Immigration targets to remain unchanged despite calls for a significant increase
Immigration Minister John McCallum had hinted Canada would “substantially” boost the number of immigrants in earlier interviews, but the figures announced Monday tell a different story.
Ottawa will bring in the same number of immigrants in 2017 as it did in 2016, despite calls from think tanks, the corporate sector and advocacy groups to admit substantially higher numbers of newcomers.
The news of the plan to keep the immigration level at 300,000 on Monday was a bombshell to many after a summer of public consultations where Immigration Minister John McCallum had repeatedly hinted at “substantially” boosting the number of immigrants and rolling out multi year targets to manage immigration.
The new plan represents a higher target for economic immigrants from 160,600 in 2016 to 172,500 in 2017, and for family reunification from 80,000 to 84,000 — at the expense of the admission of refugees from 55,800 to 40,000.
At least two national interest groups recently recommended the government increase immigration amid Canada’s aging population and low birth rate in order to sustain the country’s economic growth and support its strained health care and pension systems.
“This is almost anti-climactic. With all the buildup and rumors, not much is done,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges, who called the government decides a “safe, conservative choice” to avoid anti-immigrant backlash among voters.
Added Debbie Douglas of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants: “We are all surprised. We attended several of the consultation sessions. There appeared to be a consensus even among the bureaucracy that we needed to increase the target to at least 1 per cent of the population.”
The Liberal government’s 2017 immigration target will keep the immigration level in check at 0.86% of the population.
“What we did was from 2011 to 2015, we took in an average of 260,000 immigrants. Then we jumped to 300,000 because of the Syrian refugees. It wasn’t permanently funded,” McCallum told the Star in a phone interview.
“What we’ve done now is we set the 300,000 target for 2017 as the foundation from which we can grow immigration in the future. We shifted the composition a bit with more emphasis on economic immigrants. Refugees are twice as high in 2015 but not as high as 2016.”
With the current immigration system already plagued with backlogs and long wait times, a higher target would have required pumping more resources into processing applications, not to mention money for newcomer settlement programs.
“In politics, you can’t always, please everybody,” said McCallum. “There may be some who are disappointed, some not. All I am saying is the 300,000 lays the foundation for future growth. We are making it a permanent base.”
Kareem El-Assal, a research associate with the Conference Board of Canada, said the 300,000 target was the highest immigration level for the country since 1913 and it shows the government’s will to exercise caution in preparing the system to ensure it has the capacity to absorb more immigrants.
“We need to be patient. This is the first full year of the government’s mandate. We have three more years to go,” El-Assal said, adding that the target paves the way for Canada to raise the level to 1 per cent of the population by 2030 as urged by the conference board.
Recently, the government’s own advisory council on economic growth even went further by calling on Ottawa to ramp up immigration levels to 450,000 by 2030.
McMaster University sociology professor Vic Satzewich said he wasn’t surprised the government target is not as high as most had anticipated but it balances the interests among stakeholders.
“The immigration department has limited processing resources and capacity. The (immigration) numbers that people were throwing around would be unmanageable from the processing point of view,” said Satzewich, who specializes in immigration issues, adding the Liberals indeed are doubling up the number of refugees admitted by the Tories.
However, Satzewich said it’s important for Ottawa to shift to multi year immigration planning — something McCallum said his staff is still working on it but didn’t provide a timeline.
The Liberals have trodden carefully on the issue of immigration levels, which have always divided Canadians over concerns for the country’s capacity to absorb and properly settle newcomers, national security and the dilution of Canadian values by the influx of immigrants.
Although a recent national survey showed 58% of Canadians disagreed there was too much immigration to Canada, some 37% of respondents said Canada’s current immigration level was already too high.