Published on: Aug 21, 2021
Despite the challenges of Covid-19, recent immigration statistics suggest that Canada has a chance of achieving its ambitious annual immigration targets for 2021.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on Canada's immigration system, making it more difficult for overseas travellers to arrive in the country and for existing applicants to complete their applications. These challenges resulted in a poor year for Canadian immigration in 2020. Even with normal immigration numbers during the first few months of the year, the nation welcomed just 184,370 new permanent residents in 2020, well below the target of 341,000 set out in Canada's Immigration Levels Plan. This was the lowest figure for new permanent residents in over 20 years.
The decline in new permanent residents came at a particularly bad moment, since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino had just announced increased immigration targets that aimed to welcome a million new permanent residents to Canada over a three-year period. In order to achieve these aims, targets for 2021 had to be increased, despite the fact that many of the same travel restrictions would still be in effect.
Despite the challenges, immigration figures from July suggest that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is not far from reaching its current target of 401,000 new permanent residents by the end of 2021. This total was increased from 341,000 new permanent residents in response to the decreased immigration numbers of 2020. During an interview with Reuters, Mendicino revealed that July saw Canada welcome nearly 40,000 new immigrants, up from a total of 35,700 in June. These new numbers mean that Canada has welcomed 184,000 new permanent residents in the first seven months of 2021, a number approximately equal to the total for all of 2020.
With 184,000 new permanent residents already welcomed and a goal of 401,000 to meet, Canada needs another 217,000 new permanent residents to meet its 2021 target, or 43,400 per month. This is higher than the July total, but if monthly rates are increasing as travel restrictions relax, it may be the case that Canada is able to reach its new target, keeping it on track to reach the totals proposed in the Immigration Levels Plan.
In order to maintain these immigration levels, IRCC has changed many of its immigration strategies. One important strategy has been to focus on applicants who are already in Canada, including those applying for permanent residence as part of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Because the CEC includes applicants with Canadian work experience, it includes a large number of applicants who are already resident in Canada, making it an ideal way to continue to process applications despite travel restrictions. At any time, an estimated 90 percent of CEC applicants are in Canada.
The importance of CEC applicants can be seen in the greatly increased number of program-specific Express Entry draws since the start of Covid-related travel restrictions. These draws are still continuing: on August 19, an Express Entry draw issued invitations to apply to 3,000 candidates from the Canadian Experience Class. These Express Entry draws have issued over 100,000 invitations to apply so far in 2021. Only CEC applicants and those chosen by the Provincial Nominee Program have been issued invitations to apply so far in 2021.
The pandemic has had an impact on more than just the application process. Its effects on the economy, as well as the restrictions needed to help limit its harm, have made settlement more challenging for many new Canadians. As a result of this, IRCC announced that it was allocating $100 million over the next three years to improving the ways in which newcomers to Canada access settlement services. Programs supported by this funding will include research projects and test programs that explore new ways of providing settlement services or seek to streamline the process of accessing them.
2021's immigration targets were ambitious to start with and will be even more challenging given the increase to over 400,000. However, the newly-revealed July statistics suggest that the current plan of focusing on applicants in the CEC is providing some benefits and that if the current rate of successful application not only continues but improves slightly, the goal of a million immigrants in three years may no longer be as far off as it once appeared.