OTTAWA –Immigration, Citizenship, and Refugees Minister Ahmed Hussen is dismissing American-style security concerns over immigration, putting Canada’s new plan to bring in nearly a million newcomers over the next three years in stark contrast with the recent U.S. clampdown under Donald Trump.
Hussen called Canada a "world leader" in settling and integrating immigrants, and said despite security concerns raised by some -- including Trump -- it’s possible to increase immigration while mitigating potential security concerns.
"We don't have to make a choice between the two. You can be rigorous in your screening for security, for health, for criminality. At the same time be ambitious in immigration," said Hussen in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period, championing Canada’s different direction as the right economic move.
On Wednesday the federal government announced a three-year plan that will see Canada admitting 340,000 immigrants a year by 2020, an increase of 13 per cent overall.
South of the border, U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking an immigration clampdown and vowed to step up the Department of Homeland Security’s "extreme vetting program" following Tuesday’s terror attack in New York.
The vetting process for prospective immigrants attempts to decipher whether applicants' views align with American values. For months his administration has attempted to bring in stronger restrictions on travel to the U.S. from a handful of Muslim-majority countries.
Hussen said that he hasn’t heard any security concerns from U.S. officials about Canada's plan.
While the government says the immigration plan is ambitious, the number is short of the 450,000 target recommended by its economic advisory council last year.
Hussen said the three-year plan was in response to the needs of stakeholders who were asking for more stability. He said while the increase in immigrants next year will be "gradual" it’ll ramp up in the years following.
"We have heard loud and clear unanimously from provinces, from employers, saying to us, we need skilled workers. There are real labour market and skills shortages in this country," he said, citing the shrinking gap between the number of working adults per every retiree.
Hussen said that by 2036 the ratio is projected to be two working-age adults to one retiree.
"This is a demographic challenge we have to meet head on... one of the ways to address that is through immigration," he said.
Hussen denies Trump policy leading to more asylum claims in Canada
Hussen also downplayed the connection between the influx in asylum seekers to Canada, and the U.S. immigration policy under Trump.
He said the narrative that the influx of people crossing the U.S. border into Canada because of Trump, isn’t the whole picture.
"It’s more complicated than that. It's not the case for every single asylum seeker," said Hussen. "Forty per cent of the asylum seekers who were coming through the Quebec border had valid U.S. visas and had been in the U.S. for a very short time. Those were people who were intending to come to Canada regardless. It had nothing to do with U.S. policies."
Between January and September 2017, there have been 35,755 asylum claims processed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency. The influx is being felt most in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia.
Hussen admits the influx outpaces what Canada anticipated, but said the increase in immigration under the new plan will help absorb some of the entrants. He also cautioned that not every asylum seeker will be able to make a legitimate refugee claim, meaning not all will get the protection they’re seeking in Canada.
'Practical limits to our capacity': Kenney
Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta and former immigration minister under Stephen Harper questioned the federal government’s approach, saying there needs to be a focus on successful integration rather than boosting the number of newcomers to Canada "for the sake of it."
"I do think there are practical limits to our capacity to integrate people," Kenney said on CTV’s Question Period. “There’s no point in brining immigrants to Canada to face unemployment or underemployment, and too often that is the case. I think they should be a little bit more careful about that," he said.
Hussen, though, said Canada does integration "better than any other country in the world."
"The immigration system works, our settlement integration works... We're making the right moves. We can always do better, but a billion dollars we invested into settlement and integration this year. Is it expensive? Is it a huge investment? Absolutely. But it pays, it pays down the road," said Hussen.