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What is COVID-19 doing to Canadian immigration?

Immigration during and after COVID-19 …

Importance of immigration to Canada …

Canada is a nation built on immigration and, for a myriad of reasons, immigration is hugely important to the present social, cultural, and economic growth of our country. Immigration serves to reunite families and provide immigrants with educational and vocational opportunities not available in their countries of origin. It also enriches Canadian culture by connecting different parts of the world, thereby diversifying ideas and customs.

The economic benefits of immigration, in particular, have become especially pronounced in recent years. According to the Conference Board of Canada[1], “Canada’s fertility rate is 1.5 babies per woman, below the replacement rate of 2.1”. On the other hand, all of Canada’s “9.2 million baby boomers will be of retirement age by 2030”, and “23% of Canada’s population will be 65 or older by 2040”. Canada’s low fertility rate and the impending swell of individuals in the 65+ age bracket means that Canada will have fewer people to produce and consume goods and services, as well as a smaller number of taxpayers[2]. Thus, Canada will soon be more dependent than ever on immigration to counter imbalance in the labour force and alleviate strain on the healthcare system.

The impact of COVID-19 on immigration to Canada …

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous challenges to Canada’s immigration system. More precisely, IRCC’s transition to working remotely, travel restrictions, and reduced flights have contributed to a drop in permanent resident admissions to historically low levels in June[3]. Thus far, BC has admitted only 350 new permanent residents, a figure which stands in sharp contrast with those from January (4,235), February (4,240), and March (2,950).

Yet, the provinces have continued to invite prospective immigrants to submit Express Entry profiles and apply for permanent residence[4]. Further, as the foregoing statistics indicate, applications are still being processed. The Canada Immigration Newsletter reported there could be four Express Entry draws in June[5]. On June 10th, British Columbia invited 87 individuals to apply to its Provincial Nominee Program [6].

This indicates the doors will remain open to immigration as Canada navigates the unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic.

IRCC stated the following categories of individuals can continue to enter Canada notwithstanding the travel restrictions currently in place[7]:

· Canadian citizens

· Permanent residents

· Immediate family of Canadian citizens and permanent residents

· Permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence prior to March 16 and who had not yet travelled to Canada

· Temporary foreign workers

· International students who held a valid study permit or had been approved for one as of March 18

· Transiting passengers

Immigration to Canada in the aftermath of COVID-19 …

In its 2020-2021 Departmental Plan, IRCC unveiled its plan to admit 341,000 new permanent residents in 2020 and 351,000 the following year[8], marking a large increase from the previous decades’ average yearly admission rate of 250,000 and “the most ambitious immigration levels in recent history”[9]. Some have argued Canada cannot afford to stick to this plan in light of the economic fallout of COVID-19; they believe immigration should be put on the back-burner until the economy recovers and employment rates amongst those already living in Canada have bounced back to previous levels.

However, a variety of factors indicate Canada’s commitment to immigration will endure, and in fact flourish, in the aftermath of COVID-19. Indeed, the impact of COVID-19 means that Canada is, in many ways, in greater need of new immigrants than it was before. First, it is important to understand that the employment market isn’t a zero-sum game; gains made by immigrants and members of a host society are compatible and, in fact, tend to be mutually reinforcing, particularly when considered over the long run. Immigrants will contribute to the creation of Canadian jobs through spending and entrepreneurial activity.

Second, continuing to welcome newcomers into Canada is consistent with the proactive immigration policy our country has followed over the past three decades. As Kareem El-Assal[10], a senior research associate for immigration at The Conference Board of Canada, explains, Canada had originally taken a “tap on, tap off” approach to immigration, meaning more immigrants were accepted when the economy was doing well, and less when it was not. In the late 1980s, Canada realized the tap-on, tap-off approach was insufficient to offset labour shortages resulting from the retirement of older generations of Canadians. Consequently, the tap on, tap off approach was displaced by a new policy that has a long-term focus and prioritizes a consistent flow of migrants. Canada has persevered with this new, proactive approach through various economic crises, including the Great Recession.

Finally, the pandemic highlighted the vital importance of immigrants to ensuring the well-being of Canadian society in a period of crisis. Newcomers contributed massively, both directly and indirectly, to efforts to combat the virus[11]; as federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino succinctly stated, “we could not support our front-line workers without immigration”[12]. Standing firmly by our commitment to immigration is the only way to deal with the ever-present possibility of another, future pandemic.

Conclusion …

The Canada Immigration Newsletter reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased interest in immigrating to Canada[13], and, all things considered, prospective immigrants should continue to apply to immigrate to Canada. The importance of immigration to Canada and its post-COVID-19 recovery means our country is unlikely to back away from its commitment to welcoming newcomers. This point is supported by recent statements made by Mendicio, in which he said “[i]mmigration will absolutely be key to our success and our economic recovery”, and that “[w]e will continue to rely on immigration, it will be an economic driver, and this will be the North Star of our policy going forward.

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