Ottawa opens new pathway to permanent status for temporary essential workers and graduates

·5 min read
New Canadians take part in a pre-pandemic citizenship ceremony. (Stephen Lubig/CBC - image credit)
New Canadians take part in a pre-pandemic citizenship ceremony. (Stephen Lubig/CBC - image credit)

The federal government will introduce a new pathway to permanent residency for foreign nationals working in Canada in essential jobs such as personal support and health services, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced today.

The new policy will allow up to 90,000 workers and international graduates already in Canada to convert their temporary status to permanent status, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a news release.

But one group that advocates for the rights of migrants cautioned the policy change will help only a small portion of the people who live and work in Canada and don't have permanent immigration status.

"Since COVID-19 first arrived on our shores, we have charted a course guided by one north star — that immigration is key to Canada's short term economic recovery and long term prosperity," Mendicino told a virtual news conference today.

"Fundamentally, we know that by attracting and retaining the best and the brightest ... we will add more jobs, growth and diversity to our economy."

WATCH: Immigration minister announces new pathway to permanent status for essential workers

To be eligible for the new pathway, workers must have at least one year of Canadian work experience in one of 40 different health care jobs or 95 other pre-approved essential jobs. Graduates must have completed an eligible Canadian post-secondary program over the last four years.

The department provided a list of occupations that are deemed essential. It includes people in a wide range of skilled trades, such as electricians and metal workers, along with farm workers, cashiers, home child care providers and French immersion teachers, among others.

Mendicino called the new policy a "broad, fast and innovative path" to permanent residency that focuses on jobs that are vital to the Canadian economy.

"This isn't just about giving people a new piece of paper. We're creating a pathway for newcomers that will strengthen their job security, expand their career horizons and encourage them to put down deeper roots in our communities where they are giving back," Mendicino said.

Applications accepted through three streams

Eligible workers and graduates will be able to apply for permanent status through three streams between May 6, 2021 and Nov. 5, 2021. The department will take up to 20,000 applications for temporary workers in health care, 30,000 applications for temporary workers in the essential job category and 40,000 applications for international students.

All applicants must be proficient in either English or French, and a certain portion of spots will be reserved for French-speaking or bilingual candidates.

The department says the new policy will help the government achieve its goal of welcoming 401,000 new permanent residents to the country.

Mendicino was joined at the press conference by a group of professionals, three of whom immigrated to Canada and now work in health care.

Shailadi Gupta is originally from India but has worked as a registered nurse in Canada since 2011. She spoke about receiving permanent status in 2013, saying it allowed her to purchase a home with lower interest rates, go back to university while paying lower tuition fees and start her own business.

"A change in status is transformational for temporary foreign workers in many ways," said Gupta. "Instead of packing suitcases and returning back to their countries or becoming discouraged and ending up working at Tim Horton's, they can actually put down roots here in Canada and more fully contribute in Canada in a wide range of roles, including in our hospitals and care homes."

Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, issued a statement welcoming the announcement.

"COVID-19-related restrictions have hit Canada's immigration system hard, significantly reducing the number of newcomers entering the country," said Hyder.

"The minister's plan addresses this challenge by welcoming urgently needed talent."

New pathway not enough, migrant rights group says

A group of advocates for the rights of migrants said the program doesn't go far enough.

Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant's Rights Network, called the new pathway a "time-limited and partial program" that will help only a small number of migrants with temporary status.

"Each year, hundreds of thousands of people come to the country on temporary permits, many of whom cannot get permanent residency. While they are temporary, they are unable to assert basic labour rights, access health care, often get education, get income support — even in the public health pandemic — or be able to reunite with their families," said Hussan.

"Today's announcement keeps that entire structure still in place."

Hussan said many will find the pathway hard to access because of the language requirements. He said the program also excludes about half a million undocumented people who live and work in Canada but don't have any immigration status.

"Undocumented people live and work in our communities and work in many of the same industries. They must be able to access permanent status," said Hussan. "Today's announcement leaves them out."

Hussan called on Mendicino to immediately provide permanent resident status to the 1.6 million people in Canada currently without it.

WATCH: Agricultural workers to be included in permanent residency program, minister says

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan agreed with Hussan's argument that the new pathway will leave many people behind.

"There is no question that the proposed cap will quickly be filled since so many migrant workers are already here in Canada working hard to support Canadians," said Kwan.

"If the government truly wished to recognize the benefits and talent migrant workers and international students bring to the Canadian economy and society, they should also not exclude those who may have lost their employment in the middle of a pandemic or those without status."

Conservative MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, the party's immigration critic, said Conservative members of the House of Commons immigration committee have called on the government to introduce measures to allow workers and skilled students to stay in Canada.

"However, with the Liberal government's failure to address backlogs and current processing times in the immigration system, including with the existing spousal sponsorship, express entry and caregiver programs, I am concerned that new applicants through this program will face unfortunate and unnecessary delays," Hallan said.