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10.10.2019 | Von:
Shaina Somers

Canada's Changing Migration, Refugee and Asylum Policies: 2015 Onwards

Since 2015, Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has been bringing changes to Canada's migration, refugee and asylum policy. What do these changes mean four years (and an upcoming election) later?

A television interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plays on a screen as people wait to welcome Syrian refugees Mohammad Kurdi and his family at Vancouver International AirportA television interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plays on a screen as people wait to welcome Syrian refugees Mohammad Kurdi and his family at Vancouver International Airport. (© picture-alliance/AP, AP Photo/Canadian Press)

After nearly ten years in office, the era of Stephen Harper Conservatism came to an end in 2015 when the Liberal Party was elected with a majority in Parliament. Under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, the son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Liberal Party campaigned heavily upon the promise of a more liberal approach to immigration policy. The photo of Alan Kurdi's lifeless body on a Turkish beach caused much debate during the election. The family had in vain tried to escape the conflict in Syria by seeking asylum in Canada and joining family members already settled there before crossing the Aegean Sea – a voyage that would cost the lives of two-year-old Alan, his five-year-old brother, and his mother. The Canadian connection of the Alan Kurdi photo made immigration a key voting issue for much of the electorate. Trudeau’s government initially seemed to do good on the promises made during their campaign by bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of December 2015, just two months after winning the federal election.

The Liberal Party government seemed committed to doing politics differently than its predecessor. One of the first changes was the renaming of the department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) highlighting the new government’s commitment to refugees as part of its mandate. In 2017, Ahmed Hussen was appointed by Trudeau to be the new Minister of the IRCC. Under Hussen, IRCC began creating multiyear levels plans for immigration, a shift from the one year plans policy left over from the Conservative government. The most recent 2019-2021 immigration plan aims to stimulate the growth of the Economic Immigrant Class[1], and therefore presents a shift away from the refugee focused policy that was a strong element of Trudeau’s campaign in 2015. Throughout the four years the Trudeau government has been in office, there have been changes to every aspect of immigration pathways and policies.

2019-2021 Immigration Levels Plan

201920202021
Projected Admissions – Targets 330.800341.000350.000
Projected Admissions – RangesLowHighLowHighLowHigh
Federal Economic Provincial/Territorial Nominees142.500176.000149.500172.500157.500178.500
Quebec-selected Skilled Workers and BusinessTo be determinedTo be determinedTo be determinedTo be determinedTo be determinedTo be determined
Family reunification83.00098.00084.000102.00084.000102.000
Refugees, Protected Persons, Humanitarian and Other43.00058.50047.00061.50048.50064.500
Total310.000350.000310.000 360.000320.000 370.000
Source: Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2018): 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, S. 12. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2018): 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, p. 12. Available online: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/ircc/migration/ircc/english/pdf/pub/annual-report-2018.pdf (accessed: 8-21-2019).

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Quick Facts

  • There are a number of pathways which allow immigrants to become permanent residents of Canada: Economic, Family, Protected Persons and Refugees. Humanitarian and Compassionate are provisions given on a case by case basis.* The main countries of origin of migrants entering Canada via one of these landing classes are the Philippines, India, China, Iran, Pakistan, the United States and Syria.**
  • Canadian Citizenship is granted to those born on Canadian territory (jus soli) and can be passed down through one generation (jus sanguinis).
  • Since 1988, the official Canadian Multiculturalism Act has called for the preservation and enhancement of multiculturalism in Canada.*** Under this policy, multiculturalism is regarded as an intrinsic and fundamental component of Canadian heritage and identity and is thus protected and promoted through the Act (Multiculturalism Act, 1985).
  • Immigrant integration is supported by settlement programs funded in part by the government. These programs offer such things as orientation, language skills training, and labour market access.
*Canadian Justice Laws (2019): Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, last modified July 26, 2019, https://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/i-2.5/fulltext.html (accessed: 9-3-2019)

** Statistics Canada (2017): Immigrant Population in Canada, 2016 Census of Population, last modified October 25, 2017, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2017028-eng.htm (accessed: 6-20-2019).

*** Canadian Justice Laws (2019): Canadian Multiculturalism Act, last modified July 26, 2019, https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-18.7/ (accessed: 6-20-2019).

Economic Class Changes: Rural and Northern Focus

In Canada immigration has often been framed as a means of economic and demographic development. Canada’s renowned points system favours highly skilled economic migrants from other countries. The system assigns an economic migrant points according to six selection factors: official language ability (English and/or French), age, education, skilled work experience, job offer in Canada, and ability to adapt.[2] The more points scored, the higher the chance an economic migrant can immigrate to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

In March 2019, the Trudeau government announced a new initiative to the Economic class stream: the Rural and Northern Community Pilot Program. This pilot program helps smaller communities attract and retain economic migrants to meet their economic and labour market needs.[3] Often, when new immigrants first arrive in Canada, larger cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal may seem to offer greater access to settlement services and labour market opportunities. The focus on rural and northern communities may signify a shift towards decentralizing immigration policy. Local communities now have a voice in shaping a demand driven policy in immigration for economic reasons rather than a skills driven one.

Family Reunification and Sponsorship: New Year, New Plan

Canadian citizens and permanent residents may sponsor family members who fall under the family class. Spouses, common-law partners, conjugal partners, parents, grandparents and dependent children are considered family under this class but not siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles.[4] Since 2015, there have been changes to the parents and grandparents family sponsorship stream. This stream operated under a first-come-first-served paper application system that was replaced with an online lottery system in 2017. In the new lottery system, IRCC randomly selected 10,000 applications to move forward in the application process. This lottery system was deemed controversial, unfair and "based on luck" by sponsors, immigration lawyers and advocates, and politicians from other Canadian political parties.

The family reunification program changed once again in 2018, when IRCC announced that over the next two years, Canada would commit itself to accepting 40,000 parents and grandparents.[5] This announcement was matched with the news that the system would revert back to a first-come-first-served model. The 27,000 application spots available in 2019 were filled within minutes of the application portal opening on January 28th, 2019.

Figure 1: Immigration to Canada by category, 2015-2017, principal applicants and immediate family membersFigure 1: Immigration to Canada by category, 2015-2017, principal applicants and immediate family members. (Download the chart PDF-Icon here) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/ (bpb)

Asylum Seekers: #WelcometoCanada?

In January 2017, after U.S President Donald Trump announced a travel ban against several countries where Muslims are in the majority, Justin Trudeau tweeted: "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcometoCanada".[6] The tweet signaled how political changes in the U.S have ripple effects in Canada.[7] One of these changes was the U.S government's decision to end temporary permits given to Haitians to live and work in the U.S after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. This announcement led to an increase in Haitians entering Canada from the U.S. Many of them crossed the land border at unofficial entry points and claimed asylum in Canada in 2017.[8] However, compared to 2017's number of over 8,000 asylum claims by Haitians[9], numbers have lowered in 2018[10] and 2019[11]. This is in part due to Canadian representatives reaching out to Haitian communities in the U.S to share accurate information about the asylum seeking process in Canada.[12] Chances of gaining protection status in Canada were not particularly high, with one in four Haitian asylum applications being successful.[13]

Fußnoten

1.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2018): 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, p. 12. Available online: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/ircc/migration/ircc/english/pdf/pub/annual-report-2018.pdf (accessed: 8-21-2019).
2.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2018): Six Selection Factors – Federal Skilled Workers Program (Express Entry), last modified August 29, 2018, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/express-entry/eligibility/federal-skilled-workers/six-selection-factors-federal-skilled-workers.html (accessed 6-28-2019).
3.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2019): Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, last modified June 26, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/rural-northern-immigration-pilot.html (accessed 6-28-2019).
4.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (2019): Family Sponsorship, last modified July 26, 2019, https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/immigrate-canada/family-sponsorship.html (accessed 6-28-2019).
5.
Catherine Tunney (2018): Liberals Scrap Controversial Family Reunification Lottery, Accepting More Applications. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, last modified August 21, 2018, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/lottery-immigration-reunification-1.4791705 (accessed 6-28-2019).
6.
Justin Trudeau (2017): https://twitter.com/justintrudeau/status/825438460265762816?lang=en (accessed: 6-29-2019).
7.
Atak, I. et al. (2017): "Making Canada's Refugee System Faster and Fairer:" Reviewing the Stated Goals and Unintended Consequences of the 2012 Reform. Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Working Paper No. 3.
8.
Miriam Jordan (2017): Trump Administration Ends Temporary Protection for Haitians. The New York Times, last modified November 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/us/haitians-temporary-status.html (accessed: 6-29-2019).
9.
Immigration and Refugee Board (2018): Refugee Protection Claims (New System) by Country of Alleged Persecution – 2017, last modified July 3, 2018, https://irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/statistics/protection/Pages/RPDStat2017.aspx (accessed: 6-29-2019).
10.
Immigration and Refugee Board (2019): Refugee Protection Claims (New System) by Country of Alleged Persecution – 2018, last modified February 15th, 2019, https://irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/statistics/protection/Pages/RPDStat2018.aspx (accessed: 9-5-2019).
11.
Immigration and Refugee Board (2019): Refugee Protection Claims (New System) by Country of Alleged Persecution – 2019, last modified August 16th, 2019, https://irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/statistics/protection/Pages/RPDStat2019.aspx (accessed: 9-5-2019).
12.
Jacqueline Charles (2017): Who is Encouraging Haitians to Cross the Border? Canada Wants to Know. Miami Herald, last modified September 13, 2017, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article169497902.html (accessed: 6-29-2019).
13.
Martin Patriquin (2018): Canada Registers Sixfold Increase in US Citizens Seeking Asylum in 2017, last modified November 14, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/14/us-citizens-seeking-asylum-canada-increases-immigration-refugees (accessed: 8-20-2019).
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