The Devastating Effects That Decreased Immigration During COVID-19 Has Had on Canada
With the increased travel restrictions, immigration to Canada has drastically fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Border restrictions, a reduction in international flights and the closure of visa offices have all led to this drop.
Currently, immigrants whose applications and students whose study permits were issued after March 18th are unable to travel to Canada. This problem may be ongoing as many immigrant streams take years between first application and arrival. This will be compounded by high unemployment due to the pandemic reducing incentives for immigrants to come to Canada.
The Federal government’s goal of bringing in 341,000 permanent residents in 2020 will be impossible to reach, as the Royal Bank of Canada expects only 160,000 permanent residents to enter the country in 2020.
The Economic Impact of Reduced Immigration
This decrease in immigration will have far reaching effects. For one, it means a cut to our workforce. Andrew Agoposwicz, a senior economist at RBC stated that “almost two-thirds of immigrants are in the prime working ages” and that “Canada will need a younger and growing population” to get out of the financial deficit from this crisis.
The urban housing market may also be affected, as much of their growth is due to immigrant populations, and many born in Canada are moving to more affordable areas outside of cities.
With the lack of international students, Canada will receive a cut to its future workforce, which will cost the economy at least $6 billion in revenue. Universities have also grown dependent on tuitions paid by international students. For the University of Toronto, if only one-fifth of foreign students do not arrive for the 2020 fall semester, it will be a loss of $200 million for the university.
The reduced spending on goods and services will also provide a major dent in our economy. Canadian Immigration Minister, Marco Mendicino, stated that with reduced immigration flows Canada might have a harder time recovering economically from the pandemic than “some of its other G7 counterparts.”
How Canada's Agriculture Industry is Being Affected
Another industry that has taken a big hit due to decreased immigration is Canada’s agricultural industry. This is an industry that is already struggling with labour shortages. These shortages have been primarily dealt with through Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows migrants to have temporary residence in Canada in order to fill jobs in industries with labour shortages.
Temporary Foreign Workers are exempt from the travel ban, but arrivals have still fallen 35% in March. Some products, like the production of honey, require specialized knowledge that many Canadians do not have. The Federal Government tried to implement measures to encourage Temporary Foreign Workers to come to Canada during the pandemic, like providing money to cover quarantine costs and easing visa renewals, but these measures have not helped.
One major reason why it is so hard to attract Temporary Foreign Workers during this time is because of the dire conditions they work under, which severely increase their risk of contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic. These workers are extremely marginalized and often work jobs with low wages. Employee rights violations are widespread and there is little enforcement or inspections of workplaces that use such workers.
They are also not often eligible for the same immigration options available to those in skilled occupations. This means that although they spend much of their lives in Canada, they do not have a route towards permanent residency. The pandemic has exasperated these conditions. Migrant workers do not have the option of not working if they feel sick or find work conditions unsafe. They have no access to other forms of income support and will be deported if they do not work.
They also often live and work in cramped conditions putting them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Some of the largest workplace outbreaks have been in places staffed by migrant workers. One such example is Alberta’s Cargill slaughterhouse, where nearly 950 workers were infected and one woman died.
Steps Canada Can Take Towards Recovery
Canada can increase the number of people willing to enter the Temporary Foreign Worker program by improving conditions and protecting them from health risks. Migrante Alberta has been petitioning the Alberta government to offer free healthcare for migrant workers. This along with increased protections for workers and sick leave is needed to protect this workforce.
The Canadian government has said that it has already strengthened the requirements for employers hiring Temporary Foreign workers and that it will punish employers who do not follow COVID-19 regulations, but more enforcement is needed.
In an article with The Chronicle Herald, Bill Black sets out four crucial steps to help deal with the decrease in immigration. The first of these is to make a plan to deal with international students, including testing and resuming the processing of student visas as soon as possible. The second step is to open travel to immigrants and students who are approved after March 18. The third step is to use the Trump administration’s hostility towards immigrants to help attract new employers. The fourth step is to continue supporting employers in attracting international workers.