Last Updated on February 20, 2021
Immigration to Canada is likely to remain at a trickle for at least the first half of this year as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on despite Ottawa’s ambitious targets, reveals an RBC Economics report.
“In the long-run, Canada does have the capacity to hit the ambitious targets set out last fall and population growth from new immigration will again return as the main driver,” writes Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.
In the short-term, though, the economist says border restrictions, processing delays, and a downturn in applications for permanent residency will keep immigration to Canada far below Ottawa’s target for this year, particularly during the first six months.
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Late last year, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Minister Marco Mendicino announced the country was going to greatly increase immigration levels for the next three years to make up for the shortfall in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Under the new plan, Canada is planning to welcome more than 1.2 million newcomers between 2021 and 2023 with 401,000 new permanent residents to Canada in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the previous plan set targets of 351,000 in 2021 and 361,000 in 2022.
Ottawa Bullish On Immigration
“Immigration is essential to getting us through the pandemic, but also to our short-term economic recovery and our long-term economic growth,” said Mendicino. “Canadians have seen how newcomers are playing an outsized role in our hospitals and care homes and helping us to keep food on the table.
“As we look to recovery, newcomers create jobs not just by giving our businesses the skills they need to thrive, but also by starting businesses themselves,” he said. “Our plan will help to address some of our most acute labour shortages and to grow our population to keep Canada competitive on the world stage.”
Agopsowicz says that target for this year no longer seems reasonable.
“We expect the first half of 2021 to look much like the latter half of 2020, with approximately 100,000 to 125,000 new permanent residents,” says the economist. “This implies that to hit the 401,000 target, Canada would need to admit nearly 50,000 new permanent residents per month in the second half of the year which is 14,000 more than the highest month in 2019.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has already shown its determination to keep immigration levels high, by smashing all records to invite more than 27,000 newcomers in the latest Express Entry draw.
Importantly, these invites went to Canadian Experience Class candidates, 90 percent of whom are already in Canada temporarily, according to IRCC.
Economist Expects 275,000 New Permanent Residents
“This seems unlikely. A more realistic estimate, if things return to normal with respect to COVID-19, would put see 150,000 to 175,000 new permanent residents in the latter half, leaving Canada with about 275,000 new permanent residents by year’s end.”
As Canada and other countries struggle to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the borders have been tightened up.
Ottawa now requires COVID-19 tests to be done within 72 hours by anyone who travels to Canada for non-essential travel either by air or at a land border. These arrivals must then stay in a designated hotel for three days at their own cost until the test results are known. Anyone coming to Canada – even for essential travel – needs to self-isolate for 14 days.
“Border restrictions remain in effect into the foreseeable future: with few exceptions, only those who are the immediate or extended family of Canadians or permanent residents may enter the country’” writes Agopsowicz.
“Coupled with significant quarantine requirements, travelling to Canada may not be feasible for many potential immigrants.”
Many of the new permanent residents to Canada are now people who were already in the country. The economist points out that means that new immigration figures will likely produce much smaller population growth than usual.
The current processing time for applications for immigration is also something that concerns the economist.
Application Processing Times ‘Not Promising’
“IRCC has been prioritizing family/spousal reunions (consistent with border restrictions) and Express Entry applicants under skilled work programs, but while processing capacity has improved since the beginning of the pandemic, results are not promising,” he notes.
“For example, the Canadian Experience Class applicants still face a six-month lag time even before processing starts. Only those received before the week of Aug. 12, 2020 are currently under review. For others, the government has indicated waits could be significantly longer.”
Perhaps most indicative of the depth of the decline in immigration is the drop in permanent residency applications.
“The number of new applicants for permanent residency has declined significantly – on pace for less than 50 per cent of 2019 levels in the second half of 2020,” writes Agopsowicz.
“Other categories such as Family Sponsorship continue to lag significantly behind. Coupled with processing delays, this implies that even if borders open up soon, it will still take time to increase the flow of new immigrants back to pre-pandemic levels.”