There has been no shortage of hot-button immigration issues in the first half of 2017.
From an international standpoint, President Donald Trump used the first few weeks of this year to usher in his incendiary Executive Orders, which banned entry of certain individuals from specific countries into the United States. Travel plans for Canadians from such countries, and the rest of the international community, were hurled into disarray as poor implementation led to mass confusion at airports.
President Trump’s further comments undermining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have also disconcerted individuals and businesses that rely on the cross-border flow of personnel and goods through Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
On the home front, the Canadian government has used the first few months of 2017 to usher in a host of less controversial yet still significant updates. One of the more recent and most promising is the Global Skills Strategy (GSS) pilot program implemented on June 12, 2017. While it is still too early to grade its success, the government hopes that this new program will assist Canadian companies by making highly skilled foreign talent more accessible. One benefit of the GSS is that skilled workers may enter Canada and without a work permit if they are only here for a short duration (i.e. 30 days or less). Companies and individual foreign workers should speak to experts at Green and Spiegel LLP to determine whether they are eligible to use the GSS program for simplified, quicker processing.
Another benefit of the GSS is that skilled foreign workers or managers may benefit from faster processing times. Under the GSS, there is a new service standard of two-week processing for most Professionals (NOC A) and Managers (NOC 0) who work in Canada under the International Mobility Program, namely LMIA-exempt work permits.
Besides the GSS, another significant 2017 update is the Atlantic Pilot Program. It was recently introduced to help address the pressing labour market needs in the Atlantic region, specifically, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, to assist businesses, catalyze economic growth, and increase settlement in the Eastern provinces. The program lessens regulations and simplifies how Canadian companies utilize foreign talent. For example, designated companies are not required to complete what can be a long and rigorous Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) prior to hiring a foreign worker. With changes such as the GSS and Atlantic Pilot Program, the Canadian government appears attentive to Canadian businesses in need of foreign talent and investment.
Notwithstanding the opening of some doors for foreign workers in 2017, the first half of the year also came with the closing of others. The Province of Alberta, for example, prohibited the use of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) for 29 skilled occupations. With oversight issues plaguing the TFWP according to a recent report of the Federal Auditor General, compliance investigations for employers have also increased in the last few months. It is apparent that the Canadian government continues their endeavour to strike a balance between meeting the needs of Canadian businesses growing with foreign investment, alongside the legitimate concern of keeping Canadians first in line for jobs.
Moving on to the subject of permanent immigration to Canada, the first half of 2017 has seen significant changes with respect to the Express Entry system, which is a comprehensive scoring system used to rank prospective immigrants to Canada. Candidates are awarded up to 1,200 points based on a variety of factors meant to assess their ability to succeed in Canada, including age, language skill, education, and work experience.
It remains difficult to predict the threshold number of points a candidate requires for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) to issue an invitation to apply for Permanent Resident status. However, we can say that there have been unprecedented numbers of candidates receiving invitations to apply for Permanent Resident status as the required number of points to receive an invitation has decreased significantly over the last few months. The lowest score to receive an invitation was 453 points on January 25, 2017, for example, while the lowest qualifying score at the end of May was 413 points.
It will be interesting to see how changes implemented on June 5, 2017, will affect the Express Entry system in light of candidates receiving additional points for demonstrating strong French language skills and having siblings residing in Canada. Express Entry candidates also need not necessarily register for Job Bank after June 5, 2017.
The final area of significant change during the budding months of 2017 is Family Class immigration. The new Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship program opened on January 3 for interested Canadian Permanent Residents and/or Citizens to complete an online form. After February 2, IRCC randomly invited 10,000 of these fortunate individuals to complete and submit an application for their parent(s) and grandparent(s). Most practitioners are hoping to see further changes to this program next year given concerns that the 10,000 individuals randomly selected were not subject to screening of any kind. As a result, at least some of the lucky group will be ineligible to sponsor their loved ones, while many people who may be eligible as sponsors were not selected and will need to wait a full year until the program re-opens in 2018.
In addition to the newfangled Parent and Grandparent Sponsorship, the Canadian government has followed through with two other notable promises regarding Family Class immigration. Firstly, the conditional requirement for spouses or partners to cohabit with their sponsor for two years has been repealed, effective on April 18, 2017. Secondly, the government has amended the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to raise the age of what is considered a dependent child from 19 to 21 years of age, which is to take force on October 24, 2017.
Lastly, with much fan-fare, the long-anticipated Bill C-6 amendments to the Citizenship Act finally received Royal Assent on June 19, 2017. Some changes are effective immediately, such as the government no longer being able to revoke citizenship from dual citizens convicted of treason, spying, and terrorism offences. But permanent residents of Canada will, however, need to be patient for a few more months until other changes are effected. More than likely, it will not be until Fall 2017 until Permanent Residents can apply for citizenship with three years of physical presence in Canada during the last five. Under the current Citizenship Act, Permanent Residents must be physically present in Canada for four out of six years before applying for citizenship. Many other changes will become effective later this year, as well as early 2018.
As is apparent, the first few months of this year have seen a number of expected changes and a few surprises with respect to Canadian immigration law and policies. Please contact the team at Green and Spiegel to ensure you remain updated moving forward for the remainder of the year.