As the Covid-19 pandemic has unfolded around the world, the importance of migration and mobility, and the challenges and opportunities that they represent, have become dramatically visible. We have witnessed countries like Canada making unprecedented decisions to close borders to both migrants and visitors, while at the same time making emergency arrangements to bring in migrant workers in agriculture and care work. The highly skilled migrants, for which post-industrial countries are generally competing, have been left stranded at origin even if they had completed their paperwork and had job offers waiting for them. Other such highly skilled professionals are to be found at the destination country with insecure status as their immigration applications have been held up in the pandemic emergency.
For Canada, the pandemic is not only posing short-term challenges with regards to border restrictions and quarantine arrangements aimed at protecting public health, it raises important medium and long-term risks to the supply of skilled immigration, which is a vital element in the country’s socio-economic and demographic growth. While the federal government is facilitating the conversion of many groups to permanent status, such as visitors with temporary or precarious status, work permit holders and refugee claimants, as well as prioritizing applications for study permits, it is unlikely that Canada will meet its immigrant target of one million new immigrants for the 2020-2022 period. Migrant labour is likely to be at the forefront of the economic recovery, whether through the foreign talent required for technological or social innovation or the migrant labour force that is needed to fill jobs in the essential sectors of the economy. In this disrupted and uncertain COVID19 world, understanding better the drivers of international, highly skilled migration and how the pandemic is affecting the decision making of prospective migrants is key to supporting Canada’s future immigration plans, economic recovery and demographic sustainability.