An update on the status of foreign workers north of the border.
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Canada is a multicultural nation. Nominally bilingual, with both English and French having official language status at the federal level, the second largest nation in the world is home to more than 60 indigenous languages and many others brought to the country by immigrants. According to the 2016 census, one in five Canadians was born abroad. As COVID-19 continues to restrict global travel, it may also limit Canada's ability to accommodate new immigrants, including foreign workers.
There are a number of ways that people normally enter Canada. These include the express entry program for qualified immigrants and provincial-level entrepreneurship paths, as well as entry for family members who already live in Canada. Under normal circumstances, each of these routes has a number of clear processes that interested parties can go through. Just like other countries have restricted entry, Canada has also closed various entry points and methods.
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Manage and modernize
To meet ongoing immigration needs during the pandemic, Canadian officials have recognized the need to take steps to develop a more modern system. This also includes offers to revise the outdated application system. Canada had a record number of permanent residents in 2019, so the country needs a system that can address volume.
In addition, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) hopes that its improved application system will provide better insight into who is applying for Canada. This means building a data analysis infrastructure, automating important processes and improving digital interview capacity. The less time IRCC staff spend on simple entry applications, the more carefully they can handle complex cases, including refugee applications.
Immigrants keep Canada running
The modernization of the Canadian immigration system is also important because of the country's aging population. Many Canadian immigrants are ready to fill critical jobs, particularly in the healthcare, transportation, security, and nutrition sectors. Even during the pandemic, immigrants who work in the health care sector, carry out medical transports or maintain medical equipment can enter Canada and may not be subject to the 14-day quarantine directive.
For temporary workers trying to enter, norms and expectations look a little different than they normally would. These foreigners only need a valid Canadian work permit or an introductory letter to the IRCC if their permit has not yet been released. These loose rules only underline the crucial role that migrant workers play in the Canadian economy. As in many western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, the Canadian health system cannot function without the contributions of immigrants.
Is the risk worth it for immigrants?
Immigrants wishing to pursue a career in Canada usually see themselves as a safer and more prosperous life, and that would normally be the case. However, for those who are currently considering such a step, the risk is very high. These are people who would immigrate as frontline workers without the promise that they could later become Canadian citizens.
One place where citizenship concerns are particularly acute is Quebec. This is because the provincial center-right government has committed to reducing immigration. Because Quebec's immigration system is slightly different from that in Canada, its leadership may be able to reject certain federal immigration regulations if the federal government supports immigration options for frontline workers.
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For those who cannot fill critical jobs, their immigration status can be put on hold permanently. Ultimately, this is a safety issue – fewer trips mean less risk of COVID-19 transmission – but it's also worrying. It is unclear when the conventional immigration routes will reopen, but until then, foreign workers are either at the forefront or stuck at home, wherever that may be.