Canada has been given the thumbs up for its success in boosting number of permanent resident arrivals despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The improvement we’re seeing in permanent resident admissions is encouraging and good news for the economy,” says Iain Reeve, associate director of immigration research at the Conference Board of Canada.
“Immigration helps stimulate the economy, and with deliberate policy choices regarding settlement services and credential recognition, these economic impacts can be enhanced as we emerge from the global pandemic.”
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When COVID-19 first hit Canada early last year, Ottawa quickly put in place public health restrictions, including border closures for non-essential travel and, later, COVID-19 testing upon arrival for travelers coming into Canada. Travellers were – and still are – required to stay three days in a government-designated hotel to await the results and then spend the rest of their 14-day self-isolation elsewhere under the Quarantine Act.
All of that and the grounding of most flights worldwide slowed immigration to a trickle. Permanent residency applications to Canada dropped by 56 per cent for the period from March through to December last year compared to the same period in 2019.
Canada Speeds Up Processing By Going Digital
As the pandemic continued to rage, though, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) took a series of steps to cut down on processing times for permanent residency applications. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino outlined his vision for a completely digital immigration process that would speed things up.
“My vision for our immigration system going forward is that it is completely virtual and touchless and that each and every one of these steps is integrated so that we become the envy of the world,” he said in an online interview with TVO last month.
Canada is already a world leader in putting its immigration processes online, he said.
“In a world that is increasingly going virtual, we are leading the way, especially when it comes to our immigration system,” he said in that interview. “We are the only ones that have moved our citizenship ceremony online, to my knowledge, and now we are also moving into the digital space when it comes to testing applicants.”
In addition to hastening the IRCC’s decision to go digital with its processes, the COVID-19 pandemic also changed the demographic profile of those immigrants who did manage to come to Canada.
Immigrants Tend To Have More Canada Work Experience
In a report released last week, the Conference Board of Canada states that the first six months of last year saw a marked drop in refugee admission, which fell by 72 per cent, and family class admissions which dropped by 63 per cent. Both of these classes of immigrants only picked up later in the year.
While all of that was happening, admissions for immigrants arriving under economic class programs saw much less of a decline during the first six months of last year.
“By the end of 2020, the composition of permanent resident admissions was approaching its pre-pandemic distribution,” notes the Conference Board of Canada.
Throughout the pandemic, Ottawa has remained bullish on immigration and committed to its targets of 401,000 new permanent residents to Canada this year, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023.
Earlier this week, the immigration minister expressed his confidence Ottawa would be able to hit those targets despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am confident that we are doing everything we can to meet that target and we will meet that target and the reason it is important to hit that target is that immigrants create jobs … and allow us to meet our workforce needs,” said Mendicino.
Stamp Of Approval For Canada Immigration Plan
The Conference Board of Canada’s own modelling reveals Ottawa’s plan is economically sound and high levels of immigration could lead to GDP growth of 44 per cent and a 15-per cent improvement in the ratio of working-age people to retirees. The country’s immigration plan could also add $50 billion in annual tax revenues to the public purse by 2036 to 2040.
“These benefits come from the fact that immigrants invest in Canada, are a source of labour and workplace talent, and provide demand for goods and services,” notes the Conference Board of Canada.
The think-tank recommends the Canadian government take the following six additional measures to make the most of immigration coming out of the pandemic:
- Increase support for newcomers to ensure increased immigration doesn’t come at their expense;
- Temporarily prioritize entry streams where economic immigrants arrive with a job offer or continue to give permanent residency to temporary residents already in Canada, following the government’s recent move to admit 90,000 temporary workers in essential work and international students;
- Ensure successful integration by investing in settlement services and tackling long-standing barriers to economic integration, barriers which contributed to the labour market challenges immigrants faced during COVID-19;
- Expedite the arrival of family class immigrants to help economic immigrants participate in the labour force;
- Focus on regionalization to help offset the uneven effects of the pandemic. This may mean prioritizing programs such as the Provincial Nominee Program and Atlantic Immigration Program. It also means concentrating on encouraging immigrant retention in smaller communities;
- Make deliberate policy choices to improve economic outcomes. Economic outcomes aren’t set in stone. With efforts to improve immigrants’ economic outcomes, Canada could benefit even more;
Newcomers to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to have Canadian work experience or education and recent Express Entry draws suggest the number of immigrants with Canadian experience will only increase in 2021.