Here’s Canada’s new plan to help foreign students and workers become permanent residents. Some say it isn’t nearly new enough

The Toronto Star

Nicholas Keung The Star Wed., Sept. 21, 2022

After much hype over a new strategy to help more migrants become permanent residents, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has delivered a plan that largely reinstated the policy changes made during the pandemic.

A motion unanimously passed by Parliament in May gave Fraser 120 days to come up with a comprehensive strategy that would allow international students and temporary foreign workers of all skill levels pathways to permanent residence to address Canada’s persistent labour shortages.

On Tuesday, the minister tabled the 39-page “Strategy to Expand Transitions to Permanent Residency” in the House of Commons, after the release was delayed by the death of Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has a number of measures, both already in place and upcoming, that will continue to find ways to support the transition of temporary foreign workers and international student graduates to permanent residents,” Fraser’s press secretary, Aidan Strickland, told the Star.

“We look forward to building on this work to meet Canada’s economic needs and fuel our growth.”

The plan builds on many of the ad-hoc changes that the immigration department has made to accommodate the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic that greatly hampered global travel and processing capacity of the immigration system due to lockdowns. It includes:

  • Raising annual targets of permanent residents admitted to Canada to 431,645 in 2022; 447,055 in 2023; and 451,000 in 2024 (the levels were announced in February);
  • Tweaking the selection system of skilled immigration including more power for the minister to hand-pick permanent residents — authority embedded in the federal budget bill passed in summer;
  • Enhancing current economic immigration programs such as the skill type of the national occupational classification system used to assess immigration eligibility; improving foreign credential recognition; and supporting the transition of international students and migrants in health professions to permanent residence; and
  • Continuing the transformation to a modernized and digitalized immigration system to expedite processing.

The report said a two-step immigration system transitioning workers and students to permanent residence improves job-skills matches driven by labour demand, but acknowledged these temporary residents can be exposed to exploitation and poor working conditions.

“This strategy is just a rehash of existing announcements. While the government yet again accepted that temporary migrants are exploited, there is no real strategy here to end the abuse,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“Everyone knows what needs to change: we need full and permanent immigration status for all, without exclusions or delay.”

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan also expressed disappointment with the minister’s response to the parliamentary motion.

“What the government provided is nothing more than the recycling of what is already in place. The minister is not proposing anything new to support the goals set out in Motion 44. This so-called strategy lacks any real information or details of what a true comprehensive plan would entail,” Kwan said in a statement.

“One would expect the government to incorporate any data gathered on labour market needs and skill shortages to align with immigration policies. Canadians should expect nothing less.”

Fraser’s plan did mention the department’s current review of the international student program, including rules and authorities in their transition to permanent residence, as well as the option to issue open work permits to family members of all foreign workers, a privilege currently enjoyed mainly by those in high-skilled, high-waged jobs.

“The Department is assessing the trade-offs between reducing administrative requirements on co-op and work-integrated learning with any potential integrity risks that could arise as a result,” said the report, referring to ideas to help international students participate in the labour market.

“IRCC must balance facilitative measures with program integrity checks to ensure that international students benefit from a positive and quality academic experience while in Canada.”

Officials are still weighing different options to add to the pathways for international students to stay here permanently, particularly if their education, training or work experience is relevant in addressing Canada’s emerging economic priorities.

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