Canada to offer more immigration pathways to temporary residents

Shelby Thevenot, Kareem El-Assal
Published: November 12, 2020

Canada is looking at offering more permanent residence pathways to foreign nationals who are already in the country.

Following the announcement that Canada would welcome over 400,000 immigrants per year over the next three years, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told Bloomberg that the government is looking into ways to offer permanent residence pathways to temporary residents.

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Why this change is necessary

The immigration minister said it is important for Canada to identify how it can accelerate pathways to permanent residence for international students, temporary foreign workers, and asylum seekers already in the country. This is necessary to alleviate the economic challenges Canada is currently facing in part due to lower immigration levels caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decline in Canada's immigration levels has slowed population, labour force, and economic growth.

Both permanent and temporary residents have dropped significantly this year. After a net increase of more than 190,000 temporary residents in 2019, the first half of 2020 has seen that number decrease to 18,221. Permanent resident numbers are down 60 per cent year-over-year according to government data from August.

Canada set to fall short of 2020 immigration target

Based on its current pace, Canada is set to welcome only 200,000 or so permanent residents this year, which is much less than the 341,000 it targeted prior to the coronavirus pandemic. This has already slowed Canada's total population growth, which was just 0.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. Canada's population usually grows by over one per cent per year.

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Mendicino told Bloomberg that making temporary residents permanent will address Canada's short-term needs to respond to coronavirus. He also said it will help address Canada's long-term demographic challenges, which include an aging population and low birth rate. These two factors mean that more gaps will be created in the labour market as the older population retires. With a low natural growth rate, Canada will need immigrants in order to sustain the population and ensure that open positions in the labour force are filled.

The government will look at the foreign talent that is already in Canada in order to find the asylum seekers, students, and workers who have the skills that align with essential services in the economy, Mendicino told Bloomberg.

He also said that students from other countries are "particularly attractive" as potential counter forces to the effects of an aging population. Because of this, the government is making it easier for them to work in Canada.

For example, Canada is allowing online study at a Canadian designated learning institution between May 2020 and April 2021 to count towards future Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) eligibility. The PGWP is coveted among international students because it enables them to gain the Canadian work experience they often need to be eligible for a range of economic class immigration programs. These programs include Express Entry's Canadian Experience Class, the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), and Quebec Experience Program.

Canada has also recently opened up its borders to students who are enrolled in classes at post-secondaries that have coronavirus readiness plans.

The benefits of Canadian experience

There are two major benefits to offering more PR pathways to existing students, foreign workers, and asylum seekers in Canada. In the short run, this will offset the temporary decline in immigration caused by the pandemic, which will support economic growth. In the long run, it will benefit Canada because immigrants with Canadian experience tend to have strong labour market outcomes.

The combination of having Canadian education, work experience, social and professional networks, and fluency in English and/or French results in quicker labour market integration and high wages in the long term.

This has been shown in numerous studies conducted by Statistics Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and other researchers. As a result, selection criteria used by IRCC, provinces and territories under the PNP, and by Quebec give preference to candidates with Canadian work and study experience.

What could changes look like?

The minister did not hint at what the changes may entail, but his options may include one or more of the following:

  • launching new federal pilot programs
  • holding program-specific Express Entry draws
  • modifying Express Entry's Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) to provide more points for Canadian experience
  • modifying eligibility criteria for federal programs (e.g., reducing the work experience requirement for the Canadian Experience Class)
  • extending the length of temporary work permit durations to give candidates more time to gain the Canadian work experience they need to be eligible to apply for an immigration program such as the Canadian Experience Class.

The minister and IRCC have not provided any other indications on what reforms they have in mind, so stakeholders will need to await official word from the federal government.

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