The Canadian immigration landscape post-COVID-19

Credit to Author: Nicole Enright-Morin| Date: Wed, 12 Oct 2022 15:45:09 +0000

With a growing number of people choosing to make Canada home, post-pandemic settlement will navigate a new reality.

Ah, COVID-19. No doubt about it, the global pandemic affected many aspects of life, including international migration levels. Overnight, there was a massive drop in the arrival of newcomers, refugees and international students to Canada as a result of border restrictions during the pandemic. And while travel is now possible certain restrictions are still in place.

It has been two and a half years since the start of the pandemic, and as life is slowly getting back to “normal”, the number of people choosing to make Canada their home is starting to grow again. Immigration and newcomers are vital to many aspects of life in this incredible country, including economic growth and sustaining the labour market. Canada also needs immigrants due to an aging population, and currently the number of people retiring is at an all-time high.

Even though population growth slowed in 2020 and for a period in 2021 during COVID, according to data from the 2021 Canadian census, Canada still remains the fastest growing country in the G7. According to the Federal Government’s Immigrations Levels Plan released in February 2022, Canada will welcome 431,645 permanent residents this year (an increase from the initial target of 411,000); 447,055 in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024.

However, what these impressive statistics don’t show is the logistical reality of welcoming such large numbers of people into the country, nor the everyday challenges of settling in Canada.

Saleh Altah, senior manager of community development at DIVERSEcity, a settlement agency in Surrey, British Columbia, says that the government is having a hard time keeping up with demand. “There are huge delays in immigration PR card processing times right now, and a large number of people abroad have been waiting quite a long time to get their landing status.

“For example, citizenship processing is currently up to 27 months. It has never been that high and it is having quite the impact, especially for people who need that status to be able to travel overseas to visit family. However, there have been some very tangible promises by the government that they are working on expediting the process.”

The promises Altah is referring to is that in August 2022, Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) would hire up to 1,250 new employees by the end of this fall to increase processing capacity and to tackle backlogs.

Altah says the biggest challenge for newcomers across Canada once they land is finding suitable housing. He says country-wide there are major challenges in getting people adequate housing because there is not enough inventory, and in many cities, there is no real commitment to affordable housing.

“For example, pre-pandemic, a one-bedroom apartment in Surrey would cost about $1,100, now the price is about $1,700 to $1,800,” says Altah.

The second issue that concerns Altah is the skyrocketing cost of living and inflation. He speaks about the problems with food security  and the growing price of groceries impacting everyone, especially newcomers. “Even people who thought prior to arrival that they had the cost of living covered are finding food security very hard to manage. It’s a real crisis,” he says.

International students are also a huge part of the newcomer demographic and when COVID hit, students with plans to come to Canada in 2020 either studied online or deferred their enrollment. This September is the first time in two years that many universities and colleges are back to full in-person learning. However, this process has also been impacted across the country by visa delays and processing times.

York University’s assistant vice-president of global engagement and partnership Vinitha Gengatharan says that up to 20 per cent of students didn’t receive their visa in time to start the semester this September. “Although this has been a very stressful time for a lot of the students, I will say that they switched gears and adapted very quickly. Some of them have chosen to defer for a year, or until January, while others have chosen to study online.”

Gengatharan says trying to get their qualifications during the pandemic was stressful for all students and York University definitely saw an impact on students’ mental health. She says to combat that, the university implemented a range of new student services to help with wellness. She says that now that students are back on campus full time, there will definitely be an adjustment period given the different learning experiences due to the pandemic. She says even remembering in-person etiquette and behaviours is something new for all the students as they have been so used to Zoom classes.

However, Gengatharan believes that despite the challenges, the atmosphere on campus has been a good one and she feels that, over time, everyone will get used to being back on campus.

Seneca College’s director of student services Angela Burnie echoes Gengatharan’s views.

“Throughout the pandemic, Seneca has provided international students with resources to help them stay connected and learn about life in Canada while studying abroad, as well as support to help them travel safely when they were able. This term, the energy on campus is incredible with more students attending classes in person, engaging in activities, and collaborating face-to-face with classmates and professors, ” she says.

David Chen*, a first-year student at University of British Columbia deferred studying in Canada for one year as he wanted to experience learning in person.

“I am so glad I waited, as life on campus is so different to my experience online,” says Chen. “Canada is such a beautiful country, and I am excited to be here. The most stressful thing was finding accommodation and to be honest, it was more expensive than I anticipated. However, I feel really lucky to be here and I am enjoying everything about student life in Canada so far,” he says.

Ultimately, while challenges brought about by COVID are far from over for the growing number of newcomers in Canada for a multitude of reasons, and while there are complex issues to be tackled, the general consensus is relief that the dark days of the pandemic are over so that we can have an opportunity to rebuild.

*Student name changed on request.

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