Capping New Temporary Residents

Steven MeurrensUncategorized

On March 21, 2024, Marc Miller, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, alongside Randy Boissonnault, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages, held a press conference to announce what may be considered one of the most substantial changes to Canadian immigration law in years.

Canada is set to implement a limit on the temporary residents.

Canada’s immigration department has for the past several decades set limits on the number of new permanent residents admitted each year. Its detailed plans are publicly available on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) website. In 2024, for example, Canada plans on welcoming 485,000.00 new permanent residents. Of these, 281,135 will come through economic immigration programs, 114,000 will be through family sponsorships, 76,115 will be refugees or protected persons, and 13,750 will be visa compassionate consideration streams and other public policies.

Unlike the fixed limits for new permanent residents, Canada has historically not imposed a specific cap on the temporary residents – such as students, temporary workers, or visitors – that are admitted each year. Instead, the demand from non-governmental entities like businesses and educational institutions has largely determined the number of temporary residents accepted. While IRCC may reject applications for reasons related to eligibility or admissibility, it does not turn down, nor does it stop processing applications, because of any predetermined quotas.”

Until now.

The Composition of Temporary Residents

In recent years, the population of temporary residents in Canada has seen a significant rise. As of now, there are 2.5 million temporary residents, making up 6.2% of Canada’s total population in 2023. The government aims to lower this figure to 5%.

In his speech, Marc Miller stated that the number of temporary residents in Canada consists of the:

• 42% – international students;

• 9% – spouses of students;

• 26% – post-graduate work permit holders;

• 9% – foreign workers under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program whose employers first obtained a Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”) to employ them;

• 10% – reciprocal youth exchange programs such as the Working Holiday Program;

• 26% through special humanitarian programs for Ukrainians, Iranians, Turks and others;

• 17% for inter company transfers, trade agreements and other niche work permit programs;

• 12% – spouses of skilled workers;

• 5% asylum seekers.

Where Will the Cuts Come From

In their speeches, neither Mr. Miller nor Mr. Boissonnault specified which programs would be reduced.

However, on January 22, 2024, Minister Miller declared that Canada would be reducing the number of approved study permits by 35% starting from this year. Additionally, he stated that only spouses or common-law partners of international students enrolled in master’s or graduate-level programs would now be eligible for the open spousal work permit. This change is already in place. Such adjustments are expected to significantly lower the number of temporary residents in Canada, as well as the future count of post-graduate work permit holders, student spouses, and eventually, the spouses of workers. Exactly how this will reduce the number of temporary residents in Canada, and which categories, depends in part on the provinces who are responsible for allocating international student spots to their respective post-secondary institutions.

As well, Minister Boissonnault announced that effective May 1, 2024, the following changes will be implemented in the LMIA program:

• New LMIAs will be valid for six months, a decrease from 12 months;

• Most employers under the low wage stream, with an exception for the construction and health care sectors, will have a reduction from 30% to 20% of their total workforce that can be employed through LMIAs;

• Employers will need to explore every option before applying for an LMIA — including recruiting asylum seekers with valid work permits here in Canada.

Another major factor in decreasing numbers will likely be the end of the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program. As of February 27, 2024, this initiative has allowed 248,726 Ukrainian nationals to enter Canada, with a large portion of them receiving work permits. The conclusion of this program is expected to notably lower the influx of new temporary residents to Canada.

It is not clear from what programs additional cuts will be made. Part of what makes predicting this difficult is because there has been a dramatic shift in the government’s narrative, moving from one of “structural labour shortage” and “grow the economy through population growth” to a narrative of “too many people.” For example, IRCC recently reduced eligibility requirements for the Francophone program. Are they now going to reverse those changes whose benefits they just touted?

More Permanent Residents?

Finally, while most commentators are focusing on what may be cut it is interesting to note that Minister Miller presented the goal for temporary residents as being based on a percentage reduction rather than an absolute number. If the goal is to reduce the percentage of foreign workers in Canada then it may not be necessary to reduce the numerator, but rather increase the denominator. In other words, one way to lower the percentage of foreign workers in the country would be to increase the number of permanent residents, including by transitioning existing temporary residents.

The government did not state that this is what they plan on doing, but their choice of how they set their target makes me wonder.