Published on: Mar 06, 2020
Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, has outlined his vision for the future of Canada's immigration system in a speech on February 28. Mendicino's first major statement on policy since he took on the job in November 2019 was a traditional "vision speech," containing an overview of the future of Liberal immigration policy.
Mendicino opened by outlining the case for Liberal immigration policy, focusing on the important role of immigration in strengthening Canada's economy. As birth rates decline and Canada's population ages, he argued, an increasing number of elderly and a reduced workforce will place unsustainable demands on social services. In order to meet its economic and tax revenue needs, Canada needs an alternative method of boosting its population. Welcoming immigrants is the solution to this problem, and its importance will only increase. At present, immigration accounts for about 80% of the increase in Canada's population, but by 2030 it could be the only source of growth.
In keeping with this demand, Mendicino outlined ambitious plans for immigration to Canada, committing to welcome more than one million new immigrants between 2020 and 2022. This represents a steady increase on existing levels -- it is estimated that Canada received approximately 890,000 new immigrants in the period from 2017 to 2019 -- and is consistent with the immigration policies proposed by the Liberals during the election. This target number has not yet been formally proposed; Mendicino stated that he would table the next Immigration Levels Plan, covering the years 2020 to 2022, in March.
Mendicino's speech stressed continuity with existing immigration policy, focusing particularly on the success of the Express Entry system, used to manage permanent residency applications from skilled workers. Mendicino pointed out that 95% of immigrants who have arrived in Canada via Express Entry are employed, and 80% are working in the skilled field for which they applied.
Express Entry, launched in 2015, was intended to make the immigration process more responsive to the demands of the labour market. Mendicino also praised the success of other tools intended to improve the system's flexibility, such as the Global Talent Stream for temporary workers and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, which has increased the number of immigrants moving to provinces which have historically received a very low share of new arrivals. In the same vein, he discussed the promise of the new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, which similarly aims to improve the number of new arrivals in areas that have tended to attract fewer immigrants.
Mendicino also discussed future proposals for similar programs, including the Municipal Nominee Program, which will involve local governments in encouraging applicants to settle in selected smaller cities. The success of the Provincial Nominee Program in granting provinces a greater degree of control over immigration has been the inspiration for this program. He stressed that the program was still in development and that his department would be consulting with stakeholders to determine the exact shape it would take.
The elements of Mendicino's speech contained no real surprises for observers of the Canadian immigration policy landscape. Himself the child of immigrants, Mendicino took on the post in 2019 with a clear mandate to develop on the successes of previous immigration policies, and the vision he outlined in his speech aligns closely with what most observers expected.
In addition to discussing policy, however, Mendicino also set the tone for future discussions of immigration. Beginning with the important role of immigration in developing Canada's economy, he outlined a positive case for increasing numbers of immigrants, while simultaneously acknowledging that there was room for dialogue on the exact numbers needed to help Canada thrive.
Mendicino's mission as minister will not only be to develop and implement new immigration programs but also to lead the national dialogue on the subject. He ended his speech by urging his listeners to promote immigration within Canada's national dialogue, drawing attention to the many benefits for society. To bolster his point, he pointed out that international organisations such as the OECD regard Canada's immigration system as a model for others. Assuaging concerns about immigration is an important part of the minister's job, and Mendicino hopes to do this by shifting the emphasis in the national conversation toward an understanding of Canada's immigration system as a success story.
This first speech by a new immigration minister lays out the path that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada can be expected to take over the coming years. As expected, it represents an expansion and development of previous Liberal immigration policy, with a focus on the economic benefits of immigration and on fine-tuning both which immigrants Canada welcomes and also where they go. Moderate increases in numbers of new arrivals will go hand-in-hand with a continuing commitment to regionalisation.