U.S. and Canadian Immigration Policies: A Comparison

CIC News
Published: August 19, 2015

The immigration landscape of North America is constantly changing. Canada and the United States, to a large extent, followed parallel trajectories in the earlier parts of their immigration histories. Both countries initially drew principally on migrants from the British Isles and Europe, before expanding their catchment area to other regions of the world. Over time, however, Canadian and U.S. immigration policies have diverged in significant ways.

Immigration issues are in the news in both countries these days, perhaps more so than usual. Canada is in election mode, with many new Canadians expected to vote for the first time. Meanwhile in the United States, a combative Republican Presidential nominee contest, led by the enigmatic Donald Trump, has placed immigration policy to the fore. But what are we really talking about when we talk about immigration? How does Canada differ from the U.S.? This article will present five fundamental ways in which Canadian immigration policy is different from that of the U.S.

1. Canada favours economic immigration.

Around two-thirds of new Canadian permanent residents arrive through economic immigration programs. In contrast, only 16 percent of new Green Card holders (lawful permanent residents, or LPRs) in the U.S. arrive through economic immigration categories. Politicians and commentators in other countries continually point to Canada’s points-based economic immigration as a shining example of a positive, open immigration strategy that creates opportunities for newcomers and Canadians alike.

Sources: Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Canada. U.S. figures are for 2013. Canadian figures are projected for 2015.

2. There is no Diversity Lottery in Canada, but Canada has the Express Entry pool

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the Green Card lottery, is a lottery program for receiving a U.S. Permanent Resident Card. Canada has no such program. In 2014, the Green Card lottery attracted more than 11 million applicants. From this pool of applicants less than 0.5 percent were to receive visas, which are allocated at random in a single annual draw. With odds of less than one in two hundred, applicants generally enter the pool of applicants in the Green Card lottery more in hope than expectation.

Canada has its own sort of pool — the Express Entry pool, which came into operation earlier in January, 2015 — where candidates who have made an Expression of Interest in immigrating to Canada are ranked according to a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Candidates are selected from the pool on a priority basis, rather than at random, at regular draws from the pool. Selected candidates receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence in Canada, from which point they have 60 days to submit an application, with processing times of six months or less. Within the first few months of Express Entry’s launch a consistently increasing number of candidates in the Express Entry pool have received ITAs, with many of these individuals having quickly gone on to land in Canada as permanent residents. Furthermore, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) recently stated that ‘Future rounds from the Express Entry pool will become the main source of applications to meet annual Canadian immigration levels targets.’

While not everyone is eligible to enter the Express Entry pool, the same is true for the Green Card lottery. The major difference, however, is that individuals presently ineligible to enter the Express Entry pool can become eligible through their own endeavour by improving their language ability, adding supplementary work experience, and/or completing a higher level of education. Applicants to the Green Card lottery, on the other hand, are at the whim of a program that only allows candidates from certain countries to enter, and that’s before the randomness of the draw itself is taken into account.

3. The Provincial Nominee Programs

In Canada, the federal government and the provinces and territories share jurisdiction over the selection of immigrants. Provinces and territories can create and tailor Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) that allow them to nominate individuals who are deemed likely to contribute positively to the community, both socially and economically. The federal government then attends to health and security matters before issuing the permanent resident visa. The PNPs are a dynamic set of programs that fast-track the entrance of newcomers who arrive in their new homes knowing that the region in which they are settling wants them there. Indeed, these newcomers are actively pursued by the provincial governments.

The 50 U.S. state governments do not benefit from such a de-centralized system, however, with immigration jurisdiction remaining exclusively with the U.S. federal government.

4. International students in Canada can stay after graduation

When Mitt Romney was running for President of the U.S. in 2012, he stated “If you get an advanced degree here, we want you to stay here – so we will staple a Green Card to your diploma.” Alas, post-graduation work and immigration options for international students in the U.S. remain scant to this day, with many graduates effectively forced to leave the country soon after graduation. These individuals take with them their ideas, creativity and know-how and use it elsewhere — very often in Canada. In turn, the U.S. loses out on a potentially high-earning tax base.

In contrast, Canada offers its cohort of international students something that is not available, or more difficult to obtain, in other countries — a post-graduation work permit for up to three years. International students who go down this route also benefit from permanent immigration options, including the Canadian Experience Class and the Quebec Experience Class. All of this allows Canada to retain top talent.

5. A Green Card and Canadian permanent residence are fundamentally different

A Green Card is the popular name for a United States Permanent Resident Card. Instead of a Canada Green Card, permanent residents of Canada have the right to a Canada Permanent Resident Card as proof of their Canada immigration status. The distinction is not a question of semantics; there is a significant difference in the philosophies behind the issuance of a United States Green Card and a Canada Permanent Resident Card.

A Green Card grants the holder the permission to enter and live in the United States. In contrast, Canadian permanent resident status grants an individual the right to enter and live in Canada. Having permission and having the right are two distinct claims. A right is something more — it is a legal entitlement, inherent to the holder. Permanent residents of the United States must be in possession of their U.S Green Cards at all times and must be prepared to show them to U.S. authorities upon request. Canada permanent residents have no such obligation. Not only do they not have to carry around their Canada Permanent Resident Card, they are not even required to apply for the card. Though useful to have, a Canada Permanent Resident Card is purely voluntary. 

Why Canada?

“Over the past few years, many American lawmakers have tended to view immigration through the lens of security issues or national sovereignty, rather than as an opportunity to add dynamism and flexibility to the labour market,” says Attorney David Cohen. “The popular image of energetic immigrants arriving on American shores and ‘making it’ through hard work and bright ideas is redundant if the system there won’t allow for it.

“On the other hand, Canada accepts more immigrants per capita than any other country in the Americas. And these people succeed and prosper. They provide for their families, open businesses and create opportunities for others. According to a BMO study, nearly half of all millionaires in Canada are immigrants or second-generation residents, compared to just one-third in America. While in the United States people have been busy pursuing happiness, most of their counterparts in Canada have been busy living it. With a wide range of immigration options, it is the true land of opportunity in North America.”

To find out if you are eligible for any of Canada’s over 60 immigration programs, please fill out a free assessment today.


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