ARCHIVED – Backgrounder — Stakeholder Consultations on Immigration Levels and Mix


The purpose of this consultation is to seek your feedback on Canada’s immigration program. We are asking for your input on the right level of immigration to Canada – how many – and the right mix between the three immigrant classes to Canada – economic, family and protected persons. Should immigration levels be higher? Which of these areas should be a priority?  If we raise levels in one of these areas, where should we take less?  We’re also looking for your thoughts on how we manage the system to provide reasonable processing times, improve service, and address issues such as fraud. What follows serves to give you a sense of some of the challenges and realities we face as we strive to best answer these questions.


Immigration has been a sustaining feature of Canada’s history and continues to play an important role in building our country.  From Confederation to the global transformations of recent years, hard-working people have come to Canada from all over the world with their skills and entrepreneurial talents, to reunite with family members, or to seek security and stability. Collectively, they have contributed to the development of Canada’s economy, society and culture. In fact, Canada has long been a destination of choice for immigrants. We have one of the highest per capita rates of permanent immigration in the world—roughly 0.8% in recent years—and have welcomed 3.5 million immigrants in the last 15 years. Canada is also a leader in granting newcomers the full range of rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship. Indeed, on average, 80% of permanent residents become citizens within four years of arriving.

The current immigration system must manage multiple objectives. Immigration has a role both in helping to meet the labour market needs of today and in helping to build the skilled workforce of the future. It helps reunite families, build strong communities, and, in keeping with a proud Canadian tradition, supports global humanitarian efforts through the resettlement of refugees and providing assistance to asylum seekers.

The immigration system also protects the health, safety and security of Canadians, a responsibility that Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) shares with security partners such as the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP, CSIS, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The federal framework guiding immigration and refugee protection policy is the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). It also identifies a relatively long list of objectives for Canada’s immigration program. There are 18 in all. Among them:

  • to support the development of a strong and prosperous Canadian economy, in which the benefits of immigration are shared across all regions in Canada;
  • to see that families are reunited; and
  • to fulfill Canada’s international legal obligations with respect to refugees and affirm Canada’s commitment to international efforts to provide assistance to those in need of resettlement.

But while IRPA sets out the objectives, it does not talk at all about which of these objectives is a priority, or about the balance between those objectives.

This is the function of the annual levels plan.

Section 94 of IRPA requires that the Minister table a report in Parliament, on or before November 1 of each year, which includes (among other requirements) the number of foreign nationals projected to become permanent residents in the following year. The “levels plan” provides a range for each category of permanent resident and has traditionally been limited only to a single year of admissions, as set out in the Act.

In planning for the total number of persons to admit as permanent residents, CIC not only balances immigration objectives but also considers several other factors, including:

  • Government of Canada priorities and commitments;
  • Input solicited from consultations with provinces and territories and stakeholders;
  • Current and future economic conditions, as well as labour market needs; and
  • The capacity of the economy and of communities to welcome newcomers.

Government of Canada Priorities and Commitments

At the highest level, the levels plan must support the Government of Canada’s commitment to an immigration system that continues to balance the three pillars of immigration. Beyond this, the levels plan must also address a range of emerging priorities and commitments, including:

  • Doing more to meet immediate and regional skills shortages while continuing to respond to longer term, national labour force needs;
  • Accommodating growing demand in the family class while continuing to expedite processing for immediate family members (spouses/partners and children;
  • Meeting Canada’s commitments to improve our asylum system and resettle more refugees from abroad; and
  • Improving processing times for new applicants while sustaining progress on working through applications in the backlog.

Consultations with Provincial and Territorial Partners and Stakeholders

Levels plans reflect input received from provincial and territorial governments, as well as that solicited from key stakeholders across Canada. Under the Constitution, immigration is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial/territorial governments. Efforts are also made to address specific regional needs, such as supporting francophone minority communities outside of Quebec. CIC has negotiated agreements with most of the provinces and territories. Quebec, in particular, is involved in selecting and integrating its own immigrants under the Canada-Quebec Accord. Other provinces have signed provincial nominee programs allowing them to select a certain number of economic class immigrants to meet regional needs.

Economic Conditions and Labour Market Needs

CIC takes into account current and projected economic and labour-market conditions when planning admissions. There is a balance between meeting immediate job needs, and ensuring immigrants have skills that will allow them to adapt and succeed as the economy changes. The size of the labour market must also be considered. Similar to other countries, Canada is facing significant demographic challenges such as an aging population and slowing labour force growth. Although immigration cannot address these problems alone, it will be a factor in helping to build the labour force of tomorrow. In this respect, provincial and territorial input on labour market issues is one of the key factors influencing economic immigration to Canada.

Capacity to Welcome Newcomers

With a range of programming and significant funding allocated for settlement and integration, the Government of Canada works closely with the provinces and territories to ensure that newcomers have access to the supports they need to find their place in Canadian communities. For 2011-2012, CIC has allocated over $600 million in settlement funding to provinces and territories outside Quebec. Under the Canada Quebec Accord, Quebec will receive over $250 million. It is important to note that increases in levels have impacts on our communities and the costs related to helping newcomers integrate and succeed. The capacity to welcome immigrants cannot be separated from levels planning.

Demand to Immigrate Greatly Exceeds Capacity

CIC strives to process applications in a timely manner, but it is an ongoing challenge for CIC to meet the IRPA objectives simultaneously. Every year, we receive many more applications than can be processed resulting in large backlogs in many categories, which in turn have led to long wait times for applicants.

In the case of economic immigrants this “over supply” can be seen as an opportunity for both the federal and the provincial and territorial governments to set higher selection criteria for the immigrants we welcome without having a concern that we may not have enough successful applicants.

In addition to the volume of applications, growing concerns regarding fraud and program integrity add to the processing burden as more time is needed to verify documentation, interview individual applicants and to conduct investigations.

Innovative approaches to managing these seemingly-competing objectives, maintaining positive outcomes for immigrants and refugees, and alleviating pressures is key to realizing a modern and efficient immigration system and to ensuring continued public support for the program. CIC is making a number of changes to make our immigration system more modern and efficient to address the issues noted above. Although increasing levels would be one way to mitigate some of these pressures, it would require broad buy-in from the public, and additional funding.  Is that likely?  If an increase in levels doesn’t happen, there are clearly a number of pressures that make trade-offs inevitable.

Three Questions

As identified at the outset of this document, the purpose of these consultations is to seek your views on our immigration program. The consultations will explore a number of issues related to three main questions:

  • What is the appropriate level of immigration for Canada?
  • What is the appropriate mix between economic immigrants, family class immigrants and protected persons (refugees)?
  • How can we better manage the system to make it more efficient so that we have reasonable processing times, less fraud, greater fairness and better outcomes for newcomers?

What is the appropriate level of immigration for Canada?

Canada has long been a destination of choice for immigrants. Much of Canada’s success with and public support for immigration is based on the positive outcomes of immigrants and their contribution to our economy and society.

For the past 25 years, Canada has maintained immigration levels averaging between 225,000 and 250,000 immigrants per year. In 2010, Canada admitted close to 281,000 permanent residents, the highest level since 1957.

As natural population growth in Canada slows, with fertility rates below replacement levels, immigration will be an increasingly important source of population and labour force growth. In 2009-2010, for example, the number of births exceeded the number of deaths in Canada by about 134,000, while net international migration (including inflows and outflows of permanent and temporary migration and of Canadian-born individuals) added about 255,000 individuals to the population, accounting for about two thirds of population growth.  That being said, research underscores that immigration is not a viable remedy for population aging. A 2009 study by the C.D. Howe Institute concludes that improbably huge increases in immigration (i.e. from the current 0.8% to nearly 4% of the population) in the short term would be required to stabilize Canada’s current old-age dependency ratio.

With an aging population, the number of retirements from the labour force is increasing, currently reflecting the “bulge” of aging baby boomers. Very soon, the number of new entrants from Canadian schools and universities will equal (or fall short of) the number of retirees, leaving immigration responsible for all labour force growth. The number of school leavers is expected to be in the order of 400,000 per yearFootnote 1 -- while the number of immigrants entering the labour force directly on arrival each year is in the range of about 130,000Footnote 2. Without immigration, labour force growth would slow, making overall economic growth more difficult to achieve.  So while immigration will help to alleviate labour shortages and contribute to regional needs, it is not the “silver bullet” for the aging of the population.

Cracks have also begun to emerge over the past two decades. There is much research to show that certain groups of immigrants have been living with very low incomes, potentially risking prospects for themselves and their childrenFootnote 3. This has been evident mainly in major urban centres in Canada. And outcomes for those in the flagship Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) category faltered in the 1990s and at the beginning of the 2000s. However, a recent evaluation has shown that changes made in 2002 to the FSW selection criteria have had a significant impact on improving outcomes. In particular, the evaluation shows that a strong knowledge of English or French and having pre-arranged employment have been very important in increasing the earnings of principal applicants in this category. These two factors – capacity in one of Canada’s official language and having a job – are also necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) for the economic success of all immigrants to Canada.

If this is the case, then one question which is often asked is “What is the right level of immigration?” There is no correct answer to the question of the “right level”. Much depends on who is selected (the “mix”) and where they go (are they going to areas with available jobs, where there is supporting infrastructure like housing, schools, hospitals, etc. or to areas where immigrants are highly concentrated and where existing support may be stretched to meet needs). Immigrants tend to go first to where they have family and friendsFootnote 4, and only to smaller centres if there is a job available for them. Many of the provinces that are having difficulty retaining their own population have challenges retaining immigrants – for the same reasons.

Canada is a vast country, with widely varying geography and industrial mix. One part of the country may be in recession, while another region is experiencing strong growth. The “right” level will depend on a careful balancing of competing pressures – of commitments to family reunification, refugee resettlement and selecting immigrants to support economic growth; ensuring infrastructure and settlement support is in place; and that jobs are available. At the end of the day, success of the program depends on positive outcomes.

What is the appropriate mix between economic, family class and protected persons (refugees)?

Here is how the mix breaks down currently. About 60% of the immigrants who come to Canada annually are in the economic class. About 26% come in the family class. The remaining approximately 14% are primarily protected persons (refugees) but includes others taken for humanitarian and compassionate reasons.

It is worth noting that less than half of those who come in as economic immigrants are principal applicants – their spouses and dependants are also included in this category. However, a large portion of these spouses and dependents (along with those in the family class and refugees) eventually join the labour market and become economic actors as well.

Economic immigrants are chosen because of what they can contribute to the Canadian economy.

They include:

Federal Skilled Workers 

Selection is based on a transparent points system, where education, age, experience, official language proficiency, arranged employment in Canada, and adaptability are assessed. These traits help ensure that new FSWs are flexible and adaptable to finding success in Canada’s labour market. The recent FSW program evaluation has confirmed that this is, in fact, accurate, as applicants selected under this system enjoy stronger economic outcomes than most other economic immigrants. Since November 2008 additional eligibility criteria have been put in place to manage the intake of applications, help reduce the backlog and enhance the labour market responsiveness in this program. Eligibility is now limited to applicants with experience in identified occupations in demand and those with job offers from Canadian employers, all of whom must have their official language ability assessed by a reliable third party.

Quebec Skilled Workers and Business Immigrants selected by Quebec

Under the authority of the Canada-Quebec Accord, Quebec sets its own levels and selects its own skilled workers and business immigrants. Selection criteria for the former generally align with the attributes assessed under the FSW program; criteria for the latter, particularly investors, are harmonized with the federal program. The Government of Canada retains authority for overall levels-setting as well as for admissibility to Canada.

Provincial and Territorial Nominees (PNP)

These are economic immigrants nominated by individual provinces and territories, subject to agreements with the federal government, to meet the specific regional needs of the nominating government. The program recognizes that provinces and territories are well placed to recognize and react to labour market needs in their jurisdiction. The program was introduced in 1998 and has grown rapidly in recent years, from 1252 individuals in the year 2000 (or 0.6% of all admissions) to 36,428 individuals in 2010 (or 13% of the total flow). There are now PN agreements in place with all jurisdictions except Nunavut, offering more than 50 separate streams for admission.  Many are employer driven, draw on available pools of TFWs at all skill levels, or are founded on extended family relationships with or without accompanying job offers. Many also include international student streams with different thresholds and entrepreneurial streams with varying requirements for business establishment, investment and management.

Canadian Experience Class (CEC)

Based on evidence that those who have worked and studied in Canada have better outcomes, the Canadian Experience Class was introduced in 2008. The category is open to certain skilled temporary foreign workers and international foreign students who have Canadian work experience and who meet a minimum language requirement. In 2010, there were 3900 admissions in this category. However, in recent years there has been substantial growth in the number of temporary foreign workers and foreign students working and studying in Canada. In 2010, Canada admitted just over 96,000 international students and 182,000 temporary foreign workers. With increasing numbers, and growing awareness of the program, the number of applicants in this category is expected to increase.

Business Immigrants

Individuals are selected based on their potential to contribute to the Canadian economy through investment, business establishment and/or job creation. They must meet a minimum investment capital requirement. In 2010, 1,239 entrepreneurs and self employed individuals were admitted, but the majority were in the investor category with 2,622 principal applicants and 6,950 dependents. In 2010 changes were made in the Immigrant Investor Program to raise the minimum net worth required of applicants from $800,000 to $1.6 million, and the investment requirement from $400,000 to $800,000, to better align with international trends. More recently, on July 1, 2011, an annual cap of 700 new investor applications was introduced to address the large backlog in this category by better aligning intake of new applications to processing commitments.

Live-in Caregivers

Live-in Caregivers come to Canada initially on a temporary basis, to meet needs for caregiving in Canada. Once they have completed 24 months of work, living in the employer’s home as a caregiver, in the four years since arriving in Canada, they may apply for permanent residence from within Canada, for themselves and eligible dependents. In 2010, 7700 principal applicants and 6200 dependents were granted permanent resident status, up from 3500 and 3350 respectively in the year 2006. The inventory of applications in process for permanent residence currently stands at just under 29,000 individuals. As the demand for temporary live-in caregivers increased dramatically until 2009, this will have downstream impacts on applications for permanent residence within future Levels plans.

Yet evidence suggests many live-in caregivers leave the profession once they become permanent residents. If there is a sustained need for such employment this may point to challenges in this line of work, including the reality that if there are other choices, people will not freely engage in “live-in” arrangements. There are also some indications that a portion of this movement is a hidden form of family reunification.  Analysis from visa offices processing LCP applications suggests that in some of the regions, as many as 40% of live-in-caregivers come to work for relatives in Canada, raising the question of whether such employment would be available for non-family members.

Family Class

Approximately 26% of the immigrants who come to Canada each year do so under the family class. Most countries don’t have a family class program. Ours is one of the most generous in the world.

Canadian citizens or permanent residents over the age of 18 may sponsor their immediate family members, subject to sponsorship agreements of 3 (spouses/partners, children) to 10 years (parents and grandparents). It is important to note that in addition to this, close to two-thirds of economic class immigrants are actually family – i.e. the spouses/partners and dependent children of principal applicants, which means a minority of economic class immigrants (principal applicants) are actually selected according to their skills and experience.

Applications for sponsorship of spouses/partners and dependent children receive priority processing, but this commitment, and the need to balance family reunification with other immigration objectives, has resulted in a backlog of nearly 165,000 persons as of March 31, 2011 in the Parents and Grandparents category. Wait times for recent applicants in this category are already long, and could continue to get worse if not action is taken.

Refugees/Protected Persons/Humanitarian

The remaining approximately 14% of immigrants to Canada come from this group. Canada has a long-standing international commitment to assist in the resettlement of refugees for whom no other durable solution is available. In addition, Canada’s refugee determination system adjudicates refugee claims by individuals within Canada. Canada has two major refugee categories for permanent residence: resettled refugees, (including those sponsored from abroad by the Government and those sponsored by private organizations) and those who have made successful refugee claims from within Canada. There are also categories to address exceptional humanitarian or public policy cases on an individual basis. There are currently applications representing 71,000 individuals waiting to be processed – including 10,000 government assisted refugees, 25,000 privately sponsored refugees and 20,000 in the humanitarian/public policy categories. As reforms to the refugee determination system proceeds and the backlog of refugee claims is drawn down it can be expected that the number of successful claimants requesting permanent resident status will increase. At the same time, as part of the same refugee reform package, the Government has committed to increasing the number of resettled refugees by 2500 to 14,500 per year.

Temporary Residents

There are three broad categories of temporary residents – visitors, international/foreign students and temporary foreign workers. While all three categories place demands on the department’s resources, the temporary foreign worker and international student programs are most relevant for this consultation.  Both have experienced significant growth in recent years (TFW intake has risen from 116,000 in 2000 to over 182,000 in 2010 and Canada annual foreign student entries have grown by 34% since 2006) in absence of additional funding, which means the Department is doing far more processing than before without additional resources.

Temporary Foreign WorkersFootnote 5

In 2010, Canada admitted 182,000 individuals in the temporary foreign worker category. Permits may be issued for only a few days, or up to a few years, depending on the nature of the job or the program. Taking into account foreign workers already in Canada, on December 1, 2010, there were 283,000 individuals in Canada as temporary foreign workers. Again, some of them might be present in the country for only a limited period of time, while others, like live-in caregivers, will remain in the country for three to four years.

The temporary foreign worker program meets several needs. It provides work permits to individuals with job offers in order to meet specific labour market needs, such as the live-in caregiver program, the seasonal agricultural worker program, highly skilled individuals entering under NAFTA or other agreements, intra-company transferees, the low-skilled program or to meet other labour market shortages, as approved by HRSDC with a “labour market opinion”.

As a result, it is estimated that about 70% of people admitted under the temporary foreign worker program are admitted to meet identified shortages, while the remaining 30% are given permission to work in any job.

There has been very strong growth in the number of TFW entries over the past decade. This growth can be largely attributed to the youth exchange and Live-In Caregiver programs, the low skilled worker pilot program, as well as work permits issued to spouses of skilled TFWs. Many might assume that TFW entries are solely driven by labour market shortages and employer demands for specific workers – even during the recession. However, not all TFW entries are tied to specific labour market needs. For example, the youth exchange program (which is not driven by employer demand and does not require labour market opinions) accounted for half of the growth over the past decade and continued to increase through the recession. This program, operating under the name International Experience Canada, is a reciprocal program that gives young foreigners an opportunity to experience life in Canada while permitting Canadian youth to also broaden their horizons through work outside Canada. Meanwhile, entries under the low skilled pilot program increased to 26,300 in 2008 but declined to 15,000 in 2010.

There is another issue to consider in the growth of TFWs over the past decade. It is the issue of their role in the labour market. The TFW program was created to fill temporary gaps, but an increasing number appear to be used to address long-term, low-skilled labour gaps. Some commentators have raised concerns that employers are using the TFW program as a substitute for necessary adjustments such as investments in capital or adjustment in wages. On the other hand, if TFWs are indeed needed on a sustained basis, should there be better pathways to permanent residency for these workers? Currently, programs such as the Live-in Caregiver Program, the CEC, and many streams of provincial nomine programs, provide important avenues for persons to transition from termporary to permanent status in Canada in order to avoid the undesirable “guest worker” effect. Should pathways to permanent residence be a consideration for other TFWs? If so, what role should employers play in preventing the TFW program from displacing other, perhaps more beneficial options in the longer term such as capital investment or wage adjustments, discussed above. As well, with limited resources, how do we address the necessary trade-offs of other economic categories to increase TFW numbers?

International Students

Students across the country with Canadian education and work experience, official language ability, and an ease and familiarity with Canadian society are an excellent source of immigrants. These international students possess the outlook, skills and experience Canada needs to be a more innovative society that is able to compete and prosper in a global, knowledge-based economy. At the same time, there are concerns that facilitating transition to permanent status creates an incentive for some to use “study” as a pretext to access permanent resident status. Given these benefits, should CIC find ways to better target international students and further develop this potential immigrant pool?  How do we ensure that the incentives are there to ensure that only those students who can truly contribute (skills, work experience, official language ability) benefit from “fast track” to permanent residence?

Making difficult decisions about the mix

As has been noted, there is substantial pressure to bring in more people in most, if not all categories. Clearly this cannot be accommodated within current, or even modestly raised levels, meaning difficult choices have to be made.

Within the economic category there is growing demand from the provinces and territories to raise levels for provincial nominee programs. These programs have grown substantially over the past few years. There is an obvious argument that provinces and territories know their own needs best. But growth in these programs has come with increased questions around evaluation of results and accountability. Increases in provincial programs put pressure on the federal programs, and need to be balanced with the federal government’s primary role in managing immigration for the country. The Federal Skilled Worker program also has higher and more transparent criteria – outlined in regulations – including a “points test” to assess skills, knowledge and experience.

With pressure to increase the PNP, a growing inventory of live-in-caregivers eligible for permanent residence, the logic of taking in more TFWs and students who have experience in Canada, and the long list of investors prepared to add significant resources to the economy, there are clearly difficult decisions in the economic category.

Within the family class, the parents and grandparents category provides another dilemma. Wait times that are long, and growing, are not sustainable. Not only that, but at the current rate of application intake, this backlog will continue to grow and will potentially double in the next ten years. One partial answer might be to increase the number of yearly admissions over a number of years. But this would require a reduction in the economic class or an increase in overall immigration to Canada. However, that alone will not address the backlog problem. Over the longer term decisions will need to be made about the number of new applicants that are accepted in this stream and a more sustainable path for the program.

These issues point to difficult questions in levels planning. Should the levels plan primarily reflect the number of people who want to immigrate to Canada? Do we continue to admit more people in a category simply because there are more applications? Surely, the levels plan should reflect Canada’s needs and strategic priorities?

How can we manage the system in a way that provides reasonable service standards and processing times?

Clearly, there are stresses in the system. In the parents and grandparents category, there are currently about 165,000 individuals with applications in process. As of December 2010, there were over 500,000 individuals (principal applicants and their dependents) with applications in process as federal skilled workers. Altogether, there are presently over 1 million people awaiting a decision across all categories and more joining daily.

There is also currently a legal obligation to process all applications in the inventory. Significant resources are required to manage the backlog and implementing reasonable service standards is difficult in the face of long and growing wait times in many categories.

In light of this imbalance between the number of applications we receive and the number of people we can accept, CIC has begun to take steps to limit the intake of applications. A noteworthy example is the legislation introduced in 2008 (“Ministerial Instructions”) which removes the obligation to process all applications and enables the Minister to better manage new application intake and stop backlog growth. Ministerial Instructions allow the Minister to limit intake to align with CIC’s capacity to process in a reasonable timeframe. Applications that do not meet the criteria of the “instructions” do not have to be processed to decision and fees are refunded to applicants. It should be noted that the legislation specifies that the instructions cannot be applied to refugees overseas or in Canada or to humanitarian and compassionate requests made from within Canada.

Thus far, this authority has been used only in the economic class. The first two sets of Ministerial Instructions focused largely on the FSW program. The first limited applications to a certain number of occupations in demand, or to those who had arranged offers of employment. The second refined the occupation list, and capped the number of applications that would be accepted. Combined, they helped the department process applications in the backlog, reducing this volume by 50% from its peak of 641,000, and improving processing times for new applicants.

A key lesson learned is that effective management of the intake on new applications is critical to reducing backlogs and improving wait times.

Recent changes to the Immigrant Investor Program criteria provide another example of the application of Ministerial Instructions. When changes were made to double both the net worth of an investor and the required investment in Canada - (as outlined above) - Ministerial Instructions were used to stop taking applications until the new regulations came into force. This prevented a flood of applications under the old criteria, which in the past, would have had to be processed by the Department against the criteria in place at the time of application.

Most recently, on June 24, 2011 a third set of Ministerial Instructions was announced. These measures have:  reset the annual cap on new FSW applications to 10,000 overall and 500 per eligible occupation; introduced an annual cap of 700 on new Immigrant Investor applications; and introduced a temporary moratorium on federal Entrepreneur program applications.  It should be noted that caps on new application intake will not affect admissions as levels will comprise new applications as well as those in the backlog for the foreseeable future.

While progress has been made in some areas, much work remains in addressing backlogs and improving wait times. A key question for consideration is whether and how Ministerial Instructions could be used to manage intake across other categories particularly those with large and growing backlogs like the parents and grandparents category.

While the sheer volume of applications is a major challenge in managing our immigration system, it is far from the only one. Fraud, for example, is a growing concern that contributes to longer processing times. Immigration fraud can take many forms. Immigration applicants in all immigration categories may engage in fraud against our immigration system, and some seek assistance from unscrupulous immigration consultants or other third parties, such as labour recruiters or document counterfeiters. Some fraud happens here; most happens overseas. Some examples include the use of fake documents, bogus marriages and lying to an officer or on an application form. Higher incidences of fraud across all categories mean that significantly more time is needed to verify documentation, interview individual applicants and conduct investigations. CIC strives to strike an appropriate balance between facilitating the movement of people and upholding the integrity of the immigration program.

Foreign credential recognition (FCR) is an example of another complex challenge that the Department faces. The Foreign Credentials Referral Office (FCRO) was established in May 2007 at CIC to provide internationally-trained workers with the information, path-finding and referral services they need in Canada and overseas to help succeed in the Canada labour market and put their skills to work in Canada more quickly. The Foreign Credentials Referral Office works with federal partners at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Health Canada, and collaboratively with the provinces, territories, regulatory bodies, professional associations and employers to improve foreign credential recognitions processes in Canada.

As the provinces and territories are responsible for assessing and recognizing the credential of internationally-trained workers, there are differences in the process across jurisdictions. Progress is being made through the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications – a joint commitment made by federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure that foreign qualifications are recognized in a fair, consistent, transparent and timely manner.

As announced in Budget 2011, the Government of Canada committed to the provision of financial assistance for internationally-trained workers seeking to have their foreign credentials recognized in Canada. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and CIC will test ways, using micro-loans, to help internationally-trained workers cover costs to skills upgrading.

Further questions for the Consultations

It is evident that action is required to better manage the program and application intake in particular and that Ministerial Instructions are an effective tool to achieve these objectives. While Canada’s pro-immigration consensus is enviable, there are competing visions and diverging goals for the future of the program. The annual Levels Plan is the key strategic tool for balancing these competing visions and goals.

Ideally, an immigration system for the 21st century should have flexibility to readily adjust priorities across categories and applicants should be provided with reliable service standards.

In this context, your views are sought on the following questions:

On levels:

  • Over the next five years, should immigration levels be maintained, increased or decreased, relative to the average 250,000 of the past decade? Why? What evidence would support these immigration levels? 
  • What is our capacity to absorb current levels of immigration, and help newcomers integrate and succeed? What if levels were to increase?
  • What level of immigration are Canadians prepared to welcome and support?

On the mix:

  • How should we balance social and economic objectives of the program?
  • How important is it that the federal government maintains a primary role in managing immigration for the country? In a world of limited capacity and scarce resources, how should the federal and provincial and territorial governments balance their joints responsibilities and their individual priorities and needs?
  • How should regional and national interests be best balanced? Are the appropriate programs in place to meet high skill, low skill, short term and long term economic objectives?
  • How important should factors like immigrants’ language skills, age and education be when selecting economic class immigrants?
  • What is the appropriate balance between national/provincial/employer/stakeholder roles in selecting immigrants?
  • In the face of growing demand for low-skilled workers, how should this need be met and should we be exploring further pathways to permanent residence for such temporary workers?

On the system:

  • Should Ministerial Instructions be used to limit intake in other categories, such as parents and grandparents? What criteria should be used?
  • Recognizing that backlogs consist of people who have applied, paid fees, and have been waiting for an answer for a number of years, should reducing the backlog/inventories and improving service standards be the highest priority? (e.g,, Federal Skilled Workers, Parents and Grandparents…)?
  • Or should there be a balance between reducing the inventories and accepting new applications?

Annex — Ministerial Instructions in Brief

Canada receives many more immigration applications than can be accepted every year.  As part of ongoing efforts to better align application intake with priorities for immigration, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has taken steps in the last three years to better manage the number of new applications it will consider in certain categories of the federal economic immigration stream. To date, Ministerial Instructions, which constitute the most effective tool to manage processing pressures, have been issued three times.

In November 2008 the first Ministerial Instructions were issued with two specific objectives:

  • To make the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program more responsive to national labour market pressures; and
  • To reduce the FSW backlog of 641,000 persons by 50% by 2013 — and shorten wait times from 6 years to 6-12 months.

The Instructions established eligibility criteria for processing new FSW applications in order to align the intake of new applications with the capacity to process them. In effect until June 2010, the first Instructions limited processing to those new FSW applications that met identified labour market needs, such as whether the applicant had experience in at least one of 38 identified occupations in demand, had a confirmed job offer from a Canadian employer, or were a temporary foreign worker or international student with skilled work experience.

A second set of Ministerial Instructions replaced the first in June 2010. These Instructions were designed to sustain progress on reducing the FSW backlog, which had been reduced by nearly 50% and to keep pace with an evolving labour market as Canada was emerging from the recession. The main feature of this new set of Instructions was the introduction of a cap on the total number of new FSW applications to be processed (20,000 per year), with no more than 1,000 applications to be processed in any one occupation on a revised list of 29 occupations. The cap did not apply to applicants with arranged employment offers. It was decided that a cap, which was introduced to respond to the unforeseen surge in application intake under the first Instructions, was the only way to guarantee that application intake was aligned with CIC’s capacity to process them. A cap would ensure that, within FSW levels room, CIC could process new applicants needed by the Canadian economy along with applicants already in the inventory. Beyond the cap and a new occupation list, these Instructions also required that all new FSW principal applicants, as well as those in the Canadian Experience Class, submit the results of a test of their proficiency in either English or French and implemented a temporary moratorium on the intake of new Investors Class applications while regulatory changes were made in that program. The moratorium was lifted in December 2010.

Most recently, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism issued a third set of Instructions, which took effect on July 1st. These Instructions again focused on the FSW program by reducing the overall cap on new FSW applications to be processed from 20,000 to 10,000 per year, with a corresponding halving of the occupation sub-caps from 1,000 to 500, again exempting applicants with confirmed job offers from Canadian employers. The list of 29 occupations was unchanged. In addition, a cap of 700 new applications per year was introduced in the Investors Program in order to take action on the very large backlog in that program. Finally, a temporary moratorium on new applications in the federal Entrepreneur Program was also introduced while that program undergoes review.

Appendix A: The Levels Plan for 2011

Appendix B: Permanent residents Admissions by category, 2006-2010

Application Inventory on December 31st, 2010

Inventory - Permanent Residents (in Persons)
Business Line 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 (Sep 30) 2010 (Dec 31) % Change
Skilled Workers 513,528 536,526 615,241 655,576 562,575 514,713 539,936 5%
Federal Skilled Workers (pre-C50) 486,548 509,585 586,109 512,996 400,005 339,670 334,881 -1%
Federal Skilled Workers (C50) n/a n/a n/a 111,520 128,769 144,883 173,050 19%
Quebec Selected Skilled Workers 26,980 26,941 29,132 31,060 33,801 30,160 32,005 6%
Business Immigrants 46,412 41,802 44,858 51,137 76,767 107,260 107,285 0%
Federal Business Immigrants 37,370 35,869 37,665 43,984 69,120 97,310 96,519 -1%
Quebec Business Immigrants 9,042 5,933 7,193 7,153 7,647 9,950 10,766 8%
Provincial/Territorial Nominees 11,248 13,984 18,380 26,516 30,905 39,194 39,787 2%
Live-in Caregivers 10,575 11,379 16,012 20,742 27,600 28,484 28,771 1%
Canadian Experience Class n/a n/a n/a 926 4,290 4,256 4,691 10%
Economic Class 581,763 603,691 694,491 754,897 702,137 693,907 720,470 4%
Spouses, Partners, Children and Others 51,513 55,598 54,485 58,378 55,553 51,433 53,716 4%
Parents and Grandparents 107,994 108,261 103,402 110,689 110,741 147,769 150,964 2%
Family Class 159,507 163,859 157,887 169,067 166,294 199,202 204,680 3%
Government Assisted Refugees 9,052 9,099 12,397 11,999 12,723 12,864 10,685 -17%
Privately Sponsored Refugees 14,855 14,928 14,882 17,661 19,568 22,646 25,026 11%
Protected Persons in Canada 15,910 17,993 10,289 8,911 9,407 8,205 8,090 -1%
Dependants Abroad 8,032 6,649 6,684 5,764 6,778 6,773 6,793 0%
H&C and Public Policy  39,178 31,305 31,595 28,346 26,158 21,468 20,688 -4%
Permit Holders 272 198 148 284 212 154 127 -18%
Humanitarian Class 87,299 80,172 75,995 72,965 74,846 72,110 71,409 -1%
Other* 996 825 857 1,370 2,044 1,851 6,453 249%
Total 829,565 848,547 929,230 998,299 945,321 967,070 1,003,012 4%

Data Sources: dwsweb;Development/CAIPS/imm_caips_e-c50 from download of January 4, 2011; CPC-Reports & WIP

*Other includes: DROC, PDRCC, missing and/or invalid data

Estimated Years of Admissions for the Current Immigration Inventory

With no new intake as of March 2011, and no policy changes, some programs already contain enough applications to result in upwards of seven years of new admissions at 2011 immigration levels.

Chart of Program by Number of Years of Admissions

Canada – Permanent residents as a percentage of Canada’s population, 1860 to 2009


Subscribe to news

Page details

Date modified: