Ontario is the most popular destination for newcomers to Canada. The province hosts the city of Toronto, the hub of Canada’s business activity, as well as Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. Outside of its major economic centres, Ontario has many smaller cities and small towns. The province also boasts five National Parks and more than 300 provincial parks, making it an excellent choice for nature lovers. 

So, how can you immigrate to Ontario? In this article, we break down five of the most popular options for immigrating to Ontario.

Express Entry

The first way to immigrate to Ontario is also the most popular immigration option for skilled workers looking to immigrate to Canada: Express Entry. Those selected through the Express Entry system can choose where they want to live in Canada, except for the province of Quebec (which has a separate immigration system). This means that applicants who are successful through the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program, Canadian Experience Class (CEC), or Federal Skilled Trades (FST) program, can choose to immigrate to Ontario.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Express Entry has become a more difficult option for those hoping to immigrate to Canada. In the early days of the pandemic, Canada’s borders were tightly shut, causing Canada to issue fewer invitations to candidates outside the country. In fact, FSW candidates have not been considered for a draw since December, 2020. 

As the pandemic has progressed, backlogs of immigration applications have piled up. With fewer draws and a growing backlog of applications, the Express Entry pool has grown to its highest number of candidates on record. As of April 1, 2022, there were more than 197,000 candidates in the Express entry pool, and more than 55,000 candidates with scores of 450 or higher. 

Another complication has become the lack of Express Entry draws for certain programs. In addition to the pause on FSW draws, CEC draws have also been paused since September 2021. The only draws currently being conducted are for candidates with provincial nominations. Analysts from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) predict that when FSW and CEC draws do resume, the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score cut-off will likely be above 500 points

All that said, Express Entry does remain one of the main pathways for welcoming newcomers to Canada. Despite the slowdown during the pandemic, Express Entry is expected to ramp up over the next two years, admitting more than 110,000 new permanent residents annually by 2024.

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Provincial Nomination streams

Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) are programs operated by individual provinces and territories in Canada. Ontario has nine different PNP streams that applicants can use to apply for provincial nomination.

The lack of Federal Skilled Worker and Canadian Experience Class draws has caused more people to try and obtain a provincial nomination. In 2022, Canada plans to admit more than 80,000 newcomers through PNPs, making them one of the top options for workers looking to immigrate to Canada. 

Ontario has nine PNP streams that people can use to obtain a provincial nomination. These PNP streams are all part of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP). Three of these streams are linked to Express Entry and the other six are not linked to Express Entry. 

The following programs are linked to Express Entry. This means that applicants need to have a valid Express Entry profile in order to qualify. This also means that if an applicant receives a provincial nomination through one of these programs, their application for permanent residence will be processed through Express Entry. 

Each of these programs has their own separate requirements in order to be eligible and selected. Program requirements may include factors like an applicant’s main National Occupational Classification (NOC) Code, their Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score, and their language abilities in French and/or English.:

The following programs are not linked to Express Entry. This means that applicants do not require an Express Entry profile in order to apply. 

Applicants interested in these non-Express Entry streams need to complete an Expression of Interest through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program and wait to be invited to apply for a provincial nomination. If an applicant is invited to apply, they must submit further documents to the OINP to confirm the details included in their Expression of Interest. 

If the OINP approves an application, the applicant will be issued a provincial nomination certificate. The applicant can then use this certificate to apply for permanent residence. As these programs are not aligned with Express Entry, applicants submit their application for permanent residence through Canada’s new Permanent Residence Portal or as a paper-based application. This usually means that the processing time for permanent residence will take longer than with Express Entry. 

Take note: if your OINP stream requires a job offer to qualify and you lose the job during the application processing, your application for permanent residence could be cancelled. 

Open a business in Ontario 

For those interested in purchasing an existing business in Ontario, or starting their own business in Ontario, it may be possible to apply for immigration through the OINP Entrepreneur Stream. Technically, this is another PNP stream of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP), but with its own strict set of criteria. 

Applicants applying to this program must have business experience, plus the financial capacity to invest in their own business.

To apply to this PNP stream, applicants must begin by developing their idea for a business in Ontario. Once an applicant has their idea fleshed out, they can submit an Expression of Interest to Ontario. 

The Entrepreneur Stream uses a points-based system to rank Expressions of Interest which means that applicants are scored on a variety of factors. Those with the highest scores will be selected and invited to apply. To be eligible for this program, applicants must meet the minimum criteria outlined here:

  • Intention to reside in Ontario and be actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the business
  • Minimum investment of $600,000 Canadian Dollars if operating a business in the Greater Toronto Area OR $200,000 Canadian Dollars if operating a business outside of the Greater Toronto Area OR in any part of Ontario but the business is in the information and communications technology/digital communications sector
  • Minimum net worth of $800,000 Canadian Dollars if operating a business in the Greater Toronto Area (City of Toronto and Durham, Halton, York and Peel regions) OR $ 400,000 Canadian Dollars if operating a business outside of the Greater Toronto Area
  • Must control at least 1/3 of the equity in the business
  • Create at least two full-time, permanent jobs for Canadian citizens or permanent residents if operating a business in the Greater Toronto Area OR one full-time permanent job for a Canadian citizen or permanent resident if operating a business outside of the Greater Toronto Area OR in any part of Ontario but the business is in the information and communications technology/digital communications sector
  • Have at least 24 months worth of full-time business experience in the past 60 months as a business owner or senior manager
  • Ability to pass an approved English or French test with a results at or above the Canadian Language Benchmark of Level 4 (CLB 4)

After submitting an Expression of Interest, if an applicant is selected, they will be invited to submit a full application to the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program. This includes attending a mandatory interview with the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program and signing a business performance agreement. 

The business performance agreement outlines the commitments the applicant must adhere to based on their Expression of Interest and business plan. If the business performance agreement is approved, applicants are eligible to apply for a Canadian work permit to travel to Canada and launch (or take over) the business. 

Applicants have 20 months from the time they arrive in Canada to implement their business plan and submit a final report to the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program. If the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program agrees that the applicant has met all of their requirements, the applicant will be issued with a provincial nomination certificate that can be used to apply for permanent residence. 

Applications for permanent residence submitted through the Entrepreneur stream do not go through the Express Entry system, meaning that applicants submit their application for permanent residence through Canada’s new Permanent Residence Portal or as a paper-based application.

Work in Ontario 

For applicants who do not qualify for a permanent residence program right away, another option is to begin by working in Ontario. Gaining Canadian work experience can be an excellent way to increase eligibility for PNPs and competitiveness for Express Entry.

One popular option for work permits is to obtain a job offer from an Ontario employer with a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The LMIA is a document proving that the employer could not find a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to fill the position and therefore had to look for a foreign national. In certain situations, a person may be exempt from requiring an LMIA.

With an LMIA-supported job offer, applicants can apply for a work permit to enter Ontario to start working. Depending on the skill level of the job, the applicant’s spouse may be eligible to obtain an open work permit, and any dependent children could obtain study permits. 

Another popular work permit program is International Experience Canada (IEC). This work permit program is for youth from participating countries, so it’s not for everyone, but for citizens of these countries it can be a great opportunity to obtain a work permit without having a job lined up in advance.

Once a person starts working in Ontario, they should check to see if they qualify for one of Ontario’s provincial nominee programs listed above. As well, after working in Canada for one year in a full-time, skilled occupation, applicants may become eligible to enter the Express entry system under the Canadian Experience Class.

Study in Ontario 

Another option for applicants who do not qualify for a permanent residence program right away, is to come to Canada first as an international student. Completing international studies in Ontario can make a person eligible for certain PNP streams as well as for work permits.

Ontario hosts a range of post-secondary institutions. Those looking for world class education can check out schools like Queen’s University, McMaster University, and the top-ranked University of Toronto. However, there are smaller universities and colleges that offer quality education for lower prices.

After completing studies in Ontario, a graduate may be eligible for one of Ontario’s PNP streams. Depending on the degree obtained, some applicants may qualify for the Masters Graduate stream or the PhD Graduate stream after graduation. 

However, if an applicant does not qualify for a permanent residence program immediately after graduating, they can likely apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). A PGWP allows international graduates to stay in Canada and gain professional work experience. The duration of these work permits is based on the duration of your studies and can range from 8 months, up to 3 years. 

Depending on the details of the job, graduates may then be eligible to apply through one of Ontario’s Employer Job Offer provincial nomination streams. If the employment does not meet the provincial nomination requirements, then after working in Canada for one full year in a full-time, paid, NOC skill level 0, A or B position, the applicant may be eligible to enter the Express entry system under the Canadian Experience Class.

During their studies, international students who have families can be accompanied by their spouse or common-law partner and dependent children. For those with spouses, if the student’s program meets the following requirements, their spouse can be issued with an open work permit that will be valid for the same duration as the student’s study permit. The student must be:

  • eligible for a post-graduation work permit and
  • registered as a full-time student at one of the following:
    • a public post-secondary school, such as a college or university, or CEGEP in Quebec
    • a private college-level school in Quebec
    • a Canadian private school that can legally award degrees under provincial law (for example, Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate degree)

This could then lead to permanent residence options through the spouse’s Canadian work experience either through the Canadian Experience Class or the Ontario immigrant Nominee Program. 

Do you want professional guidance for your Canadian immigration process? Complete the form below to get in touch with Deanne Acres-Lans, a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, who can help you plan your Canadian immigration process.

Get in touch with Canada Abroad