The Liberal government plans to bring in more than 1.2 million immigrants over the next three years, despite hurdles created by the global pandemic.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino unveiled what he called an “ambitious” three-year immigration plan today that set targets for bringing skilled workers, family members and refugees into Canada.
Canada aims to bring 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023.
The numbers — which represent an increase of about 50,000 for each year — aim to compensate for the shortfall this year due to the pandemic and represent about one per cent of Canada’s population.
Last year’s plan promised to bring in more than one million immigrants over a three-year period, but the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting travel restrictions have slowed down the process. Mendicino said the government remains committed to welcoming newcomers as a means to keep Canada’s economy afloat.
At a news conference in Ottawa today, Mendicino said immigrants drive the population and economic growth that pays for vital programs such as health care.
“Put simply, we need more workers, and immigration is the way to get there,” he said.
Mendicino said he’s confident the government can meet the targets despite the global health crisis, by working around travel restrictions while adhering to safety measures such as mandatory quarantines.
He said the government will aim to attract workers to fill labour gaps in regions facing sector shortages.
Traditionally, Ottawa’s goal in immigration policy has been to attract top talent in a competitive global market while reuniting families and offering refuge to people displaced by disaster, conflict and persecution.
In its last three-year plan, the federal government sought to bring in 341,000 immigrants this year, 351,000 next year and another 361,000 in 2022.
Focus on labour gaps, says C of C
Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the world has changed a great deal since those targets were set. However the government chooses to set its immigration targets in today’s new policy, she said, it will have to focus squarely on matching economic migrants to worker shortages in various sectors and regions of the country.
Despite changes in the labour market and a major spike in the unemployment rate since the onset of the pandemic, gaps in the market remain, Nord said — and immigration will continue to play a large role in filling persistent labour shortages.
“We’re in this rather strange situation where we do have higher unemployment rates than we’ve seen for a number of years. Before the crisis there were record low unemployment rates. Now, they’re tipping towards the other end,” she said.
“But we still have a situation where there are still job vacancies and jobs that need to be filled across the country. Immigration can play an important role in diversity and economic growth, but also in filling labour market gaps, for sure.”
The government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth recommended that Canada boost its annual immigration levels to 450,000 by 2021 to stimulate the economy and tackle the twin labour market problems of an aging population and a low birth rate.
Conservative immigration critic Raquel Dancho said that the Trudeau government must offer a concrete plan for bringing people safely into the country during a pandemic and for integrating them into Canadian society.
She said the backlog of applicants has grown during the pandemic.
“The immigration system has not been well-managed, I think to say the least, in the last eight months. So I will be looking for some sort of plan for how they’re going to improve it,” Dancho said.
“The number can be whatever it’s going to be, but unless they bring forward a plan for how they’re going to change course and get better at processing immigration applications, it’s really all for nothing.”
Dancho said Canadians must have a clear explanation of how immigration targets will meet Canada’s labour needs while upholding its humanitarian commitments.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan urged the government to increase its capacity to help vulnerable people in need of protection in Canada, noting that persecution abroad has not stopped during the pandemic.
She said Canada also should give permanent residence status to people who want it and are already in the country, such as temporary foreign workers and international students with job offers.
“Canada can, in fact, take a true humanitarian approach by regularizing all those immigrants and refugees and undocumented people,” she said.