Change of power in the U.S. an opportunity for Canada’s immigration goals: minister

OTTAWA — A pledge by U.S. president-elect Joe Biden to rip up some of the Trump administration’s most controversial immigration policies is an opportunity for Canada, says federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino. 

Biden has said that once he takes office in January, policies including travel bans from certain countries, the end of protected status for certain nationals already in the U.S. and a major decrease in refugee resettlement are all likely to be reversed, over time.

All have had impacts on Canada. 

The travel bans are believed to have helped drive an increase in migration to Canada by international students and workers in certain sectors. Canada has also become a global leader in refugee resettlement from abroad while the domestic asylum system has come under pressure from an increase in new claims driven partially by people seeking a way out of the United States. 

What happens next is under review, said Mendicino in an interview with The Canadian Press. 

“We will have those discussions, I’m sure, as there is a transition to the next administration,” he said.

Biden’s changes could stem the flow of students and workers who chose Canada over the U.S. in recent years but that’s an opportunity for Canada to just press forward to try to keep attracting them, said Mendicino.

“I see Canada seizing that opportunity with our immigration levels plan that seeks to not only attract some of those who are looking to come from abroad to Canada, but equally to leverage the domestic temporary immigration that is already within our borders,” he said.

In October, Mendicino unveiled plans for Canada to admit as many as 401,000 new permanent residents next year, a figure that takes into account the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically cut immigration this year. 

To reach those new levels, the government will focus partially on people already here as students, temporary foreign workers and those in other temporary programs, by finding ways for them to stay on as permanent residents. 

But new programs are also in the works. 

On Thursday, Mendicino announced one specifically targeted at residents of Hong Kong, where crackdowns by the Chinese regime have left many people fearing for their safety and led to calls for Canada to offer asylum. 

Instead, Mendicino unveiled an open work permit to those who’ve recently completed post-secondary studies so they can immigrate to Canada and eventually gain permanent residency. The program, he said, helps give people a path to Canada that will also benefit the country’s economy.

With the Canadian border closed to most international travel, the work permits could in theory open the door for Hong Kongers to travel to Canada to seek refugee status, a fact Mendicino danced around in the interview.

“It is a policy that does provide an opportunity for those who want to come and study and work,” he said.

Mendicino also announced greater leniency for Hong Kongers who do apply for asylum status in Canada, giving them expedited access to an existing avenue of appeal if their claims are rejected, and pledging that no one will be barred from making a claim if they’ve been charged under China’s new security laws.

How many people those new provisions could benefit remains unclear. 

According to the most recent data on the Immigration and Refugee Board website, there are currently 37 refugee claims from Hong Kong awaiting decisions, with 25 of those lodged in the first six months of this year.

In previous years, only two or three claims a year from Hong Kong have been filed, and most rejected.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 13, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press