The outbreak of the new coronavirus and the attempts to contain it appear likely to slow immigration to Canada; at least in the short term, tapping the brakes on an engine of growth seen as vital to the country’s economy.
Ottawa recently proposed to admit 341,000 permanent residents in 2020. This is a similar number to last year, when the federal government surpassed its target.
But since then, COVID-19 has grown into a global pandemic that has sickened thousands and forced governments to take action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that the country would essentially close its borders to most people who aren’t already citizens or permanent residents. The rule doesn’t affect the U.S. citizens.
As a result, the flow of permanent and temporary residents to Canada is likely slow its pace this year.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has said it will still process residency applications. However, there are travel restrictions in place around the world and the possibility of COVID-19-related delays in obtaining needed documents.
So because of such delays, it is reasonable to expect that people will struggle to come to Canada in 2020. And this is going to impact our immigration levels,” he added.
Slowing down immigration to Canada could damage economy
Almost 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth is based on immigration, the government has noted.
“On the face of it, it does seem like population growth is likely to slow this year relative to last year, based on the difficulty folks are going to have coming into the country,” said Jean-François Perrault, chief economist at the Bank of Nova Scotia.
If COVID-19 and the countermeasures against it were to slow immigration and population growth, it would likely put further pressure on a Canadian economy already under stress.
In announcing its latest targets for new residents, the government had said immigration drives economic growth; it assists employers in finding workers and helps to “address the demographic challenges” presented by an aging population.
If it weren’t for immigration, the labour force would actually start trending downward. This is because more people would be leaving the workforce than joining it, according to Pedro Antunes, the Conference Board of Canada’s chief economist.
“Generally speaking, this is the trend for Canada, and it’s really important to have an immigration system there to grow our labour force,” Antunes said.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has announced it is cancelling citizenship ceremonies and tests until further notice. The IRCC has also postponed in-person appointments for refugee claims and permanent resident landings until April 13.
The federal government is trying to account for some of the issues people might face. For example, it’s giving people time to gather all the documents they may require. But El-Assal said the government still needs to issue a public statement advising people of their status when Ottawa’s plans to close the border come into effect.
Who are impacted by new restrictive policies?
The restrictions are in response to COVID-19; yet people who have study or work permits could stay in Canada legally, El-Assal noted. At the same time, the policy announced Monday could block them from entry. He linked the Trudeau government’s move to the controversial travel ban U.S. President Donald Trump announced in 2017, “where a major decision was made, but because there’s so many moving parts, Canada’s federal government didn’t have time to consider all of the implications.”
There are likely to be other implications , as there is “an array of people who are falling through the cracks in the current approach,” according to Sharry Aiken, a Queen’s University law professor.
Canada’s seasonal agricultural worker program lets businesses hire temporary foreign workers. However, those workers may not have worked long enough to qualify for employment insurance benefits.
“People without full-fledged permanent resident status or citizenship, but who are nevertheless inside our country, are being differentially impacted by these policies,” the professor said.
A glimpse into just how these policies have affected Canada’s immigration system could come Wednesday, when another round of invitations. In the previous round announced on March 4, 3,900 candidates were issued invitations to apply for permanent residence.
Despite a slowdown, the government could make adjustments later in the year to make up for it. Canada’s relatively strong immigration and population growth recently also means it would be declining from a position of strength.
“Population growth is a building block of growth and we have unique advantage on that front, even now,” Perrault said.