Ottawa is creating a new pathway to permanent residency for 90,000 essential workers and international graduates who are currently in Canada, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Wednesday.
The new policy will grant permanent status to temporary workers and graduates who possess the skills and experience the country needs to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and achieve an economic recovery, Mendicino said.
"Canada's path to prosperity lies through immigration because newcomers ... will come and roll up their sleeves and contribute and give back in our health care sector and in many other vital areas of the economy," he said at a news conference.
Mendicino said health care and other eligible essential workers must have at least one year of Canadian work experience to apply, while international graduates must have completed an eligible Canadian post-secondary program within the last four years.
On May 6, the immigration department will start accepting up to 50,000 applications from health care and other essential workers and 40,000 applications from international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.
Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, said the new program will strengthen Canada's economic recovery by ensuring that everyone who wishes to participate in the labour force has the ability to do so.
"Immigrants have long played a critical role in supporting Canadians' high standard of living and building vibrant communities," he said in a statement.
"They fill labour market shortages, offset our aging population and broaden the tax base, thereby helping fund social and public services."
Hyder said COVID-19-related restrictions have hit Canada's immigration system hard, significantly reducing the number of newcomers entering the country.
The Immigration department said the new policy will help the government meet its goal to accept 401,000 new permanent residents this year.
Mendicino said the jobs that are deemed essential are the same ones that people have sometimes labelled lower-skilled.
"From caring for seniors to putting food on our tables, we now have a greater appreciation for the many skills and talents and supports that temporary workers are contributing right across our economy."
Mendicino said he hopes Canadians will look back on this moment as a time when the country began to recognize the value of essential workers with an immigration policy that reflects appreciation for their roles.
"What began as temporary changes to keep our economy going are now blossoming into a wider shift in how we see and treat immigration to Canada," he said.
Leah Nord, a director at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the new program, saying it's "an important step towards the inclusive pandemic recovery."
She said in a statement that international students and temporary foreign workers are essential sources for talent pipelines for communities and industries across the country.
"We have long been advocating for the government to facilitate pathways to permanent residency for temporary residents."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press