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Forward focus: Canada’s ambitious immigration plan

By Brendan Sheridan

The Government of Canada has continued their whirlwind year of immigration program announcements by revealing their plan to modernize and improve the country’s immigration system. This plan, known as “An Immigration System for Canada’s Future” (the “Plan”), includes a list of actions that the Government intends to develop and implement in an effort to make the immigration system more dynamic and responsive to the needs of the country and newcomers alike.

The Plan is, without question, extremely in-depth and joins an already lengthy list of recent announcements outlining the Government’s plans to modernize and reform Canada’s immigration system. This Plan is structured with three main overarching objectives, each containing multiple action items. These three high-level objectives are to:

  • Create a more welcoming experience for newcomers;
  • Align immigration with labour market needs; and
  • Develop a comprehensive and coordinated growth plan.

Several of the action items contemplated as part of these objectives are currently underway, while others are in development. While there is limited information presently available for some of the announced actions, an overview has been included below based on information known to-date.

Objective 1: Create a more welcoming experience for newcomers

The Government of Canada identified the need to make the immigration system more human-focused and sufficiently flexible to deliver services in a manner that recognizes the potentially life-changing implications that processing decisions can have for applicants. There are specific plans to revamp the Government’s operating platform to create a more pleasant and user-friendly experience, including to provide a one-stop-shop immigration portal. If successful, this would be a vast improvement over the current slew of portals that must be navigated for different applications. These portals presently create confusion and are prone to glitches and technical issues. A new unified portal would also incorporate enhanced automation and digital self-service, with the ultimate goal of improving processing times and program integrity.

Other action items under this objective include:

  • Review the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA”) to ensure alignment with the country’s current immigration goals.
  • Strengthen partnerships with educational institutions and employers as a means to improve fraud prevention. This item includes launching a letter of acceptance verification process and introducing a Recognized Institutions Framework that will provide expedited processing for international students destined for those universities and colleges that achieve the highest standards in a number of key performance indicators (i.e. integrity and student supports).
  • Launch a Recognized Employer Pilot that will provide benefits to employers, such as streamlined Labour Market Impact Assessment application processing for employers who repeatedly use the Temporary Foreign Worker program for certain occupations and who meet compliance standards for occupations with demonstrated labour shortages.
  • Simplify and streamline pathways and programs to remove duplication and explore eliminating requirements of limited value to expedite application processing.
  • Explore opportunities to provide more hands-on support to employers who need international talent.

Objective 2: Align immigration with labour market needs

This objective has been a consistent theme for 2023 – the Government has made a number of announcements this year regarding new immigration programs that highlight the commitment to better aligning our immigration strategy with our labour market needs. The implementation of targeted Express Entry draws for specific occupations and the development of Canada’s Tech Talent Strategy are two of the more major efforts to further this objective.

Prior to recent developments, Canada’s immigration system lacked the flexibility and mechanisms to target specific individuals and occupations to address labour market gaps. A modernized  immigration system will allow Canada to focus on those individuals who are most needed in Canada at any given time.

Specific action items under this objective include the following:

  • Create a new Chief International Talent Officer position to ensure that Canada’s immigration policies align with the long-term skills and labour strategy.
  • Implement the Tech Talent strategy to strengthen Canada’s tech sector, including creating new work permit pathways and promoting Canada as a destination for “digital nomads” to attract and retain workers who can contribute to the Canadian economy.
  • Improve the Start-Up Visa Program to prioritize applications where venture capital, angel investor groups, and business incubators already have capital committed.
  • Explore new measures to better transition international students to the labour force, including focusing on international students with high-demand skills and revisiting the Post-Graduation Work Permit program to better support critical sectors.
  • Work with partners and newcomers to improve foreign credential recognition in an effort to ensure that newcomers with in-demand skills can work in regulated occupations as soon as possible.
  • Use Express Entry’s category-based selection draws to target applicants who are well-positioned to help alleviate social pressures, including in areas such as housing and health-care.

Objective 3: Develop a comprehensive and coordinated growth plan

The Government has identified that there must be an in-depth and strategic growth plan in place for immigration – it is not only about bringing in a certain number of newcomers to Canada each year, but also ensuring that the newcomers’ needs and the country’s needs are considered at the outset of any immigration planning.

To meet this objective, the Government is intending to take the following actions:

  • Re-consider current goals of meeting certain newcomer volumes in favour of a more integrated and comprehensive plan that targets newcomers who will meet Canada’s specific needs.
  • Work more closely with communities to ensure that newcomers have the necessary support for settlement and integration, and engage in funding initiatives to increase services in mid-size, rural, and northern areas as well as digital settlement services.
  • Explore opportunities to leverage the investment by newcomers to Canada to support more affordable housing.
  • Enhance regional immigration and support communities throughout Canada. In particular, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot would become a permanent program and a new Francophone immigration policy to help restore Francophone minority communities would be developed.
  • Improve the immigration system’s ability to adapt quickly and respond equitably and sustainably to growing global humanitarian crises.

Conclusion

This summary only skims the surface of the Government of Canada’s ambitious Plan. While many of the action items, if successfully implemented, would modernize the immigration system and address frequent complaints from newcomers and employers alike, prior commitments have often taken significant time to come to fruition with little notice to employers and applicants, if undertaken at all.

In particular, one long-awaited item has been the issuance of clear guidance from the Government on a remote work policy for foreign nationals, despite remote work becoming normalized as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous requests for clarity from stakeholders. Similarly, many employers are still waiting for specific details on the new Innovation Stream announced in June 2023 as part of Canada’s Tech Talent Strategy. The Government noted the program would be launched by the end of 2023, but has yet to release any specifics on this work permit stream as of today’s date.

Nevertheless, while many of the highlighted actions are in their infancy and timelines remain unclear, the Government has already taken steps to improve the immigration system’s responsiveness to the Country’s needs through their development of new immigration programs and targeted draws in current immigration pathways throughout 2023. Immigration will be an exciting area to watch with the number of developments earmarked by the Government for the coming years.


This client update is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.

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