I was asked recently how the current economic downturn might affect Canada’s annual immigration levels.

Immigration laws require our immigration minister to table a report with Parliament no later than 30 days after Nov. 1 of each year setting out how many newcomers Canada took in during the previous year and how many it plans to take on in the coming year.

Accordingly, in late November 2008, newly-appointed immigration minister Jason Kenney announced that in 2009 between 240,000-265,000 new permanent residents will be accepted in Canada. This exact target was used three years in a row and hasn’t really deviated too much from the annual targets set over the previous decade or two. In setting this target, Kenney maintained that this number is necessary to respond to the diverse skill requirements “of an expanding and dynamic economy.”

In his report the minister also hailed the accomplishment of his government when it passed Bill C-50, which presumably gave the immigration minister “more flexibility in processing and managing applications.”

Logic dictates that the minister might now wish to avail himself of his newly acquired powers and adjust his immigration plan, given that the plan was premised upon “an expanding and dynamic economy” when, in fact, we are confronted by a shrinking and underperforming one.

The truth is that, in terms of immigrants coming here permanently, it is unlikely that the actual number that will be admitted in 2009 will be far different from the one forecasted. Even if it were, it would likely have little impact on the Canadian workforce.

The reason is that as a percentage of our population, 240,000-265,000 newcomers represent less than one per cent of our national population. This number is even less significant when we factor in people who will be leaving Canada permanently during the same period.

Furthermore, the minister doesn’t really have that much wiggle room. Up to 71,000 of these future immigrants will be coming to Canada under the family class as sponsored spouses, partners, parents, children, and grandparents. It would be unwise for the minister to tell Canadians that their close family members will not be coming to Canada this year due to a deterioration in our economic conditions. Another 27,200 permanent visas are reserved for protected persons who we are, more-or-less, bound to offer refuge or protection here. Then there is another 10,000 immigrants who we will be accepting for a wide range of humanitarian considerations. That will leave about 156,600 in the “economic class” of which a growing percentage is selected by the provinces and territories. Kenny is certainly not likely to take them on either.

There is no doubt that the economic downturn will be more severe in countries whose economies are not as diverse and mature as ours, thereby making Canada relatively more appealing. However, that will only increase the number of applications we are likely to receive, but not the number of permanent residents that we will accept.

As for those who will want to come to Canada on temporary work permits, it is likely that it will be more difficult for them to get a favourable labour market opinion from HRSDC whose job it is to make sure that Canadian workers are not overlooked when our jobs are offered to foreigners.

Canadian businesses are able and willing to change direction quickly when market conditions dictate. Although the legal mechanisms exist in our immigration program to effect changes, for practical and political reasons it is not an easy option to exercise.

Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an
immigration specialist. Reach him confidentially at 416-862-0000 or at

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