Passengers wear masks as they wait to check-in at Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, Saturday, May 16, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canada welcomed 341,000 new immigrants in 2019, and continued to accept high levels of new immigrants at the beginning of last year, but those efforts and the immigration system were completely derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Statistics Canada report said that Canada’s population “essentially stopped” due to COVID-19, increasing by just 2,767 from July 1, 2020 to Oct. 1 2020 – virtually zero per cent.
In October of 2020, Canada only welcomed approximately 15,000 new immigrants, less than half of the number of people welcomed in October 2019.
In response, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) announced a 2021-2023 “Immigration Levels Plan” setting out hard targets for the next three years.
The aim is to welcome new immigrants at a rate of around 1 per cent of the population, which would mean 401,000 permanent residents in 2021, 411,000 in 2022, and 421,000 in 2023 – the first time Canada has set an annual immigration target above 400,000.
But setting targets is one thing – meeting them is another.
“I think the government is going to have a very difficult time meeting those targets this coming year,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges on CTV’s Your Morning Thursday. “Last year the targets were not close to being met, and on the ground we’re not seeing anything speeding up in terms of application processing.”
“It’s one thing to set a target and say we’re welcoming a certain number of newcomers in a year, but officers still have to process those cases, and with a lot of embassies closed all over the world, its going to be really hard to meet that target,” Desloges said.
New automation systems aim to make immigration easier
Desloges noted that the IRCC’s new automated portal for permanent residency application – built largely in response to a pandemic that took face-to-to-face interactions off the table – has sped up the application process, but still will not close the gap.
“A lot of the applications that you used to have to [physically] submit can now be done online, you can set up an account in this portal, link applications in this portal… you also avoid the chance of missing a letter that is mailed or missing an email,” Desloges said.
“Those things are all good but it’s important to understand that immigration is still really limited in its technology… and I think that’s holding it back in terms of what they are able to do,” she said.
For people sponsoring their parents or grandparents, Desloges said, technology can also be limiting for those who are not tech savvy or do not have continual access to computers.
After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet earlier this week, there were whispers of a potential snap election – and a government change could signal sweeping reform in immigration.
But Desloges said, while a new party in power could affect immigration targets, that it won’t be immediate.
“You’d see differences in how the border was treated, you’d see a difference in refugee policy – but those things will not happen overnight,” Desloges said. “Even if a party came into power that favours economic immigration over compared to sponsoring your parents… it’s important for people to not have a knee jerk reaction.”