Feds Say Immigrants Needed to Build Homes, but Only 1.6 Percent Have the Skills

Feds Say Immigrants Needed to Build Homes, but Only 1.6 Percent Have the Skills
Houses under construction in Toronto in a file photo. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)
Noé Chartier

Only 1.6 percent of newcomers to Canada in 2022 were accepted based on having skills to work in construction, federal data indicates, as the Liberal government defends its immigration levels citing the need for new trade workers to build homes.

Immigration Canada provided the data on Dec. 6 in response to an order paper from Conservative MP Pat Kelly.

The department says that between 2016 and September 2023, Canada admitted 42,495 permanent residents in the skilled trades immigration category.

Those include a wide range of trades workers, such as plumbers, boilermakers, ironworkers, welders, cabinetmakers, and carpenters.

Canada saw a record number of newcomers in 2022, accepting 431,645 new permanent residents. Out of those, 6,950 were in the skilled trades category, for a ratio of 1.6 percent. The number was higher in 2021 at 9,855 and was standing at 8,195 for the year 2023 up to September.

With the current housing crunch, which has seen elevated home prices, the most rapid increase in interest rates in history, and record rent prices, questions have been raised about whether the Liberal government should revise immigration targets to reduce demand.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised immigration on Dec. 15 as a source of “economic advantage” when asked by reporters about potential cuts to help with the housing crisis. But he added his government is “constantly looking at some of the challenges that are being faced.”

Meanwhile in his year-end speech on Dec. 15, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem explained why shelter pricing continues to rise as the economy slows, pointing to lack of supply and high immigration.

“Canada’s housing supply has not kept up with the growth in our population, and higher rates of immigration are widening the gap,” he said.

The government has said it plans to welcome 465,000 new permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025. Updated figures released in November this year indicate no new increase in 2026 with a target of 500,000.

Immigration Minister Mark Miller was asked shortly after taking the portfolio in late July whether immigration would be reduced to help deal with the housing crisis.

“If people are asking us to slash, what does that mean?” he said on Aug. 11. “Does that mean slashing the skilled workers that we need to actually build those houses?”
Mr. Miller had announced earlier that month that as part of the new Express Entry system to bring in people with expertise in critical fields, some of the first trades openings would include carpentry, plumbing, and welding.

Since then, the federal government has made several announcements to increase the supply of houses, including providing funding to municipalities that change zoning policies and passing a bill to remove the GST on new rental builds.

Implementation of measures to reduce housing demand have begun, with Mr. Miller announcing that international students will need more than double the funds required to come to Canada.
Housing Minister Sean Fraser also said this week that reforms are being considered for visas for international students and temporary foreign workers.
But with Canada’s population growing at its fastest pace in 65 years, and Canada’s housing agency saying 3.5 million new homes need to be built by 2030 to establish affordability, the federal government is facing a dilemma.

The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) is hoping that the arrival of more skilled newcomers will help address what it calls industry-wide labour shortages in the construction industry.

“Immigration is an integral part of the solution needed to build the critical infrastructure and housing Canadian’s need,” CCA President Mary Van Buren told The Epoch Times in a statement.

“The recent data underscores the issue we have highlighted to the federal government multiple times; that is that there are not enough immigrants coming in who are skilled or trained to work in construction.”

The CCA said there are currently 60,000 job openings in construction, adding that skilled trades admissions accounted for less than 2 percent of newcomers since 2016 despite trades accounting for 17.2 of the Canadian workforce.

“To address this, we urgently call for the modernization of the existing immigration policy and points system to better reflect and target the workforce needs of the Canadian economy,” says Ms. Van Buren.

Matthew Horwood contributed to this report.