Consequences of Blocking Immigration During COVID-19

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As of 23 April 2020, immigration to the U.S has been suspended for 60 days in an alleged attempt by President Trump to both protect public health and American jobs. This means that the U.S. has stopped issuing permanent residence status despite the lack of evidence that immigration is either worsening the health of Americans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or increasing the unemployment rate of Americans. Economic evidence suggests that immigration generally benefits employment. This short-sighted decision to suspend immigration may have long-lasting negative effects on the U.S. economy. Fortunately, Canada has decided not to follow in the footsteps of the U.S.

Immigration in Canada

Canada recognizes the importance of immigration for both the labour market and economic growth. Although Canada has imposed temporary restrictions, such as closing the border to asylum seekers on 24 March 2020, the federal government recently made changes to allow entry of some asylum seekers into Canada. To its great credit, Canada is also still approving applications for permanent residence and holding immigration draws throughout the pandemic.

Canada recently announced a planned increase in immigration for the next three years. Due to Canada’s aging population and low birth rate, immigration is necessary to alleviate the associated economic and fiscal pressures. Canada’s baby boomer population of approximately 9 million people are already reaching retirement age, which makes Canada even more dependent on immigrants to support a healthy workforce and economy. COVID-19’s effect on Canada’s immigration plans for the coming years is not yet known. Immigration numbers could lower naturally due to longer processing times of some programs during COVID-19.

Although Canada is not planning to suspend or to limit immigration, one province of our country may be doing so: Quebec is considering reducing immigration because of a high unemployment rate. Quebec Premier François Legault has reduced the number of immigrants entering the province and may reduce the numbers further due to the pandemic. At a press conference this month, Premier Legault said, “This is something that we will look at… We’re not there, but actually, it’s something we’re going to watch. I think that everything must be reviewed, including the number of immigrants… We could actually reduce the number.” If Premier Legault follows through with a reduction, Canada could suffer some negative impacts as well.

Importance of Immigration

Immigration is crucial for both Canada and the U.S. due to low fertility rates. A fertility rate of 2.1 is needed to keep a population stable, but Canada’s rate is only 1.5 and the U.S. has a rate of 1.7. With the current COVID-19 economic crisis, birth rates may drop even further as people struggle with financial uncertainty. Economics professor Ron Kneebone from the University of Calgary points out that countries with low fertility, little immigration, and declining populations struggle to preserve economic growth. Immigration is needed for population growth – now more than ever. Population growth, in turn, fuels labour force growth.

Further, life expectancy in Canada is up 11.5 years since 1960. With a decreasing population and longer life expectancy, Canada will end up in a position with increased demand for elderly support and, without robust immigration programs and numbers, a workforce too small to handle the needs of both the economy and our generous social programs. Historically, as immigration goes up in Canada, so does the strength of our economy. Most immigrants arriving in Canada are of working age and are well educated, thus helping the economy to thrive.

The U.S.’s concern about protecting American jobs is short-sighted. Immigration brings in skilled individuals who boost the economy as workers, consumers, and taxpayers. One quarter of healthcare workers in the U.S. are immigrants, half of the entrepreneurs whose start-ups grew to be worth more than $1 billion are immigrants, and almost 40% of U.S. Nobel Prize winners are immigrants. The healthcare system and economy depend on immigration.

Economists expect that the Canadian economy will rebound fairly quickly once COVID-19 measures are removed. Pre-coronavirus, our economy was growing, and unemployment was at a record low, due in part to many baby boomers retiring. This created jobs for both Canadian-born workers and immigrants and will likely continue following the coronavirus pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, immigrants have a high tendency to start businesses. Continuing solid and consistent immigration numbers during this time and beyond will likely help the Canadian economy bounce back faster as immigrants fill new jobs and support job creation.

The foregoing does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be obtained if you have any questions regarding the foregoing. If you have questions, please contact Warren Creates at 613-566-2839 or wcreates@perlaw.ca.

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