Canada bucks global trend on increasing immigration targets

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Announcing new ambitious immigration targets is a good thing. But being able to process the 2.7 million people who have been waiting in the queue for years is even more important.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on November 7, 2022.

OTTAWA—Canada is bucking a global trend by announcing a major increase in immigration targets over the next three years.

The announcement that 1.45 million newcomers will be welcomed made headlines around the world.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser delivered a clear message at his press conference, “Look, folks, it’s simple to me. Canada needs more people.”

Fraser is right. The country’s future depends on a growing labour force and the only way to achieve that growth is by immigration.

The numbers move rapidly over the next three years to hit the half-million mark in 2025.

While the numbers are large, they are consistent with a historic plan which has Canada welcome the equivalent of one per cent of the population annually.

The minister broke the plan down into details involving family reunification, provincial sponsorship, economic immigration, and refugee sponsorship.

The announcement was met with a positive reaction across the country.

Framed as “An Immigration Plan to Grow the Economy,” the minister explained the plan was a way to allay the burgeoning labour shortage in multiple domains.

There was significant explanation of the why, and most observers greeted the explanations positively.

Even Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has not fallen into the trap of his predecessors who thought they could use anti-immigrant sentiment to whip up electoral support.

With 23 per cent of our population currently made up of immigrants, going after them politically could have very negative consequences.

It is fair to say that the proposed “barbaric cultural practices” snitch line proposed by the Tories during the 2015 election dealt a fatal blow to their election hopes.

Poilievre is not about to make the same mistake. His own wife is an immigrant, so he is unlikely to fall into the trap of opposing a hike in immigration targets.

What he will do is focus on the bread-and-butter issues of how well the program is being delivered.

In that regard, there is some fertile ground for Conservatives to attack the current mess in immigration processing.

The 2023 immigration system, without the announced increases, suffers a backlog of 2.7 million applicants.

Those applicants do not have the political power of Canadians looking to get their passports renewed. But both programs are managed by the same department and they have both been failing.

In IRCC immigration queues, you do not even have the right to get an answer from a human being.

Even MPs are stymied when it comes to assisting applications of family members in queue for a visa.

I have been trying to help a friend who initially applied to immigrate to Canada in 2013. His application was approved in the Quebec nomination process back in 2019.

A university professor from Lebanon who specializes in design, Antoine Abi Aad would be an ideal immigrant.

We met several years ago at a world design summit where he was one of the presenters. He reached out two years ago after he was approved to immigrate to Canada.

All he needed was a travel visa. I offered to help and reached out to the office of then-Global Affairs minister Marc Garneau, whose team did their best to assist.

They could get no information on the file and were told that the IRCC was waiting on him for information. They couldn’t even ascertain the nature of the allegedly missing information.

Even with my help, he was never able to get an answer as to what information was missing.

Two years later, he is still waiting.

All his paperwork is in order and he cannot even speak to a human being on any of the IRCC computerized platforms.

Announcing new ambitious immigration targets is a good thing.

But being able to process the 2.7 million people who have been waiting in the queue for years is even more important.

Governments need to be able to deliver on basic services, like passports and immigration applications.

The IRCC was also responsible for the nation-wide mess that saw passport offices closed for more two years even though Service Canada actually paid the political price for the disorganization.

The passport mess that IRCC was responsible for is exactly the same mess currently facing prospective immigrants.

Canada will lose those immigrants we are hoping to attract if it takes years to even get an answer.

Antoine Abi Aad applied to immigrate to Canada in 2013.

Next year is the 10th anniversary of his application.

Shouldn’t the IRCC deliver the basics. That means ending its 2.7 million waiting list.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.