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Canadian Immigration

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July 29, 2022

Canada is the great immigration exception among industrial countries. The government aims to increase the population of 38 million by one percent each year with immigrants, has a generous social welfare system, and enjoys widespread public support for its immigration and integration policies. Canadian exceptionalism is due in part to a flexible point system that gives priority to young and well-educated foreigners who know English or French and who studied or worked in Canada.

Immigration. The Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) ministry sets annual targets for the admission of various types of immigrants. Immigration fell to less than half of the 400,000 target in 2020 due to covid. Of the 185,000 immigrants who were admitted, a quarter were from India, nine percent were from China, and six percent were from the Philippines, so that 40 percent were from the top three countries of origin. The US, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria each accounted for three percent of Canada’s 2020 immigrants.

Covid reduced immigration to Canada in 2020

The immigration target for 2022 is 432,000, including 56 percent admitted under economic criteria, 24 percent admitted for family reasons, and 20 percent admitted for humanitarian and other reasons. Canada aims to admit over a million immigrants in the next three years. If the US had the same immigration rate, over three million rather than one million immigrants would be admitted to the US each year.

Immigration to Canada peaked between 1895 and 1913, when 2.5 million newcomers arrived, including 400,000 who arrived in the peak year of 1913, adding five percent to the then-population of 7.6 million. The Canadian government encouraged Europeans to immigrate and settle the midwestern provinces, offering 160 acres of land to farmers.

Immigration peaked in 1913 at 400,000

Canada offered 160 acres of land to immigrant farmers

Immigration was low during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, rose in the 1950s, but began to fall as European countries recovered from WWII. Canada opened doors to Asian immigrants in 1962 and introduced a point system in 1967 to give priority to young and educated immigrants who speak English or French. One member of a family had to achieve at least 67 of 100 possible points to receive an immigrant visa, resulting in a higher share of immigrants having college degrees than Canadian-born residents.

Well-educated immigrants sometimes fail to find jobs that use their skills, leading to brain waste, as when doctors trained in India drive taxis in Canada. There are many explanations for and policies to reduce brain waste, ranging from anti-discrimination laws to programs that speed up the recognition of credentials earned outside Canada. Most of Canada’s eight million immigrants settle in metro Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the three cities with a third of Canadians.

The Express Entry system has since 2015 tried to reduce brain waste by adding points for Canada-earned credentials, work experience, and relatives settled in Canada. Foreigners seeking immigrant visas provide their personal details on a government web site.

The IRCC awards up to 1,200 points for personal human capital (youth, education, English and/or French and Canadian education or work experience), spouse’s human capital, foreign work experience, and up to 600 points for having a Canadian job offer, relatives in Canada, or being nominated by a provincial government at the behest of an employer.

The Express Entry system awards points for Canadian experience and ties

The Express Entry system awards points for Canadian experience and ties
Factors Sub-factors Maximum points
No spouse/partner
Maximum points
With spouse/partner
Core human capital factors Age 110 100
Education 150 140
Language First 136 128
Second 24 22
Canadian work experience 80 70
Skills Transferability (maximum 100 points for this section) Post-secondary Education with strong language or Canadian work experience 50 50
Foreign work experience with strong language or Canadian work experience 50 50
Certificate of Qualification (trade occupations) 50 50
Additional Points (maximum 600 Points for this section) Canadian Post-Secondary Education (1-2 years) 15 30
Canadian Post-Secondary Education (3 years) 15 30
Arranged Employment NOC O, A, B 50 50
Arranged Employment NOC OO 200 200
Provincial/Territoy (Express Entry) Nomination 600 600
Total 1200 1160 - up to 40 points for spouse
1200

Almost half of the foreigners invited to apply for immigrant visas under express entry in recent years were already in Canada, highlighting the importance of Canadian education, work experience, and job offers. Immigrating to Canada often means arriving as a student, foreign worker, or other temporary visitor and finding a Canadian employer or provincial government to support an application for an immigrant visa.

Almost half of Express Entry immigrants are already in Canada

Almost half of Express Entry immigrants are already in Canada
  2017 2018 2019 Growth 2017-2019
All 86,022 89,800 85,300 -1%
Canada 42,233 39,936 40,550 -4%
India 14,910 17,363 14,926 0%
United States 5,829 9,981 10,185 75%
Nigeria 2,910 3,724 3,819 31%
UAE 2,436 2,029 1,708 -30%
Pakistan 1,331 1,365 1,180 -11%
Morocco 255 585 860 237%
Australia 673 831 791 18%
China 985 871 768 -22%
UK 1,560 1,186 699 -55%
Other 12,900 11,656 9,814 -24%

Canada establishes immigration targets that aim to make the country a destination for global talent, unite families, and “fulfill Canada’s humanitarian commitments.” The government says that immigrants contribute to short-term economic growth by addressing labor market needs and bolster the long-run growth potential of the country.

Canada plans to admit over 400,000 immigrants a year

2022-2024 Immigration Levels Plan
  2022 2023 2024
Projected admissions - Targets 431,645 447,055 451,000
Projected admissions - Ranges Low High Low High Low High
Economic immigration 210,000 248,000 222,000 259,000 235,000 273,000
Family reunification 90,000 109,000 94,000 113,000 99,000 117,000
Refugees, protected persons, humanitarian and compassionate and other 60,000 88,000 64,000 93,000 56,000 85,000
Total 360,000 445,000 380,000 465,000 390,000 475,000

Guest Workers. The rising share of immigrants who adjust status to immigrant while in Canada focuses attention on the employer and education gatekeepers who bring foreigners to Canada as guest workers and students.

Canada had over 400,000 guest workers in 2019, compared to a million in the US, even though Canada’s labor force of 20 million is only an eighth of the US labor force of 160 million.

Canada had over 400,000 guest workers in a labor force of 20 million

Temporary Foreign Workers
Year IMP TFWP
2016 207,6251 78,454
2017 222,7641 78,472
2018 253,4561 84,004
2019 305,8071 98,062
2020 242,1301 84,609

Canada has several Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWPs), including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker program that allows employers to hire foreign guest workers after receiving a Labor Market Impact Assessment confirming that Canadian workers are not available to fill the job. Some 103,830 work permits were issued under Canadians TFWPs in 2021.

Canada has several streams or guest worker programs

The separate International Mobility Program allows employers to hire foreign workers without testing the labor market if the job serves Canada’s cultural and economic interests. Employers post their job offers in a government portal and provide the code to the foreign worker they want to hire, who submits an application for a work permit. The IMP is used to bring workers to Canada under free-trade agreements such as NAFTA-USMCA, to move workers within a company (intra-corporate transfers), and for 18-to-35-year old youth who want to work and learn in Canada. Some 341,745 work permits were issued under the IMP in 2021.

The IMP does not require labor certification

There have been periodic protests against guest workers, as when several McDonald’s restaurants gave more hours of work to Filipino guest workers than to Canadian employees and banks subcontracted their IT work to firms that relied on Indian guest workers, displacing Canadians. The government in 2014 promised to step up enforcement to ensure that employers hired Canadians first, generate more reliable data on wages and labor market conditions, and increase penalties on employers who violate guest worker program regulations.

The government in 2014 promised to tighten TFWP regulations

Provinces are responsible for determining which schools are Designated Learning Institutions that may admit foreign students. In 2019, there were over 400,000 international students in Canada, but covid reduced their number to 257,000 in 2020. Some international students, typically three to five percent, are able to become immigrants each year.

The number of international students topped 400,000 in 2019

International Students
Year Number
2016 264,625
2017 315,145
2018 354,784
2019 402,427
2020 256,740

Appendix. Detailed immigration plans for 2022-24

Detailed immigration plans for 2022-24
  2022 2023 2024
Immigrant Category Target Low Range High Range Target Low Range High Range Target Low Range High Range
  Overall Planned Permanent Resident Admissions 431,645 360,000 445,000 447,055 380,000 465,000 451,000 390,000 475,000
Economic Federal High Skilled 55,900 52,000 64,000 75,750 63,000 84,000 111,500 91,000 118,000
Federal Economic Public Policies 40,000 30,000 48,000 32,000 25,000 42,000 - - -
Federal Business 1,000 800 1,500 1,000 800 1,500 1,500 1,000 2,000
Economic Pilots: Caregivers; Agri-Food Pilot; Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot; Economic Mobility Pathways Project 10,250 4,000 10,500 11,250 7,000 18,000 12,750 8,000 20,000
Atlantic Immigration Program 6,250 4,000 8,000 6,500 4,000 10,000 6,500 4,000 12,000
Provincial Nominee Program 83,500 80,000 95,000 86,000 82,000 95,000 93,000 88,000 98,000
Quebec Skilled Workers and Business See the Quebec immigration plan To be determined To be determined
Total Economic 241,850 210,000 248,000 253,000 222,000 259,000 267,750 235,000 273,000
Family Spouses, Partners and Children 80,000 68,000 81,000 81,000 70,000 84,000 81,000 70,000 84,000
Parents and Grandparents 25,000 19,000 31,000 28,500 22,000 38,000 32,000 27,000 43,000
Total Family 105,000 90,000 109,000 109,500 94,000 113,000 113,000 99,000 117,000
Refugees and Protected Persons Protected Persons in Canada and Dependents Abroad 24,500 20,000 27,500 25,000 20,500 28,000 25,500 21,000 28,500
Resettled Refugees - Government-Assisted 19,790 15,500 24,000 17,260 13,500 26,000 13,000 10,000 19,500
Resettled Refugees - Privately Sponsored 31,255 19,000 34,000 30,795 19,400 34,000 23,000 15,500 28,000
Resettled Refugees - Blended Visa Office-Referred 1,000 100 1,100 1,000 100 1,100 1,000 100 1,100
Total Refugees and Protected Persons 76,545 55,000 79,500 74,055 57,000 82,000 62,500 50,000 75,500
Humanitarian and Other Total Humanitarian & Compassionate and Other 8,250 5,000 8,500 10,500 7,000 11,000 7,750 6,000 9,500

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