Canada needs to welcome the stranger and offer the promise of a better life. Michael Swan

Cathy Majtenyi: We must open doors wide to strangers

  • November 11, 2020

Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship delivered some great news in Parliament Oct. 30, a win-win for both the country and those coming to Canada to build a better life.

In tabling the 2021‒2023 Immigration Levels Plan, Minister Marco Mendicino announced targets of 401,000 permanent residents in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023, up from the previous plan to compensate for lower numbers due to COVID travel restrictions.

About 60 per cent of the new immigrants admitted to Canada will fall under the Economic Class, with the remainder under the refugee, family reunification and humanitarian and compassionate categories.

Immigrants are vital to Canada’s economic and social fabric. Newcomers bring new ideas, skills, talents and fresh energy into the country. They replace our aging baby boom workforce, create businesses and jobs, pay taxes and are customers for other businesses and services.

The numbers speak for themselves. Labour market participation rates of “very recent” and “recent” immigrants were 71 per cent and 76 per cent respectively in 2019. Over one-third of health care workers are immigrants. As of 2016, 600,000 self-employed immigrants employed over 260,000 Canadians.

Two out of three refugees own their own home within 10 years of arriving in Canada. Immigrant children, and children of immigrants, “tend to achieve high levels of education and similar labour market outcomes as those born in Canada,” says the 2020 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, which draws upon a range of studies and reports from a wide array of national and international sources to describe the impacts of immigration.

A report last year in The Financial Post says most economists “agree on one simple point: Immigrants are a necessary component to achieve economic growth and keep taxpayer-funded systems such as pensions and health care stable and balanced.”

Another way of looking at it is to see what would happen if Canada ceased to admit immigrants. A March 30, 2020 Northern Policy report quotes a study saying that, if immigration was suspended from 2017 to 2040, “Canada’s population would shrink by over two million, 26.9 per cent of Canada’s population would be 65 and over, and real GDP growth would drop from 2.9 to just 1.1 per cent.”

For many reasons, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)’s plan is a move in the right direction.

But the IRCC needs to take its plan one step further by speedily taking care of the newcomers who are already in Canada, particularly those waiting to have their refugee (asylum) claims heard.

Each year Canada admits a varying number of “Refugee Claimants,” also known as “asylum seekers,” who become permanent residents only after completing successfully an in-Canada refugee determination process by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

Refugee claimants are particularly hard-hit by the bottlenecks the IRB has experienced even before COVID-19 hit. Last May, Canada’s interim auditor general Sylvain Ricard released a report citing a backlog of more than 71,000 refugee claims. 

The report blamed underfunding and a lack of coordination between the IRB, IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) as being the main drivers of the logjam.

In a follow-up presentation a couple of weeks later, IRB chairperson Richard Wex predicted that the backlog could reach 100,000 by the end of 2021 with wait times of more than five years.

Refugee claimants are supposed to receive an IRB hearing within 60 days of filing their refugee claim. We have strayed so far from this target, which is causing refugee claimants, a vulnerable population, to experience the prolonged anxiety of being in limbo sometimes for years.

Subsequent budget and staff increases will enable the IRB to determine more than 50,000 refugee claims and 13,000 refugee appeals by the end of the current fiscal year, according to the IRB’s 2020-2021 Departmental Plan.

But it’s unclear how COVID may affect targets at the IRB. Since March, pandemic restrictions have also shut down the tests and ceremonies integral to the process of obtaining Canadian citizenship. It was only towards the end of September that the IRCC started resuming in-person services.

We need to clear up the backlogs and fix the system as we welcome newcomers into our country. It’s vitally important that we do so.

God calls us to welcome the stranger, care for the widow and orphan, and protect the vulnerable. As a nation, we are fulfilling God’s plan when we welcome newcomers and offer them the promise of a better life by widening economic opportunities, reuniting families and offering refuge to the persecuted.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research communications at an Ontario university.)

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