What programs deliver the most work permits, and how many newcomers find work in Canada?

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: October 30, 2023

Immigration represents nearly 100% of Canada’s labour market growth—a key force in not just meeting economic demand in the country, but also in supporting socialised welfare systems within Canada.

This relationship is not one-directional however—economic immigrants (the biggest group of new immigrants to Canada) in-turn must be able to find work and earn money to meet their needs; while building permanent residence (PR) eligibility that is crucial to their settling in Canada.

So, considering economic immigrants will need both a work permit and a job, to realise their PR aspirations, we can consider historical data on these two factors to better understand the realities of gaining a work permit and moving from temporary foreign worker (TFW) status to a permanent resident of Canada.

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Two recent studies by Statistics Canada (investigating the composition of work permit holders in Canada, and comparing work permit holders to employment records) covering the period from 2010 to 2020 shed some key insights into the matter.

Read on to learn which programs deliver the most work permits, how many newcomers are able to find work in Canada, and much more.

Which program delivered the most work permits?

Canada broadly has two work permit pathways that individuals can pursue: the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and the International Mobility Program (IMP). Both programs contain multiple work permit streams for different scenarios.

It is important to differentiate the two as well. The TFWP exists to help fill Canada’s labour market shortages, specifically when these shortages cannot be filled domestically. As such, work permits from the TFWP require a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which is a document that shows what impact the hiring of a foreign worker will have on the Canadian labour market. These work permits tend to be tied to a single employer in a specific industry.

On the other hand, the IMP exists to meet Canada’s broader social, cultural, and economic goals. IMP work permits do not require an LMIA to be issued, and are often open work permits, meaning that holders can work for almost any employer in most industries.

So which program delivered the most work permits through the last ten years? Data shows that, in 2010 (the start of the reference period), TFWP work permits made up 174,876 or 32.9% of the total 531,700 issued. In this same period IMP work permits numbered 225,440 (42.4%). Comparing this with data from 2021, out of 963,400 issued work permits, TFWP issued permits numbered 145,473 (15.1%), while IMP work permits numbered 526,016 permits (54.6%) in the same year.

As time has increased, the IMP has grown in prominence, while the TFWP has seen a steady decline in its share of work permits issued. The growth of the IMP growth was considerable, almost quadrupling the number of work permits issued within the ten-year reference period. This growth was primarily a result of two immigration streams within the IMP that saw significant increases: post-graduation employment, and work permits for study purposes.

Notably, the total number of work permits has almost doubled during the ten-year period, a reflection of the increased importance of immigration in addressing labour market shortages. Simultaneously, the prevalence of the TFWP has greatly decreased (with the exception of agriculture programs which have seen a moderate increase in the last ten years). These findings suggest that Canada is currently in a position where it can fill much of its labour market needs through workers already in the country—with the exception of certain key sectors which have persistent job vacancies.

Based on these findings, applicants for a work permit may likely see the most success pursuing work authorisation through the IMP, and more specifically through the “post-graduation employment” and “work permit for study purposes”. These are work authorisations tied to a study program (either during the time of study, or after graduation), that have seen huge growth in numbers within the last ten years. This path to a work permit can be especially beneficial as it is often tied to immigrant success in the labour market due to the opportunity to improve on proficiency in English and French, gain connections, and receive a Canadian education credential.

Do these foreign workers actually find work in Canada though?

For many work permit holders in Canada, the next step after receiving a work permit is to begin the process of getting PR. Work experience is crucial for these individuals, as a minimum of one year of eligible Canadian work experience is required for most economic PR pathways.

To answer the question of work permit holders who find work, we can compare the number of work permit holders in a given year to the number of work permit holders who reported a positive income in that year. Note that this comparison will not consider self-employed numbers, as this employment does not build eligibility for PR.

In 2020, out of 991,500 work permit holders, 682,500 reported a positive income through labour market participation (having a job)—68% of permit holders. While this may seem lower than expected, keep in mind that certain factors may negatively impact this percentage, such as permit holders who are not in Canada despite their valid status, or who are not pursuing work in the country. If the participation figure takes into account those with a study permit who reported a positive income in 2020, the participation rate jumps to 83% of permit holders (however it should be noted that work done during your time as an international student does not count towards PR eligibility).

The participation rate of work permit holders in 2011 (when there were only 311,100 work permit holders in the country) was much lower, with only 55% of work permit holders at the time reporting positive income that year.

What programs did people find the most work in?

The data available goes one step further, breaking down successful foreign workers who reported an income in Canada by work permit program, age, and work permit duration.

Among the work permit streams that are part of the TFWP, agriculture programs had the highest rate of reported positive income from work permit holders—at 92%. This was not just the highest rate seen among any stream in the TFWP, but also the highest when considering IMP participation as well. These findings make sense however, as TFWP work permits (which are LMIA-based) tend to already come with a job offer as employers are the ones who must apply for an LMIA.

Among IMP work permit streams, (and second only to participation in TFWP agriculture streams) the highest participation rate was 76% from post-graduation employment work permit holders, followed by Intra-company transferees (66%) and International Experience Canada (IEC) work permit holders (62%).

By age, the age group with the highest rate of labour market participation were workers aged 25-34, with 68% of work permit holders reporting a positive income. This was trailed closely by permit holders aged 35-44, with a 67% participation rate.

Lastly, with regards to the duration of work permits, those with a work permit that was valid for at least 10-12 months had the highest labour market participation rate, with 74% reporting positive incomes. This was followed by those with a permit validity of 7-9 months (67%); with a consistent positive correlation between length of work permits, and participation rates.

The best path?

Taking these findings into account, we can see a growing importance of the IMP in issuing work permits, especially in work permits/authorisations that are related to or follow study programs. Further this group boasts the highest percentage of average labour market participation (outside of specialised streams like the TFWP’s agriculture streams). This can beg the question: is pursuing study options in Canada before work the best chance at both receiving a work permit and preforming well in the labour market—and further receiving PR?

While there is Statistics Canada data to support this idea, the best path to a work permit and subsequent PR is specific to each applicants’ circumstances and characteristics, especially when considerations like international tuition fees are added into the equation.

In addition, the above studies suffered from a few limitations, including a slow and outdated method of counting current work permit holders that may not reflect the real number of holders in Canada; a lack of distinction between permit holders pursuing work and those who are not; and the inability to include self-employed individuals when making immigration analysis (thus reducing overall labour market participation in the studied group).

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