Ibbitson: Ottawa needs an aggressive immigration plan

Will be interesting to see how this largely opening the gates to anyone already in Canada will affect overall economic integration and outcomes.

This fixation of meeting the target level in the middle of a downturn and at a time of ongoing travel restrictions has an element of unreality, given the recent RBC report predicting only 275,000 new Permanent Residents compared to the target of 401,000 (less than 70 percent) and what I am seeing in observing monthly data.

Many of his points are, of course, valid, particularly greater recognition of lower skilled/paid essential workers, increased competition to attract immigrants by the USA and European countries, and a possible decline in potential interest in emigration from current source countries given their declining birthrates.

His commentary is, like so many, silent on the anticipated impact of automation and AI on the economy and labour force:

If you are studying or working in Canada on a visa, if you are here as an asylum claimant, even if your visa has expired and you are an undocumented resident, the odds have never been better that you could soon be on the path to citizenship.

In order to maintain immigration targets, the federal government is aggressively courting non-Canadians who are living here to apply to become permanent residents.

This may stoke resentment among some old-stock Canadians who don’t like the change, literally, in the complexion of the population. But there is no alternative, if Canada is to grow and prosper.

Because borders were closed by the pandemic, we accepted only 184,000 new permanent residents last year, rather than the target of 341,000. Most of those granted status were already in the country when the pandemic hit.

To make up the loss, the Liberal government has set goals of 401,000 new permanent residents this year. But with borders still closed, a recent Royal Bank report predicted we’ll be lucky to get to 275,000 in 2021.

“With the effects of the pandemic looking more likely to remain into the spring and summer, the headwinds … will keep immigration into Canada low throughout most of 2021,” wrote senior economist Andrew Agopsowicz.

There are between a million and a million and a half people in Canada who are here on work or student visas, who are seeking asylum, or who are undocumented because their visa expired or for some other reason.

To show it’s serious about converting as many as possible to permanent residents, the federal government greatly lowered the entrance requirement in its most recent call for applications under the Express Entry system, which fast-tracks economic-class applicants.

“It’s a catch-all draw, meant to transition many of those who are eligible to be permanent residents and who are currently residing in Canada,” explained Kareem El-Assal, director of policy at Canadavisa.com, the website of an immigration law firm.

Mr. El-Assal believes that Canada can meet the target of 401,000 new permanent residents this year by drawing on the pool of people already here and by bringing in family-class immigrants, who are permitted to enter Canada under pandemic rules.

I would argue that Ottawa and the provinces should also look for qualified workers from the pool of asylum claimants and undocumented workers as well, subject to the appropriate background checks. Right now we need workers more than we need to enforce bureaucratic rules.

The government’s determination to meet its immigration targets coincides with a lesson many have learned about the value of so-called low-skilled work in areas such as agrifood and health care.

“The pandemic revealed that many people who were described as low-skilled were really essential workers,” said Usha George, director of the Centre for Immigration and Settlement at Ryerson University. When many Canadians were forced out of work or had to work from home because of lockdowns, “they contributed to keeping us all going,” she said.

Our immigration system is geared to attracting high-skilled workers in the professions and trades. But our economy also depends on people whose work we undervalue, and they too should be welcomed to Canada as permanent residents.

Surveys show a significant minority of Canadians believe that immigration levels are too high. There is plenty of evidence on social media that some Canadians of European background resent high levels of non-European immigration.

But Canada’s fertility rate has been declining since the 1970s, and is now more than half a baby shy of replacement rate. Without immigrants, our population would soon start to decline.

Meanwhile, India and the Philippines, two major source countries of immigrants to Canada, have brought their fertility rates down to replacement rate, or very close to it. And factoring in the robust economic growth they were enjoying before the pandemic, there could soon be fewer people available – or interested – in coming.

Aging societies across the developed world need immigrants to fill vacant jobs and to pay taxes to support the elderly, whatever nativist know-nothings may think.

In the not-too-distant future, rather than the federal and provincial governments choosing which applicants get to come to Canada, we will be begging potential newcomers to pick us over the American and European competition. The sooner we get used to that idea, the better.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-ottawa-needs-an-aggressive-immigration-plan/

Ibbitson: COVID-19 is severing a lifeline of immigration Canada needs to survive. Here’s what we can do to repair it

Ibbitson makes the case to accelerate the transition of temporary residents to Permanent Residents, as they are already in Canada and thus travel restrictions are not an issue.

To a certain extent, this is already happening. This past June, almost 70 percent of new Permanent Residents were previously temporary residents. July numbers should be out sometime next week.

However, once we get through the “inventory” of qualified temporary residents, the lack of new arrivals will become more of an issue:

Tens of thousands of future Canadians are missing. Because of closed borders brought on by COVID-19, only a fraction of those who were supposed to become new permanent residents this year and next will actually arrive.

This country relies on immigrants to sustain its population and expand its economy. But Canada admitted only 34,000 permanent residents in the second quarter of this year, down 67 per cent from the same period in 2019. Most new permanent residents were already in Canada on work or study permits.

And lockdowns and closed visa offices overseas could suppress immigration for years to come.

There is a fix, though only for the short term. Tens of thousands of international students, temporary foreign workers and asylum claimants who are in Canada right now could be fast-tracked to permanent residency.

“We’ve got all these people that are here,” Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said in an interview. “And if we give them permanent residence, they’re going to be able to contribute to Canada. So we end up benefiting from it.”

Converting students, temporary foreign workers and asylum claimants into permanent residents could ease the shortfall of immigrants until Ottawa can get the overseas applications process back on stream, air travel fully resumes and barriers between countries come down.

If they come down.

In an August report, the International Organization for Migration warned “the age of migration itself may now be coming to an end.” More than 90 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with pandemic-related restrictions on new arrivals.

A recent report from the Royal Bank of Canada estimated that, best case, immigration in 2020 will be down 30 per cent from the target of 341,000 set by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“The worry is that what happens in the short run may turn into the long run,” said Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist at the bank and author of the report.

Consider the situation of international students. There were 642,000 of them studying in Canada in 2019. Only the United States and Australia take in more foreign students. As well as contributing $22-billion to the Canadian economy and helping to sustain 170,000 jobs, they serve as one of the main sources of new permanent residents each year. But not this year. In the second quarter, the Immigration department issued just over 10,000 new study permits, compared with 107,000 a year earlier.

The University of Waterloo, with its strong reputation in engineering and computer sciences, plays host to about 7,000 international students each year, along with about 35,000 Canadian students.

But apart from the roughly 2,000 students who are already here, almost all foreign students will be taking their courses online from their home country, said Christine McWebb, the university’s assistant vice-president responsible for international operations.

Those international students who are in Canada and wish to remain provide a pool of applicants who could be fast-tracked to permanent residency. And those who can’t get here this year can be encouraged to come as soon as conditions permit.

Ottawa agrees. Last week, the Immigration department announced new measures that will make it easier for students to study from abroad while still being able to later obtain a work permit in Canada.

Another potential pool of permanent residents can be found among temporary foreign workers. Although the federal government took special measures to ensure agricultural workers were admitted this year, TFW permits were down about 50 per cent in the second quarter. These workers are critical to sustaining not just agriculture, but health care, construction, transportation and other sectors.

“We call them temporary foreign workers but the work they are doing is neither temporary nor superfluous,” said Usha George, director of the Centre for Immigration and Settlement at Ryerson University. “These people are called unskilled, but they are essential workers.”

A third group of potential permanent residents might be more problematic, at least to some.

In 2019, just over 16,500 people sought asylum in Canada by making use of unauthorized border crossings, such as Roxham Road in Quebec. But as of the end of July, this year, just over 3,100 asylum seekers had been intercepted by the RCMP, owing to the closing of the border between Canada and the U.S. and the severe reduction in international travel.

The majority of claims referred to the Refugee Protection Division are eventually approved, although the process can take years. Many claimants are already working. They speak or are learning English or French, have housing, and have forged ties within the community. Expediting their claims would provide new permanent residents to make up for those not arriving from overseas, while eliminating the backlog.

“We’d be better off saving the money of the refugee claim process,” Ms. Dench said. “And the sooner they can obtain permanent residence, the sooner they can get on with their lives and really contribute to Canadian society.”

Ottawa has already announced that some asylum claimants working in the health sector may apply to become permanent residents.

Immigrants to Canada tend to be better educated than the native-born and they start more businesses. As Canada’s population ages, they will be vital to providing both the labour and the taxes needed to care for older citizens.

With luck, either a vaccine or effective treatments will arrive next year, weakening the impact of COVID-19 to the point where borders can reopen. In the meantime, the opportunity exists to convert as many students, foreign workers and asylum seekers into permanent residents as possible, to make up for the shortfall.

Whatever their background, we can expect the new arrivals will make splendid Canadians. They almost always do.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-covid-19-is-severing-a-lifeline-of-immigration-canada-needs-to-survive/