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Did COVID-19 Improve Canada’s Immigration System?
Published on: November 23rd, 2021
Last updated: November 24th, 2021


While the COVID-19 pandemic caused bureaucratic pains for applicants and immigration practitioners alike, it also paved the way for Minister Fraser to implement a more efficient system.

Canada’s new immigration minister, Sean Fraser, recently spoke in his first major interviews, hinting toward ramped up immigration targets for next year. After a gruelling year and a half of delays and massive application backlogs, some may be wondering how the minister could achieve this.

Despite a substantial application backlog, in recent months Canada has picked up processing at an unprecedented rate. The Canadian immigration authorities have also had to get creative and streamline processes in order to meet the country’s growing labour demands.

Increased immigration targets

Due to travel restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Canada put a pause on processing applications from individuals abroad and Federal Skilled Worker draws. With skilled workers unable to enter Canada for much of the pandemic, job vacancies are at a record high. As Canada recovers from the economic effects of COVID-19, many Canadian employers, and even provincial governments, call on officials to recruit more foreign workers to the country.

Although Justin Trudeau increased immigration targets to historic highs over the next three years, he mentioned potentially increasing these targets even further to make up for lost time during the pandemic. Minister Fraser has echoed this sentiment in his latest interview with the Toronto Star,

“We have to make a decision of whether we’re going to increase the overall levels to accommodate the intense demand that we’re seeing from people who want to come to Canada,” said Minister Fraser.

Number of permanent residents admitted by quarter

Source: Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship Canada

Flexibility

In order to meet the government’s ambitious targets amidst the limitations and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, the Canadian government took unprecedented measures. In February 2021, IRCC invited over 25,000 candidates from the Express Entry pool to apply for Canadian permanent resident status. This draw targeted individuals with work experience in Canada, that were therefore, more likely to already be in the country. In addition to this historic draw, Canada also implemented the TR to PR pathway, a temporary public policy allowing certain candidates with temporary residence status in Canada to apply for permanent residency.

Both the historic draw and the TR to PR program demonstrated the federal government’s flexibility and willingness to take extraordinary measures to meet immigration goals. As newcomers continue to be admitted at a rate never seen before, IRCC has adapted the Canadian immigration process to make this possible, making way for a more modern and streamlined system.

Digitizing applications

The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on IRCC’s outdated infrastructure and demanded the implementation of a more modern application process. In the 2021 federal budget, the government allocated significant funds ($428.9 million over five years) to modernizing the IRCC’s platform. In April 2021, the Canadian government announced seven paper-based economic class permanent residence applications would go digital. A few months later, IRCC launched an online tool for candidates to submit their citizenship applications.

During the pandemic, the Canadian government also implemented an online portal that allows certain candidates to confirm their permanent residence status. For the most part, this eliminated the need for an interview, streamlining the confirmation process.

IRCC had been working toward making the immigration system more efficient prior to the pandemic. Once COVID-19 hit, the government had no choice but to implement changes to continue operating during lock-down. The new system appears to be paying off; within the last few months, Canada has admitted more permanent residents than ever before. However, there is still a significant backlog leftover from early in COVID-19 pandemic. Minister Fraser recognizes the work he has ahead of him,

“I don’t want to communicate to you today that in a short period of time, all of these problems will be fixed. They weren’t made overnight and they won’t be fixed overnight…I want to accelerate the work that’s going to help clear some of these backlogs. It’s going to make the process less painful for families that are trying to pursue a new life or reunite with their loved ones or find a job to contribute to our economy” (Toronto Star).

As Canada’s population continues to age and fertility rates remain low, our nation relies on immigration to meet labour market demands. This message has been reiterated by the new immigration minister in his latest interview when discussing immigration as a solution to the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy,

“Targeting a pool of talent that exists globally to fill gaps in the Canadian labour force has to be part of the strategy,”

As Canada continues on track to meet ambitious targets for 2021, the post-COVID-19 immigration landscape becomes increasingly promising for prospective newcomers.

 

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