Canada has recently moved to offer permanent residency to more foreigners living and working in the country.
It’s a short-term solution to the economic problems brought on by a pandemic-related immigration slowdown, analysts say.
With travel restrictions in place, visa offices closed, and immigration applications piling up, the Canadian government will likely not be able to attract its target of a record 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021.
Economists say the move will not have a noticeable impact on Canada’s economic growth and is not a fix to the country’s long-term demographic challenges, including an aging population.
“In the short-term, it’s nice that they’re targeting these sorts of people. It’s really just a change of status for them,” said Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told Reuters last week that the pandemic limitations mean “we need to look at the talent pool that is already within our borders”.
In January, Canada welcomed 26,600 new permanent residents, most of whom were already in the country. That was 10% more than in the same period a year ago.
Mendicino said January’s numbers indicate the country can meet its 2021 target, but others disagree.
Canada has relied for decades on temporary workers to help meet the needs of its labour market, providing pathways for some of them to remain in the country.
Mendicino argues the push to boost the numbers of permanent residents by drawing on temporary ones is more than cosmetic. “The real benefits are derived once they put roots down and become more established in these jobs,” he told Reuters.
The emergence of Covid-19 revealed gaps in Canada’s immigration system when it comes to temporary residents who are exploitable but also essential, said Harald Bauder, a professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. A path to permanent residency for them is needed, he added.
Mendicino said Canada may offer such a path for agricultural workers, who are frequently marginalised or excluded from such routes to immigration.
Some critics argue the government’s actions don’t safeguard vulnerable workers who are often employed in high-risk, low-wage jobs with little protection from such things as a pandemic and who tend not to qualify for permanent residency programs.
“The actual system, or the path to PR (permanent residency), hasn’t changed,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
Canada will “certainly” rely on its current strategy through 2021 and 2022, said Mendicino, adding that the focus on turning temporary residents into permanent members of Canadian society could signal a long-term shift.
Critics argue the strategy excludes too many vulnerable people.