With nearly one million job vacancies across the country, Canada is turning more squarely toward foreigners to address its labor shortage and has set record-breaking immigration targets for the coming three years.
The new policy aims to attract a total of 1.45 million immigrants between 2023 and 2025 and was announced by Sean Fraser, Canada’s immigration minister, on Tuesday. It came as the country hit another demographic milestone last week, when the census agency announced that more than one in five Canadians is now an immigrant.
The attitude of Canada’s government toward immigration is a stark departure from those of governments in Western countries such as Sweden and Italy, where newly elected parties are seeking to curtail immigration and are blaming immigrants for crime and disorder.
“Look, folks, it’s simple to me: Canada needs more people,” Mr. Fraser said during a news conference near Toronto on Tuesday. “Canadians understand the need to continue to grow our population if we’re going to meet the needs of the labor force, if we’re going to rebalance a worrying demographic trend, and if we’re going to continue to reunite families.”
Some of the concerning trends, Mr. Fraser continued, include an aging population and a looming wave of retirements. Census data released in April showed that the number of people nearing retirement in Canada is at a record high.
“If we don’t do something to correct this demographic trend, the conversation we’re going to have 10 or 15 years from now won’t be about labor shortages,” Mr. Fraser said. “It’s going to be about whether we have the economic capacity to continue to fund schools and hospitals and public services that I think we, too often, take for granted.”
Canada has long pursued a strategy of recruiting immigrants to make up for its aging native-born population and low birthrate, a strategy that has broad public support. The nation shows preference to immigrants who are skilled workers in fields where the country has critical labor shortages — including health care, manufacturing, engineering and the trades.
In a recent survey by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, a nonprofit polling firm, 58 percent of people contacted said they supported more immigration, and 69 percent of respondents disagreed when asked if Canada was taking in too many immigrants.
Still, about half of those surveyed also believed that newcomers were “not adopting Canadian values,” suggesting public support could become more volatile.
There is hardly unanimous agreement about what those values look like, even across the provinces, as seen during the backlash to Quebec’s recent law banning public sector employees from wearing religious symbols.
The conversation around national values and the assimilation of immigrants could reinforce “some entrenched racism,” said Salima Samnani, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia and a lawyer who works with Indigenous clients through the school’s legal clinic and other diverse clients in her own practice.
Ms. Samnani, whose Indian family immigrated to Canada from Kenya when she was 12, said she encountered this racism and feelings of being “pushed to the margins of society” in her own life: being mistreated in school, while receiving service in stores and even while navigating public transit.
“It cannot be understated how difficult it is to adjust to Canadian life as a new immigrant, especially when you are someone who is not white,” she added.
The majority of new immigrants to Canada arrive from countries in Asia and Africa, with the census agency projecting that by 2041, one in four Canadians will be born in those continents.
The government is aiming to attract 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025, according to its Immigration Levels Plan.
The number of immigrants sought for 2025 represents a 23 percent increase from Canada’s latest record of accepting 405,000 newcomers last year.
While travel restrictions during the pandemic temporarily slowed immigration, Canada continues to be the fastest growing country in the Group of 7, according to census data collected last spring.
New data published last week by the national census agency revealed that 23 percent of Canada’s population are immigrants, the highest proportion since Confederation in 1867, when the first four provinces unified to form Canada. Statistics Canada is projecting that in about two decades, immigrants could make up 29 to 34 percent of the population if present-day immigration patterns continue, and if Canada’s birthrate falls below what is necessary to maintain the current population.
Since the early 1990s, Canada has maintained high immigration, attracting an average of about 235,000 newcomers per year, according to 2016 census data.
Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa.