Immigration increase alone won’t fix the labour market, experts say

Still thinking inside the box of increased immigration rather than other policy measures to address labour shortages:
Experts say Canada’s plan to increase immigration may ease some pressures in the labour market, but bigger changes are needed to ensure new permanent residents are matched with the jobs that most need filling.
With the unemployment rate at historic lows, many companies are “starved” for workers, and new immigrants will help fill some of the need, said Ravi Jain, principal at Jain Immigration Law and co-founder of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association.

Source: Immigration increase alone won’t fix the labour market, experts say

Why Canada’s plan to bring in 1.45 million permanent residents won’t fix the labour shortage

Of note, pretty hard hitting:

With a master’s degree in nursing and six years of experience teaching nursing students in the Philippines, Rodolfo Lastimosa Jr. figured he’d quickly get a licence to work as a registered nurse in Canada.

In September, he passed his RN exam in Ontario — 11 years after arriving in this country.

Upon coming here, his overseas credentials had been “downgraded.” He found he had to work as a live-in caregiver while qualifying to become a practical nurse (RPN), then return to school for yet another bachelor’s degree in nursing.

“There was just no other way for me but to go back to school,” says Lastimosa, a 43-year-old living in Toronto, who cared for a man with dementia and later worked for a home-care health agency while juggling his studies, costly upgrading courses and qualifying exams.

At one point, Lastimosa, living paycheque to paycheque while also financially supporting his family back home, didn’t have the money for transit fare. But he says his drive pushed him through all the necessary hoops to return to his practice.

“It was tough and I had to be strong,” says Lastimosa. “My goal was always to be an RN in Canada to help others. It took me a while, but I’m proud of myself.”

Lastimosa’s story may be extreme, but many newcomers in Canada today still struggle to get equivalent work in their fields of expertise, often due to credential-recognition issues.

That’s despite the fact that the country is facing a major shortage of workers.

The latest Statistics Canada data showed 991,000 Canadian jobs remained unfilled in the third quarter of 2022; workers were particularly lacking in construction, manufacturing, and accommodation and food services.

Of those vacancies, 177,780 were in managerial positions and professions that must have a university education; 288,750 in occupations that needed a college diploma or apprenticeship training; 319,350 in jobs that required a high-school education and job-specific training; and 202,456 were in jobs considered low-skill.

One of the solutions the federal government has put forward to deal with the shortage is to raise the immigration level. Over the next three years, Canada plans to make 1.45 million people new permanent residents of this country — on top of bringing in an unchecked number of temporary foreign workers.

But is simply increasing our intake going to do the job? What future awaits these new permanent residents? Will those arriving find meaningful work to let them succeed in their new lives? And is this country bringing in the people its labour market truly needs?

The answers to such questions are elusive, and wrapped in an at-times confusing immigration system that critics say is in serious need of an overhaul.

A smart, overqualified workforce

Canada has the most educated workforce in the G7, largely thanks to highly educated permanent residents.

In 2021, immigrants accounted for more than half of the working-age population with a doctorate and master’s degree, or a degree in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or optometry, as well as 39.1 per cent of those with a bachelor’s degree.

Yet one in four immigrants with a university degree worked at a job that typically requires a high school education or less. That’s 2.5 times more than the “overqualification rate” of Canadian-born degree holders.

“How do we actually admit these people and ensure that not just they, but also the people who’ve come over the last 10 years, don’t completely become an underclass?” asks Toronto Metropolitan University professor Rupa Banerjee, Canada Research Chair of economic inclusion, employment and entrepreneurship of Canada’s immigrants. 

“That’s what I worry about.”

Over the past 20 years, Canadian governments have invested in credential assessments, career-bridge training and other programs to help skilled permanent residents integrate into the workforce.

Yet between 2001 and 2016, the percentage of university-educated immigrants in highly skilled jobs in Canada fell from 46 per cent to 38 per cent, statistics show.

“So where are we after 20 years? We used to say ‘Doctors are driving cabs,’ but now we say, sometimes jokingly, ‘Doctors are driving Ubers,’” says Shamira Madhany, a former assistant deputy minister in Ontario with extensive experience working with licensing bodies, settlement agencies and higher education sectors.

“You have a million jobs to fill and you need immigrants, but if their prior skills and experience is not recognized, you’re going to end up in the same situation.”

There are those for whom deskilling hasn’t been as much of an issue. Former international graduates of Canadian institutions and temporary foreign workers already have Canadian education and work experiences when they obtain permanent residence. Among the permanent residents who came for economic reasons who landed in 2020, about 67 per cent had worked in Canada before immigration, an increase from 12 per cent in 2000 and 33 per cent in 2010. 

Their prior Canadian experience helps boost first-year earnings of permanent residents, when and if they successfully transition from their status as temporary foreign workers. First-year earnings of permanent residents in the economic class have risen by 39 per cent.

The two halves of Canada’s immigration system

When it comes to selecting skilled immigrants, Canada relies on a points system based on age, language proficiency, education levels and work experience. Applicants must have a background in listed qualifying occupations to enter the talent pool. 

It’s a system that excludes those in lower-skilled and lower-wage jobs; that’s led to another part of the problem. Canada’s immigration system is divided, observers say — there are two halves that need to be aligned.

When employers want those low-skilled workers, the system turns messy.

“The federal economic immigration programs ignore anything below medium- and high-skill jobs,” says Naomi Alboim, a senior policy fellow at TMU, who served senior roles in both federal and Ontario governments for 25 years specializing in immigration and labour.

Some hire foreign workers through the temporary worker program. When it comes to permanent positions, some provinces and employers have used their limited authority to bypass federal rules and sponsor workers such as butchers, truck drivers and servers to become permanent residents.

Increasingly, employers are turning to temporary migrants already in Canada with an open work permit. In doing so, businesses avoid going through what’s known as a labour-market assessment, a measure that’s meant to ensure no Canadian is available to do the job. Those in Canada on open-work permits include youth in a working-holiday program and hundreds of thousands of international students.

While Ottawa sets an annual target for permanent residents, there’s no cap on migrant workers and international students. 

That makes for a Wild West of temporary workers in Canada, where policymakers in this country don’t have great data about who is working in this country, what credentials they have and if their skills are what we need.

“We are way too dependent on temporary entrants,” says Alboim. “We are not providing them with the support that they need, the information that they need, the pathways that they need to transition successfully to permanent residence. We have no plan for the number of temporary entrants that we receive.”

It sets the stage for exploitation, critics say.

If Canada is to keep counting on temporary foreign workers and transitioning them to be permanent residents, it needs to have a better handle of the skill sets of these temporary residents, experts say. Ottawa must set targets for foreign workers and international students — and figure out how they fit into the puzzle.

“If we are going to continue to have a two-stage immigration system, we cannot plan only for the second stage (permanent residence). We have to plan for the first, but we do no planning for the first. That’s the big issue. That’s the elephant in the room,” says Alboim.

Last year, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser relaxed the rules for employers in order to bring in more temporary foreign workers and made 16 new lower-skilled occupations in health care, construction and transportation eligible for the permanent residence talent pool. Fraser now also has the power to do targeted draws to hand-pick permanent residents with skills in demand in Canada.

“These changes will support Canadians in need of these services, and they will support employers by providing them with a more robust workforce who we can depend on to drive our economy,” Fraser said.

Connecting the public and private sectors

Meanwhile, some jurisdictions are making strides to help high-skill workers find success in Canada. Such success, where it’s been achieved, has seen collaboration with the private sector.

Several years ago, the Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia developed the Facilitating Access to Skilled Talent (FAST) program. It brought together employers and industry groups to develop online tools to assess the competency of permanent residents in skilled trades in construction — newcomers are evaluated and steered to further training or get credentials certified by authorities. Through an online platform, employers are matched with job-ready immigrants.

The program has since expanded to biotechnology, life sciences, information technology and long-term care. Funded by the federal Future Skills Centre, FAST is now delivered through some 50 settlement service agencies across Canada.

“It’s really important that we play our part, that businesses play their part and the post-secondary institutions play their part,” says Patrick MacKenzie, the council’s CEO. “We have to own that responsibility.”

He says 67 per cent of the FAST clients find jobs in their field within four weeks of arrival and the rate goes up to 85 per cent in eight weeks.

Femi Ogunjji, an IT professional from Nigeria, enrolled in the FAST program when he was granted permanent residence in 2017 while still in Lagos.

He attended pre-arrival online workshops and orientation about resumé writing, Canadian workplace culture and the IT job market. He also participated in e-mentoring and learned to use the keywords in his CV to get past AI pre-screening to land interviews.

A week after settling in Vancouver, a headhunter offered him a six-week contract job that turned into a full-time job as a business systems and database co-ordinator.

FAST’s soft-skill training and labour-market orientation regarding his profession was particularly helpful, says Ogunji.

“I already had all the IT certifications,” says the 41-year-old father of two. “That’s the advantage of being in technology. You don’t need any recertification.”

Where’s Fort McMurray?

Egyptian engineer Ahmed Abdallah was cautioned by his friends to lower his expectations about getting a commensurate job in health and safety management when he came to Canada.

Before arriving in July 2020, one of them recommended he enrol in a program offered by ACCES Employment in Toronto to learn about the Canadian job market in his field, work on his resumé and build professional contacts.

Through networking, Abdallah got a job offer as a health and safety environment adviser from an oilsands company in Fort McMurray — a place he’d never heard of. 

Although he initially had to take several courses on Canadian laws, rules and regulations while on the job, he says he’s happy with his choice.

“In Canada, employers care a lot about soft skills and it’s fine if you have medium technical skills. They believe if you have the soft skills, they can teach you the technical skills. What immigration does is they just make sure immigrants coming in have strong technical skills,” says the 32-year-old.

“You need employers who are open-minded, like mine, who will take a chance on new immigrants.”

ACCES Employment CEO Allison Pond says employers have been involved in her agency’s programming by supporting newcomers with onboarding.

“Our sector needs to be very comfortable working with the business world. We have a corporate engagement team that has 15 people. These are individuals who are very comfortable in the business world and yet they’re working in a non-profit charity,” says Pond.

“Our funding is provincial. Our funding is federal. We’ve got private and regional funding. Governments need to recognize and support the settlement sector … We’re a great place for that collaboration.”

More regulations — and higher stakes

When it comes to newcomers looking to enter regulated professions — such as nursing and legal counselling — things are still trickier and more complicated. The stakes in these professions are often higher, given the need to protect the public.

Part of the problem is that newcomers find themselves having to navigate different licensing rules and regulations across federal and provincial jurisdictions. In contrast, Britain and Australia both have an overarching health regulator to oversee licensing processes, making it easier for newcomers to manoeuvre through the systems, says Wilfrid Laurier University professor Margaret Walton-Roberts, whose current research focuses on the global migration of nurses.

Foreign-trained nurses and doctors coming to Canada in recent years are getting better information beforehand, starting their credential clearance and receiving the counselling about their licensing pathways sooner, she says.

However, barriers have continued because assessments and bridge programs meant to fill knowledge and skills gaps require extensive government funding and resources.

The CARE Centre for Internationally Educated Nurses, for instance, offers one-on-one case management, exam preparation, mentoring and other supports. In 2021-22, the organization got $282,000 from the federal immigration department and $1.33 million from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development.

In the same fiscal year, 113 of its clients passed College of Nurses of Ontario exam to become RNs or RPNs while more than half of its program participants had been in Canada for over five years.

The province has some, limited medical residency spots available for internationally educated doctors to acquire field training experience. But they must compete against Canadians who study in medical schools abroad.

“It has to be almost bespoke, because you are talking about such a complex system and you have to match people who’ve come from a completely different country,” says Walton-Roberts, editor of “Global Migration, Gender, and Health Professional Credentials,” published by University of Toronto Press in 2022.

“You have to support the candidate as they find their way into professional practice. That all costs money.”

‘No one guided me’

The federal government has invested an extra $115 million over five years, with $30 million ongoing, to expand its foreign-credential recognition program with a focus on supporting those in health-care professions.

Ontario also passed a new law to eliminate Canadian work-experience requirements for professional registration and licensing, reduce overlapping language tests and compel regulators to sign up registrants faster in emergencies such as a pandemic. It funds 46 bridge training projects, totalling $68 million over three years, to serve 12,516 newcomers in various professions.

Although these changes help address some past challenges in effectively registering applicants, Ontario’s fairness commissioner says there still isn’t a routine “co-ordinated end-to-end system” for players in immigration, settlement, post-secondary education, regulator and employment to address and resolve licensing gaps.

Another challenge is how to assist qualified internationally trained licensing applicants who, for one reason or another, fail to meet all the registration requirements, says Fairness Commissioner Irwin Glasberg, who oversees licensing practices of 40 regulators.

“I am asking regulators and other stakeholders to find ways to move them across the finish line,” he says. “Our province cannot afford to have skilled immigrants remain on the sidelines when, with appropriate supports, they can apply their skills where they are needed most.”

In the Philippines, Lastimosa was a registered physical therapist before he studied to become a registered nurse and later a nursing instructor while working in hospital emergency. He even got himself a diploma in midwifery.

He says he felt demoralized when he was deemed ineligible to practise in Canada, after waiting a year to get his credential assessed, when competency gaps were identified. 

“Different applicants had different gaps. There’s no uniformity how to fill those gaps,” says Lastimosa, who delayed his studies at York University’s two-year nursing program until 2019, because he needed to save money while supporting his parents and relatives back home. “No one guided me what to do.”

He was a RPN for a private home-care agency and during the pandemic he worked five jobs at vaccination clinics and different hospitals before he passed his RN exam last summer.

Lastimosa says he believes some of the recent initiatives by provinces and regulators to fast-track foreign-trained health professionals into the workforce, through supervised practices and offering temporary conditional licences, certainly make sense and will help.

“It should all start with the immigration application process. If you qualify to migrate here as a nurse, it should only take you a few months or weeks to take the exam and practise, but it’s not the case,” Lastimosa says.

“The process is more streamlined now, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.” 

Source: Why Canada’s plan to bring in 1.45 million permanent residents won’t fix the labour shortage

Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

Of note:
Canada’s treatment of Ukrainians fleeing war has been distinctly different to those fleeing other humanitarian crises, the House of Commons immigration committee said Wednesday, and MPs want that to change.
The committee voted Tuesday to issue a public statement, urging the government to provide the same special immigration measures it extended to Ukrainians to refugees from other regions.The statement reads that “time is of the essence,” and said the committee calls on the immigration minister to ensure Canada’s response to humanitarian crises in other regions “are treated with the same vigor as Ukraine.

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Ukraine and created an extraordinary program to allow Ukrainian citizens and their families to come to Canada and work or study for three years while they decide their next steps.

The program does not apply to non-Ukrainians who fled the country.

Canada has received 112,000 applications from people fleeing Ukraine and has so far approved more than 26,500, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said at a press conference Wednesday.

The MPs on the committee say the measures should also be available to Afghans who are still in their Taliban-controlled home country, and refugees from other regions facing humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Myanmar and China.Fraser didn’t address the committee’s request in his press conference, but did say Canada remains “extremely committed” to helping people escape Afghanistan.

Canada has so far welcomed 10,025 Afghans since August 2021, when the Taliban took control of the country.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Fraser said refugee resettlement efforts, including initiatives in Afghanistan and Syria, can take years to implement and must be accounted for in the government’s annual immigration-level targets tabled in Parliament.

Meanwhile, consultations with the Ukrainian community reveal many wish only to come to Canada temporarily and then return home when it is safe“We will continue to look at more ways that Canada can settle refugees, complementary to our resettlement efforts,” spokeswoman Aidan Strickland said in a statement. “Each situation is unique and should be considered as such to ensure that Canada is responding accordingly.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi applauded Canada’s actions to bring Ukrainians to a safe haven, but also reminded government officials of other refugee crises.

In February, before Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, the UN refugee agency counted about 84 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.

“Since then, that number has probably grown to well over 90 million. We must be in the region of 95 million now,” Grandi said at the press conference with Fraser.

Grandi was in Ottawa Wednesday to announce a new global task force, chaired by Canada, aimed at finding other ways to bring refugees to safe countries.

The initiative builds on a Canadian pilot program to allow skilled refugees to apply for permanent residency through economic channels. The idea is to bring additional refugees to the country, in addition to those welcomed through humanitarian processes.

The pilot removed some of the barriers that would traditionally have precluded refugees from applying for permanent residency in Canada through economic channels.

It was expanded late last year to accommodate 500 skilled refugees, and Fraser says he hopes to see even more welcomed under the program in the future.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan says the idea behind the pilot program is great, but she has noted some issues with the execution. For example, the program is supposed to include a loan option to allow refugees to meet the economic requirements to support themselves when they come to Canada, but that loan is not yet available.

Source: Extend special immigration measures to other crises: House of Commons committee

And a good op-ed by Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl:

It is hard to rationalize the strikingly different approaches the Canadian government has taken to two major refugee crises in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

There have been benefits offered to Ukrainians looking to escape the Russian invasion, but not to Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s takeover, including authorization for emergency travel to enter Canada on a temporary basis with open work permits for up to three years. In addition, the government has promised to develop a family-reunification sponsorship program for both immediate and extended-family members.

There have also been benefits offered to Afghans, but not to Ukrainians, such as special programs for arrival as refugees with permanent residence and entitlement to all associated supports and services.

Certainly, the specific context of a refugee crisis can necessitate unique policy responses. But a common framework should be in place to provide similar support for individuals in crisis, with differences in treatment only where demonstrably justified.

The Canadian government has said that the “temporary residence” approach is justified by the assumption that most Ukrainians will return home. The reality, however, is that many Ukrainian refugees who choose to come to Canada can be expected to stay. No one knows how long the war in Ukraine will last, what the outcome will be, how much destruction will occur and whether or when it will be possible for individuals to return. The large Ukrainian community in Canada provides an added incentive to stay.

Indeed, an example from the past may foreshadow future decisions of Ukrainians coming to Canada. In response to the crisis in Kosovo in 1999, Ottawa initiated emergency airlifts of Kosovars on the expectation that many would return home as soon as the situation abroad was resolved. They were provided with permanent residence to entitle them to supports and services while in Canada. Kosovars were also offered transportation to return home and funding to re-establish themselves there. Despite these incentives to return, and the absence of a significant Kosovar community in Canada, only 30 per cent did so.

It would therefore be well worth providing supports and services that meet the needs of new Ukrainian arrivals. Many people fleeing Ukraine are women with small children, so even with open work permits, they may not start work immediately, and many won’t be able to earn enough money to support the needs of the family. Support from the community will be invaluable in many cases, but it cannot be expected to carry the full load.

Although the federal government has announced that Ukrainians arriving as temporary residents will have access to national settlement services, they are not eligible for federal income support or interim health coverage normally provided to refugees, leaving it up to individual provinces to decide on access to health care, schools and income support.

Afghans, for their part, need emergency travel authorization and reunification of extended-family members. Such measures would help to compensate for the fact that the implementation of the two special programs for Afghan refugees has been slow and rife with problems, and that private-sponsorship applications remain blocked.

Many Afghans are at greatly increased risk from having helped Canada in Afghanistan, and many have fled to neighbouring countries that don’t want them and are unable or unwilling to provide support. Ukrainians are in a horrendous situation, but they are at least being welcomed by EU countries who want and are able to help them. Some Afghans were airlifted to Ukraine from Afghanistan. Yet, even these Afghan refugees are not entitled to Canada’s new policies, which are available only to Ukrainian nationals.

We see no justification for Canada to offer such different treatment to two groups coming to our country at around the same time. Some observers have already begun to wonder if the policy differences have been influenced by race, religion or political benefit, and the lack of limits to the number of Ukrainians being allowed to enter Canada only fuels that argument. The perception is heightened by the fact that crises under way in Africa and elsewhere have gotten no special response at all.

Canada needs a common refugee framework that includes expedited entry and permanent residence, eligibility for supports and services and reunification of extended family members. Fair and equitable responses – for any refugee group – will help people in need of protection to make the transition to a successful life in Canada, no matter how long they choose to stay.

Source: Canada needs a unified approach for people fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan

Alboim and Kohl: A post-election to-do list for the Afghan crisis

Good practical recommendations:

Now that the federal election is over, it’s time to make urgent policy decisions in response to the Afghan crisis. People remain in peril there and Canada needs to play its part domestically and on the international front.

Canadians worked side-by-side with Afghan nationals to improve security, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, girls’ education and a free press in Afghanistan. Canada has a moral obligation to help people who are now at risk. Even if there is no direct link to Canada, coming to the aid of people in danger is the humanitarian thing to do, the right thing to do. It’s what Canada does and has done well in other refugee crises.

Here’s our suggested to-do list of what government should tackle on an urgent basis.

Get people out
Canada should intensify its work with allies on the diplomatic front to encourage the Taliban to allow safe passage out of the country. Afghans with travel authorization to Canada can then leave the country. We should also continue to encourage and support neighbouring countries to keep their borders open to fleeing Afghans and allow Canadian immigration processing to take place in these countries of first asylum.

Increase government assisted refugees 
Prior to calling the election, the Liberals committed to the resettlement of up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghan nationals through two new programs. They have now doubled their commitment to 40,000. At least half of these should consist of government-assisted refugees. This will expedite arrivals and send a strong message to private sponsors that they are complementing, rather than replacing, government efforts.

Keep extended families together
Every effort should be made to keep extended families together when selecting refugees for resettlement to Canada. Where families have become separated, it is also important to enable and expedite mechanisms to reunite them. Many people living in dire circumstances, whether in Afghanistan or other countries, are ineligible under existing rules to be reunited with family members in Canada.

People in Canada can sponsor certain close family members, but they cannot sponsor others such as adult children or siblings. This creates an untenable situation. Afghans in Canada will have a hard time adapting to their new life when fraught with worry over relatives who are in peril abroad. Both groups will suffer without the mutual support that they can provide.

Pave the way for private sponsorship
Canadians are willing to pitch in but there are obstacles to private sponsorship. First, the lengthy processing times and backlogs must be reduced. Organizations that have sponsorship agreements with government are further hampered by caps on the number of refugees they can sponsor each year.

During the Syrian refugee crisis, the government allowed sponsors to exceed those caps. The same approach should be taken for Afghan refugees. Additionally, as Canada did with the Syrian crisis, privately sponsored Afghans should be deemed “prima facie” refugees without requiring a formal assessment by the United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees or another state. This will allow groups that are not affiliated with agreement holders to play a strong role in private sponsorship.

Clarify the new humanitarian program 
The government has announced a promising new program to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals who have managed to leave the country. This includes women leaders, human rights advocates, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and journalists. The government needs to communicate how eligible people will be identified and what processes will be used for this program. Lists prepared by Canadian organizations, family members and others will be instrumental in identifying candidates.

Speed things up 
Afghan refugee claimants in Canada should be fast-tracked at the Immigration and Refugee Board, as has been done for groups from certain other world areas. We also need to expedite the transition to permanent residence for Afghans who entered the country on a temporary permit because they didn’t have the opportunity to complete their immigration processing overseas. Individuals on a temporary permit are not eligible for federal programs available to permanent residents, including income support and the sponsorship of family members.

Strengthen international aid 
We cannot forget that most vulnerable Afghans are unable to leave and that millions of Afghan refugees are hosted by neighbouring countries. This reality has existed for decades, exacerbated by the most recent crisis. Perhaps the most important task on the government’s to-do list is to increase humanitarian aid for organizations working on the ground in Afghanistan and neighbouring or nearby countries such as Pakistan and Turkey.

Achieving the items on this to-do list will require sustained government commitment, funding and staffing in Canada and abroad. If Canada can check off all of the boxes, we can be confident that we are doing our part in response to this international crisis.


Alboim and Cohl: Ordinary Canadians can help Afghans settle successfully in our communities

Useful recommendations and call for support:

The planes are arriving. They are bringing to Canada people who fear retribution, oppression or death from the Taliban, now firmly in control of Afghanistan. These arrivals are part of the federal government’s commitment to resettle vulnerable Afghan nationals. Officials estimate this will include 6,000 people from within Afghanistan and 15,000 who have managed to flee the country. With minimal opportunities for people to make it safely to the Kabul airport, let alone get on a plane, and with borders to neighbouring countries closed, Canada may be hard pressed to reach these numbers quickly. The reality is that many Afghans are trapped in their landlocked country, unable to escape by land, sea or air.

The immediate priority must be to get vulnerable people out of Afghanistan, whether they are at risk for having helped the Canadian government or for their human rights advocacy. Women leaders are particularly vulnerable and urgently need help to exit the country. But this cannot be our sole focus. We must also create systems to help Afghan refugees to settle successfully in our communities. In this regard, there is much to learn from previous crises where Canada welcomed large numbers of refugees.

Although every refugee movement requires tailored solutions to address unique circumstances, Canada’s success with Indochinese refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (after the fall of Saigon in 1975) and Syrian refugees (after the civil war began in 2011) is particularly instructive. An overarching lesson from these two movements is that the involvement of ordinary Canadians – in addition to governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations – can have a huge and positive impact.

One way that members of the public and civil society organizations make a difference is by being vocal about their support for a strong government response. In 2015, public outrage and concern helped to make Syrian refugees a federal election issue, garnering strong commitments from all political parties. An initial target of resettling 1,300 Syrian refugees, set by the Conservative government in 2013, became 25,000 after the Liberals came to power two years later.

Iconic photos of capsized boats and a young child who didn’t survive the journey were factors in galvanizing Canadian support in the past. Heart-wrenching images emerging from the Kabul airport could potentially have a similar effect. Canadians may feel especially motivated to help the two categories the federal government has prioritized: people who helped the Government of Canada, and those who fought for human rights and democracy, principles highly valued in Canada. These individuals and their extended families are clearly in grave danger.

While many potential refugees remain trapped in Afghanistan, those who fled to other countries before the Taliban took control are eligible for private sponsorship. The people being airlifted directly from Kabul and arriving in Canada as government assisted refugees could also benefit from being matched with groups interested in private sponsorship. This would give those refugees the benefit of the personal relationships, networks and cross-cultural connections that privately sponsored refugees typically enjoy.

For such approaches to work, authorization for sponsorship agreement holders to help Afghan refugees will need to be above and beyond any existing caps. And the lists of persons and families at risk being compiled by veterans, human rights groups, Afghan organizations, and family members in Canada should be consolidated to assist in the matching process. Private sponsorship would also be enhanced by creating a community organization modelled after Operation Lifeline and Lifeline Syria, which formed during the Indochinese and Syrian crises respectively to train sponsors and match them to refugees. Now is the time to create Lifeline Afghanistan with the leadership of Canadian Afghan organizations, like the Afghan Women’s Organization, working closely with other civil society organizations.

Another lesson from previous refugee movements is that Canada’s commitment must be long-term. The dangers abroad do not stop once Canada has reached its initial target for refugees, and the need for reunification with extended family members can take many years to resolve. Canada is still accepting Syrian refugees, although considerable frustration exists due to lengthy processing lags now that this movement is no longer a top priority.

Canada has responded to refugee crises before and we can do it again. We have the infrastructure on the ground, a robust settlement sector, an engaged Afghan community, and above all a Canadian public with a history of coming forward to do their part. We are in the middle of another federal election. It is time to speak up.

Naomi Alboim is the senior policy fellow at the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University and was actively involved in the Indochinese and Syrian refugee movements. Karen Cohl is a consultant specializing in access to justice and immigration policy issues.


More agricultural workers should become permanent residents

Naomi Alboim and Karen Cohl make the case. It would have been helpful to have the breakdown between those who are seasonal (growing and harvesting season) and those who are not (e.g., meat packing plants).

Will see if any moves in this direction in the forthcoming immigration plan:

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the essential nature of agricultural work in Canada and our reliance on migrant workers to get the job done. Despite restrictions on travel to Canada, work permits continue to be issued for agricultural workers because of the indispensable role they play in ensuring Canadian food security.

The pandemic has also highlighted the vulnerabilities and insecure status of these temporary workers. Inspections of their housing and working conditions have been inadequate in the face of COVID-19, exposing workers to the tragic spread of this deadly virus.

In 2019, temporary foreign workers accounted for 20 percent of employment in the agricultural sector. This amounts to approximately 55,000 jobs in farming, food and fish processing. The majority come to Canada from Mexico and Caribbean countries for up to eight months under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, a longstanding program created in 1966. Others come for up to two years under the Temporary Foreign Worker Agricultural Stream. People with other types of work permits may also choose to work in the agricultural sector, as do undocumented workers, who are the most vulnerable of all.

Shifting to more permanent residency

We propose a major policy shift in which more agricultural workers will be selected as permanent residents. This removes much of the vulnerability associated with temporary status. Workers would have full rights in Canada, with the exception of voting, and would not feel compelled to tolerate unsafe conditions in order to avoid deportation.

An agricultural workforce comprised mostly of permanent residents also makes sense because much of the work – such as animal production, food product processing and manufacturing, greenhouse, nursery, floriculture and mushroom production – takes place on a year-round basis. And it would help employers to maintain a stable workforce without the need for annual expenditures on recruitment, Labour Market Impact Assessments, transportation and training.

An important additional benefit is that families would come to Canada together, aiding integration into their new communities. This would avoid the social isolation and outsider status experienced by many temporary agricultural workers, mostly men, who have to leave their families behind. By selecting experienced and committed agricultural workers to work in welcoming, supportive, rural communities, immigrant families would be motivated to build their futures there, strengthening the vibrancy and viability of communities facing population decline.

Canada’s current economic immigration programs primarily allow only highly skilled people and their spouses and dependants to arrive as permanent residents, which has not included agricultural workers. Canada’s new Agri-Food Pilot and some provincial nominee programs offer a pathway to permanent residency for individuals with relevant work experience and a non-seasonal job offer from a Canadian employer, but the language and education standards are too high for many migrant agricultural workers to meet.

One promising option that we recommend is to build an agricultural stream into the Municipal Nominee Program. This is a new program under development by the Government of Canada where communities can sponsor permanent economic immigrants. Temporary agricultural workers already in Canada are a logical place to start for potential nominees because they have demonstrable skills and work experience, and many may welcome the opportunity to become permanent residents.

A wider search could be undertaken in countries with a significant agricultural base to identify clusters of additional nominees abroad. These workers would come as permanent residents from the start.

Refugees with agricultural experience are another potential source of municipal nominees. This has the added benefit of providing durable solutions for refugees identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency, over and above the levels selected through Canada’s humanitarian refugee resettlement stream. And it is consistent with Canada’s commitment as a signatory to the Global Compact on Refugees. In the compact, participating states agree to provide labour mobility opportunities for refugees with skills that they need.

In designing a mechanism to identify refugees under an agricultural stream of the Municipal Nominee Program, Canada can learn from the Economic Mobility Pathways Project. That project selects highly skilled refugees as permanent residents through provincial nominee and other economic immigration programs.

Ideally, clusters of refugee families with agricultural backgrounds will be selected for the new Municipal Nominee Program, preferably from the same world area. This would improve the integration and retention of families in rural areas, along with providing economies of scale for the provision of targeted settlement services. The selection process will need to involve three levels of government, employers, civil society organizations abroad and in Canada and the UN Refugee Agency.

A bottom-up, community-wide approach should be employed. Employers and the rural municipality identify needs for agricultural workers and population growth. Stakeholders develop and implement plans to welcome and support clusters of nominees and their families. Additional support will likely be necessary for people who come as refugees.

Fortunately, there is growing experience in offering specialized settlement support, for example through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and the new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. Ideally, supports should also be available for temporary foreign agricultural workers who need to know their rights, including how to apply for permanent residency.

An agricultural stream under the municipal program would be meaningful, but it should not be viewed as the sole pathway to permanent residency. We recommend that other ways be explored by reviewing and modifying the criteria of existing programs and pilot projects under the economic and other immigration classes.

Protecting temporary workers

Even if permanent residency becomes more accessible, Canada will need some temporary foreign workers, especially for truly seasonal work and some may prefer a more temporary situation. Changes are urgently needed to better protect these workers as well.

As an example, the employer-specific permits received under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the Temporary Foreign Worker Agricultural Stream make workers vulnerable. Their status in Canada is dependent on working for the employer who brought them here, leaving them open to potential exploitation, abuse and dangerous work environments with no real recourse. Complaints are rare because of their fear of being fired and deported. We recommend a move to sector-specific permits that allow people to work for any employer within the agricultural sector.

Additional problems arise due to the lack of sufficient accountability and coordination. Multiple federal, provincial and municipal government departments and agencies are involved in different aspects of these programs. And each jurisdiction establishes its own standards and enforcement policies, with little in the way of national standards, coordination or overall accountability.

We propose that the federal government lead a consultative process with provinces, municipal bodies, employers and workers. The purpose would be to develop national standards for health and safety, housing and employment, to establish clear roles and responsibilities and to improve coordination among government bodies for temporary agricultural workers.

Another issue relates to the Labour Market Impact Assessments employers must obtain from the federal government before being allowed to hire a temporary worker from abroad. These assessments include assurances by employers that there are no local residents available to do the job but include little to demonstrate safe conditions and fair compensation for foreign workers. We recommend that national standards be incorporated into these assessments.

Finally, as the recent pandemic has dramatically reminded us, rigorous inspections of worker conditions are essential to ensure safety and fair treatment. Unfortunately, inspections are rarely done proactively without advance notice to the employer. They are often conducted by telephone and may not occur at all in the absence of a formal complaint. Gaps can occur due to different parts and levels of government being responsible for different issues. We recommend the creation of a strategic, coordinated inspection process that would involve collaboration among all relevant departments. The focus would be on proactive monitoring and ensuring compliance with national standards and related requirements of all levels of government.

An opportune time for action

The federal speech from the throne of September 2020 recognizes the value of both migrant and Canadian workers’ contribution to Canada’s food security: “The Canadian and migrant workers who produce, harvest, and process our food – from people picking fruit to packing seafood – have done an outstanding job getting good food on people’s plates. They deserve the government’s full support and protection.”

This level of commitment, along with the government’s objectives for immigration, the economy and rural communities, sets the stage for moving to better protect temporary foreign agricultural workers and to offer more permanent residency options for the people who do this fundamentally important work.

Source: More agricultural workers should become permanent residents

Eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada: Adelman, Alboim, Molloy and Cappe

Best and most comprehensive advice I have seen so far from Howard Adelman, Naomi Alboim, Mike Molloy and Mel Cappe:

1. The government should authorize the admission of Syrian refugees under a special program without the need for individual determination by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another state. This has been done for other major refugee movements in the past. This one step would expedite the selection of refugees and reduce the paperwork burden for sponsor groups.

2. The actual number and time frame will have to be negotiated or determined by the government when elected in October, but the method for speeding up the process must be introduced as soon as possible. We believe that it is not unrealistic to call for 25,000 government-assisted and 25,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees to be admitted each year for the next two years.

3. The vast majority of Syrian refugees should be resettled to Canada from four target countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt . This will relieve the pressure on these countries of first asylum and will reduce the desperation that is compelling people to risk their lives to get to Europe.

4. First priority should be given to displaced Syrian families with children in the four target countries. These would include families with significant Canadian connections, which would include relatives of Canadian citizens or of permanent residents. The fundamental rule (applied during the Indochinese movement) would be that extended family groups that have fled or taken refuge together would be processed and travel to Canada together. Families would not be broken up.

5. In addition to those with significant Canadian connections, the new program should target (but would not be restricted to) cases referred by the UNHCR.

6. Canadian visa offices in the field should be reinforced significantly and instructed to accelerate the selection rate for refugees referred by the UNHCR or with Canadian connections so that they can be referred to both the large umbrella sponsor groups (sponsorship-agreement holders) and local sponsor groups (groups of five) in large numbers expeditiously.

7. An increased number of government-assisted refugees should be selected from the pool of refugees referred by the UNHCR or other reputable agencies and should be destined to communities with reinforced agencies providing immigrant and refugee services. Humanitarian considerations should be paramount and provision should be made for hardship cases and those most in need.

8. Early outreach to employers will be essential; the temporary foreign worker program for low-skilled workers should be severely curtailed, freeing up jobs for incoming refugees.

Now is the time for all political parties to demonstrate to Canadians that they can work together to address a crisis of enormous proportions and to reclaim our leadership role on the world stage that reflects our values as a caring and compassionate society. We have the experience and expertise. We did it before and we can do it again. All we need now is the political will.

Can Canada duplicate its boat people rescue with Syrian refugees? | Toronto Star

Fascinating history of Canada’s response to the Vietnamese boat people and the people involved from both the government and non-government sides. Well worth reading and reflecting upon, and their suggestions for refugees by connecting sponsored cases with businesses relying on low-skilled Temporary Foreign Workers:

Three and a half decades later, Adelman, Molloy and Alboim wondered if the courage and leadership that characterized the boat people rescue effort could be transferred to the Syrian refugee crisis.

They established a three-person task force to develop new strategies for refugee resettlement in Canada and crisscrossed the country talking to a variety of experts. In three reports discussing possible policies, they outlined projects that might revitalize refugee resettlement.

Their goal was ambitious: “to improve family reunification for refugees already in Canada, expand the pool of Canadians willing to sponsor refugees, improve the quality of support for government-assisted refugees and enhance labour market integration of refugees admitted to Canada under various resettlement programs.”

A core concern is the fact private refugee sponsorships, so successful in the “boat people” crisis, have atrophied and become the preserve of faith-based communities, ethnic and cultural groups.

They want to expand the base of people involved in sponsorships, creating more opportunities for groups such as book clubs, neighbourhood associations or unions, to become involved.

Can Canada duplicate its boat people rescue with Syrian refugees? | Toronto Star.

Naomi Alboim: Less Access to Citizenship Means a Worse-Off Canada

Naomi Alboim: Less Access to Citizenship Means a Worse-Off Canada.