Canada is expected to "substantially" boost the number of immigrants it welcomes to the country each year, but experts warn that any increase must be matched with more robust resettlement assistance.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum is expected to reveal new targets Monday, one day before Finance Minister Bill Morneau presents his fall economic update.
- McCallum to raise immigration targets
- Internal Liberal debate on immigration
- 450,000 new immigrants too ambitious?
The new levels will seek to offset projected demographic challenges in Canada, including an aging population and growing labour gaps. In 2016, the target was to permit 300,000 newcomers to the country.
The government's economic growth advisory council has recommended ramping up immigration levels to 450,000 people a year over the next five years, with a focus on skilled, highly educated and business-oriented people. McCallum has suggested that target may be overly ambitious, but said the government will "substantially" raise the number.
There has also been debate among the Canadian public — and among Liberals — about hiking immigration at a time of high unemployment, especially among young Canadians. There are also questions about whether adequate levels of support are in place.
Immigrants worse off?
As the government welcomes more immigrants, it must take steps to ensure smooth integration into communities, said Emily Gilbert, associate professor with the University of Toronto's Canadian Studies Program. That includes employment that meets their skill levels, so families don't face undue financial hardship, she said.
"I'm not at all against raising the level, I'm in full support of that. But we've had a tendency in the last decade or so for newcomers to Canada to be much worse off economically," she said.
She's concerned about the potential emphasis on bringing in business and professional class immigrants.
"I'm worried that the thrust of the levels seems to be to boost Canada's economy and I'm worried it would be on the shoulders of those who arrive," she said.
Gilbert said ramping up numbers too quickly without enough supports could lead to potential social and economic problems down the road. She also warned against gearing targets based on economic status.
Not only does that contribute to a "brain drain" in other countries, but it ignores the fact that it takes all kinds of people to build the country, she said.
Raise living standards
The advisory council's report recommends tapping top business talent and international students to maximize economic benefits from immigration policy that, "if done right, can raise living standards for all Canadians."
Noting that public opinion to date is largely favourable toward immigration, the report warns that policy makers must be aware of limits.
"Public support is likely to wane if integration of new immigrants is not managed effectively," it reads. "The recommended increase of 150,000 permanent economic immigrants is not expected to strain public education, transportation, or healthcare systems over the course of the five-year ramp up period, though it should be expected that higher population growth will eventually require increased investments in public services and infrastructure by all levels of government."
In addition to boosting immigration levels, the council recommends:
- Reducing red tape to attract and expedite entry for foreign talent.
- Easing rules to allow more international students to become permanent residents.
- Improving accreditation processes to help skilled workers find work in their profession.
Dory Jade, CEO of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, expects the government will significantly increase the annual target and numbers in various categories. He said it's difficult to measure actual capacity for newcomers in communities because there are so many regional variations.
But Jade said any increase in numbers must come with supports ranging from more staff to process applications to a "big injection" of aid to help integrate new arrivals, even though that capacity is hard to determine.
"That's the big dilemma for the government," he said.
NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan said Canada could reasonably have a policy to bring in a higher number of immigrants, up to 500,000 annually.
Along with setting new targets, she urged the government to bring in policy changes that would help fill regional labour gaps and give live-in caregivers and temporary foreign workers greater and faster opportunities to become new Canadians.
"I think we're at the juncture in 2016 to look at our immigration policy and say, 'If you're good enough to work here, you're good enough to stay,'" she said.
Kwan also said Canada's policy should not be geared to favour those with business and professional credentials.
"There's value to all the different classes," she said. "All of us contribute to the rich fabric of who we are, and our immigration policy should reflect exactly that — broad-based, diverse groups of immigrants from around the globe."
Conservative Immigration critic Michelle Rempel said setting immigration levels must not be "arbitrary" and that targets should be established after consultation with the provinces and territories. She hopes to to see an increase in economic immigration to the Atlantic provinces and consideration to Francophonie targets.
Rempel said she is proud that because of a Conservative motion, Yazidi victims of ISIS genocide will be among the priority groups brought in to Canada.
"Our previous Conservative government oversaw the highest sustained levels of economic immigration in Canada's history, while working to ensure persecuted ethnic, religious and sexual minorities were able to resettle in Canada," she said in an email.
"We protected the integrity of our fair and generous immigration system by cracking down on crooked consultants who exploit prospective immigrants. Along with introducing the Parent and Grandparent Super Visa, we also enhanced the Caregiver program to ensure faster processing, reunification and more protection against abuse."