China Brief: China’s relationship with Canada’s West
Issue 93 | April 20, 2023

In this issue: Experts weigh in on Western Canada’s readiness for a massive influx of newcomers.  

Immigration is, in part, also economic development policy. The federal government has announced an ambitious goal of increasing the annual rate of newcomers to 500,000 by 2025 and is increasing immigration from the Indo-Pacific region as part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy. Alberta recently secured an increase in its allotment of provincial nominees. Whether the potential for this new, targeted immigration will contribute to economic growth and competitiveness is an open question. As Canada and the Prairies move to attract more highly skilled immigrants the country faces stiffer competition from the U.S., Australia and more recently Japan.  

At the same time, there are clear and troubling reports and anecdotal evidence that Canada’s current regime for integrating economic migrants is not working, or not working well enough. Credential recognition, skilled migrants unable to find appropriate jobs and abuses in the for-profit career training sector top the list. This raises questions about the readiness and feasibility of such a massive influx of newcomers and highlights the need for new ideas and reforms.  

Given the importance of immigration to Canada’s future, it is essential to examine the readiness of governments and businesses in Western Canada to address the challenges of increasing immigration from the Indo-Pacific region. This expert opinion brief aims to provide insights into Western Canada’s ability to ensure that increased immigration works for both newcomers and the region. 

We asked the experts:

The Canadian government announced ambitious plans to steadily boost immigration levels in the upcoming years. More specifically, they aim to welcome 500,000 new permanent residents annually by 2025. A large percentage of this movement is going to come out of the Indo-Pacific region. At the same time, news reports point to increasing problems integrating immigrants, from credential recognition to housing and a lot in between. Canada also faces increased competition for talent in the region from Australia, Japan, the U.S. and others. 

Are governments and businesses in Western Canada ready for the challenges associated with increasing immigration from the Indo-Pacific including ensuring that this boosted immigration works for BOTH Western Canada and those being brought to the region? 

Honourable Jon Reyes Waverley
Manitoba Minister of Labour and Immigration  

Manitoba is confident that we have the immigration program, nomination allocation, settlement and integration supports, and other social infrastructure in place to meet the challenges of increasing immigration from the Indo-Pacific Region in the years ahead. We completed an overseas recruitment mission in the Philippines in February 2023 aimed at attracting internationally trained healthcare workers to Manitoba to address labour shortages in our healthcare sector. Our province has deep and robust ties with the Philippines, with over 90,000 Manitobans (seven per cent of our population) claiming Philippine heritage. Manitoba is a longstanding immigration destination of choice for the Philippines and other Indo-Pacific countries, and we look forward to welcoming more immigrants from the region to contribute to our workforce in the health sector and beyond. 

Improved flexibility in foreign credential recognition is paramount to successful future immigration outcomes. We are committed to meeting our obligations under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and New West Partnership, and have taken action to address concerns related to the recognition of foreign credentials, particularly with those identified by internationally educated nurses. Ensuring qualified health professionals can work in our province as quickly as possible is critical to supporting Manitoba’s healthcare system. Our province was among the first to create fair registration legislation for regulated professions. We are proud of this record, but recognize that foreign credential recognition processes must be streamlined, as recommended in the Manitoba Immigration Advisory Council’s final report. Our province is currently amending its fairness legislation to make foreign credential recognition processes as efficient as possible. 

In Manitoba, we believe that increased immigration from the Indo-Pacific Region will benefit our province, Western Canada, and the valued newcomers who choose to call us home. 

Stephen Murgatroyd
CEO of Skills4AllOurFuture   

The Government of Canada’s targets are, in fact, 465,000 newcomers in 2023, going up to 485,000 in 2024, and 500,000 in 2025. Put simply, approximately 1.48 million. Our share in the West could well be 20-25 per cent of this total. 

There are three key issues: 

  1. Foreign credential recognition is based on antiquated processes which compare curriculum and assessment processes rather than the competencies and capabilities of the person. We should be less concerned with where they obtained their certification and more concerned about what they can actually do: knowledge, competency and capability assessment is where we need to go.
  2. Social acceptance and inclusion – As can be seen from the growth of hate crimes (including violent hate crimes), the integration of immigration into communities is a challenge that is not going well in many parts of Canada. The U.S. preoccupation with “white” and “dilution of power and economic well-being for whites” is leading to some strange social behaviour, reinforced by certain political voices.
  3. Canada is an expensive place for a new immigrant – high housing costs, increasing costs of living, and some of the most expensive broadband in the world. Affordability often means two to three jobs for adults in the household. Socio-economic adjustment is difficult, with many seeking social support and financial assistance.

We compete with many other jurisdictions in the global war for talent. We had better get really good at equity and inclusion, otherwise they will go elsewhere. 

Janet Lane, Director of Human Capital Centre
Stephany Laverty, Policy Analyst, Canada West Foundation  

Western Canada, and Canada as a whole, aren’t alone in the challenge to attract labour from the Indo-Pacific region. Other countries, including Australia, have already begun to reframe their approach within the region. While there are top-of-mind concerns related to foreign credential recognition and adequate and affordable housing, Canada needs to approach prospective immigrants from this region in new ways. Immigration officials at all levels need to examine every phase of the process – from communication of the benefits of a life in Canada, through the application procedure and allocation of points, to when and how an individual or family chooses not just a place to land but to build their new life.  

In the Canada West Foundation study Work to Live: Alberta Youth Mobility, we found that both perceptions, or misperceptions, and the reality of a place affect its capacity to attract and retain young adults. While previous generations of immigrants came to this country for a better life for themselves and their children – the future of their children took precedence. Today, young adults expect more for themselves when they choose to move. Research shows that the ability of adult family members of the primary immigrant to also build a career and life in the community is a strong attraction and retention factor. 

Understanding the views, expectations and experiences of people within the Indo-Pacific region, and those from the region who already live in Western Canada, would be helpful for policy makers. While some perceptions of Western Canada, both positive and negative, are real, once understood, any misperceptions could be addressed pre-arrival. And within reason, immigrant settlement agencies and provincial officials could work toward helping new immigrants meet their expectations once here. This, along with faster credential recognition (pre-arrival would be best) and better choices for housing, could provide Western Canada with the competitive advantage it needs to ensure it attracts immigrants and that they thrive after arrival. 

Carlo Dade
Director of Trade and Investment Centre, Canada West Foundation 

The good news is that Canada has set ambitious targets for new immigrants with little, if any, of the political divisiveness on immigration in the U.S. But the good news stops there. Difficulties faced by immigrants on finding housing and employment that matches the skills for which they were selected are rampant.  

In a highly competitive market for high-end talent attraction like the Indo Pacific, Canada is going to have to up its game and fix problems at home if it hopes to compete. Resolving problems such as credential recognition and managing immigration consultants are largely provincial areas of responsibility. Specific reforms in these areas are needed despite likely domestic political opposition from professional associations and unions. 

As important as are specific reforms, changing the policy and public discourse framework for immigration and talent attraction is also critical. This change starts with treating talent attraction the same way that we have begun to treat investment attraction with similar resources, focus and attention. While some provinces like Alberta have struggled to set up and maintain focus on investment attraction at the provincial level, lessons from that struggle can be applied to improving economic immigrant attraction.

An ideal shift would be locating provincial officials on the ground in the Indo-Pacific to join provincial investment attraction officials. Replacing immigration consultants and federal officials not familiar with the particular needs of Western Canada would assure that immigrants will be better matched with jobs and educational opportunities in real academic institutions. The increased provincial expenditure would improve the efficiency, effectiveness and fairness of the workforce immigration process. It will also improve the ability to compete for the best talent with not only Australia and the U.S., but also Ontario and other parts of Canada. The cost of staff on the ground is worth the benefit of having fully trained workers ready to immediately enter the workforce upon arrival.  

The China Brief is a compilation of stories and links related to China and its relationship with Canada’s West. The opinions expressed in the links are those of the articles’ authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Canada West Foundation and our affiliates.