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The federal Immigration Minister says he is working to address concerns about a program launching this week that is aimed at creating a pathway to permanent residency for 90,000 people.

Marco Mendicino said he is committed to working with stakeholders and that he is open to the criticisms of various migrant groups as the program begins Thursday.

Announced in April, the program is designed to grant permanent residency to thousands of temporary foreign workers and graduated international students.

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Under the measures, 20,000 temporary foreign workers in health care, 30,000 workers in other occupations deemed essential and 40,000 international students who have graduated from a university or college will be able to apply to become permanent residents.

Advocates say Ottawa’s new pathway to permanent residency excludes too many migrant groups

“Before we prematurely rush to make any judgments about the train being on the tracks, let’s see it pick up steam, and ensure it stays on track and gets to its final destination,” Mr. Mendicino said Wednesday, “which is to welcome 90,000 newcomers in a way that is unprecedented.”

In a news conference this week, the Migrant Rights Network, representing organizations across Canada, said current requirements for this program, the short timeframe and the arbitrary caps ensure that only those in the best situations will be able to apply.

Opposition parties have called for a broader opening to welcome many more than 90,000 people.

On Wednesday, the minister was asked about specific problems with the program. They included application guides only now being available, many people scrambling to get language tests required to apply, and essential workers facing challenges applying.

In response, Mr. Mendicino said the program is “unprecedented” and ambitious. It was not a forgone conclusion that the government would proceed with the effort during a pandemic, he said, but that it was launched because of feedback from economists and the immigrant and migrant-workers community.

“I also acknowledge that because it is a new program, we have a lot of legwork to do to make sure that it is communicated clearly and there will be access to the program,” he said.

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He added that guidelines have now been posted online, clarifying application needs. and said language-instruction operations are working to meet the demand.

Despite the minister’s assurances, Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said in an interview that he remained concerned about what his group sees as flaws in the program

He said, based on the alliance’s research, that the 90,000 openings fall far short of meeting the needs of 1.6 million migrants and undocumented people in Canada. He also said only a estimated 470,000 people can apply for spaces under the current rules.

“This is a short-term window, which excludes most people. It prioritizes those with the highest earnings, the highest access, and excludes the essential, low-wage workers that the Prime Minister, the Immigration Minister and most of our society says we value.”

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