February 28, 2014
Canadian immigration policy saw a number of significant changes during 2013, with the government continuing to focus on attracting high-skilled workers to Canada, while still ensuring that Canadian citizens and permanent residents remain at the front of the line for job opportunities.
New Faces and New Ministries
In July 2013, Jason Kenney was appointed as the first Minister of Employment and Social Development (ESDC) and Minister for Multiculturalism. Minister Kenney is recognized as the longest-serving Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, having held the post from 2008 to 2013. Stepping in to that portfolio is Christopher Alexander, who served as a diplomat to Russia and Ambassador to Afghanistan before entering politics.
Minister Kenney’s new appointment reflects a strong government interest in the overhaul of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) that inspired extensive public criticism of Canadian immigration policy throughout the year.
Constantly in flux – the Temporary Foreign Worker Program
Last year saw a number of very significant changes to the TFWP, which governs the issuance of the Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) employers are generally required to obtain before a foreign worker can apply for a work permit. These changes were sparked by a media firestorm surrounding the use of the TFWP to obtain work permits for foreign nationals who entered Canada to train with a Canadian employer before returning to their home country to newly-outsourced positions.
Included in these changes were:
Changes to changes – the Canadian Experience Class
On January 1, 2013, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) relaxed the eligibility requirements for permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) to allow applicants to apply sooner.
CIC also introduced a new language proficiency requirement that is correlated to applicants’ skill level.
Perhaps as an indicator of the success of these new eligibility requirements, in November 2013 CIC introduced a new cap on the number of CEC applications it would accept over the next year.
This cap is limited to 12,000 applications under this category, overall. A further sub-cap of 200 applications for each B-level NOC was also introduced. Six B-level occupations have been completely disqualified from consideration under this category.
The year also brought a significant increase in the number of applications that were returned or refused by CIC under this category.
Deciding which children are dependent – Proposed changes to the definition of a dependent child
In response to difficulties in determining which children qualify as dependents, CIC announced plans to re-define a "dependent child" as one who is under the age of 19; previously, children up to the age of 22 could be included in a parent's application as a dependent.
CIC has yet to implement the change to the definition of a dependent child, and has given no substantive indication of when the changes might take place. CIC has a history of announcing changes as effective immediately, and has now left countless applicants wondering whether they will be able to file their applications in time to include their children, or if they will have to make other plans to keep their families together.
New business – Start-Up Visa Program for permanent residence
In April, CIC launched the Start-Up Visa program, a temporary pilot project that will allow foreign entrepreneurs seeking to invest in Canada the opportunity to do so as permanent residents.
The introduction of this program is the first time a federal investor or entrepreneur visa program has been available in Canada since 2011, and opens the door to Canada to a new wave of business innovators.
What this all means
Last year demonstrated that CIC is standing firm on its mission to align immigration policy with national economic and social objectives. However, it is clear that a number of these changes are works in progress, as some have been announced, introduced, and repealed, all in the span of 12 months.
It has never been more important for employers to protect themselves and their workforce by ensuring that they are compliant with current immigration regulations. As one of the most quickly evolving areas of Canadian law, it is prudent to consult with professionals to ensure that your own immigration experience is efficient and effective.