Canada remains committed to boosting immigration in the long term despite the COVID-19 pandemic grounding planes and closing borders.
“Although we’ve had a disruption this year due to COVID-19, now is the time, more than ever, to work together to attract, welcome and retain new Canadians,” said Trevor Holder, Canada’s minister of post-secondary education, training and labour and co-chair of the Forum of Ministers Responsible for Immigration, Friday.
“Federal-provincial-territorial collaboration remains strong, with provinces and territories further examining the benefits and ways forward for economic immigration in our regions,” he said.
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The forum on immigration is being held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing restrictions and other preventative measures such as hand sanitizing and the wearing of face masks, many in-person conferences and events are canceled this year. Organizers of many such events are holding them online, via conference calls and web-based platforms with interactive voice and video features.
During the forum, both federal and provincial ministers of immigration in Canada said they still see immigration as one of the country’s greatest strengths.
“Throughout Canada’s response to COVID-19, immigration has played a vital role,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. “Not only is immigration helping to deliver food, fuel and health supplies, it is also going to be key to our long-term economic recovery.
“We advanced that goal at today’s federal-provincial-territorial meeting through our ongoing collaboration on a number of priorities, including how best to recruit skilled workers, attract international students and enhance regional immigration,” he said. “Together, we will continue welcoming newcomers to ensure we build a nation that is diverse, prosperous and strong.”
Ministers taking part in the virtual forum endorsed the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Strategic Plan for Immigration 2020-2023. A copy of that plan has not yet been released but a statement from Ottawa describes it as setting out “a vision for immigration, highlighting how newcomers contribute to building vibrant communities and an inclusive and prosperous Canada, supported by a robust and responsive immigration system.”
Throughout the pandemic, Canada has progressively taken steps to accommodate foreign nationals who want to come here to study or work. All temporary resident visa applications have been moved online to streamline operations during the office closures necessitated by the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Ottawa also relaxed its rules for international students for the coming school year to allow them to take online courses in their home countries during the pandemic. The Canada Border Services Agency has been advised to let students back into the country only if they are:
- Already established, residing and studying in Canada;
- Expected to begin studying upon arrival after completing their quarantine;
- Required to be in Canada for their continued participation in the program of study or pursuing online studies is not an option for their school or program from their home country, or;
- Scheduled to start studying later in the year because the school semester has been canceled.
Last week, Canada also re-opened travel for diplomats and consular officials from foreign countries, roughly three months after COVID-19 put a stop to non-essential international travel.
Canada’s approach during the pandemic has been to support a flexible immigration system focused on meeting critical labour market needs, specifically in the agriculture sector, and to ensure continued delivery of essential services for newcomers. The country has taken steps to protect the health and well-being of temporary foreign workers.
A major thrust of Canada’s strategy moving forward is the attraction and retention of newcomers to communities outside the major urban centers to improve regional economies.
Ministers at the forum lauded the provincial nominee programs, which distribute the benefits of immigration across the country, and the federal pilot programs to address targeted gaps. Since immigration is a shared jurisdiction in Canada, the ministers were also enthusiastic about the new Municipal Nominee Program.