Sean Fraser prepared to increase Canada’s immigration levels even as 46,000 immigrants landed in October

Kareem El-Assal
Published: November 19, 2021

Sean Fraser knows he has a lot of hard work ahead of him.

In his first major interviews as Canadian immigration minister, Fraser spoke with Shelly Hagan of Bloomberg and Nicholas Keung of the Toronto Star to discuss the opportunities and challenges of his new role.

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Speaking with Bloomberg, the minister said he is prepared to increase Canada's immigration levels if it is necessary to address labour shortages. Canada is currently experiencing significant job shortages in large part due to fewer immigrants arriving from overseas amid the pandemic.

The country is currently pursuing its most ambitious Immigration Levels Plan in its history as it aims to welcome 401,000 immigrants in 2021, another 411,000 in 2022, and an additional 421,000 in 2023.

Fraser said he is "very much open to" even higher levels if there is an appetite from businesses and communities for more workers.

The Immigrations Levels Plan 2022-2024 is due to be announced by February 14, 2022 at the latest.

46,000 immigrants landed in October, mostly from within Canada

The minister also revealed that Canada is well on track to achieve its 401,000 newcomer target for this year.

Bloomberg obtained data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) showing that 46,315 new permanent residents completed their landing in October, even more than the 45,000 landed in September. These figures represent monthly records for Canada in the modern era (monthly immigration landing data is only readily available dating back to 1980).

A landing means that an existing temporary resident of Canada, or a person from overseas has their immigration status officially converted to a permanent resident of Canada. The vast majority of those who have landed during the pandemic are existing temporary residents of Canada. This helps to explain why Canada's population and labour force growth remain weak. In fact, Statistics Canada data shows Canada's population grew by just 0.5 per cent last year, the weakest growth since the First World War. Under normal circumstances, most new permanent resident landings come to Canada from abroad.

Canada has now welcomed 313,838 immigrants between January and October 2021. It needs to land about 87,000 more immigrants (an average of 43,500 per month) in the remaining two months of this year to achieve its newcomer goal for 2021.

Opportunities and challenges facing immigration system

Fraser spoke candidly in his interview with the Toronto Star on current obstacles, conceding "There are no shortage of challenges ahead of me."

Discussing Canada's backlog of some 1.8 million immigration applications, Fraser said "I don’t want to communicate to you today that in a short period of time, all of these problems will be fixed. They weren’t made overnight and they won’t be fixed overnight. I want to accelerate the work that’s going to help clear some of these backlogs. It’s going to make the process less painful for families that are trying to pursue a new life or reunite with their loved ones or find a job to contribute to our economy."

He noted that citizenship applications are being digitized and IRCC is looking to address other issues slowing down the immigration system. For example, he said it does not make sense to deny the temporary entry of family members currently awaiting the processing of a sponsorship application.

The minister also said that most of his focus since becoming minister in October has been on resettling Afghan refugees. The federal government has committed to resettling 40,000 Afghans but has only resettled 3,500 so far. Fraser said "Canadians are right to be frustrated about what’s going on in Afghanistan. The reality on the ground right now is that we don’t have access the way we did in Syria, and that’s the equation that a lot of Canadians I think are trying to make."

Nonetheless, Fraser sees a tremendous opportunity ahead of him to help improve the immigration system.

"Things are at such a strained point as a result of COVID-19 that I see an opportunity to make an extraordinary difference coming from this particular starting point."

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