The study, leveraging human resources for long-term prosperity: Expanding pathways to permanence for lower-skill temporary workers in Canada, was published in May 2021 by the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University. The pdf file can be found on its website among publications under the policy briefs category.
Every year Canada welcomes more than 350,000 new permanent residents. Two thirds of them lived in the country under temporary status beforehand. However, most became permanent residents by working in high-skilled occupations. For low-skill workers who count about approximately 300,000, opportunities from temporary to permanent status have been very limited. The pandemic has shown low-skilled foreign workers are essential for the economy and demand for labour in low-skilled jobs is also expected to grow. One of the reasons for the increasing demand for low-skilled jobs is that Canadian-born workers may not want to fill these positions.
The economy relies on low-skilled labour to maintain supply chains and perform essential services in a range of industries. The market needs are not temporary although many people who work the same jobs for many years are in temporary status. Canada is already experimenting with pathways to permanent residency for low-skilled workers including the most recent decision to enable 90,000 temporary residents to transition to permanent resident status. There are a number of pilot programs through which low-skilled workers can apply.
The British Columbia Nominee Program allows a number of low-skilled workers to apply for provincial nomination for permanent residence through the Entry Level and Semi-skilled Worker category and the Northeast Pilot Project.
In Ontario, the In-Demand Skills Stream program provides individuals working in specific high-need occupations a pathway to permanent residence.
The Atlantic Immigration Pilot admits low-skilled workers who wish to immigrate to one of the Atlantic provinces – New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot is another option for full-time, low-skilled workers in one of 11 smaller municipalities throughout Canada.
The Agri-Food Pilot program was established in 2020 to offer up to 2,750 individuals a pathway to permanent residence per year until 2023.
Another pathway for low-skilled workers to become permanent residents is the pilot program Temporary Public Policy for Out-of-status Construction Workers in the Greater Toronto Area. This was introduced in January 2020 and is effective until January 2022.
The study comments that these programs are relatively small in scale, highly targeted, for individuals in permanent jobs, and often involve partnerships between IRCC and other stakeholders such as provinces, employers, and labour organizations. They do not offer a large, ongoing and flexible pathway.
Most recently, the federal government announced the one-time initiative to transition temporary foreign workers who intend to settle in provinces and territories outside Quebec, within the health care sector and specific “essential” occupations as well as international students, to permanent residents. The initiative has a very short time frame. The three streams of this initiative are also replicated for francophone applicants (intending to settle outside Quebec), without numerical caps, so the total number admitted under this initiative may be well over 90,000. Although this plan is a step in the right direction, the study says, it nonetheless does not represent a stable solution to the increasing need for low-skilled workers in a range of sectors throughout the economy.
To conclude, the study recommends some options for low-skilled workers. The labour market demand for low-skilled occupations is not temporary but ongoing. It is therefore all-important to move beyond time-limited initiatives and to institute a long-term and stable solution.
It is also recommended that the government should allocate between 10 to 20 per cent of economic class applicants towards low-skilled workers. The pilot programs which feature partnerships between the federal government, provinces, municipalities, employers, labour organizations and other stakeholders should be leveraged and scaled up.
Additionally, the government should invite temporary foreign workers who meet the eligibility requirements to apply for permanent resident status on a “first-come, first- served” basis within specified windows of time to prevent backlogs. It also encourages the introduction of a new policy to shield foreign domestic workers from any deterioration in wages. Targeted settlement services and language training for temporary foreign workers who are eligible to transition to permanent residents should be more invested. Investment in child and youth centred settlement services is a vital component of the policy recommendation. Finally, it is needful to clearly articulate the economic contribution of low-skilled workers to the Canadian public to address any concern of an anti-immigration sentiment that may arise. Success stories must be featured, and the benefit of low-skilled permanent immigrants to the Canadian economy must be shown through data. That will help fully analyze the stock and flow of these workers, as well as their economic contribution.
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