Uncertain times ahead for Canadian immigration
One of the distinguishing features between Canada and the United States is its political discourse on immigration. In Canada, for the past several decades, there has generally been a political consensus on maintaining or increasing immigration levels. This may be changing, however, as an apparent rapid rise in Canada’s population, and particularly temporary residents, is being blamed as a contributing, if not material, factor in Canada’s ongoing housing affordability crisis.
In the past week Marc Miller, Canada’s immigration minister, said that the volume of immigration is impacting housing. Sean Fraser, Canada’s previous immigration minister and current housing minister, said that the Canadian government would not rule out changing its immigration targets to address housing challenges. There are rumors that the government is considering a cap on international students.
Thus far, there have not been any explicit policy changes announced resulting from concerns over the impact of immigration on housing. However, 2023 has witnessed significant policy changes in how Canada selects immigrants. For some, this has had the impact of a de-facto levels cut.
Category-based Express Entry draws
In June 2023 Canada conducted its first category-based rounds of invitation in Express Entry. Category-based rounds are rounds of invitation to Canada’s largest immigration program that are limited to certain groups. These groups are chosen based on labour market information and projections, as well as on input that the government receives from stakeholders.
In 2023, the categories are: (1) French-language proficiency, (2) healthcare occupations, (3) science, technology, engineering and math occupations, (4) trade occupations, (5) transport occupations, and (6) agriculture and agri-food occupations.
The benefits of being eligible for a category-based round of invitations are considerable. During the summer of 2023 the number of comprehensive ranking system points required to be issued an invitation to apply in Express Entry ranged from 486-511. The lowest French-language invitation to apply was 375 points. The trade occupations draw had a cutoff of 388 points.
Given this, people who were previously uncertain if they could get enough points to qualify for Express Entry should check if they are eligible for a category-based draw, and reconsider. Unfortunately, those who were previously close to the threshold for a general draw may find the minimums increase in order to create space for category-based rounds of invitation.
Country-based draws and other programs
It is important to note that the legislation which enables category-based draws is very broad. While 2023 did not feature any country-based rounds of invitation this could happen in the future. Indeed, it is already happening provincially.
On August 16, 2023, the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program issued several invitations to apply that were limited to residents of the Czech Republic, Germany, India, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.
Manitoba, meanwhile, has had over seventeen rounds of invitation that are limited to Ukrainian citizens.
While country-based draws are not (yet?) a thing in Express Entry, Canada does have several immigration programs that are limited to citizens of certain countries.
The largest was the Canada–Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization, which stopped taking new applications in July. Under this program, any Ukrainian citizen and their family member could travel to Canada and obtain a three-year work permit.
There are currently work permit and immigration programs with broad eligibility limited to people from Hong Kong.
There is also an open work permit program, although not (yet?) an immigration program, available to citizens from Iran currently in Canada.
Because immigration levels are capped, immigration to Canada is essentially a zero-sum game where the decision to create winners through niche categories and programs results in other people being excluded. There are reports of resentment amongst recent international graduates, and other foreign workers, who feel abandoned because they did not fit in a politically popular category or stream.
The government has to an extent avoided this issue by increasing immigration levels. However, at the start of this article I noted that political pressure may be building to reduce numbers. If this occurs, then the combination of category-based draws and niche immigration programs combined with reduced levels could result in a very grim period for many looking to obtain permanent residence.