Published on: Jul 15, 2021
When the Covid-19 crisis hit in the spring of 2020, Canada and the United States mutually agreed to close their shared border to all but essential travel, slashing the number of people entering Canada to a fraction of its former total. At the time, few could have foreseen that these restrictions, reviewed on a monthly basis, would be renewed once again in June 2021, leaving the travel industry looking toward July 21 as the date when some changes might be introduced.
In a July 8 press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that some changes to travel restrictions were planned, although he made it clear that they would apply only to travellers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. This would be consistent with the limited easing of travel restrictions so far. Although non-essential travel has not been permitted, recent changes to the system have made it easier for essential travellers who have been vaccinated to enter the country; unlike those who have not been vaccinated, they do not necessarily need to undergo a 14-day quarantine.
Trudeau's remark that it would be "quite a while" before unvaccinated travellers are permitted to enter Canada for non-essential reasons reflect the cautious position the government has consistently taken on border reopening, especially in the wake of the third wave of Covid cases that hit the nation in the spring. However, some relaxation of travel rules, even a small one, would come as a boon to a travel industry hit hard by these restrictions.
Although Canada's travel and tourism industries have suffered from the policies needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic, June's employment figures did hold some good news for other sectors of the economy. April and May saw significant job losses resulting from business closures during the spring lockdowns. By contrast, the June jobs report saw an increase in employment of 231,000 new jobs.
Although this is a promising result, it still brings employment levels up to slightly below their March totals. Canada lost about 275,000 jobs during the previous two months, meaning that the June increase only goes most of the way toward restoring these lost jobs. However, the new employment figures are an encouraging sign for those who have been wondering whether the country would return to its previous trajectory of gradually recovering employment once lockdown was over.
Employment figures show that employment for immigrants lags slightly behind employment for native-born Canadians. Between February 2020 and June 2021, employment for immigrants who had been in Canada for more than five years was down two percentage points to 57%. By contrast, employment among native Canadians was down only one percentage point to 59%.
A glance at the employment figures shows that recent immigrants -- those who have been in the country for less than five years -- have a substantially higher employment rate than either less recent immigrants or native Canadians, but this largely a result of reduced numbers of new arrivals due to Covid-19 restrictions.
With ambitious immigration targets to meet and Covid-19 making it harder for new arrivals to come to Canada, the government is focusing on drawing new immigrants from classes of applicants already in the country. Since the beginning of travel restrictions, Express Entry draws, in which qualified candidates registered on the Express Entry system receive invitations to apply for permanent residence, have drawn mainly from the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), which includes candidates who have already lived or worked in Canada. Since CEC applicants are more likely to be in the country already, these draws allow the government to keep the immigration system going without running into travel restrictions.
Not all new applicants are from the CEC, of course, but the numbers are telling: the Express Entry draw on July 8 issued invitations to 4,500 CEC candidates. This draw was the smallest in over a month.
Despite the strategy of focusing on CEC applicants, 2020 saw Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) falling well short of its immigration targets. Given the government's ambitious goal of welcoming over a million new arrivals over three years, a relaxation of travel restrictions could help more than just the tourism industry.