Premier Jason Kenney says changes to Alberta’s immigration practices are taking place following the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the government has not released the details yet, the premier said the province can accommodate fewer newcomers due to global travel restrictions and the Alberta economic crisis. He made the comments during a live Facebook Q&A session on Wednesday evening.
He said the government will encourage Alberta employers to “do their best to find the huge and growing number of unemployed in Alberta” when hiring.
An official policy announcement is expected in a few weeks, a government spokesman said Thursday.
However, immigration lawyers have warned that any rapid changes to immigration rules could have unintended consequences.
Although the business outlook is difficult at this time, Calgary lawyer Evelyn Ackah said it will rebound. When they do, they will need immigrants to do the work that Canadians simply will not do, she said.
According to lawyers, few Canadians apply for jobs in slaughterhouses or fast food restaurants.
Ackah said that following the coronavirus pandemic, potential immigrants contacted her from China and India. They are interested in buying and managing businesses in Canada. These job creators are the ones the province should attract, she said.
“Rapid change, boom boom boom, they have long repercussions and it takes a long time to resolve, and therefore, I really don’t want to let this crisis change the direction and the trajectory of the immigration process,” he said. she declared.
Limited provincial control
With immigration under federal jurisdiction, the Alberta government could take limited steps to restrict newcomers, said Megan Dawson, partner at McCuaig Durocher in Edmonton.
The Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program allows the provincial government to select immigrants who are already working temporarily in Alberta to apply for permanent resident status if their skills and education meet an economic need of the province.
It is a joint program with the federal and provincial governments. In 2019, the province sponsored 6,000 immigrants through the program. From January 2015 to March 2020, almost 50,000 people came to Alberta through the program, said Adrienne South, press secretary to the Minister of Labor and Immigration.
The proposed immigrants are a fraction of the approximately 232,000 people who became permanent residents of Canada during the same period and who intended to live in Alberta.
The federal government controls the admission of temporary foreign workers, refugees and other express newcomers, said Dawson.
Employers often have to recruit workers with specialized knowledge and skills when people with the right training cannot be found in the province, she said.
These economic immigrants often train Albertans and help businesses create new jobs for locals, she said.
Alberta has a list of workers it does not need, including teachers, actors, athletes and real estate agents. Dawson said the province could potentially expand this list of categories.
“There are already safeguards in place to show that we have done our best to hire Canadians for this job first,” she said.
“I think the ramifications could be potentially unintended or unexpected in a negative way for some Alberta companies if they are unable to staff their company with foreign workers. “
Pandemic slows immigration process
Although the province’s immigration candidate is still accepting the applications, lawyers say the pandemic has made the immigration bureaucracy more difficult.
Ackah said that some temporary workers in the process of applying for permanent residence have been laid off, which could affect their eligibility.
Government programs have been accommodating and have allowed for extensions while applicants seek employment in their field, she said.
Other people ready to come to Canada cannot find flights or cross borders due to travel restrictions.
Dawson said that offices that process visas and collect biometric data, such as fingerprints, are also closed.
“There is basically a big pause button for people to try,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, the proportion of Alberta’s population made up of immigrants more than doubled between 2001 and 2016. In the last census in 2016, almost 24% of people living in Alberta were immigrants.