The Liberal government has announced new measures to welcome more refugees to Canada after a year in which global displacement rose and fewer refugees were resettled around the world.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino outlined the government’s plans at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, saying Canada will continue to be a “global leader” in resettling refugees and protecting the world’s most vulnerable.
He said the government will bolster a program called the economic mobility pathways pilot, which was launched in 2018 to accept some refugees through economic streams based on their job skills.
The new measures would expedite the processing of permanent residence applications so those people can start working sooner. The government would also make it easier for refugees in the program to get settlement funds, waive fees for permanent residence applications, make the application process more flexible, and provide predeparture medical services to help with immigration health exams.
“We are working to admit 500 refugees through these economic paths over the next two years, and it will allow them to have a safer future,” Mr. Mendicino said.
He added that Ottawa will also increase the number of protected persons it will welcome this year to 45,000 from 23,500. These are asylum seekers who are already in Canada, he said, have had their cases adjudicated by the Immigration Refugee Board, and need protected status to remain.
Someone is considered a protected person if they fear persecution in their country because of race, nationality, religion, membership in a social group or political opinion.
Mr. Mendicino said the government will expedite application processing so more protected persons can quickly become permanent residents, and can also sponsor immediate family members to join them in Canada. There are more than 40,000 protected persons and their dependants in Canada with unresolved permanent residence applications, according to government figures.
Rema Jamous Imseis, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Canada, joined Mr. Mendicino at the media conference.
Ms. Jamous Imseis referred to the UN global trends report released on Friday, which showed that by the end of last year, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced by persecution, war and violence around the world.
“Border closures and restrictions on movement made it considerably harder for people fleeing war and persecution to reach safety around the world,” she said.
Ms. Jamous Imseis said Canada’s commitment to solutions, including humanitarian and development assistance, resettlement and innovative approaches to refugee inclusion through economic immigration is “greatly appreciated.”
“We welcome Canada’s extension of labour mobility for people in need of international protection and see it as an opportunity to expand access in other places, including Latin America,” she said.
The UN report said Canada welcomed 9,200 refugees in 2020, down considerably from before the pandemic. Canada resettled 30,100 refugees in 2019.
NDP Immigration critic Jenny Kwan said while the changes are welcomed, the government “needs to do more than just expand measures.”
“Talk is cheap and the minister actually needs to ensure that resources are in place to expedite the processing of these applications. We have a huge backlog in our system right now,” she said.
Ms. Kwan said the backlogs have separated children from their parents for years on end, and the cases need to be resolved.
Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan called the announcement “light on details and concrete solutions.”
“Canada’s Conservatives know that the thousands of refugees and their families waiting for their applications to be processed deserve a plan that provides clarity and certainty, and a process that treats them with dignity, compassion and respect,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
As part of the announcement on Friday, Mr. Mendicino said Ottawa will also spend up to $3-million over two years to support nine organizations that help privately sponsored refugees.
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