The best way forward

We just learned that Canada’s target of 341,000 new immigrants was cut almost in half last year due to COVID-19. Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has pledged to make up for the shortfall in 2020 by increasing targets over the next three years: 401,000 new immigrants this year, rising to 421,000 new immigrants by 2023.

Some are a little freaked out about whether this is possible to achieve, given the people who have been hardest hit by the economic upheaval are low-paid workers and who are disproportionately women, people of colour, youth, and recent immigrants. It’s reasonable to ask whether any government should be adding more people to the mix, when so many are struggling to find their feet.

But I know this is the best way forward.

The reason I know this is because the immigration conversation, which focuses on permanent residents, ignores the true intake of newcomers, which includes temporary residents, most of whom are migrant workers. For every person coming as a permanent resident to Canada, almost three other people are arriving as temporary residents, here to study and/or work.

We have a chance to improve the transition from temporary to permanent for more residents, and thereby extending more workers’ ability to exercise the statutory labour rights and protections which are currently denied to migrant workers. You don’t have to look very far to see how the current system is not cutting it. Seasonal agricultural workers, for example, have been felled in alarming numbers during the pandemic because of policy choices. Labour laws and human rights, available on paper, are functionally out of reach for those without permanent status. 

Every industry sector that is reliant on (low-paid) immigrant workers (restaurants and bars, accommodation, manufacturing, personal services, eldercare, childcare, healthcare, retail) also relies on temporary foreign workers. The bigger the share of workers who cannot exercise their labour rights for fear of losing work and being deported, the harder it is for everyone.

An immediate pathway to permanency is critical to an equitable economic recovery, and a better future for all workers. More permanent residents and fewer temporary ones builds more justice in labour markets and society. That’s the best way to build the Canada of the future.

Find me on Twitter @ArmineYalnizyan, and on Instagram @futureofworkers.

The Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers is supported by the Atkinson Foundation. Find more information here.