It has been a record-breaking year for Canadian immigration.
Building upon the momentum of recent years, Canada set a new immigration record in 2014, welcoming 260,000 new citizens from around the world; the number of new Canadians was also more than double that recorded in 2013.
According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the record-breaking number of new Canadian immigrants is due in part to the reforms to Canada’s immigration laws introduced by the federal government this past year. Specifically, the government points to the new decision-making process for Canadian immigration applications that simplified the process from the previously required three steps to just one; according to the CIC, since the new process took effect on August 1st, more than 150,000 people became Canadian citizens—an increase of 90 percent over the same period in 2013.
The CIC also pointed to a decrease in the backlog of Canadian immigration applications as being a direct result of the immigration reforms introduced this year. The government says that the citizenship application backlog has been reduced by 17 percent since June, down to its lowest level in three years.
Looking ahead, the Canadian government predicts that it is now on track to entirely eliminate the citizenship application backlog, and reduce application processing times down to one year “sometime in the next fiscal year.”
However, faster processing and elimination of backlogs will come with a price tag; the federal government plans on increasing the fees for processing Canadian citizenship applications in 2015.
The fee for Canadian citizenship applications that are received after January 1, 2015, will increase from the current $300 to $500. Applications for a grant, and resumptions of citizenship to a minor, will be exempt from this change in fees; the $100 ‘Right of Citizenship’ fee for successful applicants, and other related application fees, will also remain the same.
With a federal election all but certain in 2015, the Conservative government’s immigration record is expected to be a high profile issue on the campaign trail. Since assuming office in 2006, the Conservatives have pursued an active immigration policy and point out that almost a quarter-million new Canadian citizens have been sworn in each year—the highest level in Canadian history.
All told, Canada welcomed more than 1.55 million new citizens since the Conservatives assumed power in 2006.
Still, not all of the changes to Canada’s immigration laws in 2014 have been universally popular. Even some of the Conservative government’s traditional supporters, such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)—which represents Canada’s small businesses, including many restaurants—opposes the tightening of restrictions on unskilled, lower-paid foreign workers whom they often rely on to fill vacancies.
Earlier this year, when the government announced its changes to the temporary foreign worker program, CFIB president Dan Kelly was among the loudest critics of the new immigration law.
“Nobody wants to talk about entry-level jobs, but these positions are not disappearing and employers with positions requiring general customer service skills are often desperate for staff,” Kelly said. “The temporary foreign worker program has been one of the few ways for businesses to address this need. Foreign workers are not the only solution, but the need can’t be ignored.”
The province of Alberta says it needs more foreign workers, and as a result it is asking the federal government to raise the number of immigrants it can sponsor for permanent residency.
Alberta’s Job Minister Ric McIver recently sent a letter to Canada’s Citizenship & Immigration Minister Chris Alexander requesting that the federal government lift the cap on the number of ‘provincial nominees’ that Alberta could request as economic immigrants. In his letter, McIver said that–by 2023–Alberta will likely need an additional 96,000 workers to fill “skilled and good-paying jobs.”
McIver said that rather having the federal government assign the number of economic immigrants, the actual number the province can sponsor should be based on the needs of the local labor market and regional economic conditions. McIver said that the need for more flexibility in the number of economic immigrants was clearly illustrated this year; Alberta completely filled its quota of 5,500 economic immigrants in 2014, and that number did not meet the province’s labor market demand.
Under the provincial nominee program, each province is allowed to ‘nominate’ skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers—along with their spouses and dependants—in order to fill available positions; in recent years, Alberta has had Canada’s strongest provincial economy as a result of its booming energy sector. However, under the provincial nominee program, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) must also approve all foreign worker permanent resident applications.
McIver said the current cap on foreign workers doesn’t reflect Alberta’s job market, and that as a result the province finds itself employing “temporary foreign workers” for what are often permanent positions. The Jobs Minister added that lifting the cap on the number of foreign workers his province can employ would help several business sectors, ranging from tourism and ranching to the energy sector.
“If you haven’t got people to feed and water the cattle, then the rancher goes home,” McIver explained. “And if you don’t have someone to wash the dishes, make the beds and wash the floors, then the hotel closes. You can extend that model across a whole bunch of other business models all over Alberta.”
The province of Alberta’s complaints about the caps on ‘economic immigrants’ echoes earlier complaints from one of Canada’s largest employer associations, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB); the CFIB represents thousands of smaller businesses, including many restaurants that often employ lower-paying foreign workers.
Last month, the CFIB registered a complaint with the federal government, calling on Ottawa to replace its Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) with a new visa that would provide permanent residency for lower-paying, entry level foreign workers.
As Canadian businesses, and immigrants to the country, prepare for the January 1st arrival of the country’s new immigration program—titled Express Entry—the federal government has revealed details of the points system it will use to determine which immigrants will receive approval.
The basic premise of the Express Entry program is that, for the first time, immigrants to Canada will be admitted based how much they match up to the employment needs of the country. Under the program, immigrants will be required to apply online and register with the government’s job bank, after which they will be entered into the job pool. Points will then be issued to each applicant, based on their skills and history, and only those with a qualifying amount of points will be admitted under Express Entry.
Under the new points system, immigrants will be awarded up to a maximum of 600 points—and an offer of permanent residency–if they have received a permanent job offer from a Canadian employer or been ‘nominated’ for immigration by a province or territory. According to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, these immigrants will be “picked first” as Express Entry applicants; the first draw of these applicants is slated to take place in the last week of January.
Express Entry will also award skilled immigrants 1,200 points based on factors in two other categories:
- Up to 500 points will be allotted under “Core Human Capital Factors”, including things such as an immigrant’s age, education level, work experience in Canada and proficiency in either of Canada’s two official languages (English & French)
- A maximum 100 points will also be awarded to applicants for “Skill Transferability Factors” including a combination of foreign work experience, education level and a certificate in an established trade
By way of example, under the category of ‘age’, an Express Entry applicant age 20-29 would receive the maximum allotted points of 110 under the new program, while those under age 17, or over 45, will not receive any points.
In the area of education, Express Entry applicants with a PhD (doctorate degree) would be awarded 150 points—the maximum number allowed; applicants with only a high school degree will receive only 30 points.
Some immigration experts worry that the new Express Entry system does not allow for enough “transparency–or openness” and as a result may be subject to political interference. Richard Kurland, a nationally-renown immigration lawyer and analyst, said that the point system will allow the government to select which applicants are allowed in under Express Entry, and as a result “you will never know why one identically qualified person was selected over another.”
The federal government also revealed the caps it will be placing on Permanent Residency for the upcoming year. Speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) federal officials confirmed the government plans to allow between 65,000-75,000 new permanent residents in Canada in 2015.
The new permanent residents will be admitted to Canada under one of three categories, with between 47,000-51,000 admitted under the Federal Skilled Workers and Federal Skilled Trades classes, and an additional 21,000-23,000 approved under the federal Canadian Experience class.
With less than a month to go before the introduction of Canada’s new immigration program, at least two of the nine national employer organizations who helped the government formulate the new policy are adopting a wait and see attitude about the changes to immigration policy.
On January 1, 2015, the long-anticipated “Express Entry” immigration program will officially become a major part of Canada’s new immigration policy, and will signal a significant change from the direction of past immigration laws. The key element of “Express Entry” will be to try and match most new immigrants to the job openings that are most in need within Canada. Under the new program, only “the highest ranking candidates” will be allowed to apply for permanent residency. The Canadian government is also promising that Express Entry applications will be processed in under six months.
Established in 2013, the nine-member employer group has played a key role in advising the government how best to design the new Express Entry immigration program, with the end goal of ensuring that it meets Canada’s evolving job market. Overall, most employer groups favor the change from Canada’s previous immigration laws, which tended to place greater emphasis on the history and needs of immigrants rather than the economic needs of the Canadian job market.
A representative of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said her organization supports Express Entry as it will help ensure that most immigrants coming to Canada will be “coming in with a job already in hand.” Susan Anton-Cartwright said the Chamber welcomes the Express Entry program, as it will assist them in finding employees when no Canadians are available to fill positions. Still, she admits that neither the Chamber, nor even the government, can be sure how well the program will work.
The federal government recently revealed additional details about the Express Entry program, including the fact that:
- Except for people with disabilities, the government is eliminating paper-based immigration applications. The anticipation is that there will be a low demand for paper applications.
- The move to electronic immigration applications is expected to cost the government about $6.7 million over the next decade.
- While it isn’t clear how much the government expects to save by switching to paperless applications, it has in the past touted this change as a cost-saving move.
Despite the Chamber’s support, one of Canada’s largest employer groups remains
critical of some elements of the government’s immigration plans. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) has criticized the government’s tightening of rules surrounding the hiring of temporary foreign workers. The CFIB represents many smaller businesses, including restaurants, which have historically heavily relied upon temporary foreign workers.
Dan Kelly, the Chief Executive Officer of the CFIB, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) his organization supports many elements of the new Express Entry law, but that it “will do zero” for employers looking to fill lower skilled and lower paying jobs with foreign workers.
Kelly added that, unlike prior immigration laws, Express Entry “prohibits lower-skilled workers from coming to Canada and taking lower-skilled jobs.”
The joint report by Social Planning Toronto and Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto found that, within the space of just one year (2008-2009) Toronto’s self-employment rate jumped from 15.7 to 17.1 percent; among the hardest hit during the recession were Toronto’s immigrants, with 63 percent reporting income under $10,000.
The study also found that 39 percent of the city’s immigrants lost their paid employment prior to initiating their self-employment.
The authors of the study refer to the decision by many immigrants to become self-employed as a “survival strategy” and the result of “labor market and social safety net exclusion.”
The study found that newcomers to Canada were hit harder by the recession than most other Canadians. Specifically, it found that newcomers, “particularly those recently arrived, were more likely to lose their paid employment than Canadian-born workers.”
According to the report, among the reasons new Canadians are hit harder by economic downturns is that they most often compete for “low-paying, part-time and temporary types of precarious jobs to survive.” The report also found that Toronto immigrants who did turn to self-employment fared worse than their Canadian-born counterparts—self-employed immigrants earned $7,270 annually, about $560 less than native Canadians.
Even if one includes immigrants employed by others, the study finds that Toronto immigrants had less income. Newcomers had a before-tax income of $17,220 compared to $25,180 for non-newcomers.
According to the study, there are more than 100 immigrant groups within Toronto—Canada’s largest city. Of those, the greatest percentages of self-employed immigrants are from China, followed by immigrants from India, Pakistan, Iran and Ukraine.
Economic conditions were the main reasons cited by more than half of the self-employed immigrants surveyed as the reason behind their decision to open their own businesses; “poor economic conditions, layoffs and limited job opportunities” were the three main reasons cited by immigrants for starting their own businesses.
Given the report’s findings, its authors recommend the Canadian government take measures to further assist recent immigrants in their efforts to succeed in Canada. The recommendations include:
- Promoting business support services to immigrants prior to their arrival in Canada
- Linking newcomer entrepreneurs to local business programs and services such as Enterprise Toronto
- Training Canadian immigration personnel so that they’re better able to advise entrepreneurial immigrants on the business resources available in Canada