Speaking notes for the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement related to Temporary Residents

Speech


Delivered Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Ottawa, Ontario

Hello. Bonjour.

I want to start by acknowledging our presence on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe People.

As well, I want to thank my colleague, Randy Boissonnault, for joining me today.

Canada has a world-class and well-managed immigration system—but there is always more we can do to support successful immigration to Canada and notably ensure those who choose to make this their home are set up for success.

As I said in the fall, when I tabled our levels planning for the next three years, immigration accounts for the vast majority of our population and labour force growth. Through immigration, Canada continues to attract skilled workers needed to support growing industries and reunite families, while also maintaining our humanitarian traditions.

New dedicated programs for rural, northern, and Atlantic regions are helping grow those economies and communities—as I’ve seen first-hand in my visit to northern Ontario earlier this month. And our Francophone Immigration Policy is helping restore the demographic weight of those minority language communities outside of Quebec.

At the same time, we have heard from Canadians, and a wide range of civil society leaders and economists – and we’ve listened. Canada has seen a sharp increase in the volume of temporary residents in recent years—from a rise in international students, to more foreign workers filling job vacancies, to those fleeing wars and natural disasters.

To be clear from the start: temporary residents enrich Canada’s economic, social and cultural fabric. Canada’s future economic vibrancy depends on those we bring in today whether we like it or not.

Today, Canada’s labour market is recovering – pretty much has recovered – from the pandemic, and employers are experiencing less difficulty filling jobs. Canada, by all accounts, has done a significantly good job compared to its peers in making the workplace and workforce younger. And, while many temporary foreign workers are filling job vacancies in critical industries like construction workers needed to build new homes, early childhood educators to teach our kids, and health care professionals to treat patients—however changes are needed to make the system more efficient and sustainable.

How did we get here?

To understand what solutions we need to implement, first, we need to understand how we got here.

Overall, “temporary residents” is a big umbrella term for a large number of streams and programs under IRCC management. They can be chiefly broken down into a few main categories:

  • 42% international students
  • 9% temporary foreign workers under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program
  • 44% are temporary workers under the International Mobility Program, which includes further specifics such as those with post-graduate work permits, spousal work permits for students or workers, those temporarily visiting Canada under youth mobility agreements, workers arriving in Canada through intercompany transfers or arrivals through special humanitarian pathways, including those fleeing Ukraine. This program is composed generally of:

    • 26% post-graduate work permit holders,
    • 9% spouses of students
    • 10% part of reciprocal youth exchange programs that in turn allow Canadian youth to work in other countries (i.e. International Experience Class)
    • 12% spouses of skilled workers
    • 26% arrivals, which is growing, through programs like CUAET and other special humanitarian pathways
    • 17% for inter company transfers, trade agreements among others and

  • 5% asylum seekers who are waiting for their claim to be heard at the Immigration and Refugee Board

Let’s break them down one by one.

With regard to workers, it’s important to acknowledge that the pandemic left labour shortages in almost every sector of the Canadian economy. Provinces and businesses needed us to bring more workers in to fill these shortages. We used all the tools at our disposal to prevent a breakdown in the economy. And we were very successful in our recovery.

Employment is 1.2 million jobs above its pre-COVID February 2020 level. The unemployment rate is at 5.8% as of February 2024. We’ve done better than recover all the jobs lost during COVID and now at 138% of that number.

With regard to students, the chronic underfunding of post-secondary education and unscrupulous actors looking to profit off of vulnerable individuals – among others – led to exponential growth in international students, with the knock-on effect on post-graduate work permits and spousal open work permits for students and spouses.

Faced with unprecedented levels of conflicts, economic and political upheaval, human rights abuses and climate change, we continue to see record numbers of displaced people. The increasing use of temporary public policies to support the Government’s responses to such crises, which Canadians rightly expect, contributes to growth.

For example, as part of our response to the situation in Ukraine, we will have close to 300,000 arrivals of Ukrainians in Canada by the end of the month. To be clear, these are important global commitments to Canadians and Canadians should be unabashedly proud of this. At the same time, there should be an honest conversation about what the rise in international migration means for Canada as we plan ahead.

Finally, we cannot ignore the pressures created by the historic volumes of asylum seekers in Canada, consistent with worldwide trends. Ensuring a well-resourced system that can quickly and fairly process asylum claims is critical to managing volumes of temporary residents.

As global conditions change, as our labour market tightens, and as the types of skillsets we look for in our future workforce evolves, so should our policies. We need to be more strategic in how we assess demand and the international students and temporary foreign workers that we are welcoming into the country.

We need to ensure the number of temporary residents entering the country is at a sustainable level, while upholding our humanitarian commitments and supporting the priorities of our labour market.

What have we done so far?

The good news, because there is some, is we have already taken some big strides forward on this front.

Earlier this year, as you may recall, we imposed a two-year cap for new international students to address integrity issues in that program. We also restricted eligibility for post-graduate work permits and work permits to spouses of students.

Recently, as well, we announced a partial visa requirement for Mexican travellers.

As we continue to see the impacts of these measures over the next few years, we will continue to adjust those approaches as well, as necessary.

What’s next?

To build on that work and ensure sustainable growth in the future:

Our programs that welcome temporary residents must reflect the needs and changing demands of the labour market.

To that end, I have directed my department to conduct a review of existing programs that bring in temporary workers, and we’re undertaking work to better align streams with labour market needs and weed out abuses in the system.

I will be working closely with my colleague, Minister Boissonnault, on those streams that fall under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program notably.

At the same time, we must ensure robust pathways to permanent residence for those who wish to make Canada their home in the long term, and avoid the pitfalls of an economy built solely on temporary workers.

This means not only setting targets for the number of permanent residents we welcome, but also setting targets for temporary residents. Starting this fall, for the first time, we will expand the Immigration Levels Plan, to include both temporary resident arrivals and permanent resident arrivals. The latter category is something we’re doing already.

This will help strengthen the alignment between immigration planning, community capacity and labour market needs, and support predictable population growth.

To set these targets, I’ll be convening a meeting with my provincial and territorial counterparts—as well as other relevant ministers—in early May. Provinces and territories know their unique labour needs and capacity, and need to assume responsibility for the people they bring in as well.

This will be an opportunity for us to come together, as partners, and develop plans for realigning our temporary worker streams and bringing in the people we need to build the homes that we are short of, the health care workers we need to ensure hospitals are properly staffed and the early childhood educators we need to ensure people can work.

We fully recognize that this can only work—can only happen—with the input of provinces and territories, and their knowledge of their capacities to provide vital social services to growing communities.

On another hand, the Provincial Nominee Program provides provinces and territories with an opportunity to address their specific economic needs while distributing the benefits of economic immigration and nominating individuals for permanent residency. As part of our efforts for temporary residents to transition to permanent residency, we will have more domestic draws for us and ask provinces and territories taking part in the Provincial Nominee Program to do the same with their allocations.

This will realign our efforts and provide a pathway for those who are in the country, who wish to stay and contribute to the country and to the economy.

Recently, Canada’s temporary residents volume has increased significantly, now reaching up to 2.5 million (6.2% of our population, in 2023). Therefore, in our levels planning, we will include a target in order to reach an adequate volume of temporary residents Canada can welcome.

As a starting point, we are targeting a decrease in our temporary residents population to 5% over the next three years. This target will be finalized in the fall, after consulting our provincial and territorial counterparts and as part of our annual levels planning.

As I continue these conversations with other levels of government, cabinet colleagues, business leaders and settlement providers, I will continue to provide updates for Canadians on this complex situation.

However, if there is one thing to take away from these comments today, it is this:

Canada will continue to benefit from the important contributions newcomers make each and every day. We want every new family and resident to be set up for success and be able to access the services they need. Our ultimate goal is to ensure a well-managed, sustainable immigration system built on needs rather than profitability at the cost of integrity and sustainability.

Thank you. Merci.

I’ll now turn over to Minister Boissonault.

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