In 2020, Canada’s yearly immigration numbers were about half of what they were in years prior, but local organizations say they expect those losses to be made up in coming months.
According to Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Canada admitted 321,055 permanent residents in 2018, and another 341,175 in 2019. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging in 2020, those admissions went down to 184,595. In June 2021, the most recent reported data, numbers for the year were at 144,715.
This decrease in newcomers comes in spite of the Canadian government upping the target to 401,000 people in October 2020, an increase of 50,000, while stating that increased immigration is part of Canada’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan.
“I expect us to have a busy year ahead,” said Sandra Cocco, CEO of Immigration Services Guelph-Wellington (ISGW).
ISGW helps newcomers find schools, doctors, and jobs, navigate the bureaucracy of immigration, offers language courses and conversation opportunities, and provides interpretation services on an as-requested basis.
Like the number of nationwide new admissions reported by the IRCC, Cocco said her organization saw a drop in new clients during the pandemic. According to the 2019-20 annual report, ISGW served 1,607 new clients. For 2020-21, that number went down to 695.
With travel restrictions easing, and the school year starting, Cocco said that number is expected to go up soon. But by exactly how much is anyone’s guess.
“That’s always the million dollar question,” said Leen Al-Habash, project manager for the Guelph Wellington Local Immigration Partnership (GWLIP).
“Nobody knows how many are coming to any community. The federal government sets the goal for newcomers to the country. They might have some sort of expectation of how many will end up in each province, but nobody can predict exactly how many will come each year to any place.”
GWLIP acts as a platform for other newcomer services in Guelph. GWLIP members track immigration statistics, develop strategies with the city, and collaborate with local agencies like ISGW to help Guelph better respond to the needs of people new to the country.
Al-Habash said that census data from 2011 to 2016 indicated around 700 to 800 newcomers came to Guelph, on average, during those years.
Asked how many people would be coming to Guelph in the next year, Al-Habash said she “would assume the number to be significantly higher than 700.”
Considering the number of new clients at ISGW in 2019 is already double that number, and not all newcomers use ISGW, Al-Habash is likely right.
While ongoing humanitarian crises in places like Afghanistan and Eritrea are encouraging immigration, Cocco said once a person gets to Canada, there are several things drawing them to Guelph.
For example, she says strong community support networks coupled with job availability in Guelph’s manufacturing sector help bring people to the area. There are also well-established communities of people from embattled countries like Afghanistan and Eritrea, which encourages others from those countries to the Royal City.
But Guelph still has challenges it needs to deal with — and those challenges aren’t restricted just to newcomers.
Both Al-Habash and Cocco said that the ongoing housing crisis is serious. Rent and home prices are at all-time highs, and Cocco said many available homes aren’t appropriate for large families.
“We don’t necessarily see this up front, because many newcomers will have a larger family and they just make do with a one- or two-bedroom apartment. Those apartments are really not sufficient to meet newcomer family’s needs,” Cocco said.
Adding to this, strong family support may be hiding the true housing needs of newcomers. For instance, if a cousin needs a place to stay, “they’re gonna sleep on the couch. You’re not going to see them on a park bench. But they are under-housed,” Cocco said.
Cocco added it would be great to see the city create a formal program to address housing needs, like allowing for tiny homes, or creating a billeting program.
“There’s a lot of things that we could do as a community to address housing, that surpasses your typical one-bedroom units that we see built often for affordable housing.”