For the first time in decades, Canada is on track to welcome more than 300,000 new permanent residents to Canada in one year, according to the Liberal government's 2016 immigration targets tabled Tuesday.
Immigration Minister John McCallum says Canada plans to accept between 280,000 and 305,000 – with a target of 300,000 – new permanent residents this year, an increase from the updated target of 279,200 for 2015. If the government reaches its target, it will mark the first time Canada has resettled more than 300,000 new permanent residents in one year since 1913.
As promised during last year's election campaign, the Liberals will increase the number of spaces available for refugees and family reunification arrivals this year.
"It [annual report to Parliament on immigration] outlines a significant shift in immigration policy toward reuniting more families, building our economy and upholding Canada's humanitarian tradition to resettle refugees and to offer protection to those in need," Mr. McCallum said on Tuesday.
Canada will see a dramatic boost in the number of refugees it plans to resettle this year to 55,800, up from a target of 24,800 in 2015. The majority of new refugees will be Syrian, in accordance with the government's commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, and thousands more throughout the year. It also plans to triple the number of privately sponsored refugees to 18,000 in 2016.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), welcomed the government's move to prioritize refugees and family reunification, but said there are still concerns about restrictions on sponsorship applications.
"There's still a lot of other questions about whether we're in a position to take full advantage of the enthusiasm of Canadians to respond to refugees," said Ms. Dench. "We're talking about … caps and sub-caps, which means there's a limit overall on the numbers of refugees that sponsorship agreement holders can put in."
The government is also aiming to welcome 80,000 newcomers through family reunification programs this year, up from a target of 68,000 for 2015. Most of the incoming family members – 60,000 – will be spouses and children, while the remaining 20,000 spots are reserved for parents and grandparents.
Although the Liberals committed during last year's election campaign to double the number of applications for parent and grandparent visas, the number of spots available will not increase from the 2015 target. NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said this is not good news for parents and grandparents who have been waiting for as long as 10 years to come to Canada.
"How do you increase the number of applications from 5,000 to 10,000 and still keep it at the same number of people that the Conservatives have admitted in their program? It doesn't even make sense," Ms. Kwan told The Globe.
However, the increases to the family reunification and refugee numbers come at a cost for the economic immigration streams. The government plans to welcome 160,600 economic immigrants this year, down from the target of 181,300 in 2015.
"I don't understand the cut in the [economic] immigration streams, given the fact that the Canadian economy is slowing, our work force is aging. And I also think that the government has to explain how they are going to provide programs and services and pay for them to refugees that they're trying to attract through this increase on the program," said Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel.
Ms. Rempel questioned whether stakeholders were consulted in the leadup to the tabling of the immigration numbers. The CCR and Canadian Chamber of Commerce told The Globe they were not. Rather, the chamber says it was warned about the shift in immigration targets, which it said will have consequences for its members.
"It means that arguably they [our members] will have a tougher time filling some of the really difficult roles that they are looking abroad to fill," said Sarah Anson-Cartwright, director of skills and immigration policy at the chamber.
The government is required to table a document each year detailing how many new permanent residents it will accept for the year ahead. The report was supposed to be tabled by Nov. 1, but the fall election delayed its release. Since the House of Commons was not sitting on Nov. 1, the law requires the government to table the report within 30 sitting days of Parliament returning.