Canada's Immigration Programs

An introduction to various programs available for immigration to Canada

Canada’s stable economy, low crime rate, multicultural ethos, strong social welfare system, and high standard of living make it an attractive destination for immigrants from all over the world. Furthermore, Canada actively courts qualified foreigners to immigrate to Canada with its immigration-friendly policies.

It intends to bring 401,000 permanent residents to Canada in 2021 and 421,000 in 2023 and plans to grant an even larger number of temporary residence visas.

These policies are primarily designed to fill the labor needs of Canada’s economy while ensuring that the new immigrants integrate well with Canada's culture and social norms. To meet its immigration goals, Canada has instituted more than 80 immigration programs that grant permanent or temporary residency. These programs are efficiently managed and have lead to a growing number of immigrants into the country each year. Note that the number of new immigrants fell in 2020 due to restrictions placed by COVID pandemic.

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Provincial Nominee Program (PNP)

Canada's immigration programs are managed at two levels: federal (or central) government level and at Canada’s provincial governments level. Programs managed at the province level are designed to meet the employment or other needs of that specific province whereas the federal programs take a country-wide perspective and are designed to implement a coherent national immigration strategy. Each Canadian province and territory (except Quebec) manages its own needs-driven Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) which nominates individuals interested in settling in that particular province to the centralized system for quick immigration approval. Each year, a province will nominate persons who fit its specific economic needs at that particular time.

Each province has its own set of “streams” (immigration programs that target specific groups) and each stream has its own qualifying requirements. For example, specific program streams may target students, business persons, skilled workers, or semi-skilled workers—each with different qualification requirements. Approved candidates from the provincial programs are consolidated under the federal Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). PNP is a points-based invitation system. While provincial governments manage the PNP nominations according to their individual needs, the federal government ultimately administers and makes the final decision about each nominated person.

Permanent Residence Visas

Permanent residents are persons who have been granted permission to stay indefinitely in the country as a result of their immigration to Canada but they are not yet Canadian citizens. Permanent residents may choose to become citizens in due course. There are several visas programs that can grant a permanent residence status:

  • Skilled Work visas that allow skilled workers to obtain a permanent resident status in Canada. Most of these visas are granted through the Express Entry system, although a few are not.
  • Business visas that are designed for people who can successfully establish a business or create jobs in Canada; and
  • Family visas that are designed to unify the families of current citizens or immigrants who are already living in Canada.

Each of these programs are explained in detail below.

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Temporary Residence Visas

A temporary residence visa permits a foreign national to enter and live in Canada for a defined period. The foreign national is expected to leave Canada when the visa expires. Temporary resident status is usually given to persons who wish to come to Canada to study, work, or visit for a temporary period.

Such persons are considered visitors to Canada. Temporary residents must obtain a Visitor visa (also called Temporary Resident Visa or TRV). Visitors are not allowed to work or study in Canada unless they are authorized to do so through one of the following permits:

  • Study permit allows student visitors to live and work in Canada while studying; and
  • Work permit allows visitors to work for a certain period in Canada.

Temporary vs Permanent Residence Status

Some of Canada's immigration programs directly issue a permanent residence visa while others only issue a temporary residence visa.

"Canada remains one of the only countries in the world where citizens are by and large positively inclined toward immigration."
Justin Trudeau, PM
Even for temporary residence visas, often there is a path from temporary residence to permanent residence in due course upon satisfying certain conditions and following the procedure. Furthermore, immigrants with a permanent resident status can apply for Canadian citizenship after living in Canada for the required period of time and satisfying other eligibility requirements. To learn more about how you can make these transitions, read our article changing your immigration status in Canada.

Canada Work Visas

For skilled and semi-skilled persons, Canada offers one of the most generous sets of immigration opportunities in the world. The attractive features of the Canadian immigration system for potential immigrants are:

  • Easy and straightforward application process;
  • Short processing times;
  • Transparent point-based priority determination;
  • Ease of transition between different immigration statuses; and
  • A large number of visas available.

Permanent Work Visa with Express Entry

Since 2017, the Canadian government has pursued a strategy to reduce its domestic labor shortage by implementing a market-oriented immigration system that involves employers as well as foreign applicants. The Canadian government’s immigration policies are rooted in the recognition that Canada needs new immigrants in order to a) meet its labour market needs and b) ensure stability of its healthcare and pension system. Without immigration, the country faces a declining population growth rate. Therefore, the government established a goal to bring one million immigrants to Canada before 2021; this goal was successfully met, as the total number of new immigrants exceeded 1,174,000. For the next three years, Canada has set a goal of 1,250,000 new permanent immigrants.

Canada’s federal government and its provincial governments have developed a number of immigration programs to facilitate the matching of  foreign employees with Canadian employers. In 2015, Canada streamlined the process by consolidating these programs under the Express Entry System for admitting skilled immigrants with immediate permanent residence status.

Express Entry is used to manage Canadian permanent residence applications for filling labour gaps all over Canada. The system selects, communicates with and manages a pool of immigration ready skilled workers. Express Entry is designed to facilitate fast immigration of skilled workers to Canada "who are most likely to succeed economically". 80% of applications in the system are processed in 6 months or less.

Those who are eligible for one of the programs managed by Express Entry submit their application and the Canadian government issues invitation letters to successful candidates using a point-based scoring system. Acceptance of the invitation grants the applicant, and their accompanying family members, Canadian permanent resident status.

Express Entry is a more efficient replacement for the original "first-come first-served" immigration selection system. It is more responsive to regional labour shortages as it favours qualified and desirable immigrants by prioritising them. It avoids the arbitrary nature of a first-come, first-served system. The system is credited for reducing the underclass of immigrants who fail to get work after coming to Canada.

Express Entry uses a points-based system, called the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Applicants are rated on factors that include age, level of education, specific skills, language proficiency in English and/or French, and Canadian work experience. An ideal candidate would be between the age of 20–29, possessing a high level of education, and advanced proficiency in either English or French or both.

Express Entry works as follows:

  1. Persons who wish to immigrate answer a set of questions online to determine if they meet the basic requirements.
  2. Potential candidates who meet the basic requirements then fill out an online detailed Express Entry Form and provide information about their language skills, education, work experience, age, cultural adaptability, etc. A variety of documents are required to prove the qualifications. These documents can be submitted via email.  Applicants are assessed under a “points” system that awards these points based on pre-established deterministic criteria.
  3. The system adds high-scoring candidates to a pool of approved workers, from which Canadian employers can select persons best suited to their vacancies.
  4. The government will invite a candidate to apply for permanent residence (through one of the skilled worker immigration programs described below) if the person:
    • Possesses one of the highest score rankings in the pool of candidates; or
    • Receives a nomination under one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP).

Currently, there are three programs for immigration of skilled-workers that are managed through Express Entry:

  • The Federal Skilled Worker Program is for skilled employees with foreign work experience in professional, managerial or technical fields, who want to immigrate to Canada permanently.
  • The Federal Skilled Trades Program is for skilled tradespersons who wish to become permanent residents and are qualified in a skilled trade.
  • The Canada Experience Class is designed for skilled employees who have previously worked in Canada and now wish to become permanent residents. This program is often used to transition from a temporary residence status to a permanent status.

If you want to learn about the Express Entry System, its available immigration programs, or to see if you qualify for any one of them, please contact us.

Temporary Resident Visa with Work Permit

While the Express Entry system explained above is for immigrants seeking permanent residence who are able to satisfy the Express Entry criteria, the Canadian government also facilitates the entry of foreign nationals for temporary residence on a work permit. Canada’s temporary immigration programs help Canadian businesses attract people with the talent they need for a short duration of a few years. In 2019, more than 404,000 individuals were issued temporary visas based on work permits in Canada.

Please Note The terms “visa” and “permit” are often used interchangeably but they have different connotations in the Canadian immigration legislation. Most persons who enter Canada for a temporary period must have a Visitor Visa (also known as Temporary Resident Visa) which is a permission to enter the country, in addition to their work or study permit.

There are two types of Canadian work permits:

  • Employer specific work permit allows foreign individuals to work only for a specific employer and for a specified period;
  • Open work permit allows permit holders to work for any employer in Canada (with some exceptions) for a specified period.

Currently, there are the following programs under which a work permit may be obtained by a foreign worker:

Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP): Under the TFWP program, before an employer can offer a job to a foreign worker, the employer must prove that no qualified Canadian is available to perform that job. This is done through a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). LMIA is a process through which, at the request of the employer, the Employment and Social Development Canada confirms that:

  • There is a need for a temporary foreign employee for a specialized job in Canada; and
  • No qualified Canadians or permanent residents are available to do the job.

Furthermore, within TFWP there are several specialized streams. These programs grant temporary resident status to persons with specific skills whom employers wish to hire:

  • Global Talent Stream. Hire uniquely-skilled talent or in-demand workers in select ICT or STEM jobs to scale up and grow your business.
  • Academics. Hire an academic at a college, university or degree granting institution in Canada.
  • Agriculture. Hire on-farm foreign workers for jobs in primary agriculture.
  • Caregivers. Hire an in-home worker to care for children, seniors or persons with medical needs.

International Mobility Program (IMP): The International Mobility Program lets a Canadian employer hire a temporary foreign worker without a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). LMIA is not required as long as the job being offered is subject to a LMIA exemption code. The process of determining whether or not the job qualifies under an exemption code is a complex process. Please contact us if you would like assistance with accepting or offering employment under IMP. Our specialists can help to streamline your application process.

Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP): If an individual applies to change his or her temporary resident status into permanent resident status, he or she must apply for a BOWP that allows the individual to keep working while waiting for the results of the permanent residence application. A person may apply for a Work Permit either in paper form or online (recommended). Firstly, an applicant should fill out the application form and submit it to the International Refugee and Citizenship Canada.

If a person applies while being outside Canada, he or she may be asked to provide additional documents and to go to an interview with an official from the Canadian Embassy in his or her country. If an applicant intends to work in Canada in particular fields, the official may ask to complete a medical exam. After that, a person will get the port of entry letter of introduction indicating that he or she is allowed to work in Canada. This letter may be exchanged for a Work Permit at the port of entry if an applicant successfully completed an interview with a border service officer. If a person applies while being in Canada on a legal ground he or she may be requested to complete an additional medical exam or provide other documentation. After that, an applicant may receive a Work Permit.

Canada Business Visas

In 2019, 1,336 people immigrated to Canada under its business visa programs. Similar to Express Entry work visa programs, the business visa programs also offer direct permanent residence status upon visa approval. The Canadian government strives to encourage the development of a flourishing economy by facilitating the migration process of persons  who can successfully establish a business and create jobs for Canadians.

Currently, there are two business immigration programs at the federal level:

Start-up Visa Program: This program is designed for business owners or part-owners who intend to create and manage a business that generates revenues and employment in Canada. If you qualify under this program, you will be able to reside permanently in Canada.

To receive a Start-up Visa, an applicant must:

  • Demonstrate good knowledge of English or French;
  • Get a letter of support from a designated organization (obtaining a minimum funding commitment of CAN$200,000 from a designated venture capital fund, or $75,000 from an angel investor group, or from a business incubator);
  • Have a qualifying Start-up business; and
  • Have enough money to settle and live in Canada before receiving any income from the Start-up.

Learn more about the Start-up Visa Program.

Self-Employed Immigrant Visa: This visa has been developed for persons with experience in world-class athletics or cultural activities, who wish to become self-employed in Canada. The visa grants permanent residence status on the recipient. To apply for the Self-Employed Immigrant Visa, an applicant must:

    • Have at least two years of relevant working experience in cultural activities or world-class athletics (e.g. dancers, editors, coaches, librarians, photographers, etc.);
    • Be willing and able to make a significant contribution to the cultural or athletic life of Canada
    • Be willing and able to be self-employed in Canada.
    Interesting Fact Self-employed immigrants make up 20% of the sports coaches in Canada. The famous football coach Wally Buono is one such example; he immigrated from Italy to become one of the legendary coaches in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Wally’s impressive CFL career spanned a remarkable 46 years and was instrumental in many victories and trophies.

    Note that Canada’s nine provinces offer separate business immigration programs that are managed under the Provincial Nominee Program.

    Steps to obtain a Canada Business Visa

    1. Fill out the application form (either online or in paper form);
    2. Complete the document checklist;
    3. Pay application fees and attach a copy of the receipt to the application;
    4. Submit the application;
    5. Complete medical exams;
    6. Receive a police certificate indicating the absence of criminal records;
    7. Complete a short interview
      • With an immigration officer in the IRCC if you are already in Canada; or
      • With a border service officer at the port of entry if you apply while being outside Canada.

    If you want to learn more about any of these business programs, please contact us.

    Canada Student Visa

    Note that this visa is sometimes referred to as Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) with Study Permit. Canada is a mecca for students from all over the world. Every year, more than 400,000 students come to Canada to study. Among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, Canada has the 7th highest percentage of international students in post-secondary education. Another attraction of Canadian education for foreign students is that the Canadian government makes it easy for foreign students to transition from a Study Permit into a Work Permit after graduation. The Canadian government encourages foreign students to come to the country by facilitating the entrance process. As a result, education of international students is an important component of Canada’s economy; it brings in more revenue than, for example, the export of auto parts.

    In 2019, 827,586 international students held valid Study Permits in Canada. Of these, 402,427 were newly issued.

    In order to come to Canada for study, you must first obtain a Study Permit - a document that allows students to study in Canada for a temporary period in a designated education establishment. The duration of a Study Permit is equal to the duration of a student's study program plus 90 days.

    Similar to a Work Permit, a Study Permit is not directly a visa but grounds for obtaining a Visitor visa as explained in this section. Note that if the study duration is less than six months, a student does not need a Study Permit and can be granted a Visitor visa without the Study Permit.

    To receive a Canadian Study Permit an applicant must:

    • Provide a letter of confirmation from the higher education institution in Canada;
    • Have enough money to pay for his or her tuition fees, living expenses, and return transportation; or show another proof of funds to cover these expenses (e.g. grant award, etc.);
    • Have no criminal record;
    • Be in good health and complete a medical examination, if requested;
    • Convince an immigration official that he or she intends to return to the country of origin once the studies are completed.

    Note that a Canadian Study Permit allows holders to work on or off campus for up to 20 hours per week without the need for a separate Work Permit.

    Steps to obtain a Canadian Study Permit

    1. Receive an acceptance letter from a learning institution;
    2. Fill out the application form;
    3. Pay application fee;
    4. Submit the application;
    5. Go to an interview with an official from the Canadian Embassy in your home country, if requested;
    6. Receive a port of entry letter of introduction indicating you are allowed to study in Canada, alongside with a Visitor visa or eTA;
    7. Complete an interview with a border services officer at the port of entry and exchange your letter for a Study Permit.

    Canada also offers a relatively easy transition from a Study Permit to a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) after graduation. It allows international students who have graduated (obtain a bachelor, master or any other degree) in Canada to work in the country for up to three years after their studies. Note that you can be eligible for the PGWP, if the duration of your study program was more than 8 months. For more details, see our article on changing your immigration status in Canada.

    Canada Family Visa
    The Family Class Sponsorship Immigration Program is intended to support family reunification in Canada. Close family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents may be sponsored to come to Canada as permanent residents. The main requirement is that the Canadian sponsors must accept full financial responsibility for the new immigrants for a defined period. During the past decade, the total number of newcomers admitted under the Family Class Sponsorship Program has been steadily increasing. In 2019, more than 91,000 individuals received a Family Visa.

    Who can be a sponsor for a Canada family visa?

    To act as a Sponsor under the Family Class program in Canada a person must:

    • Be at least 18 years old;
    • Be a Canadian citizen, registered Indigenous person or a permanent resident;
    • Sign a sponsorship agreement that obliges the sponsor to provide financial support for the person being sponsored;
    • Have sufficient funds to support the sponsored person and provide proof of income.

    These are the basic requirements and they may vary depending on which relative a person wishes to sponsor. Here are more details about the sponsor requirements.

    Who can be sponsored under a Canadian family visa?

    A Canadian sponsor can initiate family visa for:

    • Spouse or partner;
    • Dependent children;
    • Parents and grandparents;
    • Adopted and ‘to be’ adopted children;
    • Brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, or grandchildren (under very limited conditions);
    • One non immediate-family relative, related by blood or adoption, of any age (under very limited conditions).

    You should keep in mind that, under Canadian legislation, a dependent child is defined as a child

    • under the age of 19 who does not have a spouse or partner, or
    • a child of any age who is financially dependent on you (or your spouse) due to a physical or mental disability or health problems.

    Steps to obtain a Canada family visa

    1. Prepare the application package;
    2. Pay application fees;
    3. Submit the application to the IRCC either in paper form or online;
    4. Send the IRCC additional documents (police certificate, medical exam, etc) during processing, if necessary;
    5. Complete a landing interview
      • With a border service officer at the port of entry if you applied while being outside Canada;
      • With an immigration officer in the IRCC if you are already in Canada.

    Here you may find more about the Canada family visa.

    Canada Visitor Visa Clarified

    When a person wishes to travel to a country of which the person is not a citizen, the government of that country must grant permission to enter and stay in the country for a specified period. This permission is granted in the form of a visa which is usually a stamp marked on the passport of the traveller. The term “VISA” is an acronym for Visitors International Stay Admission. Note that a visa is not a guarantee of admission. When you arrive, a border services officer will ask to see your passport and other documents. You must convince the officer that you are eligible for entry into Canada. A person who has been granted a visa may still be denied entry into the country.

    Any type of temporary stay in Canada requires a Visitor visa (also known as a Temporary Resident Visa). In some other countries, this type of visa is also known as an Entry Visa. It shows that a person meets the requirements (such as the person is financially secure, has no criminal record or no prior violation of Canadian laws, etc) necessary to enter the country.

    Who needs a Visitor Visa?

    A Visitor Visa is required for all types of temporary stays in Canada. Specifically, it’s required in the following cases:

    • International students coming to Canada for a short-course or on a Study Permit;
    • Temporary workers coming to Canada on a Work Permit;
    • Any kind of short-stay travel such as holidays, attending an event, etc.

    This type of visa is usually valid for 6 months. To stay longer than a 6-month period, a person should apply for an extension at least 30 days before the expiry date. It does not apply for cases when a person holds either a Study or Work permit. In such cases, the duration of a Visitor visa is equal to the term of study or work plus 90 days.

    Eligibility for Visitor Visa

    To be eligible for a visitor visa an applicant must:

    • Have a valid travel document;
    • Be in good health condition;
    • Have no criminal or immigration-related convictions;
    • Convince an immigration officer that he or she has ties — such as a job, home, financial assets, or family — that will take him or her back to the home country;
    • Convince an immigration officer that he or she will leave Canada at the end of the visit; and
    • Have enough money for a stay.

    You can read detailed information about entry requirements for each foreign nation on this page.

    Steps to obtain a Visitor Visa

    1. Gather documents;
    2. Fill out the application form;
    3. Pay the application fee;
    4. Submit the application;
    5. Complete a short interview with a border services office at the port of entry; and
    6. Receive a stamp on your passport.

    Visitor Visa vs eTA

    Depending on a person’s nationality, permission to enter Canada as a visitor can be issued in one of the following forms:

    1. Stamped Visa: A formal stamp marked on the passport of the person. Such a visa is usually issued by the Embassy of Canada in the visitor’s home country.
    2. Electronic Travel Authorization: An Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) is issued to citizens of visa-exempt countries who are traveling to Canada by air; it is not necessary if the visa-exempt foreign national is arriving into Canada by car, bus, train or boat (including a cruise ship). An eTA can be obtained by completing an online form. The eTA is electronically linked to the traveller’s passport. It is valid for up to five years or until the passport expires. With a valid eTA, you can travel to Canada as often as you want for short stays (normally for up to six months at a time). Similar to a visa, an eTA doesn’t guarantee entry to Canada. Note that US Green Card holders are required to obtain an eTA while US citizens are not required to do so.
    3. US Citizens: US is a visa-exempt country for Canada. Due to the close relations between US and Canada, US citizens are exempted from the eTA requirement. US is the only country with this privileged status. Thus, US citizens can arrive into Canada by any means (including air) without any prior entry approval.
    Other types of immigration

    There are a few other types of immigration programs in Canada that grant permanent residency without granting a visa to the applicant. For example, an applicant may make a Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds claim or a Refugee claim to change his or her legal status in Canada to that of a permanent resident.

    Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds claim

    Permanent residency may be granted on a case-by-case basis, based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, or certain public policy considerations under exceptional circumstances. Persons who do not have a legal resident status in Canada but are living in Canada and wish to become permanent residents may apply under this program if they have already tried and failed through other immigration programs. This program is the last chance to obtain a permanent resident status.

    Each case is considered by the immigration authority as a unique situation and is assessed according to the following criteria:

    • How settled the person is in Canada;
    • General family ties to Canada;
    • The best interests of any children involved, and
    • What could happen to an applicant if the authorities do not grant the request.

    The case of Ms. Starach demonstrates the flexibility of this Canadian immigration program. Ms. Starach was residing in Canada but she was not able to recall even the basic details of her biography due to her schizophrenia and associated memory loss. She spent many years homeless, lost her documents but worked in Toronto. As she was unable to provide the necessary information and documentation for any of the immigration programs to receive permanent resident status; her last resort was to make a Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds claim. She was granted immigration. Factors taken into consideration to satisfy her claim were the following:

    • She had a mental illness;
    • She was stateless; and
    • The lack of permanent status in Canada could prejudice Ms. Starach’s receipt of government housing and social services that would harm her.

    In 2019, there were about 4,600 successful applications under these provisions.


    The Canadian refugee system has two main parts:

    • The Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program, designed for persons outside Canada who are deemed to need protection (e.g. Syrian war victims); and
    • The In-Canada Asylum Program, created for people making refugee claims from within Canada after their arrival in the country.

    The grant of permanent residence under a refugee program is not easy and the applications are vetted very strictly to ensure that only genuine cases avail this generosity.  Upon being granted admittance as a refugee, a foreigner may be eligible for financial support and other assistance from the Canadian government or private sponsors.

    Immigration will continue to be a key driver for Canada’s economy. The Canadian government has introduced many immigration programs to welcome qualified newcomers to the country. Immigration to Canada is mutually beneficial for both Canada and immigrants, as the country provides educational, job, and business opportunities as well as a high standard of living to newcomers. If you plan to immigrate to Canada or want more information about its immigration programs, contact our team of professionals, who will help you find the best way to begin a new life in one of the most prosperous countries of the world.