Canadians need access to immigration and citizenship data. Through a new dashboard, the ICC and Andrew Griffith are making it more accessible to the public.


By Andrew Griffith

Labour shortages and processing backlogs have sparked lively debates about the impact of COVID-19 on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). These debates also highlight the need for greater access to information. Through a collaboration with expert Andrew Griffith, the ICC is bringing monthly immigration and citizenship data to the public through a new dashboard.

Source: Immigration Dashboard

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dan Hiebert (University of British Columbia) and Howard Ramos (Western University) were speculating about the possible impact of COVID-19 on immigration and citizenship in Canada. These discussions highlighted the unique value and importance of data and ultimately led to monthly tracking of IRCC data across the full range of programs: Permanent Residents, temporary workers, settlement services, international students, citizenship, and visitor visas.

The importance of data was made visible during the citizenship backlogs in the early 2000s and 2010s, which prompted the respective governments to increase funding to IRCC to reduce large backlogs.

We were curious how COVID-19 would change the complex set of push and pull factors that incentivize migration. Put simply, source countries have attributes that make life look more attractive abroad and host countries have features that attract newcomers. For instance, a weak economy or poorer quality of life at home compared to good jobs and good health abroad.

Monthly tracking of data would allow us to observe the downstream impact of COVID-19 on the number and origin of people moving through Canada’s various immigration and citizenship programs delivered through IRCC.

As it happened, the data revealed that COVID-19 did not significantly affect immigration source countries apart from China, where Chinese government restrictions and policies resulted in an ongoing decline compared to other countries.

Source: Immigration Dashboard

In the end, it was the Canadian government’s immigration policy response after the initial shutdowns and restrictions that had a much greater impact on immigration and citizenship than our relative handling of COVID-19.

The government’s response included both short-term measures to address particular pressure points such as seasonal agriculture workers, greater flexibility for international students for remote study, and perhaps most significantly, the vast expansion of temporary residents transitioning to permanent residency (TR2PRR).

Picking up on earlier plans stalled by the pandemic, the government took full advantage of the opportunity to implement substantial increases in immigration levels, with the most recent plan committing to welcome 500,000 new permanent residents in 2025.

Source: Immigration Dashboard

The citizenship program, briefly shut-down, moved to a mix of virtual and in-person citizenship ceremonies and has recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

Medium and longer-term measures included more online applications and tracking along with IT, AI, and associated investments to improve processing.

Each of these responses had an impact on the people moving through IRCC’s immigration and citizenship programs. But to what degree? The observable change can only be seen in IRCC’s monthly data tables, which remain complex and unapproachable to most.

The goal of this dashboard is to make basic immigration and citizenship data more readily available and accessible to the public. It focuses on permanent residents and new citizens in terms of overall numbers, immigration categories, the countries of citizenship and the year-over-year change. Application data is not included given the approximately six-month time lag. IRCC web data provides a sense of interest in immigrating to Canada and becoming a citizen.

The data series starts in 2018, two years prior to the start of COVID-19, and tracks the impact of COVID-19 and the related effects of the government policy and program responses to COVID-19.

Now, more than two years later, most of Canada’s immigration programs have recovered from the depths of COVID-19 health and travel restrictions.

A more in-depth analysis of COVID-19’s impact and Canadian immigration and citizenship’s recovery can be found in my article, “How the government used the pandemic to sharply increase immigration“.

The hope is that this dashboard will help to spark, substantiate, and contextualize more conversations about immigration and citizenship in Canada.

Andrew Griffith is the author of “Because it’s 2015…” Implementing Diversity and InclusionMulticulturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger. Find him on Twitter: @Andrew_Griffith


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