The COVID-19 pandemic caused a marked reduction in immigration processing capacity during its first 6 months.
From March to December of 2020, permanent resident admissions were down 56 per cent compared to 2019, a new report by the Conference Board of Canada shows.
Refugee and family class admissions were most hard-hit with 72 and 63 per cent reductions, respectively, but this was most evident early in the pandemic. By the end of 2020, the distribution of admissions across these different immigration classes was nearing pre-pandemic levels.
The Conference Board suggests that, based on the most recent trends in Express Entry draws, the share of immigrants with Canadian work experience will increase during 2021. The share of permanent residents having prior temporary work or study experience in Canada grew 10 per cent from 2019, according to the report.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Canada considered only Canadian Experience Class (CEC) and Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates in Express Entry invitation rounds. Then, in the second half of 2020, Canada began considering all candidates, including those from the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP).
But since the start of 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is again prioritizing transitioning those already in Canada to permanent residence and focusing on CEC and PNP candidates as they are less likely to be affected by the various disruptions related to COVID-19.
According to the report, the impact of reduced immigration numbers in 2020 was disproportionally felt outside of Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec. This is partially due to policy decisions such as favoring CEC admissions since these candidates tend to be concentrated in Ontario and B.C.
Temporary worker admissions were down 33 per cent overall. However, given the importance of agricultural workers to Canada’s food security, the government took early steps to make it easier for them to enter and work in the country. These initiatives paid off as agricultural worker admissions were only down a comparatively minor 8 per cent.
Four recommendations to offset effects of pandemic
The Conference Board of Canada also looked at the impact of immigration on the Canadian economy. Their study has shown that increased levels of immigration over four years have the potential to raise Canada’s GDP growth by 44 per cent, increase public revenues by $50B and compensate for Canada’s otherwise aging demographics by increasing the ratio of working-age people to retirees by 15 per cent.
Given these potential impacts, the Conference Board recommends four strategic imperatives for Canada’s immigration policy and programs :
First, it is recommended to increase support for newcomers by promoting pathways for immigrants with a job offer, investing more in settlement services, and accelerating family class admissions to help economic immigrants participate in the labour force.
The second recommendation is to continue to focus on regionalization to attract immigrants to regions that receive fewer immigrants and have most felt the impact of the pandemic.
Third, it is recommended to introduce policy changes that would improve the economic outcomes of immigrants.
Finally, the Conference Board recommends increasing the number of family class immigrants and refugees admitted to Canada, particularly as they have not been shown to have a negative impact on the economy.
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