Who do we want in Canada? Do we want employed and employable people?
Immigration minister Marco Mendicino announced the opening of a “New pathway to permanent residency for over 90,000 essential temporary workers and international graduates.” This program opened at noon on May 6, 2021. It creates six streams to grant temporary immigrants, already acclimatized to our Canadian ways, having attended school and worked here, the opportunity to remain permanently.
The three English/French speaking streams have a total acceptance number of 90,000 while the three exclusive French speaking streams have no limits. The program is meant to entice temporary immigrants in selected essential occupations such as health care and construction, and international student graduates from a Canadian institution, to stay.
Why this program now?
Because Canada needs people to support its economy. The low birth rate and aging population combined with the impact of the COVID pandemic brings the long-predicted decline in our labour force, closer.
The number of immigrants who gained permanent residence status in 2020 fell far lower than the expected 341,000; only 284,387 according to Statista, a private statistics company. Meanwhile, the Departmental Plan 2021-2022 from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced the goal to grant up to 410,000 immigrants permanent residence status in 2021. This will be record setting.
Statistics Canada shows the highest recorded number of immigrant arrivals occurred in 1913 at 400,000. It was an anomaly, not a trend. Average annual grants of permanent resident status hovered near the 250,000 mark over the last twenty years.
The new program will help.
The below chart shows how many temporary immigrants applied so far. The English/French speaking international graduates stream filled quickly, closing a day after the program started. However, all the other streams remain quite open. (Click the link for the live updates on the number of applicants to this program, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/tr-pr-pathway.html)
With a few changes, the program and Canada will come a lot closer to meeting its goals to welcome more permanent residents to our work force.
First, allow lawyers and representatives to actively assist temporary immigrants with the process. This will help ensure applications are fully and properly completed. It is unclear what will happen if the submitted applications are incomplete. Will applicants simply be refused, opening the spot for another to apply? Or will the officer contact the applicant for clarification? This will delay processing and frustrate many. It is no surprise, that even after forms were completed by lawyers for some, temporary immigrants still made mistakes uploading and submitting the applications because they were unfamiliar with the process.
Second, eligibility requirements for the working streams bar certain temporary immigrants. Self-employed people are ineligible, even if they meet the other criteria. This does not make sense. If a person is here and working for themselves, why not let them stay? These are temporary immigrants who have proven they do not rely on others for employment and instead have created work for themselves for a year or more. It shows they are as resilient as, if not more, than those who work for an employer.
Third, while it is important to encourage temporary residents understand and speak one of our national languages, if a temporary immigrant has at least a year of work history and they are currently employed, is it necessary now to test their English or French abilities? If a temporary immigrant has a job and can sufficiently communicate for the purposes of that job, what more, is needed from them at this point? In addition, after the program was announced and perhaps also due to COVID, there were few to no available English test appointments for several months. These tests are also time consuming and costly. Not everyone can fill this requirement in time to qualify for the program.
The pandemic has provided an opportunity to reward those who can and are helping to sustain the Canadian economy. The new immigration program is a means to add much needed human capital to our dwindling Canadian labour forces, but the processing and eligibility criteria need to be tweaked to address the challenges many employed temporary immigrants face so they can become permanent residents.