Scenes such as these of refugees arriving at Toronto’s Pearson Airport have disappeared as COVID-19 took hold. Plans to take in 1.2 million immigrants by 2023 has refugee sponsors wondering how that number can be achieved with travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19. Michael Swan

Immigration levels will be tough to meet

  • November 7, 2020

Ottawa’s plan to take in a record 1.2 million immigrants between now and 2023, just under 15 per cent of them refugees, faces some serious COVID-era challenges, according to the churches and other organizations who sponsor over 20,000 refugees per year.

The new immigration levels plan for 2021 to 2023 bumps the refugee target number from 49,700 in 2020 to 59,500 in 2021, 60,500 in 2022 and 61,000 in 2023. Out of that total, private refugee sponsors such as churches will be allowed to take in 22,500 per year.

But travel restrictions imposed to control the spread of COVID-19 mean that Canada won’t get anywhere near its 2020 target and may not hit its 2021 number, says the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association.

“The SAH Association is uncertain of how they (refugee resettlement targets) will be achieved due to Canada’s current travel restrictions,” the association said in a press release.

In the Archdiocese of Toronto, Office for Refugees director Rudy Ovcjak is supportive of the spring border closures that that stopped hundreds of approved refugees from entering Canada.

Ovcjak said it was a “prudent step in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic to suspend refugee travel to Canada.”

But Ovcjak is also worried about the prospect of future backlogs gumming up the works of Canada’s refugee system.

“During the shutdown, while overseas processing of cases was suspended, sponsors were allowed to continue to submit refugee sponsorship applications to Immigration Canada. This will inevitably increase the backlog and erode the recent reductions in processing times,” Ovcjak told The Catholic Register in an email.

Ottawa eased off the ban on refugee arrivals in July and refugee sponsors made arrangements for 14-day quarantine periods for new arrivals. But the few exemptions for refugees weren’t enough to restore the normal flow of privately sponsored refugees, said the SAH Association.

If the government is serious about hitting its refugee targets, it’s going to have to lift the travel restrictions for more people who have already been approved for permanent residence in Canada, they said.

Refugee sponsors are fully prepared to support refugees through 14-day quarantine periods.

With the near shutdown of the U.S. resettlement program over the past two years, Canada has become the world’s number one refugee resettlement country. 

“I know that is something Canadians take great pride in,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. 

In percentage terms, the new levels plan for refugees will hold steady at between 14.5 and 14.8 per cent of all new immigrants.

In announcing the new plan, Mendicino leaned heavily on the economic realities of immigration and Canada’s aging population. He pointed out that 25 per cent of health-care workers are immigrants. About 60 per cent of all new arrivals are economic class immigrants.

“In 1971 there were seven workers for every retiree. Now it’s three,” Mendicino said. “Put simply, we need more workers.”

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