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The New Year Ushers in Accelerated Growth for Canadian Immigration

The pandemic has made sharp and lasting changes to immigration law and policy.  As the threat of the pandemic receded, the government re-opened our borders.  What is next on the Immigration front in Canada? What will the new year bring?  The following is a list of the main Canadian immigration rules and trends we can expect in 2023:

  1. Faster Processing and Greater Eligibility in Express Entry Cases

Express Entry cases under the Federal Skilled Worker (“FSW”) category suffered a slow death during the pandemic.  Draws were halted and the pending applications were delayed. There are two reasons for the long delays:  visa offices were understaffed, and the government was reticent to open borders, even for approved permanent residents to land. The new year will bring draws and lower comprehensive ranking scores, plus enhanced qualification for specific occupations.  The Express Entry application process is expected to become even more complex, but the good news is that new occupations have been added for eligibility as a result of the mandatory conversion to the 2021 NOC matrix.

  1. Aggressive Compliance Enforcement

In 2022 the government introduced additional compliance requirements for those employed in high and low wage occupations which will result in a higher level of scrutiny and greater investigation reach.  These changes are voluminous and comparable to the significant changes introduced in 2015 which revolutionized the employer immigration compliance landscape in Canada. Furthermore, the government has signaled a revamped and increasingly aggressive approach to the quantity and substance of investigations and audits. In short, we can expect more audits at employer sites in Canada and these audits will include the power of the government to compel third parties (i.e., “any individual or entity”) to provide any document in their possession that relates to the employer’s compliance with conditions under the regulations.

  1. Expansion of Work Permit Programs

The government will continue addressing our tight labour market by expanding eligibility criteria to work in Canada such as the youth mobility program for young workers, widening the ambit of spousal work permits, introducing a new dependent work permit, accelerating work permits for asylum claimants, adding 16 NOC occupations for skilled work permit eligibility, allowing certain study permit holders to work full time, and the expansion of occupations in the Global Talent Stream (Category B) LMIA application, inter alia.  Facilitating work permits is a global trend in our emerging metaverse and Canada is no exception.

  1. Facilitative Border Entries and Open Borders

Open borders are good for Canadian business. The government dismantled almost all of the pandemic border closure measures between August to October 2022.  We expect the government to continue finding ways to reopen the border, such as reopening enrollment centers in Quebec and Ontario to enable facilitative border crossings based on biometric data, in addition to continued expansion of electronic face-recognition software at border crossings and airports which will allow for customs processing in 20 seconds!

  1. Mandatory Online Processing of Applications

Over the course of the last 8 years IRCC has progressively moved towards an online application system, as opposed to paper applications.  Online filing simplifies, streamlines, and facilitates processing. This conversion has culminated in the eligibility for online processing for approximately 95% of IRCC’s application categories. In 2023, it will be mandatory to file ESDC LMIA applications online as well, which will hopefully allow for faster processing and immediate file number issuance. The downside of online processing is poor design and technical snafus which can result in application failures, or incorrect rejections.  This has been a source of great frustration for applicants and counsel since the implementation of online systems by IRCC and ESDC.

  1. AI Influenced Decision Making

Online applications and greater expected volumes of applications means greater use of AI.  The latter is a double-edged sword for visa or immigration officers/decision-makers.  Will the discretion of the officer be fettered by AI? Will the officer consider all relevant facts and evidence, or will the focus be on AI evidence? Are we sacrificing the rule of the law for faster decision making? These live issues are currently the subject of immigration litigation at the federal court.

  1. Immigration Power to the Provinces/Territories

Provincial governments are keen to meet local labour market needs by utilizing their immigration authority and are introducing changes and programing to facilitate and attract both skilled and unskilled talent.  Demographic shifts and boomer retirement are a grave concern in the tight labour market, and it is expedient for provinces and territories to use their vested immigration power to support local business growth.

Never in the history of Canada has the government promised to bring more immigrants to Canada then now.   The targets in the government’s levels plan are 465,000 permanent residents in 2023, 485,000 in 2024 and 500,000 in 2025 (including attracting immigrants to different regions of the country, provincially and in small towns and rural communities). The pandemic (and the resulting economic turmoil) has reminded Canadians that we live in an integrated global economy where open borders and foreign workers/immigrants are necessary and good for Canadian businesses and economic growth.  Immigration has become good politics. The government is listening: 2023 (and beyond) will usher in accelerated growth for Canadian immigration.

This article was also published in The Lawyer’s Daily on January 6, 2023 and here’s the link: