The federal government will increase the total number of immigrants it welcomes this year, but the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees could still lead to cutbacks for other immigration streams, according to Immigration Minister John McCallum.
Mr. McCallum’s comments come as the government prepares to table its 2016 immigration targets by March 9, outlining the anticipated number of new permanent residents Canada will welcome this year.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail last week, the minister said the government will be “expanding the pie” to accommodate its ambitious Syrian refugee resettlement plan, which recently saw the arrival of the 25,000th Syrian since December. However, he said that “there are limits to how much we can expand the pie, so there will always be trade-offs.”
Mr. McCallum refused to provide specific targets or say what those trade-offs could look like before the immigration levels plan is tabled in Parliament.
Queen’s University immigration and refugee law professor Sharryn Aiken said she is concerned about Mr. McCallum’s comments.
“The Liberals campaigned on a commitment to immigration and a clear recognition of the overall benefits of immigration to Canada,” Prof. Aiken said. “I wouldn’t want to see what actually constitutes a very modest increase in the refugee program result in downward pressure on other categories.”
Given the government’s commitments to Syrian refugees and family reunification, experts are worried the economic immigrant streams could see cutbacks as a result of the Syrian refugee influx.
Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills and immigration policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said the minister has warned her organization of an upcoming “shift” in immigration targets. She said the group is hoping the Syrian refugee resettlement plan won’t affect the number of economic immigrants Canada plans to accept this year.
In its 2015 immigration levels plan, the previous Conservative government planned to welcome up to 285,000 immigrants, of which as many as 186,700 spots were reserved for economic immigrants and 30,200 for humanitarian streams. In the first two months of 2016 alone, Canada has already resettled 19,000 Syrian refugees, with hopes of settling a total of 35,000 to 50,000 by the end of the year. The exact total of Syrian refugees will be included in the government’s immigration targets.
Mr. McCallum’s commitment to increase the total number of immigrants in order to account for Syrian refugees this year could make the Trudeau government the first to admit more than 300,000 new immigrants in one year since 1913. Across the board, experts welcomed an increase to the annual total.