New Canadian Media

Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga 

Canada’s Minister for Immigration, John McCallum, made a startling announcement in Brampton. on Tuesday, about welcoming a whopping 305,000 permanent residents by the end of 2016. This is a 7.4 per cent increase from the 2015 admission target.

All this comes during a time of rising unemployment — namely, 7.2 per cent. Youth unemployment hovers at 13 per cent and the projected economic growth in 2016 is expected to just exceed one per cent.  

So, against this gloomy economic backdrop, the announcement of record high immigrant and refugee numbers leaves many, including me, wondering if there should be some co-relation between economic growth and immigration. 

While economic immigrants are made up of highly-skilled workers and caregivers, who may not be highly skilled but will still make up the majority of newcomers, McCallum's number will include 60,000 sponsored spouses, parents and children as well as 20,000 parents and grandparents by the end of the year. 

Historically, Canada has admitted between 251,600 to 262,200 immigrants every year, a number that was seen as striking the right balance between population and economic growth.

Going forward, it’s clear that the Liberals will be shifting the focus away from the economic class and placing a greater emphasis on bringing in more family-class immigrants, seniors and refugees. 

Skilled workers forced to take survival jobs

University of Toronto economist Peter Dungan points out in a Globe & Mail article that if Canada were to double the number of economic-class migrants only, average entry wages for all immigrants would rise by between five and six per cent. 

I am not sure how bringing in immigrants with lower skill sets will help either the country or these newcomers in a rapidly evolving Canadian economy. Will a significant number of them be condemned to working at minimum wage?

I immigrated to Canada in 2000 under the now-defunct points system under a category of Writer/Journalist. Lawyers at that time encouraged people like me to find a “good job” on the understanding that after a short struggle, we would land well-paying employment. 

Reality struck when I got to Canada and heard heartbreaking stories about men and women who held good jobs back in the old countries, only to be crushed and broken after being forced into survival jobs in order to put food on the table. 

I am not sure how bringing in immigrants with lower skill sets will help either the country or these newcomers.

I've met dozens of former doctors, engineers and accountants working in factories or other dead-end jobs simply because their credentials weren’t recognized. No one would give them "Canadian experience". For many educated immigrants, toiling in warehouses or driving taxis was all they got.

Then Harper’s Conservatives came along in 2006 and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney drastically overhauled the immigration system, bringing in skilled refugees and calibrating immigration to support the country’s specific economic needs

I am sure that if I applied for immigration under the revised system brought in by the Conservatives, I might not have been eligible to immigrate to Canada. That would've been fair, because, looking back, letting hundreds of immigrants into the country like myself when there were no real jobs now looks like a case of false advertising. 

Concerns over competition and economic burdens

When I speak with new Canadians who’ve struggled to find their professional footing in Canada about more immigrants, seniors and refugees being accepted as permanent residents, they aren’t very thrilled by the news. Unless, of course, they’re sponsoring family or senior parents. 

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that an acquaintance who spoke out against bringing in more seniors had herself sponsored her parents ten years earlier to Canada. 

In previous estimates, a set of grandparents can cost the system $400,000. Statistics have pegged sponsored parents and grandparents as receiving, on average, $6,262 in Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments plus $1,381 in other government transfers each year.

For many educated immigrants, toiling in warehouses or driving taxis was all they got.

Many Canadians, new and old, who are struggling to keep or find jobs are wary about having to compete with new waves of job seekers. One parent I spoke to thought it might be a good idea to reduce immigration numbers until the economy improved. She was also opposed to foreign student workers because they’re often willing to work for less than minimum wage. 

And in any case, a large percentage of the almost 350,000 international students currently studying in the country have every intention of becoming permanent residents. For many South Asians and Asians in particular, coming to Canada as an international student is just another way to immigrate. 

Many immigrant parents with university-going children stay awake at night, worrying that their children may not find jobs once they graduate. How are they supposed to feel optimistic about Canada bringing in more immigrants who will likely compete with them as well as their children for a limited number of jobs?

Considering this, economic indicators should also be factored in when setting annual immigration quotas.

Bringing newcomers into a broken system

I often wonder how practical it is to have a large number of immigrants come in without taking into account the state of the economy. While I get it that Canada needs immigration in order to keep its economic engine running, I worry that the immigrants and refugees now being admitted into the country could end up being a burden on the system.

How can an immigrant contribute to the economic success of the country if he or she is not working at their full potential or is not working at all? That will be the likely fate of so many new immigrants in the years to come.

Meanwhile, it is the over-burdened taxpayer who is obliged to pitch in at a time when their own job security is shaky.


Pradip Rodrigues is currently the editor of Can-India, a weekly newspaper and website catering to the South Asian diaspora in the GTA. He immigrated to Canada in 2000 and currently lives with his wife and young son in Mississauga. Prior to coming to Canada, he was the Assistant Editor at Bombay Times, then the city section of the Times of India. 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 21 January 2016 00:48

Canada's Refugee Target is Not Realistic

Commentary by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

During the campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then the leader of the Liberal Party, promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. Before the year ended, the Liberal government had reviewed its plans, hoping to bring in that number by the end of February. 

With just under six weeks to go, I don’t think they’ll be able to achieve that.

This isn't a failure on the part of the Liberal government. Instead, it should give them an opportunity to ensure quality rather than quantity. 

Reevaluation after the Paris attacks

When the Liberal party won the election, what was on the mind of most Canadians was whether the Trudeau-led government would be able to bring in the number of refugees it promised. In the early days of his victory, some expected him to even expedite action on bringing in Syrian refugees. 

However, after the Paris attacks that claimed more than 130 lives, some Provincial leaders started questioning the Liberals’ “haste”. Paramount among them was the Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, who asked Ottawa to halt their plans to bring in the refugees.

It should give them an opportunity to bring in quality rather than quantity.

In November, the Prime Minister announced a new deadline to bring the refugees, saying this change was not because of the Paris attacks, but because many of the logistical requirements had not been met. 

Is it just the numbers?

Taking time to review the process was a good decision. 

As the 10,000th refugee arrived last week, the government is hoping to achieve its target. I strongly believe this desire to bring in 25,000 refugees is misplaced. 

I would rather see the government bring in a smaller number — say, the 10,000 refugees already here — and concentrate on them and their welfare. This is a better idea than bringing in 25,000 who might end up being more miserable than if they were in a refugee camp in Jordan or Turkey.

I've met refugees who have been in this country for more than a year and are still struggling to integrate. Others are still struggling to find jobs while even more are inundated by government-assisted loans. It is therefore laudable that the government has decided to waive the loans given to Syrian refugees under the Immigrant Loan Program. Similar additional measures must be taken.

This process must be handled in a meticulous way, rather than rushed so that the government can meet a very narrow political deadline.

The settlement agencies must also have their capacity rebuilt. Consistently in the past, these agencies have had their budgets cut in the face of an ever-growing refugee problem. 

I have met refugees who have been in this country for more than a year and are still struggling to integrate.

For example, the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa had its budget cut from eight million dollars to five. Right from the onset of the crisis last year, they’ve indicated their willingness to help, but with these cuts, they can only help to a certain extent.

Executive Director for the Catholic Centre for Immigration Carl Nicholson told the CBC in November, "Every single aspect for refugee response is underfunded at the moment." 

That is the reality on the ground. Most of these organizations get two-thirds of their funding from the federal government.

If the government indeed wants to bring in the numbers they’ve promised, they should think about funding these agencies — and not only for the next few months. When the refugees come, they'll know these agencies and not the government. It’s these agencies that seek to help them feel comfortable, and they cannot do this without funding.

Refugees’ reluctance to come to Canada

One other issue is the reluctance of refugees to choose Canada as a destination. In late November, only six per cent of refugees approached by the UN on behalf of the government showed interest in relocating to Canada. This could also hamper the government’s ability to bring in more refugees. 

Following the attacks in Paris, the federal government reviewed its criteria for eligible refugees. The government said only women, children and families would be allowed into the country. The CBC reported that the government said unaccompanied men would not be allowed in because of growing security concerns.

If government is worried about the number of Syrians who have shown interest, then obviously they should be willing to review the criteria. For instance what happens to a man who doesn’t meet the criteria simply because he lost all his family members in a war?

As of January 20, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says 11,866 refugees have arrived in Canada since November 4 and 5,829 applications have been finalized and cleared, but are yet to arrive in Canada. 

About 70 Canadian armed forces members returned last week from Jordan and Lebanon after helping with security checks, health and medical screenings and other forms of support. This suggests that the basic infrastructure for the processing side of the resettlement is now in place in the region.

While this might mean that we’re going to see more Syrian refugees applying to come to Canada, it’s better to miss the target of bringing in 25,000 refugees than to get it wrong. Let the government miss the target, take flack for it and get it right. If it must be done, it must be done well.


Eddie Ameh is a journalist based in Ottawa. He lived and worked in Ghana and the U.S. before moving to Canada. He is currently the secretary of the Ghana Association of Ottawa.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

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