The Evolution of Canadian Immigration Policy

Sandra Elgersma
Julie Béchard
Aboriginal Affairs and Social Development

Each year, the federal government presents the “Immigration Levels Plan” which informs Parliament and the public about how many permanent immigrants are targeted for admission to Canada in the coming year.

The target for 2015 totalled between 260,000 and 285,000 new immigrants, the highest planned level of admissions in recent Canadian history.

Targeted admissions are broken down by category of immigration. In 2015, the economic immigration category was to account for the largest segment, around 65 percent of overall admissions. The remaining 35 percent was to consist of family class immigrants, refugees and others admitted under humanitarian programs.

A number of factors are taken into consideration in developing the plan. These include: the Government of Canada’s current priorities and commitments; the capacity for integration in the Canadian economy and in communities across Canada; labour market needs; input from stakeholders; and provincial interests in immigration. A backlog of immigration applications in certain categories is also an important factor in planning.

While the plan for 2016 has not yet been released, it can be expected to reflect the government’s priorities, including the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees and raising the limit on new parent and grandparent sponsorship applications.

Figure 1: Average Number of New Immigrants Targeted per year by Category, 2005 – 2015

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Source: Data compiled by the author using Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, Immigration Levels Plans 2005 to 2015

 

Economic class

As the trend in Figure 1 shows, increasing numbers of new immigrants have been selected on the basis of their economic contribution to Canada (the economic class).

While their levels have risen since 2005, their profile has also been altered to reflect changes to specific programs. For example, the federal government discontinued the investor and entrepreneur classes because data showed that immigrants in these programs had poor economic outcomes.

Research showing the importance of official language ability and Canadian work experience to successful economic outcomes led the federal government to create the Canadian Experience Class in 2008 and to revise the eligibility criteria for the Federal Skilled Worker program in 2012.

A number of factors, including positive outcomes for immigrants nominated by provinces led to substantial expansion of those programs. The emphasis on official language, job offers and provincial nominations increased in 2015 when the federal government introduced the new economic class application procedure Express Entry. Under Express Entry, applicants with a job offer or a provincial nomination have a significant advantage for being selected to apply for immigration.

The charts in Figure 2 illustrate the change in program composition in the economic class between 2005 and 2014.

Figure 2: New immigrants in the Economic Class by sub-category, 2005 and 2014

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Source: Data compiled by the author using Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, Facts and Figures 2014 – Immigration overview: Permanent residents by category.

 

Family class

Family reunification is a cornerstone of Canada’s immigration policy. It allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor spouses, partners and children (priority stream), as well as parents and grandparents. This program area has been under some strain in recent years, as evidenced in lengthening processing times (Figure 4).

The Action Plan for Faster Family Reunification was put in place to address the backlog of parent and grandparent sponsorship applications starting in 2011. This strategy included:

  • a temporary pause on new permanent resident applications;
  • an increase to the target for this category from 15,500 in 2010 to about 25,000 in 2012;
  • introduction of a “super-visa” for parents and grandparents allowing for longer stays; and
  • a cap of 5,000 new applications a year and more stringent eligibility criteria for sponsoring when the program re-opened to new applications in 2014.

Figure 3: New immigrant arrivals by sub-category of the Family Class, 2005 – 2014

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Source: Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, Facts and Figures 2014 – Immigration overview: Permanent residents by category.

 

Figure 4: Number of months or less in which 80% of immigration applications were processed – family class, 2010 – 31 March 2015

 

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Source: Data compiled by the author, using Government of Canada, Permanent Resident Applications Processed Abroad and Processing Times.

Refugee class

Another objective of Canada’s immigration policy is to give protection to the persecuted and those at risk of torture or death. This objective is met in part through refugee resettlement from overseas (as privately sponsored refugees, government assisted refugees or blended visa office-referred refugees).

For people who claim asylum in Canada, protection is secured through the refugee determination process at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).

Legislative changes to the process before the IRB and the policy decision to increase the number of resettled refugees starting in 2011 (privately sponsored, in particular) led to changes in the number and composition of refugee permanent residents between 2005 and 2014 (Figure 5).

Figure 5: New immigrants in the Refugee Class by sub-category, 2005 and 2014

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Source: Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, Facts and Figures 2014 – Immigration overview: Permanent residents by category.

 

Temporary residents

From 2005 to 2014, Canada experienced a substantial increase in temporary residents, in particular students and workers. Temporary resident programs are demand-driven, meaning that the government processes applications as they come rather than planning for a given number of arrivals.

Under the Temporary Foreign Worker program, workers are permitted to come to Canada only if the employer can demonstrate that there is no Canadian willing or able to do the job. The International Mobility Program includes workers on reciprocal exchanges, intra-company transfers and other niche programs.

This stream of temporary workers in particular has experienced significant growth over the last decade, as evidenced in Figure 6. The government’s international education strategy and expanding international recruitment strategies by educational institutions have also resulted in a greater presence of international students.

Figure 6: Work or Study Permit Holders with a Valid Permit on December 31st, 2005 to 2014.

Figure 6 ENG.png

Source: Data compiled by the author, using Government of Canada, Facts and Figures 2014: Immigration Overview – Temporary Residents, Tables T001, T002, and T041

 

Over the years international students and temporary foreign workers have become targeted as prospective immigrants. Economic class programs such as the Canadian Experience Class are designed to transition them to permanent resident status.

In fact, in 2014, 49,422 of all new permanent residents (250,636) first entered Canada as temporary workers. In 2005, only 8,531 permanent residents had first been temporary workers, and there were few opportunities to transition to permanent residence from within Canada.

Related resources

Béchard, Julie, and Sandra Elgersma. Refugee Protection in Canada. Publication no. 2011‑90‑E. Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 15 July 2013.

Elgersma, Sandra. Temporary Foreign Workers, Publication No. 2014-79-E, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 1 December 2014.

Elgersma, Sandra. Resettling Refugees: Canada’s Humanitarian Response. Publication no. 2015-11-E. Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 1 April 2015.

Elgersma, Sandra. Immigration Policy Primer. Publication no. 2015-42-E. Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 16 November 2015.