Published on: Mar 11, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a shock to all areas of Canadian life, and immigration is no exception. Numbers of new arrivals in 2020 were down compared to 2019 as travel restrictions introduced to curtail the spread of the virus made it harder for people to travel from overseas to Canada. Even for those who were already resident in Canada, the closure of offices and other facilities meant that the immigration process was slowed. However, as the first immigration figures for 2021 begin to arrive, there are signs that immigration may be recovering. This is visible both in the number of new arrivals to Canada and in other ways.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has released new data for January 2021. IRCC's figures reveal that the number of new arrivals to Canada during this period was almost back up to pre-pandemic levels. Around 24,665 new arrivals came to Canada during the first month of 2021, compared to a pre-pandemic monthly average of between 25,000 and 35,000 new arrivals. This represents the highest number of new arrivals in any month since February 2020, the month before travel restrictions came into effect.
This comes as welcome news for the government, which reacted to the shortfall of 2020 by setting even more ambitious immigration targets for 2021. Immigration minister Marco Mendicino had originally set a target of 341,000 new arrivals in 2020. However, travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic led to a yearly total of fewer than 185,000 new arrivals. The government responded to this setback by announcing in October 2020 that 2021 targets would be set at 401,000 new immigrants.
Increasing immigration levels steadily has been a priority for several successive governments, largely because Canada's birth rate has not kept up with its ageing population. The younger workers necessary to power Canada's economy and sustain the tax base need to come from immigration, making the need to increase immigration levels urgent.
Changes and new initiatives at IRCC demonstrate the anticipated increase in immigration. On March 5, IRCC announced that it was expanding its Case Processing Centre, located in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The centre will be expanded with new office space and 62 employees. The new staff will focus on processing family-class applications from overseas, while the new office space will allow IRCC to have more workers in the centre; new maximum occupancy rules resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have made it harder for staff to work in the building.
The expansion will help IRCC deal with its backlog of cases; as processing faced challenges during the pandemic, waiting periods have been extended. Catching up on outstanding applications could help immigration figures improve quickly, a high priority for the government.
As coronavirus travel restrictions made it more difficult for new arrivals to come to Canada, the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) took a central role in the nation's immigration strategy. Already an important part of Canadian immigration policy, the PNP, which allows individual provinces to nominate candidates for permanent residence, focuses on applicants already residing in Canada. A draw held on March 8 saw 671 PNP candidates invited to apply for residence.
A glance at the numbers shows the level of increased activity in 2021 compared to 2020. Including the March 8 draw, Canada has invited 38,657 Express Entry candidates to apply for permanent residence. By the same date in 2020, only 18,700 had been invited. The main reason for this difference is the historic February 13 Express Entry draw, which invited over 27,000 new applicants. Not all immigrants to Canada achieve residence through Express Entry, but this is a significant step on the road to achieving the government's target number of 110,000 Express Entry candidates accepted in 2021.
Although Covid-19 travel restrictions will continue to make it harder for new arrivals to come to Canada for some time yet, IRCC's recent actions suggest that it is fully committed to its immigration goals for 2021. It isn't clear yet exactly what strategies it will use to meet those targets, but large-scale draws and expanded processing capacity will be necessary if it homes to make the needed increase.