Canada sees all-time high work permits take effect in 2022

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: February 23, 2023

In 2022, a record 608,420 Canadian work permits took effect.

This is close to 200,000 more work permits than in 2021, which saw only 414,000 permits come into effect.

Work permits were issued between Canada’s two broad work permit pathways—the International Mobility Program (IMP) and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

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The bulk of work permits holders (77%) that were welcomed into Canada in 2022, were under the IMP. In total, 472,070 work permits came into effect under the IMP, in 2022.

Comparatively, the remaining quarter of permits (136,350) were issued to workers under the TFWP.

Both the IMP and the TFWP have seen increases in the number of permits that have taken effect yearly. In 2019, there were only 303,545 work permits effective under the IMP. After a slight decrease due to the COVI-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of permits under the IMP rebounded to 310,660 permits in 2021. The IMP has therefore seen more than a 55% increase in effective work permits, since 2019.

Under the TFWP, only 98,030 work permits took effect in 2019. After seeing the same decrease in 2020 as IMP work permits, this number rebounded to 103,340 effective permits in 2021. Accordingly, since 2019, there has been a 39% increase in work permits that have come into effect under the TFWP.

What are the TFWP and the IMP?

Both the TFWP and the IMP issue work permits to temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to work and live in Canada. However, there are important differences between both pathways that should be noted.

The TFWP allows Canadian employers to issue work permits to TFWs, as a means of responding to genuine labour shortages in Canada. The biggest difference between the TFWP and the IMP is the need for an Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), a government document used to assess the impact of hiring a foreign national on the Canadian labour market. LMIAs are needed in order to issue a work permit under the TFWP. With an LMIA, work permits issued under the TFWP are generally “employer-specific/LMIA-based”, as opposed to the open work permits issued under the IMP.

In contrast, the IMP exists to promote Canada’s broad economic, social and cultural policy objectives. Work permits under the IMP are usually issued with consideration to reciprocity (between the applicant’s country and Canada) or the significant cultural or economic benefit that comes with hiring a TFW. Consequently, the IMP contains programs like the Global Talent Stream, International Experience Canada, and the Significant Benefit work permit program (among others).

As mentioned, because the IMP’s scope is broader than the TFWP, the Canadian government does not employ an LMIA system when issuing work permits under the IMP; usually providing applicants with open work permits. Open work permits allow holders to work in most industries and for most employers, whereas employer-specific permits issued under the TFWP are usually tied to work with that specific employer, and in that industry.

What IMP streams saw the most permits come into effect?

Under the IMP, the following streams saw the most permits come into effect in 2022:

  • Medical residents and fellows, and post-graduate employment applicants—36% of effective permits collectively;
  • Charitable or religious workers—29% of effective permits;
  • Other IMP participants—8%;
  • Spouses of skilled workers—5%;
  • Post-doctoral PhD fellows and award recipients—4%;
  • Intra-company transfers—2%; and
  • The International Experience Canada (IEC) program)—2%.

“Other IMP participants” covers all other applicants who received an IMP work permit, but did not count towards one of the set program streams.

Some important policy changes should be noted here. IRCC has announced reduced requirements for physicians who want to apply for immigration while improving accreditation measures for foreign trained medical professionals. This move comes in response to huge labour shortages of health care and social assistance workers across Canada (explaining their prevalence among IMP permit holders).

In addition, Canada has allowed spouses of some skilled workers to apply for open work permits in a bid to tackle prevalent labour shortages. IRCC also announced an increase in program intake for the IEC, for the same reason.

What TFWP streams saw the most permits come into effect?

Under the TFWP, the breakdown of work permits that came into effect in 2022 is as follows.

  • Agriculture workers—51% of effective permits);
  • Other temporary foreign workers with an LMIA—46% of effective permits;
  • Live-in caregivers—2%; and
  • Caregivers—0.2%.

“Other temporary foreign workers with an LMIA” encompasses all other professions for which a temporary foreign worker was issued an LMIA-based work permit to continue working in Canada.

Notably, Canada has made policy changes to retain and settle caregivers as part of the initiative to address labour shortages among health care and social assistance workers— including cutting the work experience requirement in half for permanent residence eligibility among these workers.

Which provinces had the greatest number of work permit holders in 2022?

Among Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, the following had the greatest share of effective work permits in 2022, under both the IMP and TFWP:

  • Ontario—221,280 permits;
  • British Columbia—102,845 permits;
  • Quebec—89,765 permits;
  • Alberta—43,550 permits;
  • Manitoba—19,765 permits;
  • Nova Scotia—12,645 permits;
  • Saskatchewan—10,550 permits;
  • New Brunswick—9,640 permits;
  • Newfoundland and Labrador—4,210 permits;
  • Prince Edward Island—3,840 permits;
  • Northwest Territories—260 permits; and
  • Nunavut—60 permits.

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