The reality is that the government’s immigration target levels set last year are no longer realistic for this year and possibly won’t be for next year either.
In fact, maintaining these target levels is questionable as to do so may undermine the credibility of the government’s whole immigration plan.
“Immigrants with higher education levels benefit most from services designed to support economic integration – putting the lower educated at further disadvantage.”
While selection criteria and settlement programming can be adjusted to improve economic outcomes, or at least attenuate the impact of the pandemic-induced downturn, this will be harder to achieve given that the downturn is likely to continue well into the year.
In 2018, the government department Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada evaluated the settlement programme and highlighted several areas for improvement. These included the labour market and the services that support immigrants’ economic integration. The evaluation showed that immigrants with higher education levels or more work experience were benefitting most from these services – further deepening the disadvantage that the lower educated face.
Shouldn’t such programmes serve the essential workers who need this support more? And shouldn’t settlement agencies better support those who are, as John Shield explained, “less digitally adept, lacking in technology and with more limited official language abilities?”
Immigration policies are selective by design: who can obtain permanent residency; who can only stay on a temporary basis; and what are the criteria they have to meet (e.g. language knowledge, education, age, professional qualifications).
Policy steeped in inequality
These criteria invariably raise equality issues between permanent and temporary residents. This can be seen most clearly in the realisation that lower-skilled workers are deemed ‘essential’. These frontline workers are more exposed to COVID-19 than those able to work remotely yet are poorer.
Personal support and healthcare workers – mostly women and visible minorities – are vital to an increasingly ageing population yet remain under-appreciated. Many of these workers come from migrant backgrounds but aren’t supported in immigration policies.
Other inequalities exist in the ability to obtain permanent residency – it’s an easier process for those considered to be higher skilled and less so for those considered lower skilled.
Agricultural workers, given their crowded living conditions, should be prioritised for permanent residency. Some of this work is clearly seasonal, but many jobs, such as meat-packing, are not. This is where a more direct path to permanent residency would be appropriate.
One approach to improve equality in this area would be to draw from the live-in caregivers experience, whereby two years’ full-time work as a temporary resident provided a pathway to permanent residency in Canada. Why not apply this approach to any immigrant who has worked two years full-time?
Recession hits migrants hardest
The Canadian government has essentially adopted a Keynesian approach: more immigration means more demand and thus economic growth.
This approach considers growth only in terms of a country’s GDP, ignoring the more important GDP per capita that shows the total value of all the goods and services produced in a year, divided by the number of people living there. In this way it ignores the importance of equality among all, immigrants and citizens alike.
Yet it’s been proven from prior recessions that recent immigrants suffer the most in a downturn and some remain impacted in the long term.
This is why an increase in migration at this time could likely contribute to an increase in inequality over time, given poorer economic integration for those arriving during this downturn. The Canadian government has yet to adjust its policy though to address these important issues.