Canada’s Current Immigration Policy

Canada is increasingly becoming a more attractive destination for immigrants from all over the world; it offers opportunities for workers, students, and family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
Brief History of Canadian Immigration Policy

The first large-scale movement of immigrants to Canada started in the middle of the 19th century. At that time, immigration was mostly unrestricted. This period had what’s called an “open door” policy: immigrants were encouraged to settle in Western Canada. The first Canadian Immigration Act was passed in 1869, two years after Canada became a nation. It established policies that had several discriminatory provisions — people of non-European and non-Christian backgrounds, as well as the poor, ill, and disabled were not admitted to Canada. In 1885, under pressure from British Columbia, the federal government imposed policies to restrict Chinese immigration. Other limitations were imposed at various times on the basis of race, religion and national origins. Such discriminatory policies continued until the end of World War II.

With the growing demand for an expanded labour force as well as changing social attitudes, in 1962, the federal government ended racial discrimination as a feature of the Canadian immigration system. In 1967, Canada launched a system that would rank candidates for immigration on factors such as work skills, education level, language ability (in speaking French or English), and family ties in Canada. In 1969, Canada also signed the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

1976 marks one of the most important years in Canadian immigration. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, father of the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, passed a new Immigration Act that, for the first time, clearly proclaimed the main objective of Canada’s immigration policy — promotion of Canada's demographic, economic, social, and cultural goals, as well as the priorities of family reunion, diversity, and non-discrimination. This is known as the beginning of the “multiculturalism era” in Canadian immigration.

During the 1980s, the Canadian government introduced several economic immigration programs aimed at encouraging business persons and entrepreneurs to immigrate to Canada, bringing their managerial skills and financial capital to create additional employment opportunities. In the 21st century, Canada has strengthened its economic immigration programs to make them even more prominent. Foreign students have become another target group for potential immigrants. Canada has facilitated admission for international students and created favourable conditions for them to stay in Canada after graduation i.e. completion of their study in Canada.

What is the IRCC?

Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is the federal authority responsible for immigration affairs. However, Canada is a federation that consists of ten provinces and three territories. There are separate immigration bodies at the federal and provincial levels. Thus, each province or territory has its own immigration authority that deals with PNP issues.

Another salient aspect of the country’s immigration system is that Canada has set itself on a course to digitize application procedures for immigrants. A major achievement was the launch of Express Entry, an electronic system for managing applications for three federal economic immigration programs and a portion of the Provincial Nominee Program. All federal immigration programs are managed by the Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
Canada’s Immigration Policy Ranks High

According to the Anholt-Ipsos Nation Brands Index (NBI) 2021, Canada ranks at the top in the world for its immigration policies, government, and investment climate. Immigration has become a key element of Canada’s economic recovery after the pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the country’s economy has taken a hard hit. One of the reasons for the hit is labor shortage; during 2020 only half as many immigrants arrived as planned. Canada has facilitated the admission and application process for immigrants in 2021 to fulfill labor market demand, which allows Canada to be placed at the top of the NBI rating.

In 2020, Canada was ranked fourth on the international scorecard of the Migration Integration Policy Index, which ranks 56 countries based on the performance of their immigration policies in helping to integrate migrants. Canada received a score of 80 thanks to its immigrant-friendly policies, which the index says focus on equal rights, opportunities, and security for newcomers.

What is the Anholt Ipsos Nation Brands Index (NBI)?
The Anholt Ipsos Nation Brands Index (NBI) is a global nation brand survey. The NBI examines the public image of about 50 nations each year by conducting online interviews with 20,000 adults aged 18 and over, in 20 core panel countries. The NBI looks at each nation’s reputation along six dimensions of national competence: exports, governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration, and investment. Together these provide an overall indication of a nation’s worldwide reputation.

Objectives of Canadian Immigration Policy

For more than a century, Canada has considered immigration as a means to support population increase, economic growth, and cultural development. Immigrants to Canada have been a major source of its growth and prosperity. People may come to Canada permanently to seek better economic opportunities, reunite with family members, or seek asylum as resettled refugees or protected persons. Additionally, many come to Canada temporarily, as a visitor, international student, or temporary foreign worker and some of them decide to become permanent residents later.

Canada’s immigration policy objectives are spelled in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). There are three pillars of Canada’s immigration policy:

  1. Skilled and semi-skilled immigration: Permanent immigrants and temporary foreign workers fill gaps in Canada’s labour market and help employers respond to vacancies in various industries. Canada’s aim is to encourage youthful, high-skilled immigration, to build human capital within Canada's aging labor force and to populate its vast geography, vast tracts of which are uninhabited. The Canadian government has developed multiple visa options for skilled and semi-skilled workers who intend to settle permanently (or temporarily) in Canada.
  2. Family reunification: The Canadian government defines family reunification as an important tool for attracting, retaining, and integrating newcomers. It recognizes that immigrants feel more comfortable and are better engaged in social and civic life when they are surrounded by relatives. Family support can play an important role in the success, resilience, and productivity of newcomers, which in turn results in economic benefits for Canada.
  3. Student visa: Canada has a world-class education system. Canada’s universities are usually ranked among the best in the world. The federal government encourages foreign students to move to the country by facilitating their entrance process. Additionally, Canada strives to engage recent graduates in employment in Canada via easing foreign students' transition from a Study Permit to a Work Permit after graduation.

You may wish to read the full list of objectives of the Canadian immigration policy.

Each wave of immigration has added to the ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity of Canada. In turn, Canadians have typically welcomed immigrants to Canada who are highly educated, ambitious, and capable people with the potential to contribute positively to Canadian society.

Policy on Economic Immigration

At present, economic immigration is the largest source of permanent and temporary resident admissions to Canada. This category constitutes about 60% of all Canadian new immigrants each year. Economic newcomers fill gaps in the Canadian workforce, invest in the economy, provide skilled labor, and fuel the country’s economy through their consumption. Canada is in competition for talented young citizens with other countries that would otherwise also suffer declining populations. Recognizing this, the Canadian government strives to keep the country competitive and attractive to skilled workers from abroad. Canada offers a range of immigration opportunities both for temporary and permanent residence, as summarized below.

Permanent residence options

  1. Express Entry (EE) immigration programs: For qualified individuals, this is the fastest way to move to Canada as a permanent resident. A decision is usually made within six months. EE includes three federal immigration pathways:

Successful immigrants are selected based on where they are placed in the  Comprehensive Ranking System. Factors that influence the EE rating include the candidate’s work experience, skills, level of education, language ability, age, etc.

  1. Provincial Nominee Program (PNP): This is the second-largest economic immigration pathway. Almost one-third of economic newcomers move to Canada under the PNP. If you want to settle in a specific province or territory and have the skills, education, and work experience to contribute to the economy of this specific province or territory, this program may be suitable for you. Each province has its own set of streams under the PNP that are targeted to specific groups — such as recent graduates, farmers, entrepreneurs, etc. The PNP follows a very specific two-stage process for granting Canadian permanent resident status to economic immigrants. In the first stage, a potential immigrant applies for a Provincial or Territorial Nomination to be considered for the second stage. Then, successful applicants are selected for nomination by the province or territory. These applicants are awarded a Provincial Nomination (PN), which means this person is recommended for immigration to Canada’s federal government and can apply for permanent residence.
  2. Quebec-Selected Skilled Workers: Quebec selects its own skilled workers, as this province has a unique status in Canada. However, the process is very similar to that for the PNP, the main difference being the name of the program.
  3. Start-up Visa Program: Entrepreneurs with innovative start-up ideas who have financial support from Canadian investors can become permanent residents and launch their business in Canada.
  4. Caregiver Programs: The Canadian government has launched two pilot immigration programs that allow qualified caregivers and their family members to move to Canada and obtain permanent or temporary resident status. These programs are for individuals who have at least two years of full-time Canadian work experience in the caregiver occupation within the last three years. As Canada’s population ages, this program is likely to grow.

Temporary residence options

You must get a Canadian Work Permit (WP) to legally work in Canada. A WP by itself will not grant you entry into Canada, but you will be automatically issued a Visitor's Visa or an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) at the port of entry when you arrive in Canada with a WP. There are three main programs for persons who want to perform temporary work in Canada:

Policy on Family Immigration

The family reunification policy is based on the notion of “sponsorship” — Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their close relatives to come to Canada as permanent residents. Under current policies, the program criteria center on the relationship between the sponsor and the sponsored person rather than any human capital considerations i.e. the skill level of the sponsored person is not a factor. As a result, the requirements for the sponsored person are not as strict as those for the sponsor, who must take financial responsibility for the sponsored person(s). Family immigration remains a large component of annual permanent resident admissions in Canada: 27-30%.

There are four groups of relatives that can be sponsored:

  1. Spousal Sponsorship: Canadian permanent residents or citizens may sponsor their non-Canadian spouse, common-law or conjugal partner after the applications of both of them have been approved by the IRCC. Candidates in same-sex relationships are not discriminated against in any manner by the Canadian government.
  2. Dependent Children Sponsorship: Canadian permanent residents or citizens may sponsor their biological or adopted dependent children. The children are considered dependent if they are under 22 years of age and do not have a spouse or partner, or their own dependent children. Please note that adopted children from other countries may also be sponsored to come to Canada as permanent residents.
  3. Parents and Grandparents Sponsorship: Canadian permanent residents or citizens may sponsor their parents and grandparents to come to Canada and obtain permanent residence. Sponsors must meet the minimum financial requirements to be able to support them for 20 years, so that the parents or grandparents will not seek assistance from the Canadian government. There is also an alternative procedure to bring parents and grandparents to visit Canada for an extended period, called a Super Visa. However, it only grants temporary resident status.
  4. Sponsorship of Other Relatives: Canadian permanent residents or citizens may sponsor other relatives, such as a brother, sister, aunt, or uncle, in very specific situations that are defined in the Canadian legislation.
Student Immigration

Canada now ranks as the third most popular country for foreign students, behind the USA and Australia. The Canadian government has made the procedure for getting a study visa (also called a Study Permit) easy and efficient. Every year, more than 400,000 foreigners come to Canada to study. Canadian learning institutions welcome international students for secondary and post-secondary education.

While studying in Canada, most students can gain work experience and, upon graduation, can continue to work in Canada for up to three years under the Post-Graduation Work Permit. Once they have experience studying and working in Canada, many students apply to immigrate permanently to Canada. The most popular pathway for foreign graduates is the Canadian Experience Class. Additionally, many provinces and territories offer graduates who have finished their studies in that particular region the opportunity to work and stay in Canada under the Provincial Nominee Program.

Policy on Refugee Immigration

Canada is known for its liberal attitude toward refugees. Since 2018, Canada has consistently exceeded the USA in the number of admitted refugees. Canada immigration options for refugees include:

  • Resettling refugees from abroad: There are two main categories of resettled refugees, government-assisted and privately sponsored. Privately sponsored refugees, which includes almost two-thirds of resettled refugees, are brought to Canada by government-approved citizens and organizations that assume legal and financial responsibility for them.
  • In-Canada asylum system for those with a well-founded fear of persecution, torture, or death: This system allows individuals to make a refugee claim if they are already in Canada but fear some form of reprisal if they return to their home country. If the respective Canadian authority accepts the applicants’ claims, they will receive protected person status. This means they are allowed to stay in Canada and can apply for permanent residence.
Recent Statistics on Immigration to Canada
Below is the latest available data about immigration issues in Canada. Typically, this data represents the 2020 year. Please note that in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the total number of newcomers is more than one-third lower than usual. It was only 284,377 persons.

Where do Canada’s immigrants come from?

According to the most recent statistics published in 2020, India was the most common country of birth for newcomers in Canada, followed closely by China.


Where do immigrants to Canada settle?

The leading destination for immigrants is Ontario, and, in particular, Toronto. Almost 45% of newcomers chose this province as their new home. The smallest number of immigrants came to Nunavut: only 39 individuals settled there.

Digitalization of Immigration Pathways

Since January 2015, skilled foreign workers seeking to immigrate to Canada have been able to use the Express Entry system — the Government of Canada’s electronic system for managing “permanent resident” applications filed under various economic immigration programs. With the introduction of the EE system, the number of economic newcomers in Canada has significantly increased, as it allows for processing twice as many applications per year.

In 2020-2021, the IRCC implemented advanced data analytics to sort and process temporary resident visa applications from countries with a high volume of applicants. This system identifies patterns and helps accelerate the work of IRCC employees to make better-informed decisions.

In 2022, IRCC plans to introduce an e-management system for family reunification. It will launch a digital transformation lab for the spousal sponsorship application process, which will enable IRCC to intake and process more than 70,000 spousal applications each year in a digital form, thereby improving the efficiency of the application procedures. The digital intake will help IRCC in meeting its ambitious plan numbers as well in improving the client experience by allowing applicants to submit documents electronically.

Diversity in Immigration Policy of Canadian Political Parties

There is a diversity in the political positions of various parties about the country’s immigration policies. There are six main political parties in Canada:

  • The Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada;
  • The Conservative Party led by Erin O’Toole;
  • The New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Jagmeet Singh;
  • The Green Party led by Amita Kuttner;
  • The Bloc Québécois led by Yves-François Blanchet; and
  • The People’s Party led by Maxime Bernier.

All political parties agree that immigration is a necessity for Canada and support the overall goal of the current immigration policy, especially during the time of COVID-19. However, they differ on who should be permitted (or prioritized) to immigrate to Canada, how they should be admitted, and what amount and type of support should be available to them after arrival to Canada. For instance, the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Greens are all in favour of economic immigration, but their approaches and policies towards family reunification programs differ.

A detailed analysis of the immigration policies of all political parties is beyond the scope of this article, but a short summary is as follows:

The Liberal Party: The largest number of immigrants have come to Canada in any period since the First World War under the Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau. The party hopes to increase that number even more in subsequent years. Its program focuses mostly on attracting skilled workers to Canada and on spousal reunification. The Trudeau government significantly decreased the processing time for sponsorship applications from 72 months to 12–24 months. The Liberals also want to expand pathways to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers and former international students through the Express Entry points system as well as introduce electronic applications for family reunification that should significantly improve the processing time.

The Conservatives: The party prioritizes economic immigration over humanitarian (i.e. refugee) or family reunification or sponsorship. They seek international talent to fill gaps and grow the economy. However, during the latest election in 2021, the Conservatives also added family reunification immigration reform to their plank: they are lobbying for changes to the lottery system for sponsorship of parents and grandparents in order to give priority to fulfilling childcare support needs and language proficiency. They also want to allow foreign family members of Canadians to live in Canada for up to five years without permanent status under the Super Visa, instead of the current two years.

The NDP: The party prioritizes family reunification and the Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provinces to address gaps in specific occupations. The NDP wants to eliminate the current cap on applications to sponsor parents and grandparents. Its plan would also broaden pathways to permanent residence for all workers who come to Canada.

The Green Party: The party promotes speeding up family reunification, especially reuniting children with their parents. The Greens also lobby for attracting immigrant caregivers to support Canada’s aging population, to fill gaps in this labour market. They want to introduce exceptions for permanent residency and citizenship application costs based on household income.

The People’s Party: The party, which currently holds no seats in Parliament, is the most “anti-immigration” party. It believes current immigration levels are “unsustainable.” It advocates for a 50% drop in immigration, with the reductions mostly centered around family reunification. But the party is unlikely to wield any power in Canada in the near future.

The Bloc Quebecois: This is a Quebec-centered party. It emphasizes the autonomy of Quebec’s decision-making and proposes that the Quebec National Assembly should choose the number of immigrants and refugees accepted into the province, rather than the federal government. The Bloc Quebecois also intends to offer tax credits for graduates and immigrants who wish to settle outside major urban centres within Quebec and facilitate the resettlement of francophone refugees in Quebec.

Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions that our client ask; if your question is not covered here, please contact us.
What to Expect in the Future

IRCC presented a rolling three-year Immigration Levels Plan for immigrant admissions in 2020. It covers the period from 2021 to 2023. This plan was developed in consultation with provinces and territories, various stakeholder organizations, and the public. It also considers disruptions caused by COVID-19 and their implication for permanent resident admissions. According to this plan, as of 2021, the Canadian government plans to admit more than 400,000 newcomers per year.  Applications will no longer be curtailed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The government has already announced plans to modernize and digitize the application process. It wants to introduce e-applications for family reunification and for temporary foreign workers processing. The main goal is to significantly reduce processing times.

Another goal for the Canadian government is to advance the Global Talent Stream program by simplifying renewals and maintaining a 2-week processing time, and establishing an employer hotline to allow Canadian companies to attract and hire highly skilled workers.

To summarize, Canada plans to expand its current immigration frameworks and implement balanced policy changes on both the economic and humanitarian pathways of its immigration system. If you are considering immigration to Canada, feel free to contact us. We will provide you with a realistic assessment of your chances and we can assist in every stage of the application process.