Immigrants deserve a warmer welcome
Canada has set ambitious immigration targets for the next four years, hoping to welcome 1.882 million people between now and 2025 — more than the combined populations of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. And they are people who are not just welcome, but needed. Canada has slow population growth — a national birth rate of only 1.4 children per woman — and an aging population, with 30 per cent scheduled to reach retirement age by 2030. So, we need fresh blood to fill the million job vacancies that exist and to provide a stable tax base — not to mention making our communities more cosmopolitan. Most of them will be so-called “economic class” immigrants, rather than “humanitarian class” refugees from places like Afghanistan and Ukraine. This year’s immigration target alone is 432,000 — 27,000 more than last year’s record-breaking tally of 405,000. But here’s the question: are we ready for them? According to news reports and analyses, the answer is no, not really, despite our good intentions and warm welcomes. Writing in The Conversation this week about international students — who contribute billions of dollars in revenues to the Canadian economy — York University PhD student Isaac Garcia-Sitton made a good point: “A review of Canada’s international student policy as well as an assessment of international students’ experiences indicates that our established systems and processes place undue emphasis on recruiting international students, but not enough on their well-being once they get here.” The challenges they face can include racism, marginalization, food insecurity, lack of affordable housing and rigid work constraints. And it’s not just international students who face struggles here. Refugees, who often arrive with the few possessions they could take when fleeing their home countries, are offered government assistance as needed, but even that is not enough to house them in some cases. A father of four — who requested anonymity because he worried identifying himself might hamper his attempts to find a place to live — told SaltWire Network this week, “It is very hard for refugee claimants to find housing. All our applications to rent have been denied. Without work permits, the income assistance benefit we receive is not enough to cover rent. Most places are occupied. Vacant units are too expensive for us. Some landlords have also told us that they can’t rent to us due to our family size of six people.” Complicated immigration bureaucracy and mismatched government programs don’t help matters, either. In Nova Scotia, for example, refugees have been rejected for the federal/provincial rent subsidy while being accommodated in short-term rentals that cost the provincial government $5,000 or $6,000 a month. A government official says the rental subsidy program, which is only two years old, “continues to evolve.” That’s all well and good, but the process for accepting newcomers needs to speed up and be streamlined across the country if we are going to continue to accept hundreds of thousands of people a year. Lives depend on it.