The Hamilton Spectator

Ottawa finds the newcomers Canada needs


When COVID-19 shut the door to thousands of immigrants who wanted to enter Canada last year, it opened another door to an entirely new challenge for the country.

How could it be sure it had all the essential workers it needed to get through the pandemic? And where would Canada find all the hands required to rebuild a damaged economy and pay for the costly social programs its aging population demanded in the years ahead?

To the federal government’s credit, it discovered that one answer to these questions was already right here, right in this country. And that’s why Justin Trudeau’s Liberals announced Wednesday they will grant permanent residency to 90,000 temporary foreign workers and graduated internatio­nal students now living in Canada.

It’s a highly unusual move. But these are highly unusual times and it was an inspired call for Ottawa to make.

The benefits to Canada should be obvious. Since the end of the Second World War, every federal government has looked to immigratio­n as a way to help Canada grow and prosper. The importance of immigratio­n has only increased under the current federal regime which boosted the annual intake of permanent residents from 241,000 in 2015 to 341,000 in 2019.

But as pandemic restrictio­ns shut down borders, Canada took in only 184,000 new permanent residents last year, far short of the 341,000 it had wanted. And with borders still largely closed, it seemed impossible for Ottawa to meet its target of accepting 401,000 new permanent residents for 2021.

Suddenly, the target now looks attainable, not only because of those 90,000 new permanent residents but because of spouses and other family members who may be able to join them. There should be no doubt these new permanent residents have the right stuff. They’ll already be familiar with life in Canada and be proficient in English or French. And they’ll continue doing jobs the country relies on without having to leave Canada and face the uncertaint­y of trying to re-enter.

About 20,000 of those new permanent residents will be health-care workers. Another 30,000 will be employed in 95 other occupation­s that have been deemed essential. So rest assured: Canada will have enough constructi­on, farm, grocery store and transporta­tion workers in the uncertain days ahead.

In addition, permanent residency status will be offered to 40,000 internatio­nal students who graduated from a Canadian university or college in the past four years and who are employed. They have the skills our economy needs — and the papers from Canadian institutio­ns of higher learning to prove it.

No wonder the business community has unanimousl­y applauded the move. Goldy Hyder, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Canada, echoed the sentiments of many when he said the program will “strengthen Canada’s economy when we need it most.”

But the value of this program, which will run from May 6 to Nov. 5, goes beyond what it will do for Canada. It’s justified on the grounds of fairness because of the way it will help these new permanent residents. At its heart, the program recognizes the contributi­on foreign workers and internatio­nal students have made to keep the country going. In other times, they would face a more arduous process to qualify for permanent residency. This program is a way of showing Canada’s gratitude — and paving the way for them to become Canadian citizens with all its rights and privileges. Under the circumstan­ces, it seems the least Canada can do.

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