By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada said on Friday that it would increase its immigration targets to bolster the economy and fill jobs in sectors experiencing shortages after the COVID-19 pandemic led to closed borders and a sharp slowdown in new arrivals.
The country is aiming to add 401,000 new permanent residents next year and 411,000 in 2022, an increase of 50,000 compared with the previous targets. The last time Canada attracted more than 400,000 people in one year was in the early 1900s.
"The plan today helps us to make up for the disruption that has been caused by COVID-19 in 2020," Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told Reuters.
"It paints a vision for the future where we see immigration as one of the keys to our economic recovery and our long-term prosperity," he said, adding the government is focused on boosting the healthcare and tech sectors, along with skilled trades.
Canada closed its borders to most immigrants in March to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The country had hoped to settle 341,000 people in 2020, but through August, it had done so for 128,425 people.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has relied on immigration to boost the Canadian economy since coming to power in 2015, setting an annual target of about 1% of the country's population of nearly 38 million.
In 2019, Canada recorded 341,175 new permanent residents, a 25% gain from 2015, official data show.
Mendicino said that, in part because of the uncertainty about when the borders will reopen, he would look at broadening and accelerating the pathway for immigrants already living in the country to obtain permanent residency.
According to the latest 2016 census data, more than one-in-five Canadians are foreign born.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Julie Gordon,; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Aurora Ellis)