Looking to study and immigrate to Canada? In-demand skills may be your best route

Asheesh Moosapeta
Published: November 20, 2023

Canada’s recent plans for a more robust immigration system have revealed details about Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC’s) strategy for prioritising immigration going forward.

One of the key changes the immigration department will focus on in coming years, is to better align immigration with key skills that the country needs to fill labour shortages, and further meet Canada’s economic, social, and cultural goals.

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To better achieve this, IRCC’s newest immigration strategy outlines how international students in the future may be prioritised when applying for Canadian permanent residence (PR), based on how their skills match up with labour market demand. Specifically, IRCC’s new plan makes reference to “enhancing connections between students, post-secondary institutions, and employers” to better position international students with in-demand skills to participate in the workforce and attain PR.

To accomplish this, IRCC is looking into several measures including work-integrated learning opportunities within the International Student Program and updating the Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) to support critical sectors in Canada. Lastly, the department will look to market high-demand skills and sectors to prospective international students—a future announcement which may carry significant weight for international students hoping to transition to worker, and finally PR status in Canada.

What will these high-demand skills be?

It is currently too early to say with certainty what key skills and sectors IRCC will target for economic immigration in the future.

However, recent developments in Canada’s Express Entry system may provide some indication as to what kind of skills IRCC might target. Express Entry is one of Canada’s biggest immigration pathways for economic immigrants; it is a system of application management for three immigration programs: The Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).

In 2023, the system saw major changes with the introduction of category-based selections for PR. Under these changes, IRCC is now able to invite immigration candidates to apply for PR based on their professional skills and language proficiency. These changes followed IRCC’s objective of better matching the skills of potential immigrants, to domestic labour market and demographic needs to address persistent job vacancies in key sectors. The current created categories are:

  • Professional experience in Healthcare related professions;
  • Professional experience in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) professions;
  • Professional experience in Trades, such as carpenters, plumbers and contractors, and other associated professions
  • Professional experience in Transport related professions;
  • Professional experience in Agriculture and Agri-food professions; and
  • Proficiency in French.

Given that the category-based selection measure also seeks to align immigration with labour market needs (just like the proposed “in-demand skills” push), we can extrapolate that many in-demand skills will be related to, or specifically in, professions that are targeted by the new Express Entry category-based selections. Importantly, in-demand professions are also a key part of Canada's Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs)—soon to be Canada's main pathway for economic immigrants, and the main vehicle for IRCC to spread the benefits of immigration throughout the country.

Does this just apply to students?

While international students represent a key talent pool for Canada in the future, the move to target more in-demand skills is not exclusive to students, but to all those who can potentially contribute to the Canadian labour market in key areas.

For one, category-based selections for Express Entry are expected to continue into the foreseeable future and are set to perform important functions in specifically targeting workers with skills in critical sectors like healthcare and housing (both of which have been afflicted by continued job vacancies).

In addition, the federal government will look to increase awareness of government supports for newcomers who are pursuing credential recognition; to ensure that they are best equipped to receive the necessary credentials to implement their in-demand skills in the Canadian labour market.

Lastly, and perhaps the most obvious indication of the importance Canadian immigration will place on in-demand skills, is the forthcoming hiring of a Chief International Talent Officer (CITO). The CITO is a new role that will act as an overseer of Canadian immigration with the goal of ensuring that the annual flow of newcomers aligns with Canada’s “labour market needs and sectoral strategies.” The individual who eventually takes this role may have significant influence on what skills and sectors will be targeted for future immigration.

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