“We’re aging, we’re retiring and without immigration, we cannot grow. Our plan is about jobs, it’s about economic recovery, and it’s about growth.”
~ the Hon. Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, January 22, 2021 press call
The Hon. Marco Mendicino, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, held an exclusive video press call with the Filipino Journal on January 22. This publication was represented by publisher Rodolfo Cantiveros and this columnist who shared the video of the interview on his weekly video podcast on BarangayCanada.com. The office of Kevin Lamoureux, MP for Winnipeg North, provided local assistance to make the online meeting possible.
As a Member of Parliament, Mendicino represents Ontario’s federal electoral district of Eglinton-Lawrence. The discussion included talking points such as the priority pathways for Canadian immigration, the federal government’s focus on economic recovery, and how the pandemic has impacted the processing of immigration applications, among other things.
Pathways to Support Jobs and Economic Growth
On the topic of priority pathways to immigration, the minister emphasized that this year’s immigration plan is focused on the economy. “We want to see jobs created. We want to see us accelerate our economic recovery and we can do that by looking at the needs of our workforce and by aligning those needs to the skills and experience that are brought in by newcomers, including from the Filipino-Canadian community.”
“At the top of the list of the needs of our economy right now is the health care sector, especially as we are fighting COVID-19. So, think of all of the people who have come to Canada, whether they’re coming to work as caregivers or personal support workers, but equally if they’re coming here to study …. as a doctor or a nurse or as a pharmacist or in healthcare research or … to become a caregiver or personal support worker. These are all individuals who are helping us to fight against the second wave of COVID-19,” the minister continued.
The minister also explained why the pathways to becoming permanent residents will be expanded and accelerated. “I think it’s about looking at the domestic temporary immigrants who are already here, who are already contributing to our economy and finding a way to invite them to stay. And that’s for one very simple reason: we need the reinforcements. We hear it all the time. Our doctors and nurses are working around the clock and they need support. It’ll help us address the immediate concerns of COVID-19 but it will also help to address the long-term demographic challenges that we have as a country.”
International Student Program
The discussion also touched on the topic of the International Student Program. The minister considers it among the country’s most important economic contributors as it brings in $2.16 B to the economy every year in normal times. “First and foremost, we have created flexibility for international students who are here and who have had to extend their stay because of travel restrictions. We have introduced a restoration of status and work permit flexibility so that they can contribute to the economy and support themselves, but in addition to that we’ve also allowed for more online education especially when in the first wave of COVID-19, many campuses were closed and so we wanted to be sure both that students who were here could take their courses online, but equally for new students who had applied to come to Canada…to start their studies from abroad.”
“We are doing that work in very close collaboration with the provincial governments, including Manitoba who has to approve the school before we will approve the visa. So, if you are attending an institution from abroad, you have to be sure that that school is on the list of approved Designated Learning Institutions,” the minister reminded.
Parent and Grandparent Program, Spousal Applications
Asked about the pandemic’s impact on immigration applications, Mr. Mendicino replied that the ministry is doing better than it was a year ago when COVID-19 hit Canada. “In 2021 there will be thirty thousand applicants processed under the PGP…It’s not just about reuniting families and loved ones when grandparents come to Canada. They also provide support for young families so that they can go to work, and that is a benefit to our economy.”
“On family reunification — at the end of last year in 2020 — I made a promise that we would prioritize spousal applications. We kept that promise. We prioritized the processing of nearly 50,000 spousal applications and we will continue to work to prioritize family reunification both through spousal sponsorship but equally through the parent and grandparent program because we believe that it is important to keep families together and that is a big part of our immigration system,” the minister assured.
Mr. Mendicino also shared about the ways the ministry will be keeping up with the volume of applications to be processed. “We will do that by becoming more digital, by adding resources where we need to, and by being as creative as we can to create pathways to reunite families throughout the pandemic.”
The minister also shared his views about the issue of continuing anti-immigrant discrimination amplified by the pandemic. “It’s so important that we remain united in standing against racism in all of its forms and unfortunately the pandemic has really shone a light on the fact that racism is still very much part of our daily lives … It’s very important that our immigration system treat people fairly, transparently, consistently, and in a manner that upholds our Charter. This is what we stand for as Canadians: we respect one another, we believe in our diversity. Diversity is a strength and we see that reflected in our immigration system, so please count me as a friend in this regard.”
Optimism for the COVID-19 Vaccination
The minister acknowledged that 2020 has been a very challenging year and he expects the next couple of months to be equally difficult, but he also remains hopeful. “I see brighter days coming and that is because our government has had the backs of Canadians. We’ve provided support and relief to people who need it, whether you’re a worker, a business owner, or a family. And in addition to that, we have the most number of vaccines per capita in the world, so there is every reason to be hopeful and optimistic that by this fall we will have vaccinated everybody that wants one, and that’s when we will start to see life get back to normal.”
Having covered a wide array of topics in the allotted fifteen minutes, Minister Mendicino expressed appreciation for the federal government’s continuing positive relationship with the Filipino migrants of Canada. “Under our government, we have seen the Filipino-Canadian diaspora grow to nearly a million and that is quite a remarkable achievement for your community, so at a very high level let me just say that it is an honour for me to be a friend to the Filipino-Canadian community!”
Kris Ontong is an award-winning community advocate and a finalist in the 12th RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards. He is the co-founder of Barangay Canada, and hosts its weekly video podcast.