Posted on August 16, 2021

Canada Wants Immigrants but the Pandemic Is in the Way. So It’s Looking to Keep People Already There.

Amanda Coletta, Washington Post, August 7, 2021


Canada wants more immigrants — 401,000 this year, to be exact — and is not letting pandemic border controls get in the way. That means some new programs, including ones granting residency status to people already in the country and in jobs that might not have previously qualified.

Canada has long been a destination for economic immigration. But the retooling of its policies reflects wider shifts globally as countries reel with the fallout of a global pandemic that has deeply disrupted movement and migration.

From Chinese students who dreamed of studying in the United States to migrant workers in the Persian Gulf, pandemic border closures, flight bans and the scaling back of visa services have wrought unparalleled upheaval to the flow of workers, students and regular and irregular migrants across borders.

“Immigration fits very prominently into the plans that we have to accelerate our economic recovery,” Marco Mendicino, Canada’s immigration minister, told The Washington Post, “as well as continuing to strengthen Canada’s long-term prosperity.”

The overarching aim of these new initiatives and Canada’s increased immigration targets have been generally well received. Some analysts, however, have raised concerns, including about whether they could have been better designed, exclude too many vulnerable people or are feasible given processing times and backlogs.

Before the pandemic, Canada’s population was growing at a rate not seen in decades, outpacing the other Group of Seven industrialized nations. International migration was the main reason, said Statistics Canada, accounting for 86 percent of population growth in 2019. That year, Canada accepted 341,175 permanent residents, up from 271,840 in 2015.

Then came the virus. In 2020, the number of permanent residents plunged by almost half to 184,595, far short of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s target of 341,000 and a potential headache for a country that has long relied on immigration to offset the impacts of low birthrates and an aging population on its labor force and public finances.


To make up the shortfall in 2020, the Canadian government in October announced even loftier immigration targets. It hopes to welcome 401,000 permanent residents in 2021, up from a previous goal of 351,000. That target would increase by 10,000 in 2022 and again in 2023.

Marian Campbell Jarvis, an assistant deputy minister of immigration, told a parliamentary committee in May that the government expected border restrictions would soon ease, allowing the country to admit permanent residents from abroad. But the pandemic’s grip tightened. So Canada had to get “creative,” Jarvis said.

Canada had already invited more than 27,000 people to apply for permanent residency under one stream of its “express entry” program for skilled economic immigrants with recent work experience in Canada — more than five times the previous record.

The program uses a points system to score applicants based on criteria such as age, education and work experience. In recent years, the minimum score needed to qualify for an invitation was well more than 400 points, according to government data. For that particular round, in February, 75 points cleared the bar.


Then, in May, the government opened a new program: a temporary pathway to permanent residency for 90,000 people already in Canada with temporary status. They include 40,000 recent international student graduates, 20,000 health-care workers and 30,000 people in other “essential” jobs such as cashiers, janitors and butchers.


These efforts have not been without critics.

Analysts at the C.D. Howe Institute, a nonprofit research group, said lowering scores under the points system amid the economic recovery would mean “admitting immigrants who will experience more significant integration challenges.” Advocates took aim at the exclusion of asylum seekers and undocumented people in “essential” jobs from the temporary pathway program that opened in May.


From January to the end of July, Canada admitted 184,215 permanent residents, according to data from Canada’s immigration department. {snip}