One of the major objectives of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is to support Canada’s economy and competitiveness. Canada’s immigration program does this by attracting new immigrants, helping them integrate into the labour market and ensuring that success is attainable for all newcomers. Current demographic trends indicate that these newcomers will play an increasingly important part in the labour market. This is underscored by the twin demographic challenges on the horizon: the first being the retirement of a large number of baby boomers and second, a limited number of new workers who are coming from domestic sources. The central questions addressed in this paper, then, are how will the Canadian labour market evolve over the coming decade and what will be the role of the immigration program in this challenging environment?
Immigrants have been an important part of labour supply over the past two decades and they will continue to be an important source of new workers, but the role of the Canadian-born population must not be discounted. This paper endeavors to place the contribution of immigration programs within the framework of the overall Canadian labour market. It comes as no surprise that immigrants are making up a larger proportion of population and labour force growth given the changes in demographics evolving in Canada. Historical data show that gains in the labour force originating from the Canadian-born population far outweigh gains attributed to immigration and this trend is expected to continue in the future.
New permanent residents come to this country for a number of primary reasons (including economic, to reunite with family or to seek refuge), but irrespective of the primary reason for coming to Canada, a large share of permanent residents from every immigration category are destined to the workforce. But, labour-market participation and outcomes can vary greatly by immigration category, time spent in Canada after landing, family choices, and other socio-economic characteristics.
In addition to permanent residents who arrive, there are foreign nationals present on a temporary basis who are issued work permits and are legally able to participate in the Canadian labour market. The primary source of these foreign nationals is the temporary foreign worker program; however, other foreign nationals (including foreign students and refugee claimants) may also apply for and receive work permits while in Canada. The impact of these foreign nationals on Canada’s labour market is designed to be “temporary” in nature and, for the foreign worker program; it is also designed to respond to challenges of globalization, increased mobility of the labour force and the needs of employers.
This paper concludes that Canadian immigration programs alone cannot address the major challenges faced by the Canadian labour market. However, that being said, immigration can prove to be an invaluable tool for dealing with shortages in specific occupations and regions through the admission of permanent residents from different classes and foreign nationals with temporary work permits.
Given the dynamic nature of the Canadian labour market, it is essential that Canadian immigration programs provide sufficient flexibility to respond to the needs of Canada’s labour market today and in the future. This is not only necessary to maximize the benefits to the Canadian economy but also for the integration of new immigrants coming to Canada.
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