January 19, 2021

What to expect in 2021: skilled-worker immigrants, entrepreneur immigrants and refugee claimants will benefit the most from new immigration initiatives

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2021 will see new initiatives from both provincial governments and the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) to expand program options for immigrant candidates. Some initiatives will be new; others will be augmentations of existing programs. Skilled-worker immigrants, entrepreneur immigrants investing in Canadian business, and work permit holding refugee claimants will benefit the most.

The Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 directs most of these initiatives. It was introduced in response to the adverse economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. While existing immigration policy already targets skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, the initiatives will take advantage of demands and pressures from pandemic effects to target these immigrant groups along with refugees in new ways.

Introduced on October 30, 2020, by the Trudeau government, the Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 will admit 1,233,000 new permanent residents over the next three years. It will sustain economic growth with robust immigration levels both to promote post-pandemic recovery and to offset long-standing economic and fiscal shortfalls caused by an increasingly aging population and low birth rates. 

Furthermore, by aggressively scaling admissions in 2021, the  Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 will make up losses from 2020. IRCC had initially planned for 2020 to be a banner year in immigration; however, global travel restrictions and capacity constraints at IRCC during the pandemic led to deep shortfalls. While IRCC has not yet issued final data, new permanent residence admissions for 2020 are expected to be at least 100,000 fewer than the target of 341,000. 

Skilled-worker immigrants

The Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 designates 60 percent of all admissions to come through the economic class programs processed through Express Entry, IRCC’s central application processing platform. These economic class programs are all for permanent residence and are generally familiar to most skilled-worker immigrant candidates. They are the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Canadian Experience Class.

Through Express Entry each qualifying candidate submits a profile outlining their professional and skills background to a selection pool. The selection pool is a database of the profiles of all potential candidates. Each candidate is ranked against the others based on points issued in a comparative ranking system (CRS). 

Every few weeks, the top-ranked candidates based on their CRS scores are drawn from the entire pool of candidates. Those selected receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence and submit their application package for final approval and admission to Canada.

Candidates with CRS scores that are comparatively lower do not receive ITAs. They are not admitted to Canada through Express Entry, and their profiles remain in waiting in the selection pool. While they may have substantial professional and educational backgrounds, their comparative rankings are lower than those at the top for having fewer economic connections to Canada, such as offers of employment from Canadian enterprises or previous work or study experience in Canada; or for having lower comparative educational credentials, work experience or language skills.

The Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 begins by increasing ITA draw sizes over shorter periods from pre-2021 draws. In 2020 each draw was between 3300 to 5000 every two to three weeks. In 2021, candidates should expect drawing numbers increasingly above 5000 over shorter draw periods.

Shorter draw periods with higher numbers of ITAs means candidates with high CRS scores are removed from the selection pool at a faster rate compared to new equivalent candidates entering the pool. The effect is that an increasing number of candidates with comparatively lower CRS scores will elevate into each new ITA draw. Candidates with CRS scores 20 to 30 points short of receiving an ITA in 2020 will now likely receive invitations in 2021.

The opportunity for immigration for professionals at broader levels of education, language, and skill level has never been better. Candidates are advised to submit their profiles sooner in 2021 to benefit from these projected drops in CRS scores.

They are cautioned, though, this windfall may not sustain through the end of 2021. As awareness becomes widespread, the volume of candidates submitting profiles to the selection pool is expected to increase, resulting in a higher volume of high CRS scored candidates. The opportunity may be lost by waiting too long.

Entrepreneur immigrants

With the sharp economic collapse caused by pandemic lockdowns and closure orders, new capital is being sought by medium and small businesses across Canada to recover from business and income losses.

Both IRCC and provincial governments have programs that incentivize foreign direct investment in existing businesses by offering permanent residence to candidates who have the means to invest. Expect them to be renewed and expanded in 2021 for post-pandemic recovery.

Provincial Nominee Programs run by each provincial and territorial government have targeted streams in select industries that admit high and medium net worth entrepreneur candidates who intend to invest in and manage the businesses they enter.

IRCC also operates a popular Owner/Operator Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) program that supports both work permit and permanent resident admission for similarly profiled candidates. This LMIA allows specific candidates who meet qualifying criteria to apply by offering themselves a high-skilled managerial position at the business into which they intend to invest.

Entrepreneur candidates currently have opportunities to invest in two types of pre-existing small and medium-sized businesses. 

The first type is businesses that saw revenue losses in 2020 but are still in operation and will remain fully viable through a post-pandemic recovery with new capital investment. The present owner-operators offer equity or partnership in exchange for the capital injection and retained employment of the candidate on the management team. 

The other type is an existing business that can similarly remain viable in recovery but can be bought outright from the owner-operator. The owner-operator, in this case, is either too old, disinterested, or has moved on to other opportunities and is no longer prepared to invest the time required to rebuild to profitability, which may take a few years. He will unload ownership to an individual or party who is ready to put in the work.

These opportunities for entrepreneur candidates are neither speculative nor prospective. They are a product of the pandemic. Brokering and business development firms throughout Canada are currently fielding inquiries from small and medium-sized business owner-operators looking for investors or buyers with business plans for post-pandemic recovery. Candidates have an abundance of established businesses throughout Canada in a broad range of sectors such as retail, hospitality, manufacturing, etc., in which they can invest and secure permanent residence admission. It is a matter of merely presenting themselves to brokering firms.

Refugee claimants inside Canada

Refugee claimants will also benefit from new permanent resident admission programs created in part to meet Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 targets but principally to manage the pandemic emergency. These programs will capitalize on the professional skills of select inside-Canada refugee claimants to transition them into permanent residence.

Canada is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Refugee programs operated by IRCC have the strategic goal of exporting Canada’s human rights values to the world. By allowing admission to Canada of people who face persecution in their home countries, the risks they face from authoritarian regimes are mitigated, weakening the ability of those regimes to persecute their citizens. 

One of the ways Canada executes its convention commitments is through the Inside-Canada Asylum Program. Refugee claimants enter Canada at a port-of-entry, such as an airport or a land border crossing, and claim protection either as they enter or at an inland IRCC office. The claims are then determined at a later date at a hearing before a tribunal called the Immigration and Refugee Board.

While waiting for their hearing dates, most claimants qualify for work permits to earn incomes to cover the necessary costs of housing and living.

On December 9, 2020, IRCC introduced temporary special measures for claimants working in targeted health care professions to transition to permanent residence immediately and bypass the hearings process. Limited to claimants who made their claims before March 13, 2020, and secured employment in a variety of health-care professions while in Canada, IRCC determined that these professionals’ skills were of significant strategic importance during the pandemic. 

The statuses of refugee claimants in Canada are insecure until a decision is made at their hearings. These measures allow IRCC to ensure their ongoing employment at healthcare facilities by securing their permanent residence statuses. Applications are still being received until August 31, 2021, and anyone who qualifies is definitely encouraged to apply.

These are unprecedented measures, temporarily justified by the pandemic emergency. Its resounding success, however, has encouraged IRCC to explore additional similar programs for refugee claimants employed in other sectors of strategic and emergency importance. While IRCC has not yet announced plans for any new measures, the department is expected to later in 2021 and prospectively after that. These programs will only be available to refugee claimants employed inside Canada.

While this initiative helps meet admissions targets under the Immigration Levels Plan for 2021-2023 and emergency management measures, IRCC must be careful to ensure that the labor market gains do not replace the refugee programs’ principal purpose to secure protection for persecuted persons.

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