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Retaining Skilled Workers: Is Canada Winning the Global Competition?

Published on: March 3rd, 2022

In a recent teleconference, the Canadian immigration minister stated that Canada is “winning the global competition for talent”. This was in response to a concern that the current application backlog would close the door to highly skilled immigrants. Despite the significant backlog, Canada welcomed a record number of newcomers in 2021.

How do Canada’s immigration levels measure up to countries like Australia and the U.S.? When it comes to retaining skilled workers, is Canada winning the global competition?

Canada welcomed over 400,000 new permanent residents in 2021, the highest number of immigrants ever admitted in a single year. The Canadian government has since raised immigration targets for 2022 and plans to admit over 430,000 newcomers next year. During the pandemic, Canada digitalized applications and streamlined processes, positioning IRCC to eventually process more applications, faster.  While in many ways, the Canadian immigration system has improved from pre-pandemic times, processing times have also increased and invitations to foreign workers under the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program have been cut significantly.

Minister Fraser recently claimed that “we are the best in the world in welcoming large numbers of economic migrants to Canada to help drive our economic growth”. When it comes to our economic immigration programs, Canada invites more permanent newcomers than most comparable countries. Despite our immigration setbacks, is Canada winning the global competition for attracting and retaining foreign skilled workers?

Comparing Canada to the U.S. and Australia

In terms of retaining foreign skilled workers, Canada fared well compared to other countries known for sourcing high volumes of immigrants.

Countries like Australia and the U.S. welcomed significantly fewer permanent newcomers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Canada’s immigration levels were short of anticipated targets in 2020, 2021 saw the highest number of new permanent residents ever admitted in a single year. In order to meet immigration targets last year, the Canadian government focused on creating a pathway to permanent residence for tens of thousands of temporary workers already in the country.

Australia, on the other hand, slashed immigration levels during the pandemic, leaving many temporary workers without a clear path to permanent status. The Australian government cut the number of permanent visas issued from 190,000 to 160,000 last year. Of these numbers, just 79,600 places were reserved for skilled workers, significantly less than Canada’s 232,500 economic immigrants targeted in 2021.

The United States also welcomed less than its targeted number of permanent newcomers in 2021. The U.S. Congress authorizes the government to issue up to 675,000 immigrant visas, or “Green Cards” each year. Of this total, just 140,000 are reserved for employment-based immigration. Due to a significant application backlog, the U.S. government wasted over 200,000 Green Cards available for the year. Among the wasted Green Cards last year included 80,000 reserved for employment-based immigration.

How Canada remains on top

In Minister Fraser’s recent teleconference, he insisted that Canada retains its position as a top destination for skilled workers. Despite Canada pausing FSW Express Entry draws since December 2021, Fraser pointed to a series of programs available to foreign workers without delay.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, provinces across Canada have taken advantage of the temporary pause on FSW draws by hand-selecting skilled workers from the Express Entry pool. Candidates that may have otherwise received an Invitation to Apply (ITA) in a federal draw can now be recruited for permanent residence through a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). PNPs also provide an immigration option to candidates who may not otherwise receive an invitation in a federal Express Entry draw.

Fraser also cited the Global Talent Stream, and federal economic pilots as programs that are processed without delay. The Global Talent Stream enables certain employers who are successfully approved through the program to expedite the process for hiring foreign nationals through the Global Skills Strategy.

Programs like the Atlantic Immigration Program (AIP), which was recently made permanent, and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) also provide an immigration option to candidates with a job offer in a region in rural or Atlantic Canada. These programs are designed to spread the benefit of immigration to less populous regions.

With an ageing population and declining birth rates, Canada needs immigration to maintain growth and fill labour market gaps. Minister Fraser recognizes the importance of immigration to drive population and economic growth. With higher-than-ever permanent residence targets over the next three years, the immigration landscape has become increasingly promising for prospective newcomers.


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