As the federal government prepares to table its 2016 immigration targets by March 9, Immigration Minister John McCallum has indicated that it would be more positively inclined towards international students.
Terming foreign students as “the perfect immigrants,” McCallum said the previous Conservative government took the wrong direction when it took away the 50 per cent residency time credit for them and other temporary residents when applying to become permanent residents.
He said this in a one-on-one conversation with Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director, Global Diversity Exchange, at the 2016 Cities of Migration conference in Toronto on Wednesday. The forum was held in the lead up to the 18th National Metropolis Conference that opened today.
“It was the dumbest thing to do because if there’s any group who would become good Canadians, it’s them. They’re educated, they know this country, they speak English or French. So why punch them in the nose when we’re trying to attract them here in competition with other countries?”
“[W]hy punch them in the nose when we’re trying to attract them here in competition with other countries?”
McCallum said the Express Entry immigration selection system, the key change to the economic immigration stream made by the previous government, was also being reviewed. The Liberal party election platform had proposed that candidates with siblings in Canada should be granted additional points under the system.
McCallum said now that his party’s election promise on the Syrian refugees has been met, streamlining his department would be his new top priority.
This would include reducing the processing times for people already in the immigration system.
“We have learnt a lot from fast-tracking the Syrians in how inefficiencies can be eliminated,” the minister said. “I am ashamed that we, a country who view ourselves as being open to newcomers, should take two years to bring together husband and wife and even longer to bring in parents and grandparents.”
He said some processes are not necessary and his government would be applying risk management principles to bring in families quicker. “This is how we want to bring about ‘real change’ without increasing risks to Canadians.” But he cautioned that the changes to reduce processing delays are not going to happen overnight.
“[W]e only have a certain capacity to increase our numbers. And we need to balance the competing demands.”
Multi-year immigration plan
Asked by Omidvar on why the federal government goes about setting annual immigration targets instead of taking a more long-term view, McCallum said he would soon present a multi-year plan.
He said the government will be announcing the 2016 immigration levels plan in Parliament next week.
“While we would need a bigger pie to accommodate all the demands, we only have a certain capacity to increase our numbers. And we need to balance the competing demands.”
He listed them as:
- The need to take in more refugees
- Provincial governments wanting more economy class immigrants
- Bringing in more under the Family Class
Last year’s immigration levels plan had made a provision for a maximum of 285,000 immigrants. That pie was to be divided among 186,700 economic immigrants, 68,000 family class immigrants and 30,200 from the humanitarian stream.
Record intake of immigrants likely
In contrast, 19,000 Syrian refugees have already been resettled in the first two months of 2016 and the Liberals have pledged to resettle another 10,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees by year end.
[T]he Justin Trudeau government would be the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913.
And if McCallum makes true his commitment to increase the intake by even 15,000, the Justin Trudeau government would be the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913.
On whether the focus on Syrian refugees would lead to cutbacks to other refugees and immigration streams and also welfare programs, McCallum said Canada would still accept refugees at the same pace from other parts of the world, but the rush to get Syrians into the country was both warranted and the right thing to do.
“I make no apologies to anybody. The Syrian crisis was the worst such crisis the world has faced in a decade and most Canadians agree with that. And we can always do more than one thing at once.”
Although privately sponsored refugees from Syria have to start paying their own airfare now that government-organized flights out of the Middle East have ceased, McCallum said the government is now considering paying the travel costs of all refugees Canada resettles in the future.
The federal government has been providing refugees loans to help them pay for required medical exams and travelling to Canada for decades. McCallum said that cancelling the loans is one of the options the Liberals are considering ahead of their first budget on Mar. 22.
“We were covering the travel costs for privately sponsored refugees [from Nov. 4 to Feb. 29] because most of them came on planes leased by the government,” McCallum said.
Canadians who sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived before Nov. 4 have complained that the Liberal government created a two-tier system when it decided to waive the travel costs for privately sponsored refugees who arrived in Canada after the Liberals were sworn into power on that date.