Arjan van Dam and his family first came to Canada from Holland six years ago on an extended tourist visa.
They liked what they saw and decided they wanted to stay for good. Van Dam got a job managing the Canadian division of a Dutch company that supplies equipment to greenhouses in the Niagara fruit-and-wine-growing region. The plan was to stay here permanently. But pretty soon, he discovered that getting permission to do so wasn’t that simple.
Immigration applications are processed on the basis of points. He had some points in his favor to get permanent resident status. He has a great job and three of his five children were born in Canada. But he never finished high school, and that worked against him.
“Some people learn easy at school. Some people, they don’t. I'm just super practical. When I usually see things, I can do it. And that got me all the way into Canada, but there is no value for that.”
“Some people learn easy at school. Some people, they don’t,” he said. “I'm just super practical. When I usually see things, I can do it. And that got me all the way into Canada, but there is no value for that.”
Van Dam hopes he’ll finally get his permanent resident card this year. He has applied under a new, one-time immigration program for 90,000 people like him, who are already in Canada temporarily, but didn’t qualify for permanent residency under the old rules.
That includes international students and temporary workers with little education who are already doing unskilled jobs, such as cashiers, janitors and truck drivers.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendocino said that allowing them to stay will accelerate Canada’s postpandemic economic recovery.
“We’re embracing an argument that economists have long made, which is that yes, of course, we want an immigration system that welcomes highly educated, highly experienced newcomers. But there are also a number of other newcomers who possess a range of skills that are required,” he said on Canadian public television.
Before the pandemic, Canada’s population was growing faster than any other G-7 country. Nearly all of that growth came from immigration. In 2019, Canada accepted 341,175 new permanent residents. But last year, the pandemic got in the way. Because of border restrictions and a slowdown in services, immigration fell by half. To make up for those losses, Canada increased its immigration for the next three years. Mendocino said that this year, it aims to approve 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021, including 90,000 for previously unqualified temporary residents such as van Dam.
Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist with the Royal Bank of Canada, says the country needs those immigrants to make up for the fact that Canadians are getting old fast.
“Lots of people are retiring, especially people with lots of experience and skills. It's difficult to replace those people,” he said.
If the population stops growing, and immigration levels remain low, Agopsowicz says, Canada would have trouble paying for its social programs.
“In order to maintain the level of service that we promise the elderly going into the next 10 years, we need to have a strong labor force growth. And I think immigration is really the only way to maintain that.”
“In order to maintain the level of service that we promise the elderly going into the next 10 years, we need to have a strong labor force growth. And I think immigration is really the only way to maintain that,” he told The World.
The Canadian government says the new program recognizes the contribution of immigrants who worked essential, unskilled jobs during the pandemic. Immigration experts say it also represents a huge, one-time opportunity for tens of thousands of foreign students who came to Canada hoping their Canadian degree would earn them permanent status. Students like Faustina Boadu.
“It’s going to make a huge difference in my life,” she said.
Canada welcomes hundreds of thousands of international students every year. In 2019, the number climbed to 641,000. But Statistics Canada estimates that only about one quarter find work in their field and earn the right to stay permanently. Others go home, or stay on temporary work permits. One internal government report found that even in prepandemic times, most foreign students were stuck in unskilled jobs and earned half as much as Canadian college grads.
Boadu was a nurse back home in Ghana. She moved to Canada in 2015 to earn a degree as a dental hygienist. She expected that would earn her the right to stay for good. It didn’t, and life for Boadu took a difficult turn.
“Nobody explains anything. And for me, coming to a new country, I didn't know anybody. I didn't know [anything]. So, I did everything on my own. I did apply for the course, not knowing that there was going to be this challenge,” she said. “Honestly, I don't even wish this for my enemy. It’s tough. It is hard. Like, I am losing my mind.”
Boadu managed to get a temporary work permit that allows her to stay in the country. But it ties her to a minimum-wage job as a personal support worker in a nursing home. She has a 2-year-old son who was born in Canada. She says she barely earns enough to pay a babysitter when she has to go to work.
“It's affecting my job. It's affecting me mentally. It's affecting my son. Because if I'm not in a good mental state, I feel like this is going to affect my child.”
Boadu said that if she gets her permanent residence card now, she’ll be free to go back to school to qualify for better-paying, more skilled work. Her husband, who runs a business in Ghana, will also be allowed to join her.