Feds say increased immigration targets key for economic recovery, but critics wary of ambitious plan’s feasibility

The more fundamental question is not whether the government can manage these levels of immigration but rather whether they are appropriate given the COVID-induced recession and the impact on immigrant economic integration. Nick Nanos’ comments noteworthy:

The government plans to welcome more than 400,000 newcomers to the country next year, but Conservative MP Raquel Dancho is warning that backlogs in Canada’s immigration system could be a problem.

Ambitious immigration targets are part of the Liberal government’s economic recovery plan. The arrival of new permanent residents has plummeted this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut borders and restricted travel across the world.

Leading pollster Nik Nanos said the government doesn’t need to defend bringing in more Canadians, but “I think they have to explain what the urgency is to bring more Canadians in now when we’re in the midst of a pandemic—and I think those are two different issues.”

In late October, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) announced a new government target of 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021 as part of Canada’s economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic, the first step in a plan that would see immigration levels increase by a little over one per cent of the Canadian population every year for the next three years.

As part of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fall economic update on Nov. 30, the government highlighted their commitment to “an immigration system that supports economic growth, diversity, and helps build vibrant, dynamic and inclusive communities.”

“Immigrants play an important role in driving Canada’s economic growth, contributing to half of the average real GDP growth over 2016-2019,” according to the statement.

But Ms. Dancho (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.), her party’s immigration critic, told The Hill Times that the Conservatives “absolutely believe that economic growth is also tied to immigration, and the family reunification that goes with it,” but she said she was skeptical of how the government would reach such an ambitious goal.

“They won’t even achieve half of their goal this year, and now they’re promising what we understand to be the largest influx of permanent residents ever in any single year in Canadian history next year. But I just don’t see how that’s going to happen,” said Ms. Dancho.

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho, her party’s immigration critic, says she has ‘a lot of concerns’ around the feasibility of bringing in more than 400,000 newcomers given backlogs in the system caused by the pandemic.

“If you look at what’s happening with confirmations of permanent residents, there’s well over 10,000 that we’re aware of abroad that were approved, did everything right—were highly skilled, set to come to Canada, sold their homes, took their kids out of school, quit their jobs—and then the government with their [Order In Council] that closed the border, said that they need the travel authorization form, and they haven’t issued those to most of those 10,000 people,” said Ms. Dancho.

“So if they can’t even get these 10,000 people already approved—real people that are suffering—I’m not sure how they’re going to get 401,000 permanent residents approved next year,” said Ms. Dancho. “I have a lot of concerns about that, even beyond the economic growth opportunity of immigration, just the feasibility of bringing in this many people when they’re frankly mistreating the people that they tried to bring in this year.”

Mr. Nanos’ firm Nanos Research took a poll on the issue in November and found that just under two in five Canadians think that Canada should accept the same amount of immigrants in 2021 as we did in 2019.

“What clearly exists is that when Canadians are asked about their support for immigration, accepting refugees and bringing new Canadians into Canada, when anyone tests on that principle, there’s a significantly high level of support,” said Mr. Nanos.

“Canadians understand that most Canadians have come from another place, that new Canadians contribute to the economy, and that we need new Canadians in order to stay prosperous,” said Mr. Nanos. “What we found, in the specific research that we’ve most recently done on immigration, is that there’s not a lot of appetite to bring in more people at this particular time.”

“There’s support—but we tested on the specific numbers,” said Mr. Nanos. “We tested on the 340,000 number—do people want more, do they want to keep it at the same level, or do they want less, and what was clear was that the appetite to bring in more than 340,000 at this particular point in time is actually quite weak.”

Mr. Nanos said he didn’t believe these findings means that Canadians are xenophobic or that they aren’t accepting of refugees.

“But they do see that the economy is in different levels of shutdown right across the country, that Canadians have uncertainty about their own job prospects because many people are being paid to stay home,” said Mr. Nanos.

Part of the personal brand of the prime minister and the Liberal government is being welcoming of refugees, according to Mr. Nanos, pointing out that one of the dividing lines when Mr. Trudeau won his first election in 2015 was the welcoming of Syrian refugees.

“So I see the welcoming of new Canadians as part of the DNA of the prime minister and the Liberal Party at this point in time, and it’s pretty clear [they] believe that it’s not only the right thing to do, but that it’s good for the Canadian economy in the long run, and is part of the growth strategy for Canada,” said Mr. Nanos.

Number of new permanent residents has ‘plummeted’ in 2020

Immigration Lawyer Colin Singer, who is the managing partner at Immigration.ca, told The Hill Times that the number of permanent resident arrivals has plummeted in 2020 compared to the year prior, with only 143,465 new arrivals in the first nine months of the year compared to 263,945 in 2019.

“With immigration levels set to rise above 400,000 newcomers per year [starting] next year, the federal government first plans to invest $72.1-million in a modern, digital platform for receiving and processing immigration applications,” according to Mr. Singer.

“It will then spend a further $15-million on enhancing foreign credential recognition, aiming to cut the time it takes for newcomers to integrate into Canadian society by finding jobs in their field more quickly,” wrote Mr. Singer in an emailed response to The Hill Times.

Claudia Hepburn, CEO of Windmill Microlending, a charity that offers microloans to help skilled immigrants and refugees to continue their careers in Canada, said the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the labour market shortages that Canada faces in many sectors, including health, IT, engineering and STEM, as well as transportation.

“Skilled immigration is crucial to any plan to solve those shortages, but sometimes they need help to become job ready,” wrote Ms. Hepburn in an emailed response to The Hill Times. “The not-for-profit sector plays a crucial role in helping immigrants become job ready. A successful plan for integrating immigrants into the labour force is as important to solving labour shortages as an ambitious immigration target. We need both.”

Along with increasing the numbers of immigrants, Canada also needs to make the pathways to employment as accessible as possible, according to Ms. Hepburn.

“This means investment in the communication of the resources available to assist in their employment journeys,” said Ms. Hepburn. “Support is also required for those resources and organizations with experience in assisting immigrants on their employment journey in order to enable them [to] scale and facilitate the increase in numbers.”

‘We need newcomers to help our economy bounce back’

Alexander Cohen, Mr. Mendicino’s press secretary, said Canada’s short term recovery and long term prosperity rely on immigration.

“We need newcomers to help our economy bounce back after the pandemic, and address the stark demographic challenges we face with an aging population,” wrote Mr. Cohen in an emailed response to The Hill Times. “Put simply: immigrants create jobs.”

“One in three business owners is an immigrant, and our plan sets out a path for responsible increases to immigration to help the economy recover, with about 60 per cent of admissions in the economic class,” according to Mr. Cohen. “Newcomers also represent about a third of those working on the front lines of the pandemic, like family doctors, pharmacists and nurse’s aides.”

“We’ll continue welcoming the best and brightest from around the world, who have contributed so much throughout the pandemic and bring the skills our businesses need to thrive.”

Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin, her party’s immigration critic, told The Hill Times that the province of Quebec is not necessarily looking to raise it’s immigration level moving forward—and that the province has in fact decided in past years to lower the rate of selection in order to deal with backlogs in the system.

Bloc Québécois MP Christine Normandin, her party’s immigration critic, says ‘we can be quicker on our feet to select people that will able to join the job market’ once tens of thousands of open case files for skilled workers are closed.

“There’s still something around 35,000 open case files for skilled workers that we want to have processed, so when it’s done, we can be quicker on our feet to select people that will able to join the job market,” said Ms. Normandin.

But in recent conversations with her constituents, Ms. Normandin said that she’s spoken with many industry representatives and business owners and has found that even in a context of high unemployment, it’s also possible to have workforce shortages.

“It’s possible to have both at the same time, and they’re a bit afraid that at some point, immigration will decide to cut on some streams of immigrations, for example the low wage stream, because of the high rate of unemployment,” said Ms. Normandin. “But it’s still hard to find members of the local workforce in some cases. Or when it comes to skilled workers, even though there’s a high rate of unemployment in Quebec, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’ll find welders with 10 years of experience.”

“So we still need immigration even though there’s a high rate of unemployment, and that’s something we hear a lot,” said Ms. Normandin.

Source: Feds say increased immigration targets key for economic recovery, but critics wary of ambitious plan’s feasibility

Canada has turned back 4,400 asylum seekers in 5 years

Of note. A bit less than the 55,000 or so that crossed the border:

Canada has turned away at least 4,400 asylum seekers at the U.S. border since 2016 — including some who were hoping to find refuge here at the height of the global pandemic — according to newly released government figures.

Nearly half of those trying to enter Canada over that five-year period made the attempt in the year after U.S. President Donald Trump took office, according to figures released in response to a parliamentary request from NDP MP Jenny Kwan.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which has been in effect since 2004, Canada and the U.S. consider each other to be “safe countries” for refugees and require them to make their claims in the country they arrive in first.

The agreement has long faced criticism and legal challenges from refugee advocacy groups, who say the agreement is an inhumane way to limit the number of people Canada accepts as refugees. They say the U.S. is not a safe country for all refugees and that the dangers they face have increased under the Trump administration.

The federal government is appealing a Federal Court ruling earlier this year that found the STCA infringed Charter rights.

The figures provided to Kwan show there was a spike in the number of asylum seekers turned back at the border after Trump was elected in 2016 and took office in 2017.

In 2016 there were 742 people turned back at the border. That figure jumped to 1,992 in 2017. There were 744 denied entry in 2018 and 663 in 2019.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 23 this year — a period which captures the height of the first wave of COVID-19 — 259 people were turned back at the border.

‘Even more precarious’

Kwan called that “really disturbing.”

“In the face of a pandemic, things are even more precarious for people who need to get to safety and Canada actually did not hesitate to turn people back,” she said.Kwan said the Trump administration imposed detention and deportation policies that violated international human rights and provoked widespread fear among refugees. By turning away asylum seekers, Canada is “complicit” in the violation of their rights, she said.

Kwan said Canada should immediately suspend the STCA and work to negotiate a new agreement with U.S. president-elect Joe Biden that addresses human rights issues. But she said the “aggressive and intense” detention policies could linger.

“I think even with the Biden administration, that policy may still continue to exist, and even if the Biden administration wants to make changes, it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said.

Mary-Liz Power, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said the government appealed the Federal Court ruling because it believes there were errors in key findings of fact and law.

She said the decision mistakenly suggests that all asylum claimants who are ineligible under the STCA and turned back to the U.S. are automatically detained as a penalty. She also noted that the U.S. remains a party to the UN Refugee Convention.

Refugee pact ‘fair, compassionate’: Blair spokesperson

“The STCA, which has served Canada well for 16 years, ensures that those whose lives are in danger are able to claim asylum at the very first opportunity in a safe country,” she said.

“We are in continuous discussions with the U.S. government on issues related to our shared border. We believe that the STCA remains a comprehensive vehicle for the fair, compassionate and orderly handling of asylum claims in our two countries.”

As for the spike in numbers in 2017, Power said that 2017-2018 recorded the highest number of globally displaced individuals since the Second World War.

Justin Mohammed, human rights law and policy campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said a number of factors could have driven that sharp increase, including global patterns and Trump’s policies.

He said Canada should be fulfilling its international obligations under international refugee law at all times — even during a pandemic, when safety concerns are heightened.

Mohammed pointed to exemptions made for students, family reunification and other immigration classes that allow people to arrive in Canada despite travel restrictions.

“Why are refugees being excluded from that? They’re able to quarantine or be required to have a quarantine plan just like anyone else … so why is there not the ability to be able to provide protection?” he said.

Partial picture

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said the 2020 figures represent only a partial picture of the people turned back to the U.S. because of added restrictions after the border closed March 20.

At that time, refugee claimants were denied entry on public health grounds whether they arrived at an official point of entry or at another crossing — such as Roxham Road in Quebec — where the STCA does not normally apply.

Despite assurances the Canadian government says it received from the U.S. that refugee claimants directed back would not be subject to enforcement such as detention or removal, Dench said refugee advocates in Canada know of at least two people who were detained in the U.S. after being directed back.

Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said the Liberal record on administering the refugee and asylum system was one of “mismanagement, years-long backlogs and failure,” even before the pandemic.

“Conservatives have long been calling on the government to close illegal border crossings and work with their American counterparts to close the longstanding loopholes in the Safe Third Country Agreement so that refugee and asylum seekers have a fair, compassionate and effective pathway to come to Canada,” she said in a statement.

Source: Canada has turned back 4,400 asylum seekers in 5 years

Immigration levels plan: Reactions

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

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

Have grouped these by constituency:


The plan was welcomed by the business sector.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposition critics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tweets from CPC critic Dancho:

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

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

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

International organizations

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Immigration lawyers and advocates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the right

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

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

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

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

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

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