Canada’s More Immigrant Plan aims to increase the workforce, but experts say they will need support

A plan to welcome a record number of immigrants to Canada involves hiring needed workers, but experts and employers say more could be done to help newcomers settle into their new homes and thrive.

The federal government aims to see 1.45 million new permanent residents in Canada over the next three years, including 500,000 people in 2025.

The boost comes as Canada grapples with a labor shortage.

“Without immigration, our workforce will not grow,” said Anil Verma, professor emeritus of industrial relations and human resource management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

In its fall economic statement, Ottawa said, “Immigration is at the core of our identity as Canadians, while also being an important engine of Canada’s economic growth.” (Olivier Hyland/CBC)

According to the government’s fall economic statement, “immigration is at the core of our identity as Canadians, while also being a key driver of Canada’s economic growth.”

Ottawa believes encouraging immigration will help meet labor needs in a country with an aging population and a record number of people planning retirement.

Ottawa could be “bolder”.

The federal government is aiming for about 60 percent of new arrivals to be in the economy class by 2025 — people who come to Canada for their work skills and their accompanying family members.

Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis Darby said his trade association members are “very grateful” for what the government is doing.

“That’s how we get the next generation of people we need.”

A view of part of Toronto’s financial district is shown in a file photo taken last December. The Business Council of Canada, an advocacy group representing many executives from a range of industries, believes Ottawa could have set “bolder” immigration targets than it has announced. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

The Business Council of Canada (BCC), an advocacy group representing business leaders across a range of industries, also supports the approach but believes Ottawa could be “bolder” in its recruiting goals.

“In terms of direction, we’re pleased with the government’s trajectory,” said Trevor Neiman, the council’s director of policy and legal advice.

Both the BCC and the CME support more workers coming into the country and into the economy.

No matter the size of that cohort, Verma cautions that moving to another country to start a new life — and secure employment — doesn’t happen overnight.

This means that the full impact that these incoming workers will have on the job market will not be realized immediately.

“The math for filling vacancies is very tricky and I don’t think it should be the basis for long-term immigration policy,” Verma said, pointing to economic growth and state-building as more relevant factors.

“A Bumpy Ride”

Samitaa Chahal knows how difficult it can be to start a new life in Canada.

She left India and landed in Ontario just two weeks before the March 2020 pandemic.

Chahal was on his own, trying to make sense of the chaos. That included finding a job in an upside down world.

Samitaa Chahal moved to Canada just before the pandemic closed both borders and normal business operations. She persevered, found a job in a difficult time and got to know the peculiarities of the local job market. (Submitted by Samitaa Chahal)

Although she had a background in marketing and communications, her first job here was in a nursing home.

Six months later, she found another job and has since taken a position as an instructional designer in the field of learning and development – a position she chose over a competing job offer.

Chahal recalls the pride she felt in “being able to choose what I want to do and what I don’t want to do [from] what life throws at me.”

“It’s been a bumpy ride, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said.

Many skills required

The federal government says its immigration plan will help Canadian companies find workers needed in key sectors, including healthcare, construction, manufacturing, and science, technology, education and mathematics (STEM).

Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser says targeted draws will be conducted over the next year to bring applicants with the most in-demand skills to specific regions where they are needed. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Immigration Secretary Sean Fraser said targeted draws will be conducted next year to bring applicants with the most in-demand skills to specific regions where they are needed.

The minister told Reuters that a key focus will be on recruiting provincial doctors and nurses who will ensure the credentials of these new arrivals are quickly recognised.

Regarding the manufacturing sector, CME’s Darby said there is high demand for both skilled and general workers, with more than 80,000 unfilled positions across Canada.

More competition for people

According to the BCC, its members — including banks, mining companies and other big employers — have signaled that immigration is key to finding needed staff.

The council conducted a survey in the first quarter of the year, which garnered responses from 80 of its 170 members. Respondents included CEOs and other senior business leaders.

Ottawa said his immigration plan will help Canadian companies find employees for key sectors including healthcare, construction and manufacturing. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Two-thirds of respondents said they recruited staff directly through immigration, while the BCC said the rest hired immigrants who were already living here.

Neiman said Canada has benefited greatly from immigration for years and it remains one of Ottawa’s strongest tools for addressing labor shortages.

But he said the country now faces more intense competition for people as other nations also face labor shortages.

“Canada really need to step up their game to maintain their advantage,” he said.

Ottawa seems to be listening: In its fall economic statement, the government said it would allocate $50 million in additional funding to address current backlogs and other issues hampering rapid entry of newcomers to Canada.

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When asked about the competition the country faces for talent, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it “cannot speculate” on what other nations are doing to attract newcomers.

“The scale of immigration to Canada is a political decision that must balance the benefits of immigration with the cost of delivering the program and the capacity of our infrastructure,” the department said in an email.

Post-Arrival Challenges

Sweta Regmi, founder and CEO of Teachndo Career Consultancy in Sudbury, Ontario, sees many newcomers unassisted in navigating the Canadian job market.

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“The gap…is teaching you how to do the job search,” said Regmi, a certified career and resume strategist who sees an ongoing problem that she also faced during her own immigration journey two decades ago.

There are programs that help people, but Regmi said they’re not always well-matched to the needs of job seekers.

Chahal found that same process was particularly challenging as she worked to learn the quirks of a labor market she found more rigid in its hiring practices compared to India.

A cluster of apartment towers is seen on a foggy day in downtown Toronto on Thursday. All newcomers coming to Canada need housing. Finding affordable housing is an increasing challenge in the country. (Carlos Osorio/CBC)

The availability of affordable housing is an issue that has been occupying domestic politics across Canada lately, but it is just as important for people moving to a new country.

Fraser, the immigration minister, told Reuters Canada will focus on taking in more skilled construction workers to help build new housing supplies and targeting newcomers for areas with the “absorption capacity” to take them.

IRCC said that “adequate investment in housing, housing and public services is not only paramount to the long-term success of newcomers, but also ensures that we provide the same level of service to all Canadians.”

Mikal Skuterud, economics professor at the University of Waterloo, told CBC The house It’s “relatively easy” for the government to rapidly increase the number of new arrivals compared to its ability to rapidly expand the stock of available housing.

Skuterud believes that relative house prices in the regions will be a factor in where many people choose to live.

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