Canada looking for partners to help expand and diversify IEC program

Edana Robitaille
Published: March 9, 2023

Following the recently announced quotas for the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, CIC News has obtained more information on the 2023 program outlook from an internal Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) memo from September 26, 2022.

While immigration minister Sean Fraser announced last January that the global quotas for IEC admissions in 2023 have risen to nearly 90,000 participants, the memo provides more information about how IRCC made this decision.

What is the IEC?

The IEC is a program specifically for youth anywhere from 18 to 35 years old (depending on their nationality) to come and explore Canada with the option to fund their travels, and experience Canada as a local, by working.

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The IEC manages Youth Mobility Arrangements (YMAs) with participating countries and organizations. As of the time the memo was sent, Canada has YMAs with 36 country and territory partners across Europe, Oceania, East Asia and the Americas.

Global quota rises while partner quota stays at 2022 levels

The 2022 number of IEC admissions were not up to pre-pandemic levels. IRCC says this is due to several factors, including higher travel costs, hesitancy due to health risks and significant labour shortages in partner countries.

These considerations led IRCC to recommend that the 2023 partner quotas stay at 2022 levels, but the global quota should be increased by 20% to 88,500. The partner quota means that participants apply through a Recognized Organization from a partner country. The global quota is for those who apply directly to IRCC.

Part of the global quota increase comes as the federal government is actively assessing potential new country partners for the IEC in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America to help bolster the program long-term. Partnering with more countries also opens the door to increasing the number of newcomers in Canada’s francophone communities.

IRCC says another reason for the global quota increase is that the program did not reach its previous global maximum of 73,655 activated work permits. The department says raising the global quota can help offset the amount of “wastage.” This means foreign national youth who obtain a work permit but do not land in Canada to activate it.

IRCC does not recommend an increase in partner quotas because it expects that partner countries and organizations would not welcome the changes, particularly in Europe, which is coping with challenges associated with displaced Ukrainian nationals. The department also says that raising the quotas this year would set a precedent for high quotas each year going forward, and this could reduce program flexibility should IRCC need to reduce the quotas should Canada ever experience a high unemployment rate in future.

IEC participants in Canada

The highest partner quotas are France (14,000), Ireland (10,700), Japan (6,500) and the United Kingdom (5,000). There is no quota, or limit, on the number of permits issued to Australians.

The majority of IEC participants, over 40%, move to the lower mainland of British Columbia, with 19% choosing Ontario, 18% in Alberta, 14% in Quebec and less than 5% in all remaining provinces and territories.

Canada currently relies on the high number of IEC participants to help Canada fill gaps in the labour force. IEC participants typically fill jobs in the service sector, including food services and accommodation, and retail. The memo says that many employers, especially in the service sector, depend on IEC to satisfy their labour needs.

Based on data from 2019 when there were 58,186 IEC participants activated their permits. The total number of participants in Canada was even higher due to the length of the visa and IRCC reports that in reality, 87,816 foreign youth were present in Canada that year.

Still, many IEC permit holders choose not to work during their time in Canada. The average income, according to income tax returns filed by participants between 2009 and 2017, shows that 59% of participants had average earnings of just over $10,000.

How does IEC work?

Participants in the IEC may obtain a work permit under one of three streams. The most prominent is the Working Holiday stream, which can grant an Open Work Permit (OWP) for up to two years, allowing holders to work for any employer in Canada. The report says 88% of IEC participants are issued permits through this stream.

The Young Professionals stream issues work permits that are employer-specific for youth that have a job offer and plan to work with a single employer in Canada.

The third stream is the International Co-op Internship stream, which allows post-secondary students from partner countries to intern for a specific Canadian company.

There are eligibility requirements that must be met before a candidate applies for the program:

  • Be a citizen/passport holder of one of the 36 partner countries that have Youth Mobility Agreements with Canada;
  • Have a valid passport for the duration of their stay in Canada;
  • Be within the eligible age range (18-29, 18-30, or 18-35, (all-inclusive), depending on the applicant’s nationality) at the time of their application;
  • Have the equivalent of $2,500 CAD upon landing in Canada;
  • Be able to take out health insurance for the duration of their stay;
  • Be admissible to Canada;
  • Have (prior to departure) a round-trip ticket or the financial resources to purchase a departure ticket at the end of their authorized stay in Canada;
  • Not be accompanied by dependents; and
  • Pay the appropriate fees.

Eligible candidates submit a candidacy profile to the IEC pool and, if chosen, they will receive an invitation to apply for a Canadian work permit. Once they receive an invitation, candidates have 30 days to submit their completed application.

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