Immigration priorities promise an ambitious 2022

Updated: Jan 31, 2022 | Tags: COVID-19, Canada Immigration

Canada has a new immigration minister, together with a new mandate letter outlining immigration policy goals. But are changes to be expected as Sean Fraser replaces Mario Mendicino, or will existing trends continue? Events over the last few weeks shed some light on the future of Canada's immigration policy.

Levels plan to come

One of the most important immigration policy events of the year will be the release in February of a new Immigration Levels Plan for 2022 to 2024. Originally scheduled for late 2021, this plan will announce the immigration targets Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) plans to adopt for the next three years.

Although the details of the plan are unknown, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's mandate letter to Fraser suggests that a continuation of existing trends is in store. Fraser's mandate letter identifies increasing the number of newcomers to Canada as a key priority.

So far, IRCC has shown an ability to hit the government's ambitious targets. The security measures needed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic slowed Canada's immigration processes in 2020, leading to decreased numbers of new immigrants. In order to reach the goal of a million new arrivals in three years, the government therefore increased the target number for 2021 to 401,000 from its previous level. IRCC hit this goal mainly by focusing its attention on candidates for permanent residence who were already in the country. Historically, temporary residents have made up less than a third of the total number of new permanent residents; in 2021, however, they accounted for more than two thirds. The mandate letter suggests that this will continue, with new pathways to permanent residence being created for temporary residents such as international students or work permit holders.

However, the economic goal of bolstering Canada's ageing population by expanding the workforce with new immigrants demands that future immigration policy concentrate not only on changing the status of residents but also on attracting newcomers. In 2022, IRCC will face the challenge of trying to restore Canada's flow of permanent residents by welcoming more newcomers from outside the nation rather than turning temporary residents into permanent ones.

PNP's central role continues

One of the major features of Liberal immigration policy has been the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). This system makes it possible for provincial governments to nominate candidates for permanent residence who meet their specific needs. Launched in 1998, the PNP has continued to grow over the decades. In fact, the January 19 Express Entry draw, which invited only candidates from the PNP to apply for permanent residence, was the largest ever. 1,036 candidates received an Invitation to Apply (ITA).

This kind of targeted immigration policy has been such a success that new programs appear to be in the works. Fraser's mandate letter calls for a Municipal Nominee Program, which would allow towns to extend invitations in the same way that provinces do via the PNP.

Dealing with Covid delays

Even through Canada's 2021 immigration numbers managed to make back some of the ground lost to Covid-19 in 2020, the pandemic has had other effects on the system. Application processing times, long a source of concern for applicants, have slowed even more due to the effects of the coronavirus. One of the new immigration minister's most important tasks will be to reduce these delays and get the backlog of applications processed. Elsewhere in the immigration system, improvements to the family reunification process will include more electronic applications, which could make applying simpler and quicker for families of sponsors.

Ambitious plans in an uncertain world

Going into 2022, it seems that IRCC faces two main challenges. First, it must deal with the effects of Covid-19. These include not only delays in application processing but also a shortage of new arrivals to Canada who can fill the ranks of future permanent residents. The second challenge is that it must cope with these Covid effects while still advancing the government's ambitious immigration policies. Successes in 2021 suggest that achieving both goals is definitely possible. What remains to be seen is how the reopening of society in the wake of Covid-19 -- or responses to future changes in the coronavirus -- will affect the nation's immigration policies.