The policy makes intuitive sense: Canada’s population is aging, and the ratio of working age Canadians to seniors is shrinking.
Without immigrants to supplement the workforce (improved productivity would also help), Canadians will be facing a combination of higher taxes, fewer public services, and a lower standard of living for years to come.
The pandemic has restricted our immigration intake, and it will be hard to welcome the number of new immigrants we desperately need from outside the country until COVID-19 has been vanquished.
So why not accelerate the path to permanent residency for migrants who are already here?
What’s more, why not focus on those who are working in essential services – ostensibly to recognize their vital contributions to this country – and graduated international students, who represent a cohort of skilled workers that can contribute to our economic prosperity immediately?
Unfortunately, translating this idea into action has gotten complicated.
The Migrant Rights Network, which describes itself as “Canada’s largest migrant-led coalition,” issued a scathing report last week, titled: “Exclusion, Disappointment, Chaos & Exploitation: Canada’s New Short-Term Immigration Pathway.”
The organization maintains that the new program is too exclusive and I, too, wonder about the $1000 application fee.
But when the paper starts to complain about the requirement for a valid English or French language accreditation, I get uncomfortable.
To be fair, part of the problem appears to be the accessibility of the $300 language proficiency tests. The backlog is up to four months long. This two-pronged barrier requires a response from the minister.
I am less sympathetic to the story of a farm worker named Gary, whose complaints are highlighted in a press release and repeated in an article in the Toronto Star:
“I am excluded from the government’s perm residency program because I cannot pass the English test … If we have survived here working in English for years, why do we need to do a test?”
Ironically, the Star provided the answer a few days later in a headline: “Language can be a barrier to COVID-19 vaccine access.”
There is an extensive history of academic research documenting how proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages is a critical determinant of economic and social integration.
In other words, offering a labourer like Gary permanent residency when he struggles in English (and doesn’t speak French) is likely to condemn him to a life of relative poverty with limited opportunities to break free.
It seems to me that the Migrant Rights Network is therefore doing the Garys of this country a disservice in their advocacy.
Rather than calling on Minister Mendicino to wave the language test, why not advocate paid language training for all of the temporary foreign workers doing the essential work that is keeping our country functioning instead?
Canada’s historical treatment of migrant workers has been shameful. The Migrant Rights Network is right to advocate on their behalf.
But offering people a path to permanent residency without the tools they need to prosper is not the solution.
On Canadian immigration policy, take a look at some of the great work being done by the Conference Board of Canada’s National Immigration Centre.
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