Published on: May 19, 2020
As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues, Canada's immigration system continues to adapt. Many elements of the system continue to operate as normal, anticipating a future when travel restrictions to Canada will be lifted. Some sectors of the Canadian economy are struggling during the pandemic, but others continue hiring, and developments in immigration policy reflect this disparity.
Canada's food and agricultural sector relies heavily on immigrant workers, including temporary foreign workers. Labor shortages within the sector have been a problem for employers in the past, and restrictions on travel to Canada during the pandemic could pose additional problems.
Encouraging immigration among workers in the food sector was already a government priority; the agriculture and food industry creates more than $110 billion in economic growth annually. As a result, Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced on 18 May that the government was ready to accept applications to an Agri-Food Pilot program, which will offer permanent residence to applicants with experience in food sectors such as livestock and meat processing. The Agri-Food Pilot follows the example of other regional and sector-specific immigration pilot programs. Because travel restrictions to Canada are still in effect, most applicants to the program are expected to be already resident in Canada, including temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector. Overall, the pilot is expected to offer a chance of permanent residence to 2,750 applicants.
Because agriculture and other sectors such as healthcare rely heavily on temporary foreign workers, efforts to make it easier for employers to hire and retain these employees have been an important part of the government's response to the COVID-19 crisis. Recent changes to temporary worker rules are intended to make it easier for workers to change jobs or extend their stay in Canada. For instance, temporary workers who have an employer-specific work permit can begin work while their application for a new work permit is pending. The processing time for work permits has also been reduced; applications that could once have taken months to review are now processed within ten days.
As travel restrictions make it harder for immigrants to arrive in Canada, the Express Entry system has adjusted to ensure that it can reach its targets. IRCC plans to issue 85,800 Invitations to Apply in 2020; in order to do this, it needs to maintain a steady stream of invitations even during the pandemic. This means that the majority of Express Entry draws during the lockdown have been aimed either at candidates nominated by the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) or applicants in the Canadian Experience class of immigrants. Applicants who are already in Canada will thus be able to progress to the next step of becoming permanent residents.
Express Entry draws continue at a high rate; between 14 and 15 May, the government held two draws, one covering Canadian Experience candidates and one at PNP candidates. Between them, the two draws extended invitations to 976 potential applicants.
While many sectors of the Canadian economy suffer, the technology sector remains a source of hope for a post-coronavirus recovery. Ontario held its first tech-specific draw in nearly a year on 13 May, inviting applications to apply for provincial nomination from over 700 candidates in fields such as web design, software engineering, information systems management, and database analysis.
The focus on encouraging immigration within the technology sector reflects continued strength in the industry. While many Canadian businesses have been forced to temporarily shut down by the pandemic, growth in the tech sector remains strong, and many employers are actually hiring. This may reflect the fact that employees in technology companies are more likely to be able to work from home, or it may reflect the fact that as more and more businesses shift to providing their services and products online, demand for products in the tech sector increases.
This strength in the technology sector means that, despite travel restrictions, some sectors of the Canadian economy continue to grow, spurring demand for labor that immigration policy will have to meet.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the situation is continually evolving. Canada's travel, tourism and immigration policies will need to evolve in response. Small changes like the shifting focus of Express Entry draws or the new procedures for temporary foreign workers changing jobs reflect the government's need to stay on top of a rapidly-changing employment landscape. The changes also reflect the range of tools at the government's disposal to deal with the crisis.
In a rapidly-changing situation, rules and procedures can also change quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many aspects of Canadian immigration change into a short time, making it vital for travellers, permanent residence candidates and others to be sure they have up-to-date information.