Note: The results of the Canadian election are now in. To find out how immigrants and those who want to move to Canada may be affected, visit this page.
The Liberal Party’s grip on power in Ottawa is threatened by a Conservative Party that has a real chance of taking power in an election due to be held this October. What would a Conservative victory mean for Canadian immigration? If the Liberals win, would it be more of the same, or something new? And if neither major party wins a clear majority, would other political parties be able to influence Canada’s immigration policy?
Let’s find out!
(Because Provincial Nominee Programs are a province-led initiative, this article will focus on federal programs only. In addition, for reasons of brevity, this article will not discuss in detail the parties’ stances on refugee intake and asylum seekers in Canada; instead, links to those party policies are placed at the end of the article.)
Scenario 1: The Liberals win a majority of seats
If Justin Trudeau’s Liberals end up with a majority, we can expect their multi-year immigration plan to be delivered. This plan calls for Canada to admit more than one million permanent residents between 2019 and 2021, with rising targets each year. Some of these million-plus new permanent residents are already in Canada — think of all the temporary work permit holders, international students, and people with pending refugee claims — while others will be setting foot in Canada for the first time with their permanent residence secured, having applied from outside Canada.
Future immigration plans would likely scale up immigration levels even further — a government advisory body has floated 450,000 new permanent residents annually as an ideal figure to head off labour shortages arising from retiring baby boomers, comfortably more than the 330,000 or so expected to be admitted in 2019. The Liberals may not jump north of the 400,000-mark right away, but in their official platform they state their intention to “move forward with modest and responsible increases to immigration.” The Liberals promise to spend $100 million in skills training for workers.
The Liberal Party platform also states that the party will make citizenship applications free if they hold power in government.
Remember, the Liberals have been in power for nearly four years now, so they’ve had plenty of time to change things already. Here’s a quick review of what they have accomplished, and what might come next:
The Municipal Nominee Program (MNP)
During their time in office, the Liberal Government has been responsible for implementing several successful regional immigration programs that empower certain local areas to select immigrants based on their own unique needs. The success of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program and the potential for the new Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot are both examples of this.
Now the Liberals are poised to take this initiative even further, proposing the establishment of the Municipal Nominee Program (MNP). The MNP would enable local communities, chambers of commerce, and local labour councils to directly sponsor permanent immigrants. By granting local municipalities more control over their immigration process, the MNP could help to better match prospective immigrants with the Canadian towns and cities that need them.
Only minor details about the MNP have been released in the official Liberal platform, but expect more news to come if the Liberals clinch election victory.
In 2016 the Liberals gave a points boost to Express Entry candidates who had studied in Canada, while significantly reducing the points on offer for a job offer. Then in the summer of 2017, they started giving additional points to candidates with a sibling in Canada, and there was also a points boost for French speakers who want to settle outside the province of Quebec (that’s right: the Liberals want more French-speaking immigrants to move to provinces other than Quebec).
The shift away from favouring candidates with a job offer and towards candidates with longer-term prospects in Canada through human capital factors such as language ability, education in Canada, and family connections has been profound; whereas the Conservative mantra on the launch of Express Entry was show me a worker who can fill a job right now, the Liberals have been much more willing to bet on the longer-term potential of newcomers and their families. A recent Express Entry report revealed that in 2018 more invited candidates got bonus points for having a sibling in Canada than for a job offer.
Under the Liberals, the number of candidates invited through Express Entry has gone up each year, as has the number approved for permanent resident status. This would likely continue with a Liberal win, which in turn may place downward pressure on the cut-off thresholds in Express Entry draws. There may be further tweaks to the points system, but don’t expect wholesale changes — it has already been more than two years since the most recent changes, and if the Liberals had notions of changing the system again in a significant way, they would likely have done so by now.
Some couples find it difficult to spend 24 hours apart, but try 24 months.
When the Liberals came to power, it took around two years for most spousal and common-law partnership applications to meander their way like a tortoise through the clunky, outdated system they inherited. And while it’s hardly a hare-like pace today, the Liberals have been busy playing Cupid by getting average processing times down to 12 months or less.
It’s a major improvement, and to their credit it fulfils on a promise made in the previous electoral campaign. A Liberal win in 2019 may lead to further decreases in processing times, and more hand-holding across Canada as a result.
As for sponsorship of parents and grandparents, expect further changes to the invitation-application process, which has already been tweaked multiple times during the Liberals’ tenure. The most recent effort — in which the online system timed out within minutes, resulting in confusion, heartache, and tens of thousands of still-not-reunited families — led to the kind of media coverage a government tries desperately to avoid (images of sad, confused people and screenshots of angry tweets). When the Parent and Grandparent Program rears its head again this coming winter, you can bet it will be a slightly different invitation-application process to the most recent version. Fourth time lucky.
IEC Working Holiday
The Liberals have kept the popular International Experience Canada (IEC) program for international youth ticking over nicely, with tens of thousands of temporary workers from more than 30 countries arriving each year, most of them on a Working Holiday work permit. Portugal and Luxembourg have both recently been added to the list of countries with which Canada has a youth mobility agreement, and the Recognized Organizations remain a little-known back door to Canada for some people who aren’t citizens of a country that has such an agreement with Canada.
A recent evaluation of the IEC program stated that the program aligned with government priorities across many departments. As a result, don’t expect any major changes to the program in the event of another Liberal majority.
Temporary Foreign Worker Program
The TFWP is an umbrella program for Canadian work permit streams that require employers to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which entails offering the job first to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Only if no such Canadian can be found may the employer then hire a foreign worker.
While the need for companies to go down the LMIA route waxes and wanes with the economy, the Liberals have made some significant changes to the program. Two stand out in particular:
- They removed the ‘four-in, four-out’ rule, whereby certain foreign workers became ineligible to work in Canada for four years upon completion of four years of work in Canada.
- They introduced the Global Talent Stream, through which eligible workers could get a work permit for Canada in just 10 business days. Within two years, around 40,000 workers, many of them tech workers, had arrived through the Global Talent Stream.
If the Liberals win the election, more temporary foreign workers may be able to change job in Canada without needing a new work permit. The government recently proposed a shift away from employer-specific work permits in favour of occupation-specific, meaning more workers would no longer be bound to a single employer, having the freedom to find another job within Canada, so long as it is in the same occupation.
The Liberals have already introduced the Student Direct Stream (SDS), an expedited study permit processing program available to legal residents of India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Morocco, and Senegal. These are among the top source countries of the more than half a million international students in Canada today, a figure than continues to rise. And the Liberals have been kind to students’ longer-term prospects in Canada, giving them more leeway on how and when they may apply for a post-graduation work permit, as well as bonus points for when they attempt to transition to PR through Express Entry.
Expect more of the same with a Liberal win, with potential for even more pathways to PR and potential expansion of the SDS to include more source countries.