Canada boosts benchmark immigration target to 300,000 per year, but business leaders want more

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 8:19am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 November, 2016, 9:04pm

Canada will start welcoming a minimum of 300,000 immigrants annually in 2017 in order to ease economic pressures linked to an ageing population, Immigration Minister John McCallum announced Monday.

The figure is in line with this year’s unusually high intake number, and thus represents a new benchmark target for years to come. However, it falls far short of expectations after a report last week proposed a 50 per cent increase to 450,000 immigrants annually.

That amount would have set Canada on a path to tripling its population by the century’s end.

“In 2016, we jumped to 300,000 largely as a consequence of our special actions on Syrian refugees,” McCallum said.

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“What I am announcing today is that for 2017 we will make that 300,000 permanent and it will become the foundation for future growth in immigration,” he said, adding that this rate is “40,000 above the historic norm.”

More than half of the newcomers will be job seekers and investors admitted under an economic class.

The remainder of the newcomers will include spouses, children or parents of naturalised citizens, refugees, and others admitted on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

This year’s large influx of immigrants was notably boosted by the urgent resettlement of some 30,000 Syrian refugees in desperate need at the start of the year.

If they want to prioritise innovation, the pace that they move makes no sense to entrepreneurs
Christopher Reid, Canadian software developer

McCallum fought off the suggestion that in failing to implement the higher 450,000 recommendation, he had lost a battle against anti-immigration forces.

“I do believe it is true that more immigrants for Canada would be a good policy for demographic reasons,” McCallum told reporters.

Some business leaders were nevertheless disappointed with the decision not to increase the target to 450,000 over the next five years, as recommended by the government’s own economic advisory council to offset Canada’s looming demographic squeeze.

While the country bucked international trends last year to bring in thousands of Syrian refugees, it was urged by the advisory council to focus on high-skilled business talent and international students to boost economic growth, which has been tepid for years.

Corporate Canada has long complained about bureaucratic red tape in the system, saying hurdles to get work permits often make the process too slow for employers and new hires alike.

Christopher Reid, founder of software developer Sortable in Kitchener, Ontario, was disappointed by the renewed target.

“If they want to prioritise innovation, the pace that they move makes no sense to entrepreneurs,” said Reid. “Innovators aren’t going to say ‘Let’s put it off for a year.’”

Reid said he tried to hire two high-skilled workers from the United States this year but has mostly given up because the process is too onerous and too slow.

Stephen Lake, chief executive at wearable technology maker Thalmic Labs, said the slow process was the biggest challenge, but not the only one.

Lake said Canada has set the bar so high that even highly qualified candidates are not accepted for immigration - a standard that could have been relaxed if the immigration target had been raised.

“We should be rolling out the red carpet and working hard to attract this type of talent into Canada,” he said.

Under next year’s plan, the number of immigrants admitted under the economic category will increase to 172,500 from 160,600 this year, the government said. The number of refugees will decrease to 40,000 from 55,800.

Additional reporting by AFP