Canadian immigration: What can we expect after the election on September 20?

Kareem El-Assal
Published: September 8, 2021

The federal election taking place on September 20 will shape Canada's immigration system for up to the next four years.

The election result is the most important event in Canada's immigration system since the federal government is largely responsible for the policies that impact the system. The Constitution outlines immigration as an area of shared federal-provincial jurisdiction, with the federal government having the final say. In practice, while provinces and territories across Canada are very active in recruiting and settling newcomers, it is the federal government, namely Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that has the greatest control over the nation's immigration policies. For instance, IRCC determines national immigration levels as well as allocations for each province, processing times, and is the largest funder by far of the settlement and integration services offered across the country.

IRCC gets its direction from the political party that forms government after each federal election. Hence, the party that leads the country after September 20 will leave a lasting impression on the immigration system. The following is an overview of what you can expect and is based on the events that followed the 2015 and 2019 federal elections.

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Between now and when the new government takes effect, IRCC and the provinces and territories will continue to undertake their existing immigration responsibilities. This means that Express Entry, Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), and other immigration streams will continue to operate. Moreover, IRCC will continue to process applications and conduct its other areas of operations. What typically does not happen around federal election periods is the implementation of new policies and programs. Instead, IRCC waits for the new government to take power and provide it with policy guidance.

After the election, the governing party will need some time, usually 1-2 months, before they determine cabinet members and other key appointments. The transition then occurs and they begin to govern the federal government. Around this time, the Prime Minister will provide each minister with a mandate letter. The mandate letter will outline what policy priorities each minister, including the immigration minister, is being asked by the Prime Minister to carry out during the new government's time in office. The immigration minister's mandate letter will shape IRCC's priorities, and in turn, have an impact on the provinces, territories, and entire immigration system.

In 2019, the election took place in October, cabinet was announced in November, and then the mandate letters were released after the winter holidays in January 2020.

In 2015, the election took place in October, cabinet was introduced in November, and the mandate letters also became public in November.

This time around, we should have cabinet and the new government in place by November at the latest. It is likely that the new government will have time before the winter holidays in December to begin to roll out their policies and also reveal the new mandate letters. It is important to note that the Liberals are the current governing party and Marco Mendicino is the federal Immigration Minister. Should the Liberals win another election, it is entirely possible that Mendicino will remain the Immigration Minister and priorities contained in his existing mandate letters will be rolled over into the new mandate.

Following the revealing of the immigration minister and mandate letter for IRCC, the next big immigration system event will be the tabling of the 2022-2024 Immigration Levels Plan. The levels plan outlines the number of immigrants that IRCC will seek to welcome each year, which categories it will seek to welcome newcomers under, and the allocation of newcomers it is providing to each province and territory. This announcement usually takes place by November 1st each year, but it is delayed by several months in the years that elections take place. Following the 2015 and 2019 elections, the levels plan announcement occurred in the first quarter of the New Year. Following this September's election, we should get the new levels plan by March 2022 at the latest, however the announcement itself should simply be a continuation of ongoing efforts to welcome over 400,000 new immigrants to Canada each year.

We can expect Budget 2022 to be released around the same time as the levels plan announcement. Among its features, the budget outlines what the federal government plans to spend its money on. It sometimes contains new policy announcements which impact the immigration system. Earlier this year, for instance, Budget 2021 noted the federal government plans to spend nearly $430 million to update its IT infrastructure to improve application processing for the immigration system.

Gradually over 2022, we should then see the new government hit its stride and introduce new immigration policies and programs. Irrespective of the outcome on September 20, we should expect IRCC and the provinces and territories to continue to invite new immigrants and process applications. What may change is the areas of the immigration system they choose to focus on, which again, will be influenced by the political orientation of the new government.

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