Written by Laura Schemitsch, Canadian Immigration & Refugee Lawyer at Heron Law Offices in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Canada’s economic prosperity is dependent on immigration. The availability of a strong, robust, and qualified tax-paying labour force positively contributes to funding public services such as health care and education and Canada’s overall economy. According to the Environics Institute, Canada’s population rose by more than 1 million in 2022, with immigration accounting for “virtually all of Canada’s net labour force growth.”
The need for immigration is largely due to Canada’s aging population, with 5 million Canadians set to retire by 2030. It is predicted that there will only be 3 workers for every retiree by 2030, compared to 6 workers in 1980. Recognizing this, the Government of Canada confirms that without immigrants to help offset an aging population the country will not be able to maintain present service levels.
“This expanding view that Canada is taking in too many immigrants is driven in large part by rising concerns about how newcomers may be contributing to the housing crisis. At the same time, the public is now much less likely to say that too much immigration represents a threat to the country’s culture and values.”
These attitudes stand in stark contrast to an October 2022 poll by the Environics Institute which found that 7 out of 10 Canadians were supportive of current immigration levels, the largest majority recorded by Environics in 45 years.
This recent shift in public opinion raises concerns about a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of a well-functioning immigration system in Canada, possibly exacerbated by recent mixed messaging.
Mixed Messaging: Immigrants as Scapegoats for the Housing Crisis and Caps on Immigration Targets
Recent news reports have identified a “backslide” in support for immigration in Canada amidst a growing housing crisis. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for immigrants to become the scapegoats when misguided concerns over housing enter the mainstream conversation.
A 2023 report by Desjardins’ Senior Director of Canadian Economics, argues that Canada needs even more immigrants to counter its aging population and the Federal Government must “marry immigration policy with immediate action to increase the housing supply.” On October 31, 2023, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Marc Miller released An Immigration System for Canada’s Future which highlighted the need to integrate housing, health care and infrastructure planning into Canada’s immigration levels plan. Despite this view, Canada just announced that immigration targets will remain unchanged in 2025 and 2026 in the 2024-2026 Immigration Levels Plan.
Amidst suggestions that Canada’s housing crisis means immigration needs to slow down, a more effective approach involves Canada improving its immigration system to facilitate the entry of immigrants needed to resolve labour shortages and increase housing supply. Ongoing processing delays, poor customer service, and unreliable technical platforms further jeopardize this critical system. Improving Canada’s immigration system is particularly important in light of a recent report released by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship which indicates that the onward migration rate (when immigrants who came to Canada migrate to a third country), increased across all immigrant cohorts that arrived between 1982 and 2018.
Attracting and Retaining Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) and Recommendations for Further Improvement
The Government has made several recent announcements aimed at attracting more immigrants to Canada and making it easier for employers to hire TFWs. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) enables Canadian employers to hire foreign workers to temporarily fill jobs if they can demonstrate that qualified Canadians and permanent residents are not available through a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Applying for an LMIA can be complex, lengthy, and expensive (the non-refundable Government processing fee per worker is $1000) and then the TFW also has to submit a work permit application.
In August 2023, ESDC announced a temporary three-year initiative under the TFWP to address Canada’s ongoing labour shortages through the Recognized Employer Pilot (REP). Under the REP, eligible employers can obtain LMIAs that are valid for up to 36 months and benefit from a simplified LMIA application if they need to hire additional workers in the same occupation during the three-year pilot. To participate in the REP, employers must have a minimum of three (3) positive LMIAs within the past five years for the same occupation, appearing on a list of designated in-shortage occupations.
While the REP pilot will benefit some employers, it fails to address one of the major issues with the LMIA system—its disproportionately negative impact on small to mid-size Canadian businesses facing labour shortages. Companies that have previously received at least three positive LMIAs likely had the financial resources to apply, unlike many small to mid-size businesses that have identified labour shortages since the COVID-19 pandemic.
ESDC should consider new ways to facilitate more equitable access to expedited LMIA processing for businesses lacking the required program compliance history, accompanied by a more affordable LMIA processing fee structure based on revenue scales.
Canada also recently announced changes to the TFWP Workforce Solutions Road Map (from April 2022), “to better reflect current labour market conditions and the economic outlook for the future.” Through this change, the maximum LMIA validity period (non-REP) will be reduced from 18 to 12 months. As of January 1, 2024, Employers will also be required to annually review temporary foreign worker’s wages to ensure they reflect increases. It remains to be seen how these changes will strengthen the labour market.
It is in Canada’s best interests for the Government to continue to advocate the crucial benefits of immigration and policies that align with Canada’s long-term economic goals. Maintaining clear communication is essential to counteract the negative impact of mixed messaging on public opinion and the integrity of Canada’s immigration system. A properly functioning immigration system is critical to attracting and retaining foreign workers, particularly in the construction and health sectors, and preventing onward migration. Canada cannot afford to lose more workers and it is, therefore, necessary to promote a more transparent and efficient immigration system that will not only reunite families but also bring skilled foreign workers to address labour shortages experienced by Canadian employers, supporting Canada’s economic and social longevity.