COVID and Canadian Immigration Policy

COVID (and our response to the pandemic) has changed our lives and the assumptions we made in the course of our lives.

I think it’s essentially impossible to know the medium term impact on immigration. There is of course plenty of prognostication and prediction:

But as the nation’s economy plunges into recession, millions are being cast into unemployment. In the oil heartland of Alberta, a province that once had a voracious demand for skilled newcomers, Premier Jason Kenney now warns of a 25% jobless rate. Immigration targets will almost certainly be scaled back as the crisis forces a radical shift in Trudeau’s priorities.

Attracting more migrants, foreign workers and students has been a pillar of Trudeau’s political agenda since he became prime minister in 2015, making his government an outlier at a time when openness to foreigners is waning in Europe and U.S. immigration has fallen to a decade low.

Yet, history shows economic downturns almost always lead to less migration into Canada, even without the unprecedented travel restrictions associated with the pandemic.

However, I believe the long term impact may be negligible. Canada will continue to be a desirable destination for visitors, students, workers and those that seek to immigrate permanently. Demographics do not change overnight and our way of life requires a certain level of growth.

These major life decisions (to work, study, or move permanently to another country) are not made in a vacuum. This pandemic and various government/country response to it will impact future decisions. Despite some missteps or missed opportunities, our government/leaders have revealed themselves to be caring, well meaning and purse-strings have been loosened. Our public service/bureaucrats have proven to be competent. Canadians largely complied with public health instructions and thereby safeguarded our health service (which of course can be improved). This is more than can be said for many other countries.

There will, of course, be manifold consequences to the abrupt (necessary) actions which disrupted immigration policy.

Some predict a softening in our real estate (that was, I think, happening before COVID anyway).

[Stephen Brown] predicts house prices will drop 5 per cent during this crisis, and with lower immigration levels in the years to come, both prices and sales will stay below their pre-COVID-19 levels for a prolonged period.

Brown noted that “immigration has slumped following four of the past five recessions, as higher unemployment reduced the incentive to move.”

But that’s not always the case. If Canada does relatively better than other countries in the crisis, it will still be a draw.

“For instance, immigration rose after the (financial crisis of 2008-09), when Canada was relatively less affected than most countries,” Brown wrote in an email to HuffPost Canada.

If immigration does fall, the housing market will be the hardest hit part of the economy, he said.

“Investors have based their (house or condo) purchases on the assumption that immigration will keep rents growing strongly. That will be a questionable assumption even if restrictions on travel are soon lifted.”

But fear is a great motivator. If someone had funds and was looking for security (in an age of insecurity) securing status and real estate in a solid Rule of Law jurisdiction would be a no-brainer.

Canada will always -for good or bad-be compared to our much larger neighbour. Contrast the different approaches. Trump is making noises at some type of immigration suspension. What prospective immigrant wants that type of uncertainty (especially if he or she has a family or dependents to think of)?

In the long term, Canada will likely revert and achieve the relatively large target numbers we have seen these past few years; in the short to medium term, everything is uncertain.