By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada is offering permanent residency to around 90,000 foreign students and workers in jobs as diverse as plumbing and cleaning, as it steps up efforts to meet an annual immigration target that has helped drive economic growth in recent years.
Canada has welcomed 70,000 new permanent residents so far this year, according to official numbers provided to Reuters, proportionally well short of the government's 2021 goal of 401,000. Three-quarters of those 70,000 were already living in the country.
With Canada's borders closed and COVID-19 rampant, the target is tough to meet. So the government is focusing on an immigrant pool already within its borders.
The program announced Wednesday invites 20,000 health workers, 40,000 international students and 30,000 "essential" workers from other sectors to apply for permanent residency.
"This has been an exceptionally challenging year," Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in an interview.
"It has shone a bright light on the exceptional contributions of domestic temporary newcomers who are already in Canada."
Last year Canada added only 184,370 new permanent residents, the fewest since 1998 and well short of its 341,000 target.
As part of the government's economic growth strategy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought to bring in about 1% of the country's population of almost 38 million each year.
Mendicino called this year's invitation an "unprecedented step of creating a faster and broader pathway to permanent residency" for occupations not in the professional or high-tech fields that Canada normally targets.
The dozens of eligible occupations currently deemed "essential" range from plumbers and cleaners to farmworkers and meat-cutters.
"The pandemic has done us a service in the sense that we recognize, now, the value of these people's work," said University of Ottawa immigration law professor Jamie Chai Yun Liew.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by John Stonestreet)