I was recently invited to share my thoughts and take a futuristic peek at the role of immigration in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada invited me to speak at its annual executive leadership summit that included more than 250 decision-makers in the executive branch.
My presentation spanned the unresolved immigration issues of the past, the contemporary challenges and the opportunities for the future.
A good place to start is with Canada’s population pyramid.
A population pyramid is a demographic tool that summarizes our human capacity and economic potential. More precisely, a population pyramid identifies the relationship between different age groups and their economic challenges and opportunities.
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The base of the pyramid includes infants and those in their mid-teens. The middle range is reserved for the economically active population in the labour force. The peak of the pyramid represents seniors and retirees.
Canada’s current population pyramid reveals a flashing red light for each category. It underlines compelling distortions in the proportion and composition of each of those population cohorts, and those distortions precipitate present and future economic challenges.
The base of the pyramid demonstrates a capacity distortion where low fertility rates pose a clear economic threat.
A red flag is also revealed in the middle portion of the population pyramid since a labour force distortion is triggering labour shortages, production bottlenecks and supply-chain hiccups.
The peak of Canada’s population pyramid reveals a funding distortion in the sustainability of health care and social programs for seniors.
All this spotlights the important role of immigration in contributing an economic transfusion and charting a pathway toward resolving all those demographic challenges.
I foresee that automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will play bigger roles in the national economy. With respect to immigration, the consequences will be uneven and asymmetric.
These innovations will replace the need for immigration in middle-level occupations. However, they will also augment the need for highly skilled and educated immigrants, as well as unskilled immigrants and seasonal farm and fisheries workers.
And the knowledge economy and the ascent of the information technology (IT) sector will necessitate attracting immigrants with a high level of human capital.
The days when our immigration policy was developed as stand-alone are behind us. The future requires a more integrated and comprehensive approach to the development of public policy. Our immigration policy must build bridges and be aligned with economic, social, housing, education, health, labour, multicultural, integration and settlement policy. And that’s just a short list.
I propose five immigration actions to ensure the seamless transition of the Canadian economy toward a strong and sustainable recovery after COVID-19.
1) There’s an enhanced global competition for immigrants. Every advanced industrialized country is shopping for immigrants.
Attracting the right kind of immigrants with the appropriate human capital, workforce skills, and technological competencies is highly competitive. This is especially the case for IT workers, medical professionals and health-care workers.
We need to become more entrepreneurial, proactive and strategic in our outreach.
2) For years, I’ve been hearing about barriers related to professional accreditation, overseas work experience and foreign credential recognition that immigrants bring with them as their human capital dowry.
There hasn’t been much progress on this file in the last three decades.
At a time when the economy has moved from the resources under our feet to the resources between our ears, we need to place a higher priority on this and develop a different plan to resolve it.
3) Electronic connectivity has redefined humanity’s communication methods and information access in the 21st century. However, we should also be aware of the digital divide between developed and developing countries.
This has direct repercussions for our immigration program. The transition of our immigration application and interviewing process to an online format has created insurmountable obstacles for immigrant streams from developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America.
4) Embracing an integrated approach for our policy will enhance our retention levels for new immigrants. It will ensure that all our ancillary public policies are effectively aligned with our immigration policy to achieve population and labour force growth.
We need an immigration policy where the retention of immigrants is not only about providing jobs but equally about welcoming communities, affordable housing, accessing health care and sustaining a social support network.
5) Our immigration policy should seek collaborative partnerships with non-profit immigrant settlement agencies and community associations to facilitate economic integration, social transition and access to settlement resources for newcomers.
At the end of the day, these organizations contribute the most cost-effective and efficient delivery of programs for enhancing welcoming communities.
Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick and a 2021 recipient of the Order of New Brunswick.
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