Canada faces demographic and economic challenges due to our aging population, which immigration can help address. This need has been exacerbated by the economic uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canada continues to welcome newcomers, in particular economic immigrants, through multiple pathways. These newcomers bring the skills our economy needs to help recover and keep growing as we move forward.
The 2022-2024 Immigration Levels Plan sets out a path for responsible increases to immigration targets to help the Canadian economy recover from COVID-19, with about 60% of admissions to come from the economic category by 2024.
Immigration is a central pillar of Canada’s economic recovery and future growth. Economic immigrants are educated, fill targeted labour and skills shortages, contribute to innovation, workplace diversity, and are able to integrate into the Canadian labour market with ease.
Canada has implemented several pilots and programs to support rural and remote regions through economic immigration, while supporting settlement and integration to help ensure newcomer success.
Canada’s suite of economic programs, including regional and sectoral pilots, allows for the selection of immigrants, across a range of occupations and skill levels, at the national and provincial/territorial levels.
Applications in our inventories for permanent residence in all lines of business are continuing to be processed and we have employed various measures to maximize the achievement of the projected levels targets: 431,645 permanent residents in 2022; 447,055 in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024 according to the 2022-2024 Immigration Levels Plan, as tabled in Parliament in February 2022.
Throughout the pandemic, the Department has taken extraordinary and innovative steps to meet economic immigration levels:
processed more categories of applications virtually and is catching up to pre-pandemic processing rates;
pivoted to deliver many services remotely;
implemented new ways to grant new permanent resident status, including facilitating virtual landings for in-Canada applicants;
introduced the time-limited Temporary Pathway to Permanent Residence to help retain the talent of temporary residents already here in support of economic recovery; and,
supported settlement service providers to adapt and continue supporting newcomers throughout the pandemic.
The Temporary Pathway to Permanent Residence was very well received and saw over 91,000 applications submitted to the Department prior to its closure on November 5, 2021. Close to 24,000 new permanent residents were admitted through this innovative pathway in 2021.
Immigration contributes to growth
Prior to the pandemic, immigration (permanent and temporary) was a significant driver of population growth, accounting for more than three-quarters of the total population growth since 2016, and reaching close to 86% in 2019. It is anticipated to increase to 100% by the 2040s.
Following border and travel restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, this percentage fell to 58% in 2020.
With an aging population and declining fertility rates, as well as labour and economic challenges, the Canadian labour force and population growth will depend even more on immigration in the long term.
In 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked Canada as the number one most attractive country for entrepreneurs. Immigrant-owned firms had a higher level of net job creation per firm, and were more likely to be high-growth firms than those with Canadian-born owners.
Permanent resident processing
While the Department continues to accept and process permanent resident applications. Migration offices overseas and processing centres and offices in Canada are still dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions.
In the drive to process as many applications as possible in 2021 to compensate for shortfalls stemming from pandemic delays and limitations on travel, the Department focused on processing applicants who were already in Canada.
This focus has meant an increased inventory of applications through Express Entry, and as a result, the Department has paused sending invitations to apply to candidates in the Express Entry pool, with the exception of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), in order to reduce the backlog and improve client experience for existing applicants.
If Pressed: The pause on Federal High Skilled Programs
The pause on invitation to apply rounds for Federal High Skilled Programs is necessary in order to address the existing inventory of applications and to return to normal service standards in the programs that are managed by the Express Entry system (Federal Skilled Worker Program, Canadian Experience Class, and the Federal Skilled Trades Program).
The pause will continue until the end of March 2022 at which time the Department will re-evaluate whether to extend the pause or resume invitations to apply for new clients.
Pausing invitations to apply for permanent residence through Federal High Skilled streams doesn’t change Canada’s commitment to welcoming newcomers who bring the skills our economy needs to grow and to thrive.
The Department continues to finalize applications for skilled workers and the pause on invitations will not reduce the number of new skilled worker permanent residents arriving in Canada.
Service disruptions and restrictions due to COVID-19, as well as more flexibility to allow clients more time to submit documents, have had an impact on processing times.
Working towards reaching targets in 2021 was a challenge due to pandemic-related extended border closures. However, the Department managed to surpass the admissions target, welcoming 405,332 permanent residents in 2021. Approximately 62.4% of these admissions were in the Economic Class.
IRCC has been coordinating the reopening of visa application centres (VACs) as local government restrictions are lifted, while keeping the health and safety of staff and clients the top priority.
As of February 4, 2022, 164 out of 165 VACs (99%) are open to the public and offer biometrics collection. One VAC is closed to the public. Over 90% of the VAC network has been open to the public for biometrics collection since December 2020.
Over the course of the pandemic, a total of 151 out of 165 (91%) VACs were temporarily closed at some point.
As a result of prolonged travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021, IRCC has seen significant growth in the overall size and age of its application inventories.
Processing productivity continues to be challenged by factors such as increased complexities of processing files as well as aging and paper-based files. IRCC’s processing network has worked diligently to manage processing issues, including the increased level of application intake and management of client communications seeking guidance on Canada’s evolving COVID-19 posture and reopening plan.
Additional funding of $85M, as announced in January 2022, will help the Department return to processing service standards in various programs by year end. This investment will support the processing of 147,000 permanent residence final decisions by March 2022 and the expansion of the digital application portal by summer 2022.
Supporting Facts And Figures
The Canadian population was 30.7M people in 2000, and has grown to 38.2M as of July 1, 2021 (this includes temporary residents). Roughly 22% of the Canadian population is foreign born, the highest in the G7 (2016 census data).
Birth rates are decreasing, currently at 1.40 (2020) down from 1.61 (2011). The share of the population 65 and older is increasing and the share of the working age population is falling. The worker to retiree ratio is currently 4:1; this will be 2:1 in less than 20 years.
Outcomes of economic immigrants
Economic principal applicants’ employment earnings are well above the average for all immigrants, and surpass the Canadian average shortly after landing.
Canada’s model of selecting immigrants with higher levels of human capital, including education, official language ability, adaptability, and Canadian work experience leads to better employment and higher earnings.
In more recent years, the gap in employment rates between immigrants and the Canadian-born had begun to narrow. However, in 2020, employment rates for both groups declined, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This also had the effect of widening the employment gap between immigrants and the Canadian-born again, with 75.3% of newcomers aged 25 to 54 being employed in the workforce compared to 81.8% for those born in Canada. Nonetheless, by the end of 2020 and throughout the course of 2021, the employment rate gap between the two groups had almost returned to pre-pandemic rates. In 2021, 79.1% of immigrants aged 25-54 were employed, compared to 83.9% of the Canadian-born.
In 2019, the labour market performance of immigrants in Canada was stronger than the average reported for other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries for both employment rates and earnings.
Canadians also benefit from the contributions of Canadian-born children of immigrants: 36% of Canadian-born children of immigrants had university degrees versus 24% with Canadian-born parents. Moreover, Canadian-born children of immigrants earned higher than average employment incomes compared to children of Canadian-born parents.
Effects of a recession on immigrants
Immigrants arriving during recessionary times could face depressed earnings growth rate as the first few years in Canada are determinative with respect to future earnings growth.
Immigrants’ earnings tend to increase with more time spent in Canada, though the number of years it takes for average immigrants earnings to converge with the Canadian average varies between the different immigrant groups. The number of years for immigrants’ earnings to catch up to the Canadian average increased during past economic downturns.
While Canadians remain concerned about public health and job security, overall public support for immigration in Canada has remained stable and relatively strong.
As recently as polling in September 2021, support for immigration – including at the current levels – is holding, including views that immigration’s effect on Canada is positive.
Additional benefits of immigration
Immigration helps maintain the vitality of official language minority communities in Canada; the Government of Canada has a 4.4% target for Francophone immigration outside of Quebec by 2023.
Canada’s continued openness towards immigration and inclusivity in programming demonstrates international leadership and can further international interests, trade connections, and Canada’s comparative advantage in terms of working-age populations and labour force supply.
Levels planning: The Immigration Levels Plan is a statutory requirement. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that a projection of permanent resident admissions for the coming year be tabled in Parliament by November 1 of the preceding year, or if the House is not in session, within 30 sitting days once the House resumes. By setting targets and planning ranges for each of the immigration categories, the Government establishes priorities among economic, social, and humanitarian objectives. Levels planning then enables the Department and its partners to allocate processing, security, and settlement resources accordingly. The Department also has a statutory obligation to consult provinces and territories (PTs) on its projections in the levels plan.
Multi-year planning: In fall 2017, Canada introduced its first Multi-Year Immigration Levels Plan in over a decade. The current plan adds an additional year (2024), maintaining the three-year planning horizon set out in last year’s plan.
A multi-year approach provides the means to set out a longer-term vision and make the decisions and investments needed to achieve it. It supports better planning by securing approvals and investments earlier, providing time for the Department and partners to adjust their capacity to manage projected levels.
The Levels plan is a statement of public policy and is a key tool to communicate the Government’s immigration priorities to partners (including PTs), stakeholders, and the public.
Canada is recognized internationally (e.g. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) for its approach to managed migration, including specifically its use of immigration levels plans for setting transparent priorities and targets. Canada is among very few countries, like Australia and New Zealand, which have adopted this approach.
Processing times: Processing times for applications for permanent residence can be affected by a number of factors including available levels space as well as processing capacity within IRCC and its partners. Currently, processing times have been affected by a focus on in-Canada clients, as well as more straightforward applications, which leaves more complex inventory in some programs.
While IRCC continues to face pandemic challenges, the target for 2021 admissions (401,000) was met in December 2021. The final count for permanent resident admissions for 2021 was 405,332.
Permanent economic immigration
Canada’s federal economic immigration programs, the Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Worker Program, and Federal Skilled Trades Program are managed by the Express Entry system and traditionally represent the largest economic immigration category, with 164,416 admissions in 2021.
Through these core programs, candidates are selected on the basis of their ability to succeed in the Canadian economy and society over the long term (based on factors such as work experience, education, and official language proficiency). This selection approach allows Canada to benefit from a regular and predictable flow of skilled immigrants that employers can hire to meet their labour needs, and to grow and scale up their businesses.
Canada’s federal business immigration programs, the Start-Up Visa program and Self-employed program, help spur economic growth by attracting foreign entrepreneurs to become permanent residents.
The small-scale Start-Up Visa Program connects immigrant entrepreneurs who have the skills and potentials to build innovative businesses and have the support of an angel investor or business incubator in Canada that is designated by IRCC. Since the program became permanent in April 2018, we have received 935 permanent resident applications from foreign principal applicants entrepreneurs. While it is too early to assess longer-term results, Start-Up Visa entrepreneurs have launched 252 companies in Canada so far.
The federal Self-Employed program, also a small volume program, is designed for individuals who are willing and able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada.
The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is a jointly administered immigration program which provides PTs with an opportunity to address their specific economic development needs while distributing the benefits of economic immigration across all regions of Canada.
The PNP enables participating provinces and territories to create streams to nominate immigrants who meet local labour market and economic needs, who have skills and experiences that will increase their likelihood of residing and economically establishing in their region, and who have an intention to reside in their province or territory. Currently, PTs administer over 80 different immigration streams targeting students, entrepreneurs, and workers across all skill levels. The program has grown significantly since it was launched. According to the projections set out in the 2022-2024 Immigration Levels Plan, it represents roughly 35% of all planned economic admissions in 2022, making it the second largest economic immigration program. It is currently the main source of economic immigration for 9 of the 11 participating jurisdictions.
Growing the PNP and improving PNP processing times are priorities for many PTs. PTs often request more growth in their annual allocations than can be accommodated in the levels plan
Quebec: Under the Canada-Quebec Accord, Quebec has full responsibility for the selection of immigrants destined to the province (except Family Class and in-Canada refugee claimants). The Accord commits the federal government to take into consideration Quebec’s desired levels in all categories. Quebec’s immigration levels plan is established annually and incorporated in the federal levels plan.
Economic Pilots and time-limited measures
The Agri-food pilot was launched in 2020 to test an industry-specific approach to help address labour shortages in response to stakeholder reports of longstanding labour shortages in the agri-food sector by facilitating worker recruitment and retention.
It provides a new pathway to permanent residence for experienced, non-seasonal workers in specific occupations and industries, particularly in the meat processing, mushroom and greenhouse crop production, and livestock raising industries. In 2021, 187 persons became permanent residents through the pilot program.
The five-year Home Child Care Provider and Home Support Worker pilots opened for applications in June 2019. These caregiver pilots test a new two-step selection approach to provide a clear and direct pathway to permanent residence for caregivers from abroad and their families, while continuing to provide Canadian families with a range of caregiving options. In 2021, roughly 2,800 caregivers and their family members were admitted as new permanent residents across the various caregiver program streams.
The Atlantic Immigration Pilot was launched in 2017 as part of the Atlantic Growth Strategy. The pilot has brought over 12,700 new permanent residents to Atlantic Canada (as of January 21, 2022). Participating employers have made over 11,000 job offers in key sectors, including health care, accommodations, food services and manufacturing. In its final year, over 4,900 permanent residents were admitted to the Atlantic region through the Pilot. Most significantly, according to the IRCC evaluation of the Pilot, over 90% of applicants were still living in the region after one year; a high retention rate when compared to other economic immigration programs.
The Atlantic Immigration Program has replaced the pilot.The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program closed on December 31, 2021; IRCC will stop accepting Pilot application on March 5, 2022 when the Pilot MIs expire. The Atlantic Immigration Program came into force on January 1, 2022; IRCC will begin in taking the Atlantic Immigration Program applications on March 6, 2022 once the Pilot program has sunsetted.
The new Atlantic Immigration Program retains the three features that made the pilot a success: an employer-driven model, enhanced settlement supports and a pan-Atlantic governance across all Atlantic provinces and the federal government. IRCC and the Atlantic provinces worked closely together to design the permanent program based on lessons learned and recommendations from the pilot evaluation. The changes include clarifying roles between partners, increasing employer support through training and strengthening program requirements to ensure newcomers can successfully establish themselves in the region.
The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot was launched in 2019. Using a community-based, economic development approach, it supports smaller and more remote communities in accessing the economic and demographic benefits of immigration.
The Government has partnered with 11 community economic development organizations in northern Ontario and western Canada that recommend immigrants for permanent residence in their communities based on a strong fit with local economic development and labour needs, with special focus on retention and economic independence of newcomers. In 2021, there were 556 admissions through the Pilot.
The Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP) was initially launched in 2018 as a small research project to test whether skilled refugees could qualify for existing economic immigration pathways. With the help of some facilitation measures to address displacement-related barriers, such as lost documents or longer than usual breaks in employment, the Department welcomed 16 skilled refugees plus 27 family members for a total of 43 admissions.
Building on lessons learned from Phase 1, the Department launched Phase 2 of the EMPP in December 2021 which aims to welcome 500 skilled refugees and their families to Canada to fill in-demand labour needs.
Phase 2 of the EMPP introduced important facilitation measures to help skilled refugees’ access to existing economic immigration pathways, including waiving the biometric and permanent resident application fees as well as implementing a six-month expedited processing standard for EMPP permanent resident applications.
Moving forward, the Department aims to work with employers and communities across the country, as well as participating provinces and territories, to further expand the pilot to welcome 2,000 skilled refugees to fill labour shortages in high-demand sectors such as health care.
The Temporary Pathway to Permanent Residence was a time-limited measure (May – November 2021) for foreign nationals who were already living and working in Canada.
This new pathway helped retain the talent of those already in Canada in support of economic recovery and contributed to the achievement of overall admission targets by quickly increasing the inventory of potential permanent residents.
Those eligible included international graduates, health care workers, and other specified essential workers. The Department received over 91,000 applications prior to the pathway’s closure on November 5, 2021 and resulted in close to 24,000 admissions in 2021. In 2022, a target of 40,000 admissions has been established for this pathway.
The Municipal Nominee Program (MNP) was a 2019 ministerial mandate letter commitment to introduce a program that “…will allow local communities, chambers of commerce and local labour councils to directly sponsor permanent immigrants. At least 5,000 new spaces will be dedicated for this program.” This commitment was reiterated in the 2021 mandate letter.
In summer 2020, IRCC conducted Canada-wide consultations to hear from PTs, communities and other key stakeholders on the objectives, design and delivery of the Program. The consultation results suggest that the aim of the MNP should complement existing regionalization efforts and help share the benefits of immigration across Canada, specifically by supporting communities that are underserved by immigration and have identified labour needs
IRCC is committed to working with PTs, and other key stakeholders to design a program that is well-positioned to fill local labour needs, support economic and demographic growth, and contribute to post COVID-19 economic recovery.
Provincial and Territorial Considerations: PTs have expressed concerns about complementarity between their programs and federal initiatives to meet immigration levels introduced over the past year. PTs have asked that they be consulted in advance on IRCC policy measures as well as receive notice before policies are enacted, to inform provincial and territorial programming and briefings. IRCC committed to keeping provincial and territorial governments informed and to continue to work together moving forward.
Francophone immigration outside Quebec
In 2019, the Minister of IRCC announced the “Meeting Our Objectives: Francophone Immigration Strategy” with the goal of achieving a target of 4.4% of French-speaking immigrants outside Quebec by 2023. In 2020, French-speaking admissions represented 3.61% of all immigrants admitted to Canada outside Quebec, an increase from previous years. Between February 2020 and January 31, 2021, French-speaking admissions represented 3.47% of all immigrants admitted to Canada outside Quebec.
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