Speaking notes for the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement related to open work permits
Delivered Friday, December 2, 2022, in Edmonton, Alberta
Thank you so much. Look, thank you, Randy, and thank you, everyone who has taken the time to join us today. It’s good to be back in Alberta. We spent the last couple of days here. And, for those of you who may not be aware, this is a province I called home for about 5 years, before I got into politics.
Thank you for the land acknowledgement as well. You mentioned that Canada is a country that’s been built on immigration. If it weren’t for the support of Indigenous Peoples who’ve called these lands home since time immemorial, the earliest settlers would not have succeeded in developing communities that so many of us now call home. Immigration is not something that we do in Canada—it’s who we are. It’s who we’ve always been. My family happened to arrive about 250 years ago, not 10 to 15 minutes from where I live today, on a vessel that came from Scotland to Nova Scotia. And, those stories of people coming for economic reasons, coming for humanitarian reasons, coming to be with loved ones, have helped build the country that we know and love so much today.
The reality is that Canada needs more people. We need more people for economic reasons. We need more people for demographic reasons. And, we need more people for social reasons. It’s helpful to place ourselves in the appropriate economic context, if we’re going to understand the need to continue to grow our immigration levels. Think about the last couple of years, what we’ve been through, and the recovery that Canada has experienced. Canada’s economic recovery from COVID-19—despite many very real challenges and difficulties people are having paying their bills—still remains as strong as any other advanced economy in the world. We’ve now seen many of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic recovered. Our GDP today is much higher than pre-pandemic levels, and this summer, the rate of unemployment in Canada hit an all-time low in our recorded history.
This summer, there were close to one million job vacancies in our economy. It’s essential to advance policies that address labour shortages.
It’s very important that we tackle the challenges before us, including the labour shortage, if we’re going to make sure that businesses are set up for success, and we can continue to support not just the livelihoods of newcomers to Canada, but the Canadians who work for the employers who would be at risk if we didn’t have newcomers coming to help fill those key gaps in the labour force.
We also need people for demographic reasons. Folks, if you look back 50 years in this country, there were 7 workers for every retiree. Today, that number is closer to 3, and 10 or 15 years from now, on our current trajectory, that number is going to be 2 if we don’t change the trajectory that we’re on. We need to continue to adopt policies, so the conversations we have about the economy are about things like labour shortages and building housing, rather than the challenges associated with depopulation, around losing schools and hospitals. This is not a theoretical concept. This is something I’ve seen in my hometown, in rural Nova Scotia. And, because we’ve embraced immigration, we’ve seen that trajectory change. We’ve been advancing policies over the past year that are designed to help combat the labour shortage and attract workers to this country.
Just yesterday, we met with operators in the tourism sector and the hospitality sector to announce an expansion of the International Experience Canada program, which is going to allow people under the age of 35, from 36 different countries, to come in much larger numbers. A 20% expansion will now allow close to 90,000 workers to come experience Canada and contribute to the economy.
Over the past year, we’ve now increased our ambition when it comes to immigration levels. We’re now seeking, by 2025, to welcome 500,000 new permanent residents to this country.
We’ve looked at the cap on the number of hours that international students can work. We’ve changed the rules for our Express Entry system to allow us, for the first time, to be able to select economic migrants by the sector that’s facing the greatest challenges when it comes to the labour shortage, rather than having a simple, general draw.
We’ve made new exceptions for physicians to take part in our immigration programs. We recently expanded the number of occupations by adding 16 different categories of workers to become eligible to come through the federal Express Entry streams. We’ve made investments to boost processing, so workers are not just eligible to get here—they can get here more quickly. And, we’ve made smart policy decisions to expand the ability of those who are already here to continue to work, including through automatic processes, in some instances, for programs such as the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program that’s now going to allow close to 93,000 people to stay and continue working in Canada after they’ve been educated here.
There are many people who come here through temporary programs to fill gaps in the labour force. Whether they come as temporary foreign workers, under the International Mobility Program or the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program, there are hundreds of thousands of people here. And, one of the components of some of these programs, that I don’t think a lot of Canadians appreciate, is that people who are coming here temporarily often make the decision to be apart from their families, so they can earn a livelihood and gain experience in Canada. And today, we’re making an announcement that will make it easier for employers to find workers and for families to remain together while they’re here.
Today, I’m announcing that we’re expanding open work permit eligibility for spouses and dependent children of principal applicants who come through a variety of temporary programs. This is going to allow more than 200,000 workers who have family members in Canada—or who will be coming to Canada—to continue to be with their loved ones and work while they’re here to support themselves. This policy change is going to be implemented in 3 phases to allow people to continue to come and be with their families who are simply not amongst the highest-skilled professions.
The first phase will involve people who come through high-wage streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the International Mobility Program and the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program. We expect to be launching this early in the new year.
The second phase will seek to expand, after consultations with provinces and territories, access to the same rules for people who come through lower-wage streams, so people who are here, making a contribution to Canada’s economy, don’t have to make the tough decision to be apart from their children or their spouse while they do it.
The third phase will allow us to potentially expand this program to include the families of agricultural workers. However, that requires serious consultation with the provinces and territories, as there are certain implications around requirements for housing and other services that are of mixed jurisdiction, and we want to make sure that we engage our partners to implement a policy that’s going to be workable for the long term.
This policy change is going to have an incredible impact on our economy, allowing a couple hundred thousand workers to come and fill the gaps in the labour force. But, it’s also going to make our immigration system more compassionate by recognizing that a person who is here, making a contribution to our economy, deserves to be with their loved ones while they make that contribution.
We’re going to continue to create opportunities for more people to come to Canada to contribute to our economic well-being and to have our system become more compassionate at the same time. Thank you. Thank you, everyone, for being here to talk about our economy and about families who contribute greatly to our economy.
It’s a pleasure to be here with you. It’s good to be back in Alberta. Thank you, Randy, for hosting us here today.
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