitals. Canadians can’t find family doctors, let alone newcomers trying to navigate an ailing health care system. Cash-strapped cities can’t refurbish their infrastructure as fast as it’s falling into disrepair.

To cope with the affordability crisis, a growing number of people are fleeing our cities. They include teachers, nurses and construction workers – the very people who keep those cities running.

In this fraught environment, Ottawa has its foot on the accelerator. After admitting about 405,000 permanent residents last year, the federal government is aiming for 500,000 in 2025. And that’s just a portion of the migration wave: At last count, there were 1.4 million residents with temporary work or study permits.

Canada is facing a complicated adjustment. Notably, developers are scrapping or delaying housing projects, owing to rising interest rates and waning profitability. Just when more homes are needed, fewer are being built.

Several economists question why the federal government would create more demand for services, when so many pillars of social infrastructure are in distress. They wonder if Ottawa is singularly focused on hitting its immigration targets, with insufficient planning for how to successfully absorb those newcomers.

For its part, the federal government says the solution to so many of these problems is simple: more immigration. They’re planning to bring in more doctors and nurses from abroad, along with people to build homes.

Many recent immigrants have waited years for admission. Now they’re arriving at a time of decades-high inflation and slowing economic growth. Highly-skilled newcomers will likely manage the transition just fine. But others are discovering the Canadian dream is a pricey proposition – and perhaps not what they bargained for.

Ash Gopalani knew Toronto would be expensive. Just not this expensive.

He and his wife, Sneha, arrived in September, after a stressful three-year process to get their permanent resident cards. Finding an apartment was the next hurdle. Too often, the listings were in cramped basements, with little natural light, or far removed from the city’s core or public transit.

Mr. Gopalani eventually signed a lease for a one-bedroom unit in the city’s west end for $1,800 a month, the top end of his expected range. What he didn’t anticipate was paying six months of rent – $10,800 – up front, because the couple from Mumbai has no credit history here. Now, they have less of a financial buffer as they search for jobs.

Mr. Gopalani was hoping to follow a familiar playbook for newcomers. Establish a career. Save up money. Then buy a house – preferably big enough that their family from India could stay a while.

But the experience of moving here has been a reality check.

“We don’t know if we can afford building a life in Canada,” he said.

The rental market is ground zero for where immigrants get a taste of the cost-of-living crisis, in which fierce competition and bidding wars for relatively few units have led to jacked-up prices.

For Alexiane Sauvaire, it was a rude awakening. She thought finding an apartment in Toronto would be easier than in her native Paris. After eight frustrating days of looking, following her arrival, she moved to Montreal.

“Maybe for rich people, it’s easy. But when you’re not rich, it’s impossible to live right now in Toronto,” she said.

Increasingly, recent immigrants are bypassing the largest metro areas – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – to settle elsewhere, although a slim majority still favour those regions, according to the latest census results. However, costs are rising quickly in other cities, too, as they experience fervent demand from migrating people.

Over the past year, the average rent in Calgary has jumped 18 per cent to around $1,720 a month, according to data for new listings on London, Ont., is up 26 per cent. Halifax: 21 per cent.

From a labour standpoint, the affordability crisis is making it difficult to recruit – and retain – important workers.

“There are very significant economic risks to large cities if they do not get housing costs under control,” Aled ab Iorwerth, deputy chief economist at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., said on a conference call this summer. “It’s getting increasingly difficult to attract skilled workers and even highly-skilled workers to these cities because they’re just becoming simply unaffordable.”

The task ahead is nothing short of gargantuan. CMHC says that, in order to restore affordability back to levels in 2003 and 2004, Canada would need to build 3.5 million morehomes than projected by 2030.

Earlier this year, the federal government unveiled billions in new spending for housing, with a goal of doubling construction over the next decade. That plan looks dead on arrival amid higher borrowing rates.

There is, of course, another problem: labour. In a recent report, CMHC said there were not enough skilled workers to build the homes so desperately needed.

“Even under more ideal conditions, I don’t think we have the capacity to build at a pace that matches the demand through population growth that we’re seeing,” said Shaun Hildebrand, president at real estate firm Urbanation.

Immigration lawyers have a blunt message: The application system is a mess.

And it’s a mess that was largely created in Ottawa.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (the federal immigration department) had around 2.2 million applications in its inventories as of Oct. 31. About 1.2 million of them were in backlog, meaning they’ve been in the system for longer than service standards for processing. That’s far higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The system is falling apart. I’ve never seen it like this, in the 20 years that I’ve been practising,” said Kerry Molitor, an immigration consultant in Toronto.

After failing to hit immigration targets in 2020, owing to pandemic challenges, the federal government wanted a rebound. Through various decisions, it invited thousands of people already in Canada to apply for permanent residency. The surge in applications overwhelmed a civil service that struggled to process files efficiently amid office closings and the shift to remote work.

In some cases, applicants are waiting years for a decision. Mr. Gopalani and his wife applied for permanent residency in the fall of 2019. They expected an approval within months, a typical outcome in their stream of immigration. They weren’t approved until July, 2022.

“The immigration system could have been more sensitive, empathetic, towards the kind of transition that people go through, which didn’t happen,” he said.

Because of the backlog, applicants such as Mr. Gopalani have put their lives on hold for years. Others are working in Canada, but their permits are nearing expiry, putting their future plans in doubt. These are individuals who, in Canada’s points-based system for economic immigrants, would often be shoo-ins for approval, but now are caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare.

There are “really good, quality people in the pool, and they’re not getting invitations,” said Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo. “What happens now when these folks leave? They say, ‘The hell with this, I’m going back to my country or the U.S. or wherever.’ Now you’re losing all that talent. That’s completely not what this process is supposed to be.”

Despite the administrative headaches, Canada is on pace to welcome 431,000 permanent residents this year, right on target. The trouble is that talented people are slipping through the cracks – and the immigration system is taking a beating in public opinion.

“There’s this massive psychological toll that the backlogs, the delays and the lack of transparency have on people,” said Lev Abramovich, an immigration lawyer in Toronto. “I don’t think IRCC bureaucrats and politicians understand how much suffering this has caused.”

For all of Ottawa’s talk of targeting the best and brightest, the federal government is also allowing more cheap foreign labour into the country. Earlier this year, it overhauled the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, largely so employers could access more low-wage labour.

Colleges and universities, meanwhile, are ramping up their intake of foreign students, who mostly don’t need work permits. Increasingly, those students are taking jobs to rack up points for their permanent residency applications.

Around 1.4 million people had temporary work or study permits at the end of 2021, an increase of 85 per cent since 2015. That’s 640,000 people – about equal to the city of Vancouver – who have been added in just six years. Their ranks are set to accelerate this year, after policy changes.

While Ottawa has targets for admissions of permanent residents, there are no such guidelines for other migrants. With students, the federal government has essentially ceded that responsibility to postsecondary institutions, which are inclined to boost their revenues through higher intake of foreign students, who pay lofty tuition fees.

“The number of foreign nationals who receive study permits in any given year is based on demand, not predetermined targets,” Rémi Larivière, a spokesperson for IRCC, said in a statement.

An extreme example: Cape Breton University. Nearly 4,000 of its full-time students this fall had study visas, up a whopping 68 per cent from last year, according to preliminary survey data from the Association of Atlantic Universities. About three-quarters of CBU’s full-time students are from abroad. That’s injecting a surge of new demand for services in sleepy Sydney, N.S. (population: 31,000).

Gurmeet Singh, a second-year student, is trying to help people with their transition. He’s part of a volunteer group that verifies rental listings for incoming students. On average, the group gets three requests daily to check out potential residences. Mr. Singh visits those listings to see if they’re suitable for living – and if they exist.

Fraudulent listings are fairly common, Mr. Singh said; the group finds a scam every couple of days. “We felt it was our moral duty to help our fellow international students,” he said.

That’s not the only source of frustration. In local media this week, CBU students complained that a majority of classes in the two-year postbaccalaureate business program – a popular choice among foreign students – were being held in an unexpected venue: a Cineplex Inc. movie theatre off campus

Higher immigration is a guiding principle for this iteration of the federal Liberal Party.

Time and again, the party frames immigration as the antidote to an aging population, helping to grow the pool of labour market participants – and thus, too, the economy.

“Immigration is not just good for our economy, it’s essential. We can’t get by without it,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters at a recent news conference.

The truth is more complicated. A vast body of economic literature shows that immigration has little effect on gross domestic product per capita, a popular measure of living standards. Furthermore, while new immigrants are younger than existing residents, the intake is too meagre to offset a demographic wave of aging citizens.

This doesn’t mean immigration is bad for the economy. But it’s not an accelerant, either.

“Often, the argument is made as if it’s obvious that immigration generates economic growth,” said David Green, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia. “Not if you look at the numbers.”

Of late, Ottawa has said various policy changes – including the expansion of the TFW program and allowing foreign postsecondary students to work longer hours – are aimed at easing labour shortages. This has led several economists to accuse the federal government of kowtowing to corporate pressure, flooding the job market with low-wage foreign labour, rather than forcing companies to hike wages or make investments.

“There’s lots of evidence that holding employers’ feet to the fire in times of tight labour markets is the best way to spur innovation, automation and productivity. Those are the things you want in an economy,” said Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, a think tank.

“And if you say to employers, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll let you bring in some low-priced temporary migrants to solve your problem,’ you’re just dissipating the pressure that’s required to achieve a more productive economy.”

Prof. Green questioned the need to admit half a million permanent residents in 2025, given the fragile state of Canada’s social infrastructure and the questionable economic rationale for that target.

“I don’t see the planning here,” he said. “Do you really want to ramp up to 500,000 a year, at a time when we seem to be heading into recession and our housing markets and our health care system are straining at the seams? That’s a discussion that should be had.”

By and large, surveys suggest Canadians welcome immigrants. A recent poll, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, found nearly seven in 10 respondents support current levels of immigration, about double the share in late 1970s. The vast majority of respondents – 85 per cent – agreed that immigration is positive for the economy, a view that has held strong for decades.

But Prof. Green suggests we shouldn’t take that for granted. If the country struggles to integrate newcomers, then perhaps Canadians will start to eye them suspiciously. “It’s politically dangerous, to my mind,” he said.

For now, that’s a worry. But it’s not the experience of Tanushree Holker and Nishant Kalia, who moved to Toronto from New Delhi in the summer of 2019. Their expectation of Canada as a welcoming country has checked out.

“That perception about Canada being a country which accepts immigrants with open arms, it is true when you come here,” Ms. Holker said.

The couple has shared their journey in Canada on YouTube; their channel, In The North, has nearly 100,000 subscribers, to whom they dispense their acquired wisdom on everything from buying a car to navigating a complex immigration system. Mr. Kalia started the channel after getting laid off early in the pandemic. He’s since built a career in human resources, while his wife works for a Big Six bank.

In recent videos, they’ve documented a major life change: They moved to Calgary. By doing so, they’re saving $350 a month on a similar-sized rental unit, and they expect to buy a home within six to nine months. Despite any number of financial complications, their version of the Canadian dream is going to plan.

“After we made our trip to Alberta, we realized that there is actually a life in Canada beyond Toronto and Vancouver,” Mr. Kalia said in a video. “To our surprise, [Calgary] was much better than we expected.”

Source: Canada wants to welcome 500,000 more immigrants in 2025. Can our country keep up?

Canada’s permanent resident application backlog is forcing thousands of skilled workers to quit and return home

Major policy and program fail, unfortunately yet another one, as a result of the government’s fixation on artificial immigration targets and attracting applications rather than addressing the existing “inventory” of potential immigrants from the Canada Experience Class, creating backlogs and hardship:

Thousands of highly skilled immigrants who in previous years would easily have qualified for permanent residence in Canada are being forced to return to their home countries as their work permits expire – the result of a backlog created by federal policy decisions intended to boost immigration during the pandemic.

Many of them are former international students who landed jobs in Canada mid-pandemic, during a critical labour shortage. Now they find themselves in limbo, waiting for opportunities to apply for permanent resident status – opportunities that may never arrive.

“I have spent weeks trying to figure out what to do, but I don’t think there’s anything left that I can really do but leave Canada and find a job elsewhere,” said Gaurav Purohit, a Toronto-based finance professional who has worked at a prominent global financial services company for the past 15 months.

Mr. Purohit came to Canada from India in 2017 and completed a master’s program in Indigenous Studies at Trent University the following year. His work permit expires this month.

His immigration problems, and those of other people who now find themselves in similar situations, stem from the earliest days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 caused a steep drop in the number of immigrants being granted permanent residence in Canada. Sensing trouble for the country’s immigrant-dependent work force, the federal government introduced measures to reverse the trend.

Those measures succeeded in attracting a great many applications for permanent residence, but there was an undesired side effect: Canada’s immigration bureaucracy soon buckled under the pressure to process the avalanche of paperwork. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal immigration ministry, responded to the backlog by imposing a moratorium on new applications from people who had already lived and worked in Canada. The pause lasted for almost a year.

Now, Mr. Purohit and other immigrants with Canadian work experience, many of whom would likely have sailed through the federal vetting process before the pandemic, are still waiting for the government to invite them to apply for permanent residence. If their work permits expire before that happens, many of them will be unable to remain in the country.

“Our immigration system is already a particularly complicated one, but the pandemic and the decisions made by the federal government during the pandemic created an even bigger mess,” said Meika Lalonde, a partner at McCrea Immigration Law in Vancouver. “We are now in a situation where tens of thousands of individuals who are integrated into the labour market – the perfect individuals to stay here forever – have to leave.”

Canada’s economy relies heavily on immigrants. Every year, the government sets a target for the number of them it hopes to turn into permanent residents, who can live and work in the country indefinitely and eventually apply for citizenship.

The target in 2020 was 341,000 – but, because of the pandemic, only 185,000 new permanent residence visas were granted.

This was the exact opposite of what the government was trying to achieve. In late 2020, it announced that it was increasing its targets for the next three years, in the hopes of admitting over 1.2 million new permanent residents by the end of 2023.

And so the government decided to take steps to boost the number of permanent residence applications it was receiving. One of the first things it did to accomplish this was make a dramatic adjustment to Express Entry.

Skilled immigrants who want to live permanently in Canada usually start by submitting their personal information to Express Entry, which is a federal program that puts them all in a pool of candidates who are competing against one another for permanent residence.

Each person in the Express Entry pool gets a score from the government’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS), which awards them points for having positive attributes like Canadian work experience, advanced academic degrees or fluency in English or French. Everyone in the pool is waiting for the government to invite them to apply for permanent residence. Normally, only those with the highest CRS scores get invites.

Immigrants like Mr. Purohit, who have already worked in Canada for at least one year, typically apply for permanent residence through the Express Entry program’s Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream, whose candidates form a smaller pool within the Express Entry pool.

The government usually issues 3,500 to 4,000 CEC application invitations every two weeks, which gives the pool time to replenish its supply of high-scoring candidates. But in February, 2021, during the push for more applications, IRCC handed out invitations to all 27,332 people remaining in the CEC pool at the time. To send out all those invites, it lowered the minimum CRS score to 75, from its usual average of 450.

Another way the government boosted 2021 immigration levels was by creating a new program: the “temporary resident to permanent resident pathway,” or TR to PR. The special program was designed as a quick path to permanent residence for foreign nationals who were already in Canada and working in essential sectors like health care.

The resulting increase in the number of permanent residence applications created a processing backlog at IRCC.

“It’s easy to make an announcement that you’re going to boost immigration levels. But they created a massive problem for the people who worked in the department, who had to now process tens of thousands more applications,” said Mikal Skuterud, a professor of labour economics at the University of Waterloo who has spent decades researching Canada’s immigration system.

In September, 2021, to stop that backlog from growing, IRCC abruptly paused permanent residence invitations for work permit holders in the CEC pool. The invitations didn’t resume until July, 2022.

“If you happened to be in the CEC pool when the CRS score was lowered to 75, you plainly got lucky. If you were in the CEC pool during the pause and your CRS score was high, above the old average of 450, it didn’t matter. You had to sit and wait, even if your work permit was on the brink of expiring,” Ms. Lalonde explained.

IRCC acknowledged these backlogs in a March, 2022, internal memo, which said “existing federal high skilled inventory would have to be reduced by more than half” before any new invitations were sent out. Caught up in this delay were immigrants like Mr. Purohit.

Canada did succeed at hitting its immigration target for 2021. That December, the government announced it had admitted more than 401,000 new permanent residents, the highest annual number on record.

“There was a cost to reaching those 2021 immigration targets. You now have huge numbers of talented, high-skilled workers, who would have previously qualified easily, sitting in this pool, just waiting,” Prof. Skuterud said.

In a statement to The Globe, IRCC said it paused invitations to “manage growing inventories.” It added that Express Entry is an application management system, meaning reducing or pausing invitations is “precisely part of what the system was designed to do.”

IRCC also said new applications will now be processed within the usual six-month time frame.

In response to a question about why the minimum CRS score was lowered to 75, IRCC said the average score of candidates invited in that round was 415.

“All candidates in the Express Entry pool, even those with the lowest CRS scores, qualify for at least one economic immigration program and therefore have the necessary skills to succeed and contribute to the economy,” the ministry said.

The government has offered some supports to immigrants who now find themselves with expiring work permits and no way to apply for permanent residence.

In January, 2021, IRCC introduced a special temporary program that gave people with postgraduation work permits 18-month extensions on their permits’ expiry dates. The permits, which are given to people who studied in Canada, typically expire after eight months to three years.

The rationale for the extensions was pandemic-related: because much of the country was in lockdown, many former international students struggled to find work in Canada. Without Canadian work experience, it’s much harder for a person to gain permanent residence.

The government estimated that roughly 52,000 former international students would benefit from the extensions. Mr. Purohit was one of them. “I was really happy to get the 18-month extension in April, 2021,” he said.

He worked as a part-time instructor at Trent University before landing his current job in July, 2021.

By October, 2021, Mr. Purohit had worked full-time in Canada for a year, his CRS score was high, and he was confident he would get an invitation to apply for permanent residence before the extension on his work permit expired.

But by the time the government resumed draws from the CEC pool in July, 2022, there were so many applicants in the pool that the average CRS score required to receive an invite had risen above 500.

“Now I’m in a situation where I’m not going to get an invitation for PR because my score is too low,” Mr. Purohit said. “And it is ironic, because when the government granted us the 18-month extension, they said it was to ensure we would all get permanent residency.”

Ramkumar Narayanaraja, a Vancouver-based graphic designer who came to Canada from India, is in a similar situation.

His 18-month extension expired in September. He is now waiting for his employer to agree to apply for a labour market impact assessment, which would allow the company to get government approval to hire a certain number of temporary foreign workers. Meanwhile, Mr. Narayanaraja’s wife is about to give birth, and the couple has been racking up hospital bills because their immigration status prevents them from getting public health benefits.

“It just seems unfair that I paid my taxes, contributed to the system, and I’m faced with so much uncertainty,” Mr. Narayanaraja said. His CRS score is high, but not high enough to clear the new, elevated bar for a permanent residence invite.

If he’s able to remain in Canada as a temporary worker, and if the minimum CRS score eventually declines, he might one day be able to apply. But it’s more likely that he and his wife will have to leave the country.

In August, the government announced another 18-month extension for post-graduation work permit holders, but only for those whose initial permits had expiry dates between September, 2021, and December, 2022. Neither Mr. Purohit nor Mr. Narayanaraja are in that category.

In response to questions about whether they and others will be granted further extensions, IRCC said it “cannot speculate on future policy or program decisions.” But the ministry noted that in some cases people who were issued extensions under the 2021 policy will also be eligible for the extension announced this year.

It is unclear exactly how many skilled immigrants are currently living in limbo, unsure when or if they will obtain permanent residence, but Prof. Skuterud and Ms. Lalonde estimate that there are tens of thousands. The number of people in the Express Entry pool currently waiting for permanent residence invitations has ballooned to nearly 240,000 since early 2021.

Prof. Skuterud argued that the government lost sight, during the pandemic, of the real objective of economic immigration.

“Look, the Express Entry program and the CRS score was created in 2015 in order to get the best immigrants into this country,” he said. “And for years, it worked well. There’s been a clear improvement in the average earnings of new immigrants since 2015.”

“But the government got really fixated on making up for the 2020 shortfall, so they lowered the CRS score for the CEC pool, and created the TR to PR pathway. The result is we gained a lot of low-skilled immigrants, and we are currently losing high-skilled immigrants because of an avoidable backlog.”

Ms. Lalonde said the obvious solution is to hand out targeted work permit extensions to people like Mr. Purohit and Mr. Narayanaraja, who have high CRS scores and would easily have qualified for permanent residence had the pandemic not happened. And she said the government should be more transparent about how it intends to address the current backlog.

In September, the government announced steps to shorten application processing times. Those included hiring 1,250 new employees at IRCC and exempting permanent and temporary residence applicants who are already in Canada from medical exams.

But that won’t help people whose work permits are on the verge of expiring.

“There is so much uncertainty. And it’s unfortunate, because these people did so much to get to this point,” Ms. Lalonde said. “We really shouldn’t have to lose them.”

Source: Canada’s permanent resident application backlog is forcing thousands of skilled workers to quit and return home

The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

More on international study permit delays, yet another unfortunate example of government and IRCC failure in service delivery:

Leila Ghodrat Jahromi should have been sitting in class at Simon Fraser University this week, studying for her master of education degree.

Instead, the Iranian student is sitting in her temporary home in Turkey as she waits for a Canadian study permit some 14 weeks after applying for one.

“I have gone through a difficult path in my life,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who sold off a marriage gift of land from her parents and her car to cover her tuition in Canada. “Studying abroad is a milestone in my occupation towards prosperity. This situation is shattering all my planning for the future.”

The 30-year-old is among tens of thousands of international students whose fall semester has been put in jeopardy thanks to a processing backlog of permits at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). As of Sept. 1, just days before classes began, 151,000 applications were still working their way through the system, according to IRCC’s latest figures, provided to the Star on Tuesday.

Universities and colleges, which have mostly returned to in-person learning, have been scrambling to offer alternatives.

But where online options don’t exist, schools are warning international students they need to be in seats this week — or else it will be too late to catch up.

Deferrals are being recommended at this point, and in most cases, tuition and residence fees are being refunded. But such deferrals come at a huge cost for both students and institutions.

“Canada is now getting a reputation on the global stage that perhaps it’s better to go to the U.S. or it’s better to go to the U.K.,” said Deborah MacLatchy, president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, where at least 71 of its approximately 1,336 international students have been impacted by delays.

Canada has become the third-largest destination for international students after the U.S. and Australia. Post-secondary institutions across Canada, including Laurier, have been actively working to attract international students, who, as of 2020, made up 18 per cent of the student body nationwide.

Last year, a record 560,000 study permit applications — which are considered a step towards permanent residency — were processed by IRCC. In the first eight months of this year, the government finalized 452,000 study permits, but has struggled to keep up with demand.

A spokesperson at the University of Toronto, which has more than 20,000 international students, said that, as of last week, more than 600 permits for U of T students were still outstanding, and that the university “sympathizes with the frustration of those experiencing long delays in processing.”

Despite IRCC’s promise to hire 1,250 new employees to tackle the problem, the current wait time for a study permit from outside Canada is 12 weeks. Industry agents and consultants say processing in Canada is taking longer than in rival destinations, although IRCC told the Star that 62 per cent of the 150,000 applications in the system are within the service standard of 60 days.

IRCC told the Star it is “moving towards a more integrated, modernized and centralized working environment in order to help speed up application processing globally,” including the hiring blitz and digitizing applications.

“Honestly, I am starting to regret not having an alternative,” said Ghodrat Jahromi, who was accepted to the B.C. university in February and applied for her study permit in early June, together with her husband, who sought an open work permit so he could accompany her. They were asked for additional documentation in early July, which they provided immediately. “With such an academic background, I could simply have been admitted to top universities around the world with much less painful processing time.”

Having co-founded an online English academy, Ghodrat Jahromi is hoping to enhance her credentials by getting a M.Ed. in teaching English as an additional language. She said Simon Fraser, which has about 6,860 international students, has been helpful, but ultimately her program had to be completed in person, and time just ran out.

She has, regretfully, decided to defer to spring 2023.

Because she had already resigned from her job and broken her lease in Antalya, Turkey — where she had moved to escape Tehran’s pollution that was exacerbating her asthma, and to better access COVID-19 vaccines — she is now faced with a huge rent increase and finding work to tide her over to the next semester, assuming her permit comes through.

“Right now, I am applying to other countries, just in case,” she said, adding that through an online forum, she has been tracking similar frustrations from many other Iranian students facing delays.

University of Waterloo economics professor Mikal Skuterud has for weeks been receiving emails from students worried about what they’re missing. Of the 600 students in his Economics 101 course, about a fifth are international students.

For those still waiting on a permit, the window is nearly closed, said Skuterud: “Once you are missing two of 12 weeks, a sixth of the course, to me that’s a problem.”

Waterloo’s faculty of arts is recommending students not in class by Sept. 20 defer admission. Laurier, meanwhile, has suggested Wednesday as the last date to start in-person classes, given group work and assessment expectations.

“This is really quite unnecessary stress that we’re putting these students under. Why? Because the IRCC is a bit of a mess right now,” said Skuterud.

“This is a big, big move for many of them,” leaving behind families and homelands. And, he added, “students are paying a lot of money.”

Tuition for international students is, on average, three times higher than for domestic students, making it a vital revenue source in schools across the country. Undergraduate tuition for engineering at Waterloo, for example, is $66,000 per year compared to $18,000 for Canadian citizens.

At Laurier, permit delays this year alone could have a financial impact of $2 million, climbing to $10 million over the course of four years if those students choose to go elsewhere, according to MacLatchy.

“My worry is that if they’re not going to be able to come this year, by next year, will they have made other decisions about other opportunities?”

Although delays are not isolated to this year, MacLatchy said they are having a cumulative effect, and Laurier and other institutions like Waterloo have been advocating for solutions.

Having university-educated international students, said MacLatchy, is one of the “smartest ways for the country to get great talent” that will bring entrepreneurship and global experience to the workforce.

“We want (international students) to think of Canada as their destination for their education and also for their future careers and lives. To have visa delays be what stops them is really unfortunate.”

Source: The future for tens of thousands of international students is in jeopardy. Here’s why

Douglas Todd: The downside to increasing low-skill migration to Canada

Good overview of recent research on low-skill migration and the government’s repetition of the Harper government mistakes before correction after a few years:
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper found himself in trouble in 2014 for jacking up the number of temporary foreign workers coming to Canada to work at places like McDonald’s and Tim Hortons.
Then-opposition leader Justin Trudeau, labour unions and the media went into overdrive — attacking Harper for pandering to the business lobby by inundating the market with hundreds of thousands of low-skilled temporary foreign workers, many of whom were vulnerable to exploitation.
To the surprise of many, Harper responded to the outcry. He sharply reduced the number of guest workers and brought in laws encouraging employers to improve working conditions and hire more people who were born in Canada or had become permanent residents.

Source: Douglas Todd: The downside to increasing low-skill migration to Canada

Koop: Foreign-worker changes could spell trouble

Yet another warning note and reminder of how the Conservatives had to backtrack in 2013-14 given the abuses of the program by employers preferring temporary foreign workers than Canadian residents:

CANADA has been welcoming temporary foreign workers since 1973, but the programs that facilitate this have often been criticized for abuse and mismanagement. Recent changes introduced by the federal government that will expand the number of foreign workers could lead to even more such criticism, as every indication is low-income Canadians will suffer because of the government’s reforms.

Programs that welcome low-skill foreign workers can be of great assistance to employers in very tight labour markets where employees are hard to come by. But the danger of unchecked growth is that these workers typically are willing to accept lower wages and worse working conditions than Canadian workers, which can lead to wage suppression for Canadians or even displacement.

In 2013 and 2014, as the number of foreign workers swelled, abuses of these workers were covered widely in the Canadian media. In some cases, foreign workers were underpaid, or their working conditions were odious; in others, corporations recruited them despite high local unemployment rates. The result of this media coverage was several restrictions introduced by prime minister Stephen Harper’s government designed to slow growth in the number of low-skill foreign workers.

Since then, Ottawa has been besieged by fancy corporate lobbyists intent on loosening these restrictions. In April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finally caved, agreeing to reverse the 2014 restrictions. These changes, which have already taken effect, will likely lead to a spike in the number of low-skill foreign workers in Canada.

In particular: the cap on the total number of foreign workers in several sectors was boosted from 10 to 30 per cent. There is no limit on the number of foreign workers that can be employed in the agriculture, caregiving, and fish and seafood processing sectors. Crucially and inexplicably, employers will now be able to hire foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate exceeds six per cent.

The problem with expanding access to low-skill foreign workers is that doing so short-circuits market forces that should benefit Canadian workers. When labour markets are tight, employers must compete for the applicants available. The result is higher wages, better benefits and more attractive working conditions.

Employers also have to expand their searches and be more open to applicants they may previously have passed over; for example, disabled Canadians, recent immigrants and refugees, apprentices and young Canadians.

Canadian workers should be benefiting from these market forces. But, to the contrary, post-pandemic wage growth is very low. Indeed, inflation has meant that real Canadian wages may in fact be declining. Low-wage workers — including working class-families, single mothers, and immigrants and refugees just starting out in Canada — are hit hardest by inflation since any marginal increase in costs is felt most acutely by these vulnerable Canadians.

Opening access to foreign workers will present an opportunity to business, but it will likely prolong the pain already faced by working-class Canadian families as wage growth continues to stagnate. Economists Fabian Lange, Mikal Skuterud and Christopher Worswick argue convincingly that the government’s recent reforms will further undermine wage growth despite the tight labour market. They ask, “Does relying on foreign guest workers to fill low-wage job vacancies make sense in this environment?”

Well, it makes perfect sense for corporations.

A few months ago, it was revealed that Tim Hortons, the ubiquitous coffee chain, was facing a staffing crisis that was directly related to low wages. Emails obtained by BNN Bloomberg show that managers at 22 high-traffic suburban chains, mostly surrounding Toronto, were panicked by a lack of workers to handle the post-pandemic return of motorists picking up coffee on the way to work.

As these franchises’ profits have increased, the solution to their staffing problem was obvious: increased wages and enhanced benefits to draw potential workers back from other sectors. But Tim Hortons was among the corporations that protested the most loudly when the government restricted the use of temporary foreign workers in 2014. Should anyone wonder how the coffee chain and other corporations will address staffing shortages now that the Harper-era reforms have been reversed?

When provided with an opportunity from the federal government to suppress labour costs, why wouldn’t employers take it? Workers hoping for relief in this sector may be out of luck.

This raises the question: who is looking out for these Canadian workers? New Democrats fancy themselves the party of workers, but Jagmeet Singh recently dragged his party into a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberal government that scrapped the old restrictions. Should voters hold him as well as the Liberals accountable in the next election?

Royce Koop is a professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba and academic director of the Centre for Social Science Research and Policy.

Source: Foreign-worker changes could spell trouble

Lange, Skuterud and Worswick: The economic case against low-wage temporary foreign workers

Good and needed commentary:

Canada is unique in its broad public support for high immigration levels, and for good reason. A world with fewer migration barriers can boost living standards in all countries by moving workers where they are most productive. But easing employer access to low-wage temporary foreign workers, a key piece of the federal government’s recently announced Workforce Solutions Road Map, risks undermining real wage growth and increasing income inequality.

Proponents of increased immigration levels argue that immigration is essential to grow the economy. But what matters is not the total size of the economic pie but the size of the average slice and how it is divided. Increasing low-skilled immigration to increase the overall size of the economy risks driving down average living standards in Canada. The economic growth literature is clear: raising GDP per capita through immigration requires prioritizing skilled immigrants to raise the average skill level of the labour force and harness capital investments, especially in new technologies.

The high-skill streams of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs, such as the global skills strategy, have much potential to strengthen Canada’s position in the global war for talent. These programs allow employers to identify foreign talent and provide growing businesses with a fast and responsive system for recruiting foreign workers. By temporarily binding temporary foreign workers to employers, businesses are ensured that they will retain this talent over a period of time, thereby incentivizing them to invest in talent search, while migrants are assured fast and seamless transitions to permanent residency through the express entry system. The benefits to Canada’s economy have the potential to be broad.

The same benefits do not arise from low-wage temporary foreign worker streams. Published lists of employer approvals in the low-wage stream of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program reveal that these are overwhelmingly jobs requiring no more than short periods of on-the-job training. Low-wage temporary foreign workers are therefore not filling skill gaps and they compete for jobs with Canada’s most vulnerable workers, especially recent immigrants, including refugees. Evidenceshows that binding temporary workers with limited marketable skills to specific employers creates a power imbalance, which opens the door to abuse.

For these reasons, Canada’s low-wage temporary foreign worker program has been controversial. Media coverage in 2013-2014 documented reports of employer program misuse, including by Tim Hortons and McDonald’s franchises in areas with high unemployment rates. The federal government’s response in 2014 to this controversy was twofold. First, it curtailed growth by imposing a fee on the labour market impact assessments businesses are required to undergo to ensure adequate efforts have been made to fill jobs domestically. It also limited the share of temporary foreign workers to 10 per cent of employers’ workforces, and it restricted hiring of temporary foreign workers in areas where the local unemployment rate exceeded six per cent. Second, it broke off the component of the program not requiring labour market impact assessments and renamed it the international mobility program.

Figure 1 provides our best estimates of how employer reliance on temporary foreign workers has become entrenched in Canada’s labour markets. After briefly declining following the 2014 reforms, the program has continued to grow, which almost entirely reflects growth under the less-scrutinized international mobility program. This persistent growth is evidence that the program has grown beyond its objective of being a temporary measure for businesses to fill temporary labour shortages to becoming a permanent business strategy to minimize labour costs.

The true temporary foreign worker employment share is no doubt bigger as the data does not include foreign students, who have the right to work in Canada and have increased five-fold since 2000. However, neither the government nor Statistics Canada tracks the employment of foreign students. The simple and troubling reality is that we don’t know what percentage of Canada’s low-wage jobs are currently being done by foreign students, but an analysis of census data performed by one of us suggests it has increased. It is likely that the imperative for foreign students to work has increased along with the tuition fee premiums they are required to pay.

A recent study of a policy change in the United Arab Emirates shows that allowing temporary foreign workers to move to other firms when their initial contracts expire improves their initial wage outcomes.  Migrants’ willingness to accept substandard wages and working conditions is further exacerbated by the dream of obtaining permanent residency status. Despite much rhetoric about lessons learned during the pandemic and the need for expanded permanent residency pathways for temporary foreign workers, evidence reveals that low-skill temporary foreign workers have always been, and continue to be, more likely than higher skilled temporary foreign workers to obtain permanent residency status because they are more likely to seek it. Of course, when temporary foreign workers make the transition to permanent residency and their job opportunities open up, they are likely to be just as unwilling as other Canadians to accept the low wages and unappealing working conditions of these jobs, leading to continuous pressure to bring in more temporary foreign workers to replace the prior group.

There is no question that Canada’s low-wage labour markets are now exceptionally tight. Figure 2 shows that the number of vacancies per job seeker in late 2021 and early 2022 far exceeds the level seen prior to the COVID recession. In January 2022, there were  7.1 job vacancies for every 10 job seekers (0.83 million job vacancies and 1.16 million job seekers) down from a peak of  8.4 in December 2021 (see figure 2). Increases in job vacancies requiring a high school diploma or less have been especially acute – 74-per-cent increase between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 compared to a 63-per-cent increase overall.

Strong demand for low-wage workers has led Canada’s business lobby to push for eased access to temporary foreign workers, to which the government responded on April 11 by announcing its Workforce Solutions Road Map, which will see a reversal of the 2014 temporary foreign worker program restrictions. Most notable, as of April 30 this year, the workforce cap on low-wage temporary foreign workers will increase from 10 per cent to 30 per cent in seven sectors: food manufacturing; wood product manufacturing; furniture and related manufacturing; accommodation and food services; construction; hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities. Positions in on-farm agriculture, caregiving, and fish and seafood processing will have no limit on the number of temporary foreign workers employed, making permanent an exemption introduced in 2015. For all remaining sectors of the economy, the cap will increase to 20 per cent.

In addition, the maximum permit duration will increase from 180 to 270 days for these low-wage positions. Labour market impact assessments will be valid for 18 months, up from nine months during the pandemic, and six months before the pandemic. Finally, the government will end the moratorium on the hiring of temporary foreign workers in regions where the unemployment rate exceeds six per cent.

For economists, labour shortages are an opportunity to be embraced. Competition for scarce workers forces employers to use existing workers more efficiently, by, for example, offering longer hours for those willing, introducing new technologies that may be complementary to the tasks of workers, and investing in employee training, thereby raising skills and labour productivity. To compete for workers, employers will be pressured to enhance their wages, benefits, and working conditions, thereby making the least desirable jobs less odious.

Increased competition also compels employers to be less selective in their recruitment efforts and to offer opportunities to job seekers who would otherwise have difficulties getting a toehold in the labour market, such as recent immigrants and workers with disabilities.

Finally, the combination of a tight labour market and pandemic interruptions appears to be increasing worker mobility out of low-wage sectors, such as from the retail and food-accommodations industries toward sectors with better pay and more opportunities for career advancement.

No doubt some low-margin employers will be unable to compete, but business failures are a necessary reality of a healthy well-functioning economy. Thirty-seven per cent of Canadian businesses fail within the first five years, and 57 per cent by 10 years, according to a recent Industry Canada analysis. In the food and accommodations industry, only 31 per cent survive 10 years. This continuous flow of business creation and destruction ensures all production inputs, including workers and capital, are employed where they are most efficient and contribute most to the economy. There is good reason to believe that Canada’s $100-billion public expenditure for the Canada emergency wage subsidy has interrupted this competitive process. Allowing it to return is an important step in easing the current labour crunch.

Despite exceptionally tight labour markets, Canadian wage growth remains lethargic. Statistics Canada’s most recent estimate suggests a 3.4-per-cent year-over-year increase in average wages over all employees, less than the 4.3-per-cent average increase recorded in the second half of 2019. In the seven sectors targeted for enhanced temporary foreign worker expansions in the Workforce Solutions Road Map, job vacancies increased 89 per cent between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021 but the average wage being offered to fill these vacancies increased by only 3.6 per cent (holding the sector mix of the vacancies constant). Over the same period, consumer prices in Canada increased 4.7 per cent, suggesting declining real wages, which, of course, is entirely at odds with labour shortages.

Does relying on foreign guest workers to fill low-wage job vacancies make sense in this environment? Is a justifiable rationale for the low-wage stream of Canada’s temporary foreign worker program to support businesses that fail in the absence of a ready source of cheap labour that is contractually tied to them?

What is the solution?

Optimal policy in high-wage labour markets is not optimal policy in low-wage markets. We need to think more clearly about what economic objectives we are seeking to achieve when easing access to low-wage temporary foreign workers.

Abruptly ending the low-wage temporary foreign workers stream might unduly disrupt businesses that have become reliant on this program. An alternative proposal, which deserves more consideration, is a “cap and trade” system in which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada issues a fixed number of permits to satisfy current demand, but gradually lowers the number of permits issued in subsequent years. Employers may respond to this rationing of permits by trading unused permits to other employers whose willingness to pay for permits is higher. The cap ensures certainty in the number of permits issued, while the market for temporary foreign workers is left to determine the competitive market price for permits. In this way, temporary foreign workers will be employed by firms where they are the most productive, thereby improving the economic efficiency of the system and the wages and working conditions of Canada’s lowest-wage workers.

Source: The economic case against low-wage temporary foreign workers

It’s Time to Abolish the Absurd (and Slightly Racist) Concept of “Visible Minorities”

Apart from some of the hyperbole, without some system of classification, it becomes difficult if not impossible to assess socioeconomic and political outcomes and thus inclusivity. Visible minorities, like Indigenous peoples, have disaggregated data which is increasingly more widespread (e.g., public service).

It is one thing to criticize how activist use the data, another to argue for not collecting and analyzing the data.

In my analysis of public service employment equity, I find many activists have not taken a serious look at the data in making their case for change (see Will the removal of the Canadian citizenship preference in the public service make a difference?, where I provide occupational and group breakdowns, which interestingly, for example, that Blacks in EX positions were under-represented to a lessor degree than South Asians and Chinese).

But data, in highlighting similarities and differences, provides a frame under which one can analyse and hopefully understand some of the underlying reasons for those differences, as Skuterud does (some of which may reflect historically patterns of discrimination).

As to repealing the Employment Equity Act, hard to see any government doing so or abandoning the collection of disaggregated data minority groups. But Woolley’s point of shifting the focus towards socioeconomic measures of disadvantage is not incompatible with attention to minority groups as a means of analyzing and assessing differences in outcomes.

No other country in the world divides itself along racial lines as we do in Canada. According to federal legislation, our country consists of three distinct race groups: Indigenous people, whites and everybody else. Members of this final catch-all category are officially deemed “visible minorities” and defined in law as “persons, other than Aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” Canadians can either be native, white or non-white. How’s that for inclusivity?

The term “visible minority” was invented in 1975 by black activist Kay Livingstone, founder of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, as the means to unite disparate immigrant groups at a time when Canada was overwhelmingly Caucasian. By 1984, the phrase had gained sufficient currency to play a starring role in the final report of Judge Rosalie Silberman Abella’s Commission on Equality in Employment, and was later enshrined in law via the federal Employment Equity Act of 1986. This law requires all public and private sector employers to improve the job prospects for visible minorities, women, Aboriginals and people with disabilities through the elimination of barriers and creation of various “special measures,” such as targeted hiring. Today, this dichotomy of “able-bodied white males versus everyone else” still forms the basis for myriad policies and regulations meant to impose greater diversity in the workplace and throughout society.

While Abella’s report was instrumental in cementing the concept of visible minorities in federal law, she recognized at the time that lumping everyone who isn’t white into a single generic category could create complications. “To combine all non-whites together as visible minorities for the purpose of devising systems to improve their equitable participation, without making distinctions to assist those groups in particular need, may deflect attention from where the problems are greatest,” Abella wrote. That said, the future appointee to the Supreme Court of Canada figured a solution would eventually appear. “At present,” she observed, “data available from Statistics Canada are not sufficiently refined by race…to make determinative judgements as to which visible minorities appear not to be in need of employment equity programs.” (Emphasis in original.)

The term ‘visible minority’ was invented in 1975 by black activist Kay Livingstone, founder of the Canadian Negro Women’s Association, as the means to unite disparate immigrant groups at a time when Canada was overwhelmingly Caucasian.Tweet

Nearly four decades later, Canada no longer suffers from an absence of race-based data. We are, in fact, inundated with it. And the evidence arising from this flood of racially-focused statistical work is clear and unambiguous: the entire concept of visible minorities – along with the superstructure of policies and laws that support it – makes no sense in our pluralistic 21st century Canada. It’s time to abolish this outdated, imprecise and subtly racist idea.

The Data Speak Volumes

Among the Trudeau government’s many indulgences to the cause of social justice has been the creation of the Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics at Statistics Canada. Reports from this branch of our national statistical agency focus almost exclusively on dividing Canadian society up into ever-smaller slices by race, gender and other attributes (a recent effort tracks the educational attainment of bisexual people) and frequently serve as fodder for activists intent on claiming Canada is rife with systemic discrimination and racism whenever a gap is identified. Yet a gap-filled study released last month examining how various racial groups within the visible minority category are doing in Canada’s labour market received surprisingly little attention from the media or within activist circles. This may be because most of the gaps it reveals aren’t the sort that give rise to claims of racism.

The results of the study by Statcan researchers Theresa Qiu and Grant Schellenberg will come as a shock to anyone expecting to find whites sitting atop the labour market. Rather, the best earners are Canadian-born Japanese males, who earn an average $1,750 per week. This compares to $1,530 earned by white men. Chinese, Korean and South Asian (from India, Pakistan etc.) males also take home more than whites. Among women, whites are out-earned by a majority of groups within the visible minority category, including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, South Asian and Southeast Asian (from Vietnam, Thailand etc.). At $1,450 per week, the average Canadian-born Korean woman earns $330 more per week than the average white woman. For both men and women, the two lowest-earning categories are blacks and Latin Americans.

Source: The weekly earnings of Canadian-born individuals in designated minority and White categories in the mind-2010s by Theresa Qiu and Grant Schellenberg, Statistics Canada, 2022

While clearly contrary to current narratives declaring all of North America to be a bastion of white supremacy, these findings are not unusual for either side of the border. The latest American data on full-time workers similarly shows Asian men to be the highest income earners among full-time workers in the U.S., at US$1,457 per week, exceeding the US$1,108 per year earned by white men. 

Asian women also out-earn American white women, by nearly US$200 per week. Other data from the Pew Research Center on household income point to South Asian-born families as the top earners in the U.S. by a substantial margin.  It bears notice that Qiu and Schellenberg wisely avoid confusing the immigrant experience, which entails numerous challenges of language, culture and credentials, with that of being a visible minority in Canada. They do so by focusing only on Canadian-born visible minorities aged 25 to 45 (that is, young second-generation immigrants) and comparing them with similarly situated whites. 

Source: Facts on U.S. Immigrants, 2018 by Pew Research Center, 2020

The researchers further refined their work by adjusting for university education and other demographic characteristics. Here South Asian men were found to do significantly better than white men. Blacks and Latin Americans again did worse. Among women, several visible minority categories statistically outperformed whites, and no group – not even black women – did worse.

The results illustrate the pre-eminence of a university education in explaining job market success. ‘Nearly three-quarters of Canadian-born Chinese women have a university degree,’ marvels Skuterud. ‘That’s amazing.’Tweet

A Good News Story for Many, but not All

Do such results bolster the loud and widespread narrative that Canada is a systemically racist country? According to one labour market expert, such a declaration is impossible to make despite the large gaps in performance seen across the visible minority subgroups. “There is absolutely no way to infer any conclusion from this data about whether there is racial discrimination in the labour market,” says Mikal Skuterud, an economist at the University of Waterloo, in an interview. “Some groups are clearly outperforming whites, but no one would interpret that as evidence of discrimination against whites, or for Canadians with Chinese, Korean or Japanese ancestry.”

To Skuterud, the fact many Asian groups outperform the rest of Canadian society is a “good news story” since these segments comprise a large and growing share of Canada’s current immigration intake; this bodes well for the integration of future immigrants from these countries in coming years. The results also illustrate the pre-eminence of a university education in explaining job market success, as the strong performance across many Asian groups is closely linked to their high rates of university completion. “Nearly three-quarters of Canadian-born Chinese women have a university degree,” marvels Skuterud. “That’s amazing.”

Skuterud is troubled, however, by the poor results for blacks and Latin Americans, something that also appears in his own research. It is conceivable, he notes, that such persistent gaps are the result of labour market discrimination specifically targeted towards certain groups, rather than across the entire visible minority population. Such a possibility requires further investigation, he says. There are, however, numerous other explanations for this phenomenon, including broader cultural or socioeconomic factors not captured by the recent study. For example, another Statcan report found the rate of lone parenthood, a factor strongly associated with poverty and poor educational outcomes, is nearly three times more common among black mothers than in Canadian society at large. “Black immigrant populations stand out for their prevalence of lone mothers compared to the rest of the Canadian population,” the 2020 report observed. It is hard to imagine this not being a significant factor when it comes to the jobs market.

Taken at the broadest level, Qiu and Schellenberg’s results can be seen as a thorough dismantling of Livingstone’s nearly half-century-old claim that the term “visible minority” describes a single coherent category unified by the lack of whiteness of its members. This “group” now includes both the highest and lowest-earning racial categories in Canada, a fact that stretches diversity to the point of absurdity. The exceptional outcomes for Canadian-born Asian men and women strongly suggest factors other than discrimination – primarily education, family and socioeconomic status – are driving the divergence in earnings across race. And if skin colour is not a useful explanation for performance in the labour market, using it as a basis to set employment targets, as is the case within the federal public service, becomes a perversion of good policy.

“Did it ever make any sense?” 

In a column in the Globe and Mail nearly a decade ago, Carleton University economist Frances Woolley declared that, “There is something almost racist about the assumption that whites are the standard against which anyone else is noticeably, visibly different.” Her opinion hasn’t changed much since then. Asked today if it still makes sense for Canada to enshrine the concept of visible minority in law given the recent Statcan results, she shoots back, “Did it ever make any sense?”

The current system, Woolley observes in an interview, is entirely arbitrary in its binary conception of people as either white or not. “The word white is very imprecise,” she notes. According to Statcan, for example, Greek Canadians are European and part of the dominant white, mainstream society. Yet anyone who traces their roots to Turkey, right next door, is considered West Asian and hence a visible minority. As a result, one neighbour is eligible for special measures and one is not. Plus, “a lot of people who consider themselves white – such as Lebanese Christians – are identified as visible minorities by the Census,” Woolley adds. The U.S. classifies most Arab ethnicities as Caucasian.

The rise of individuals with multiple or competing racial identities due to the rapid growth in interracial marriages further complicates the notion of colour-coding Canada’s population. The share of mixed-race relationships has more than doubled over the past decade and now comprises 7.3 percent of all marriages and common-law relationships in this country. As these couples have children, it will get progressively more difficult to sort Canadians into separate racial baskets of white and non-white. (Aka oppressors and victims.)  

Then there is the issue of how nearly everyone can end up being considered part of a minority group and thus deserving of special treatment. Visible minorities currently comprise 22 percent of Canada’s total population, based on 2016 Census data, a figure that will undoubtedly rise with the release of updated 2021 Census data later this year. In some urban centres such as Surrey, B.C. or Markham, Ontario, visible minorities already constitute a clear majority. Indigenous people make up another 5 percent of Canada and people with disabilities are estimated at 22 percent. Finally, women represent 50 percent of all other groups. “Designated groups [under the Employment Equity Act] are now an overwhelming majority in the labour market,” says Woolley. “Surely we can all agree that’s problematic.”

The only slice of the Canadian population not offered special treatment under this framework is that of able-bodied white men. Yet the notion that white men stand astride the Canadian economy like a Colossus is both outdated and unfair. As Qiu and Schellenberg reveal, white men have one of the lowest rates of university completion across all racial groups, at 24 percent. This is significantly lower than black women at 36 percent, and only slightly higher than black men, at 20 percent. Given the importance of education to future earnings, low rates of university education in any racial group should be a troubling matter for fair-minded policy-makers.

Whites, both male and female, are also much more likely to live outside urban areas, another factor Qiu and Schellenberg found to be associated with lower earnings. And as a group, whites are noticeably older than those within the various visible minority subcategories. All of which suggests whites, and in particular white men, are likely to face strong headwinds in the future. They may, in fact, be more deserving of government attention than many other identity categories. “The real question,” insists Woolley, “is how can we make the system fair for everyone, not just designated groups.”

A Better Way Than Racializing Everything

Faced with the obvious folly of the entire visible minority concept, the progressive activist community appears focused on changes of nomenclature rather than substance. Linguistic constructs such as BIPOC or “racialized individuals” are more commonly used these days than the term visible minority. But such changes raise more questions than they answer. Consider BIPOC, an imported American acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. But aren’t black people also people of colour? And if so, why include them twice? As for “racialized,” the word appears derived from an invented verb: to racialize. But that suggests identity is dependant on the views of others, rather than a permanent, self-conceived state.

Any real commitment to tackling the inconsistencies inherent to the uniquely Canadian concept of visible minority must do more than just fiddle with terminology. In its 2020 Fall Economic Statement, the Trudeau government announced plans to review and modernize the Employment Equity Act. The most attractive solution would be to scrap it altogether and recuse the federal government from any further involvement in private-sector hiring practices. A competitive job market driven by need and focused on merit has no apparent problems hiring well-qualified candidates regardless of race, as the Asian experience ample demonstrates. Yet such a hands-off, market-driven and colour-blind approach seems extremely unlikely.

In the absence of simple economic logic, one immediate remedy would be to stop using whites as the reference group. Given evidence that whites no longer command the highest wages or best jobs, it makes more sense to shift to a simple Canadian average in future Statcan reports. This would resolve Woolley’s complaint about the implicit racism of making whites the standard by which all others are measured. “If you tested everyone relative to the Canadian average rather than whoever is considered ’white,’ I think that would be a good thing,” she says. “It would mean we are no longer taking the white experience as aspirational, or the norm.”

Achieving a colour-blind labour market would require shifting away from our current preoccupation with race to focus on more important factors. Poverty would be a good place to start.Tweet

Then again, any system that continues to examine performance by race, regardless of the comparator, perpetuates the fiction that racial identity is the ne plus ultra of the job market – if not personhood itself. While a fixation on skin colour has lately come to define public policy in many troubling ways, doing so embeds the concept that Canada is a collection of disparate racial groups constantly in conflict with one another. It would be far healthier for society to simply accept that we all share a common identity as members of a pluralistic Canada. Full stop.  

Plenty of evidence suggests Canadians don’t care nearly as much about race as the media or political classes constantly claim they do. Consider the 2019 federal election, which featured those potentially damning images of a young Justin Trudeau in blackface. Most Canadians simply shrugged it off. As author Christopher Dornan observed in his book recapping the election, “The issue of racism – overt and latent, deliberate and unwitting, systemic and extrinsic – simply did not take hold in the election discourse.”

Achieving a colour-blind labour market would require shifting away from a preoccupation with race to focus on more important factors. Poverty would be a good place to start. Says Woolley, “If your family income is a million dollars a year and both your parents have PhDs, then the colour of your skin doesn’t matter. The same goes if you grew up in foster care and have struggled all your life.” Disadvantage and hardship can occur in families of all races and ethnicities. Yet under Canada’s visible minority framework, needy individuals can be ignored while others with a different skin tone get a leg-up they don’t deserve. “We need a fair process and fair procedures,” Woolley asserts.

A fairer system, Woolley says, should “try to get at socioeconomic measures of disadvantage rather than assuming that identity” is the crucial factor. As an example of such a system, she points to the fact many universities around the world that now use socioeconomic status (SES) measures such as family income, rather than race, to determine entrance qualifications for disadvantaged students. Such “class-based” or “race-neutral” standards have a successful track record in Israel.

SES factors are also widely used in the U.S., although they remain a work in progress. The reason many American schools rely on SES is that they’ve been forbidden from accepting students based solely on race due to court rulings on constitutional grounds. In many cases, however, the universities manipulate their allegedly colour-blind SES rankings in order to sort students by colour regardless of what the courts say. This has led to numerous lawsuits objecting to such subterfuge, including one well-publicized case involving Asian students denied entrance to Harvard University because of their race. (They lost in 2019, but the case is now heading to the Supreme Court.) Regrettably, even plans meant to ignore race somehow end up becoming fixated on race.

The final word on ending to racial employment laws should go to the great human rights advocate Martin Luther King, Jr. King strongly opposed race-based quotas and other affirmative action measures because he anticipated their divisive effect on social harmony. In 1964 he wrote, “It is my opinion that many white workers whose economic condition is not too far removed from the economic condition of his black brother, will find it difficult to accept…special consideration to the Negro in the context of unemployment, joblessness etc. and does not take into sufficient account their [own] plight.” He argued against different treatment based on race because he thought help should be provided to all who need it, regardless of their skin colour. In other words, he dreamt of a truly just and fair world. We’re still waiting.

Source: It’s Time to Abolish the Absurd (and Slightly Racist) Concept of “Visible Minorities”

Douglas Todd: ‘Astonishing’ findings on Canadian ethnic groups’ earnings and education

While not astonishing for those of us who look at this data regularly (including public service employment equity data), nevertheless the differences are striking. Mikal Skuterud’s points on the need for nuance and understanding the life choices people make (and the circumstances that influence them) are important to keep in mind:

The latest Statistics Canada research on ethnic groups’ earnings and educational achievements reveals clues on where to look, and not look, for potential discrimination in the workplace.

Fortunately, the new data doesn’t group visible minorities into one monolithic clump — since the amount of money earned by each ethnic cohort is surprisingly different, with some groups flourishing and others not.

People of South Korean, Chinese and South Asian extraction tend to be the top earners in Canada, broadly speaking. Latin-American and Black people are often among the lowest. Whites are mostly in the middle of the pack in terms of wages, while they are in the lower echelons in regard to university education.

Economist Frances Woolley of Carleton University says such details are crucial. Visible minorities are one of four groups covered by the federal Employment Equity Act (as are women, people with disabilities, and Indigenous Canadians). But rather than assume all visible minorities are susceptible to unfairness, she says it is meaningful to focus on ethnic groups that are actually behind.

The latest StatsCan report, the first of its kind in a decade, measured the weekly incomes of Canadian-born people ages 25 to 44 (which encompasses the millennial generation) in 2016, a census year, based on 12 visible-minority categories.

The study by Theresa Qui and Grant Schellenberg illustrates the setting for Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, which is committed to “removing barriers and promoting a country where every person is able to fully participate and have an equal opportunity to proceed.”

Using white Canadians as a majority baseline, the report pinpoints how some ethnic groups are doing much better than others in earnings and education, as well as striking differences between men and women, and how people of colour overwhelmingly live in cities.

Mikal Skuterud, an economist at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview, “Descriptive studies like this are like paintings — different people will see different things in the numbers. But the reality is that what lies behind the earnings differences reported is nuanced, complex, and largely unknown.”

Workplace and educational outcomes are often not determined by racist bosses or discriminatory educators, suggested Skuterud. They are likely more often determined by complex life decisions that people make, and transparent data is needed to get to the bottom of things, he said. This report provides a hard look at the ethnic groups that appear to be moving up the ladder and those which aren’t.

Asian-Canadians among Canada’s top earners

Most Canadian visible-minority women earn more than white females, who averaged $1,120 a week.

Korean-Canadian women earned $1,450 a week on average; Chinese women $1,440; South Asian women $1,330; Japanese $1,320; Filipino $1,260; and Arab and Iranian $1,120. Meanwhile, Black women earned less, at $1,080, while Latin-American women made $1,000 a week.

Korean, Japanese and South Asian men earned slightly more than white males, who took in $1,530. Chinese-Canadian men earned about the same. Filipino and South-East Asian men earned about 15 per cent less than white males, while Latin-American and Black males earned about 20 per cent lower.

While some wage gaps shrink when variables such as age, place of residence and educational levels are taken into account, others remained significant, Schellenberg said.

The study by Qui and Schellenberg did not look at Indigenous people or immigrants, the latter being a larger visible-minority group than those born in Canada. While people who grew up in Canada are readily comparable, Schellenberg said, immigrants are often held back in the labour market by specific factors: a shortfall of Canadian work experience, lack of fluency in English or French, and foreign work credentials not being recognized.

Even though the Statistics Canada report doesn’t suggest where discrimination might be occurring in Canada, both Schellenberg and Skuterud said the data does appear to raise at least one red flag: Black males fell further behind others in relative earnings in the period between 2006 and 2016.

‘Astonishing’ differences in educational levels by ethnicity

People of colour born in Canada are far more likely than white people to have university degrees.

More than 60 per cent of Chinese and Korean men boasted a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 24 per cent of white males, a gulf that Skuterud referred to as “astonishing”.

In addition, more than 40 per cent of South Asian, Arab, West Asian and Japanese men had university degrees. The only ethnic groups less likely to have degrees than white males were Black males (20 per cent) and Latin-American males (17 per cent).

Even though many more white women than white men have university degrees (38 per cent), they still lag behind almost every other ethnic group.

“More than 70 per cent of Korean and Chinese women and around 60 per cent of Japanese and South Asian women had a university degree, compared with 38 per cent of white women,” said the report. They are basically tied with Black women on higher education, and slightly ahead of Latin-American females.

Because of the years many visible minorities spend in college and university compared to white people who move directly into the workforce, Qui and Schellenberg suggest the wages of people of colour, who are on average younger and in more high-skilled jobs, will show up comparatively higher in the 2021 census.

Ethnic segregation is forming along urban-rural lines

People of colour and whites are making remarkably different choices about big cities and small towns.

Sixty per cent of all people of colour in Canada live in just three cities — Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. That compares to only 27 per cent of white people.

Put another way, the report said, “Only about one in 20 (visible-minority members) live in smaller cities, towns and rural areas, compared with about one in three white people.”

Indeed, the report says one reason many people of colour earn more than white people is they live in metropolises, where wages tend to be elevated. The authors also found white people were more likely to be married, have children, and not be living with their parents.

Despite the unprecedented amount of North American, especially U.S., research that has gone into whether employers discriminate based on race or ethnicity, Skuterud said, “It’s almost a fundamentally unidentifiable problem.”

Rather than automatically believing gaps in earnings and education are rooted in “injustice or unfairness,” Skuterud said it is also important to simply remember, “People make different choices.”

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Astonishing’ findings on Canadian ethnic groups’ earnings and education

Speer: Let’s not prolong this pandemic for the sake of the expert class

An uncomfortable insight and a reminder how we all need to be aware of the incentives and motivations that affect our behaviour and positions:

I saw a fascinating tweet last week that reflected something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. University of Waterloo labour economist Mikal Skuterud wondered aloud whether the experts whose influence and profile have risen over the past twenty-four months or so may be consciously or subconsciously inclined to prolong the pandemic. 

Skuterud’s question doesn’t attribute malice or ill-intent. He’s not questioning whether academics or public servants would purposefully manipulate data or intentionally provide misleading advice. He’s making a far more subtle yet important point.  

He’s asking if our pandemic-induced emphasis on expertise may inadvertently create a powerful set of incentives in which these same experts may eventually find it challenging to surrender the sense of power and purpose that they’ve been given over the past two years. It’s a question worth asking.

As he rightly notes, the pandemic has necessarily elevated certain experts in our society. We’ve seen doctors, epidemiologists, and other public health experts come to have unprecedented influence over government policymaking and uncharacteristic prominence in the mainstream media and on social media. 

That’s somewhat natural in light of the circumstances. It’s to be expected that policymakers, the media, and the general population would come to value infectious disease experts in the face of a novel coronavirus. 

The result though is that a number of hitherto obscure academics and bureaucrats have never mattered this much before and probably never will again. It’s not normal for them to appear on television each day or increase their Twitter followings tenfold. 

Such a surge of influence and profile can bring with it a powerful set of incentives. It can contribute to a loss of perspective and an inflation of one’s ego. It can encourage individuals who may usually be scholarly and taciturn to be more quarrelsome and vehement. It can preference 280 characters over nuance. It can turn little-known academics into political actors. 

Skuterud’s question is therefore a good and honest one. How might this extraordinary yet temporary increase in the role of certain experts influence how they think about the pandemic and advise on pandemic-related policies including the continuation of public-health restrictions?   

The answer may lie in Public Choice theory, which the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan famously defined as “politics without romance.” Public Choice came about in the second half of the twentieth century under the intellectual influence of Buchanan, his regular collaborator, Gordon Tullock, political economist Mancur Olson, and various others. 

The basic idea is that our understanding of one’s motivations in the private economy ought to extend to his or her involvement in government, politics, and public policy. As economist Pierre Lemieux has succinctly put it: “He does not metamorphose into an altruist angel.” 

Most economic analysis starts with a basic premise: the market is comprised of rational actors pursuing their own self-interest. Yet these same assumptions about human behaviour aren’t always applied in the political sphere. The underlying presumption can be that activists, bureaucrats, and politicians are somehow beyond self-interest and are instead capable of making judgments about government policy without accounting for their own personal interests. 

Public Choice theory challenges this notion. It uses modern economics to analyse politics and political decision-making. It starts from the premise that different actors in the political process are self-interested agents who will seek to maximize their own utility function just like individuals do in the marketplace. 

In practice, it means that politicians may offer voters popular measures to get elected, public servants might conceive of new programs to obtain more funding and greater resources for their departments, and special interest groups—including unions and corporations—invariably lobby government to obtain new benefits such as tariffs to protect their businesses or laws or regulations that advance their own interests. 

This hardly seems like a revolutionary idea now. Public Choice theory has become a well-respected school of economic thought with a number of prolific exponents and a wide range of applications. But, at its infancy, it was seen as a radical proposition that brought into question the capacity of government to make collective decisions in the public interest.  

The consequence of Public Choice isn’t to challenge government’s basic legitimacy or reject it altogether. It’s instead a call for a clear-eyed assessment of the impulses and motivations behind different actors involved in politics and public administration. This extends to the experts and journalists who form part of the overall system and must be similarly understood as influenced by a broadly defined notion of self-interest. It’s not narrowly about monetary reward either—though financial gain may be a factor for some. It can extend to other rewards including influence, profile, or the sense of meaning and purpose that the pandemic’s emphasis on expertise has granted. 

It’s important to emphasize that this isn’t a description of moral failing. Recognizing the pull of self-interest isn’t a judgement of particular people in positions of authority. It’s an observation about human nature and the fact that government and politics are fundamentally comprised of humans and their inherent fallibilities. 

Which brings us back to Skuterud’s question. There’s no reason to think that most experts haven’t acted in good faith during the pandemic and sought to make a positive contribution to solving the extraordinary public health crisis. But, as Public Choice tells us, it’s also quite possible that at some level these incentives are shaping the questions that they’re asking, the data that they’re collecting, the analysis that they’re bringing to bear, or how they’re engaging in the public sphere.

The risk, of course, is that these forces come to obtrude collective decision-making and in turn prolong the pandemic. It’s hard to know the magnitude of the risk. But it’s presumably not zero. It must be something that we are cognizant of—especially as the policy choices become more complex and the subject of greater debate. 

The ultimate solution to the COVID-19 pandemic is imperfect: it will require a combination of critical thinking and judgement calls without any altruistic angels. This pandemic’s end will necessarily involve a series of trade-offs, calculated choices, and second-best options. It must in short be an exercise in a politics without romance. 


Doug Ford is completely wrong in his suggestion that immigrants are aiming to laze around

Good analysis of the labour market and recent immigrants (traditionally who have lagged earlier periods of immigration):

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is not just wrong in suggesting that prospective immigrants to his province are aiming to laze around on the dole.

He’s exactly wrong. The Premier’s statements are completely at odds with an unprecedented shift in the labour market, in which the most recently arrived workers with landed-immigrant status have seen the biggest gains in employment rates, now nearly 10 percentage points higher than prepandemic levels. And that trend is more pronounced in Ontario than for Canada as a whole.

Speaking at an infrastructure-funding press conference in Windsor on Monday, Mr. Ford expressed his concern about a shortage of workers, adding that he would press the federal government to boost immigration levels.

But he went on to add a caveat. “You come here like every other new Canadian has come here, you work your tail off. If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, not gonna happen,” he said. “Go somewhere else. You want to work, come here.”

Mr. Ford’s concerns are misplaced. Immigrants must have permanent residency status before becoming eligible for payments under Ontario’s social assistance program.

Among workers aged 15 or older, the employment rate for those who have had landed-immigrant status for five years or fewer rebounded to prepandemic levels last October, far faster than any other category of citizenship status. As of September, 2021, the seasonally unadjusted employment rate for this group had risen to 71.8 per cent.

That represents a remarkable surge of nearly 10 percentage points. University of Waterloo economics professor Mikal Skuterud said employment rates usually do not change so rapidly; a long-term change of a single percentage point would normally be significant. ”This is massive,” he said.

What’s more, the gains by the most recent landed immigrants have resulted in that group leap-frogging Canadian-born workers. Before the pandemic, the employment rate for Canadian-born workers aged 15 and older, at 62.5 per cent, ran just ahead of that of workers with five years or less of landed-immigrant status, at 62.2 per cent.

That 0.3 percentage point gap has now reversed, and grown, with the employment rate for workers with five years or less of landed-immigrant status more than 10 percentage points higher than that of Canadian-born workers.

The same trend is evident among workers aged 15 or older who have held landed-immigrant status between five and 10 years. The employment rate for that group rebounded past prepandemic levels last month. Participation rates rose as well, and the absolute number of unemployed workers in this group has fallen markedly since the pandemic began.

Across Canada, the same pattern holds true, although the effect is not quite as pronounced.

Mr. Ford’s comments fly in the face of those data. The Premier’s office did not directly answer a question on what the basis is for Mr. Ford’s concern that new immigrants might choose not to work. Instead, spokesperson Ivana Yelich wrote in an e-mail that “… our province is open to anyone and everyone who wants to work hard, support their family and contribute to their community.”

Ottawa’s policy choices on immigration have played a role as well. Prof. Skuterud says that immigration reforms in the early 2000s introduced a points system that placed much greater emphasis on employability. The result was that immigrants in the past 20 years have been better placed to compete in the job market relative to earlier cohorts.

Prof. Skuterud said the trends that have emerged during the pandemic are the reverse of the experience in previous recessions, when immigrant workers had the first and worst job losses, and the slowest recovery.

He points out that Ottawa dramatically curtailed immigration last year as part of the overall effort to limit border crossings. The number of new permanent residents fell by nearly half in 2020 compared with 2019. That decline has somewhat reversed this year, with the number of new permanent residents admitted between January and August equal to four-fifths of the total admitted during the same nine-month period in 2019.

Prof. Skuterud says the rebound in immigration threatens to stall the gains in employment rates that newer permanent residents have been making, and perhaps even reverse them. Beyond the sheer increase in immigration numbers, the federal government has also sharply reduced the minimum amount of points needed to qualify for landed-immigrant status as Ottawa seeks to boost the inflow of immigrants.

Together, those two factors threaten to create a new generation of immigrants that are less able to find employment easily. Even a tight labour market, Prof. Skuterud said, won’t be enough to keep some landed immigrants from floundering.