Maintaining Strong Immigration Will Be Crucial To Economic Recovery

With the continuing constraints caused by the Covid-19 crisis and the shooting tragedy still fresh in our memories, it is difficult but necessary to think about future years.

What might Nova Scotia look like when the Covid-19 menace is contained by vaccines or effective therapies?

Restaurants, bars, cinemas, massage parlours, sports and entertainment venues, hair salons, and gyms have been among the hardest hit. Some will not survive despite government support programs, but if the demand is there, replacements will arise.

Dentists, physiotherapists and some other health care providers will also have long layoffs but will eventually revive.

Home construction is an area of strength in recent years, particularly in Halifax. It has been able to continue, with some complications from the need to give workers social distancing. The diverse range of service providers employed in building and furnishing new residences is a great economic driver.

It is happening because we have had strong population growth, as was noted in this space at the end of January. The biggest source is new Canadians.

The final numbers for 2019 showed 7,580 immigrants to Nova Scotia, up from 5,970 in 2018. In Nova Scotia and elsewhere, the rise in immigration is accompanied by a decrease in unemployment. Two-thirds of those immigrants arrived through programs administered by the province.

They include doctors and other health care workers, early childhood educators, international graduates, computer programmers, and many others. The Atlantic Immigration Pilot that allows employers to import needed talent continues to grow in importance.

The Covid-19 pandemic will make it difficult to match the 2019 success, let alone continue the record of strong growth.

Canada has a broad prohibition against travellers from other countries. Exceptions are made for immigrants who had been approved before March 18th. All arrivals would, of course, be expected to isolate themselves for 14 days. Unfortunately, this does not apply to refugees, in part because the necessary United Nations refugee processing programs are not currently operational.

The flow may be slowed, given the great reduction in international flights. Some Atlantic Immigration Pilot immigrants may be postponed or cancelled if the employer’s business is no longer able to accept them.

A bigger concern is whether the pipeline of immigrants for future years will shrink. For many immigrant streams, the time between the first application and arrival can be a matter of years.

At present, immigrants approved after March 18th would not be able to travel to Canada. Nor would international students whose study permit was issued after that date. The necessary visa offices are closed.

Nova Scotia universities enrolled 12,000 international students in the current year. In a normal year, each one spends about $35,000 on local goods and services.

If the pandemic has substantially subsided by this time next year there is a risk that we will have lost the momentum in immigration that has contributed so much to our economy.

Last week, United States President Trump said that he intended to close the United States to people trying to immigrate into the country to live and work, a drastic move that he said would protect American workers from foreign competition once the nation’s economy began to recover from the shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The president’s announcement continues his xenophobic history, rejecting a main source of past American success. This provides a needed opportunity for us to up our game.

Trump’s actions make Canada look even more attractive as an alternative for skilled well-educated immigrants and employers who would like to hire them.

Nova Scotia Business Inc., the province’s economic development arm, has been busy dealing with existing and prospective clients, pointing out the advantages of our quality of life, low operating costs, and excellent post-secondary institutions. Just as important is the ease with which employers can attract and receive immigrants.

We need to fully utilize this competitive advantage.

The province should:

  1. Create a plan to facilitate international student arrivals when in-person university classes resume, hopefully in the fall. This may include Covid-19 testing on arrival for many of them. Press Ottawa to resume the processing of student visas as soon as possible.
  2. Press Ottawa to open travel to Canada for immigrants and international students who are approved after March 18.
  3. Use the ongoing hostility to immigration by the Trump administration to attract employers, particularly in knowledge-based industries such as computer science, biotechnology, or ocean sciences.
  4. Continue support to new and existing employers in their efforts to attract international workers.

Maintaining a strong momentum in immigration is crucial to our long term viability.

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