- Robin Levinson King
- BBC News, Toronto
Canada is betting on immigration to fill the void left in its economy by the aging baby boom generation. But not everyone agrees with the arrival of so many foreigners.
In early November, the federal government announced an aggressive plan to welcome 500,000 immigrants annually by 2025, out of a total of 1.5 million new migrants.
Under this plan, Canada would receive eight times more permanent residents each year – by population – than the United Kingdom and four times more than its neighbor to the south, the United States.
However, a recent study shows that it is there is fear of welcoming so many newcomers.
Canada is betting big
Canada has spent years trying to attract permanent residents – immigrants who have the right to remain in the country indefinitely without being a citizen – to grow its population and economy.
Last year, the land was home to 405,000 permanent residentsthe highest figure in its history.
The reasons, in a way, have to do with simple math. Like many Western countries, Canada has an aging population and a low birth rate. This means that if the country wants to grow, it will have to attract immigrants.
Immigration contributes to the growth of the active population and is also expected to contribute to the increase in the country’s population by 2032, according to a government press release.
A unique place in the world
Nowadays, one in four Canadians came to the country as an immigrant, the highest figure among the G7 countries. In the United States, known as ‘the melting pot of the world’, only 14% are immigrants.
Geoffrey Cameron, a political scientist at McMaster University, believes that while many countries, such as Canada, are experiencing lower birth rates and an aging population, the success of any immigration system depends on popular support.
“The limiting factor for most countries is public opinion,” he says.
In the US, where the number of immigrants entering the country through the southern border has reached an all-time high, there is widespread concern that immigrants outnumber jobs.
In Canada, on the other hand, it has historically been the case very high support for immigration.
“I think part of the reason is that the public has some degree of trust that immigration to Canada is well managed by the government and also managed in a way that serves the best interests of the country,” Cameron explains.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with immigration.
In recent years, the influx of immigrants at the US border has generated some controversyand the emergence of a new right-wing party in 2018, the People’s Party of Canada, kept the issue in the national conversation ahead of the 2019 federal election.
Certain parts of Canada also have different views on immigration.
When the government announced its aggressive targets of up to 500,000 new immigrants per year (25% more than in 2021), the province of Quebec, which can set its own immigration limits, made it clear that wouldn’t accept a more than 50,000 a year. This would mean that Quebec, which has 23% of the country’s population, would only welcome 10% of foreigners.
That’s what the Premier of Quebec, François Legault, said he is concerned that more immigrants will weaken the French language in the province.
“Already at 50,000, it is difficult to stop the decline of the French,” he said.
And while it’s true that Canada may have more room to grow, some places are feeling the pressure more. Large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver – where about 10% of the population currently lives – have an affordable housing crisis.
In a survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies of 1,537 Canadians, three in four said they were somewhat or very concerned about the effect the new plan would have on housing and social services. Nearly half (49%) thought the targets were too high, while 31% said it was the right number.
The Canadian approach
Another way Canada is unique in the Western world is its emphasis on economic immigration: about half of permanent residents are accepted for their skills, not for family reunification. The government expects to reach 60% by 2025.
This is partly because of the way the Canadian system is designed, Cameron explains. In the 1960s, Canada moved from a quota system to one points-based system favoring highly skilled immigrants that would contribute to the Canadian economy.
“The same principle guides the system today,” the expert told the BBC.
In the UK, just over one in four permanent residents are economically accepted. In the United States, only 20% of green cards are issued for that reason. Both countries have indicated that they hope to increase the share of economic immigrants, only that most economic immigrants should be sponsored by their employers.
In Canada, a job offer can count towards your point total, but it doesn’t have to.
Can Canada meet its targets?
Not only is Canada home to more skilled immigrants than other major countries, it is one of the leading countries in refugee resettlementby taking in 20,428 refugees in 2021.
Although the country has set ambitious goals for the future, history has shown that it does not always live up to its own expectations. By 2021, Canada aimed to resettle some 59,000 refugees, nearly three times the country’s intake.
In an interview with Canadian public broadcaster CBC, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the delay was largely due to covid-related border closures, both in Canada and around the world.
Canada aims to help resettle 76,000 refugees by 2023.
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