OTTAWA — The government has expanded a pilot that allows refugees to apply for permanent residency through conventional economic immigration streams by removing some of the barriers that would traditionally have precluded them.
The minister hopes to see only a six-month window between the date a successful candidate submits their application and the day they can start working in Canada.
The pilot is an expansion of a 2018 program that aimed to identify 10 to 15 skilled refugees in the Middle East and East Africa who meet the requirements of Canada’s economic immigration programs.
This time, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada hopes to bring 500 skilled refugees to Canada.
"It's a win-win scenario, both for the person who's being resettled but also for the community who benefits from the resettlement," Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in an interview.
"We see these people who were not coming to take something from our communities, but to give immense talents that's going to help to people who've called Canada home for generations. I see this as an extraordinary opportunity to do some good not just to help vulnerable people but to help the communities that they now call home."
He said he saw the impact a program like this can have first hand, when a long-term care facility in his neighbourhood welcomed 32 trained health-care providers to small-town Nova Scotia.
"It's been a wonderful solution to a really challenging local labour shortage problem. Those challenges exist in every community across Canada, and I see a massive opportunity for us to increase our ambition to resettle refugees, and at the same time, meet the economic needs," he said.
During the federal election the Liberals vowed to build on the economic mobility pathways pilot to admit 2,000 skilled refugees to fill labour shortages in sectors like health care.
Fraser said the current iteration of the program has been changed based on lessons learned from the previous iteration.
For instance, the program waives some of the financial burden of the immigration process, such as the medical examinations.
It also allows refugees to use loans to demonstrate they have the financial means to settle in Canada.
A review of the initial pilot showed that some of the other challenges include identifying refugee skills and making sure refugees are even aware that the program exists.
Opposition Conservative critic Jasraj Hallan says he welcomes the new program, but doubts how effective it will be given a massive backlog of 1.8 million immigration applications he says Canada is currently working through, and long delays people face as they wait to be admitted to the country.
"Our main concern that we've been raising consistently is that we hear a ton of announcements from the Liberal government and this is just another an announcement. There's never been a plan or a proper follow through of these plans," Hallan said.
"This is something that's crippling immigration. It's crippling small businesses and crippling not only just our economy, but families trying to reunite with each other."
The pandemic and the situation in Afghanistan have put pressure on processing times, Fraser said, but both those two factors are beginning to stabilize.
He believes the current backlog will not prevent the government from making good on the six-month goal of getting refugees to Canada under this pilot program.
The government opened applications to the program on Dec. 3.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press