With pandemic travel restrictions largely lifted, the coast is clear for Canada to welcome high levels of immigrants, international students, and temporary foreign workers over the coming months.
Upon imposing COVID travel restrictions in March 2020, Canada prevented many newcomers from being able to enter the country.
There were some exceptions, such as those who received permanent residence and study permit approval prior to the restrictions taking effect, as well as those approved under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Canada gradually lifted these restrictions, with all of the main restrictions on permanent and temporary residents lifted by June 2021. Despite the restrictions, Canada still saw high newcomer levels in 2021. The signs indicate this is set to continue in 2022, with the next few months set to be particularly strong. This summer will be the first since the start of the pandemic without major travel restrictions impeding newcomers from entering Canada.
Permanent residents: Some 130,000 people could land in Q3 2022
Guided by its Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, the Canadian government is currently pursuing the goal of landing some 432,000 new permanent residents this year. Last year, Canada achieved its goal by prioritizing the landings of applicants living in the country.
However, recent Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) data indicates the department is now processing more overseas applications. For instance, it has been prioritizing Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) applications this year, which are predominantly submitted by candidates living abroad. This is a function of travel restrictions no longer limiting the ability of new permanent residents from moving to Canada (an obstacle that existed between March 2020 and June 2021).
In the first quarter of 2022, Canada landed nearly 114,000 new permanent residents. A landing is either a person living in Canada converting their temporary status to permanent residence, or an individual outside of Canada moving to Canada with permanent residence status.
The Q1 2022 figure represents an over 60 per cent increase compared to the 74,000 permanent residents that landed in Q1 2021.
By Q3 of last year, Canada’s permanent resident landings increased significantly to 123,000 people between July and September. This can be explained by three factors. First, IRCC was able to ramp-up its processing capacity, and has been able to sustain that capacity ever since. Second, the lifting of travel restrictions on all Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders in late June 2021 enabled many who were otherwise ineligible to land in Canada to finally do so in Q3 2021 and beyond. Third, there is a seasonal component to Canadian immigration. New immigrants prefer to arrive during the warmer spring and summer months as opposed to coming to Canada during the colder seasons. As such, prior to the pandemic, Canada tended to experience a 40 per cent increase in permanent residence landings in Q2 and Q3 of each year, before seeing landings decline during Q4 and Q1.
All three of these factors are set to influence new permanent residence landings this summer. As a conservative estimate, we can expect another 100,000 landings in Q3 2022. A more likely estimate is just like last year, we should see over 120,000 landings during this period. It is unlikely we will see an increase of 40 per cent or more due to seasonality, since IRCC processes applications in accordance with its Immigration Levels Plan. That is, processing many more applications that would result in a 40 per cent or more increase in landings this summer would result in Canada far exceeding its immigration levels target for this year.
Nonetheless, we should still see some seasonal aspect kick in. Assuming we see a 20 per cent increase in landings due to the warmer weather, we would have at least 130,000 new permanent residence landings between this July and September.
A major question mark is what share of these landings will be arriving from overseas. These figures are not published on the Canadian government’s data website. In any event, we should expect a greater share of overseas arrivals this summer now that fewer COVID-related obstacles are in place.
International students: If Q1 2022 growth rate continues, up to 270,000 could arrive this summer
Between July and September 2021, Canada welcomed 207,000 international students. This is a staggering figure and all the more impressive considering Canada’s pandemic-related travel restrictions at the time, such as that flights directly from India were banned last summer. India is by far the main source country of Canada’s foreign students, comprising 35 per cent of them. Canada tends to experience the highest level of international student arrivals during the third quarter of each year as most foreign students begin their studies at the start of Canada’s academic calendar, in late-August and early-September.
In the first quarter of 2022, Canada welcomed nearly 90,000 international students. This represents a 30 per cent increase compared to Q1 2021, and an over 50 per cent increase compared to Q1 2019 (Q1 2020 data is not good for comparison’s sake since Canada’s international student numbers were negatively impacted by the onset of the pandemic).
Assuming the 30 per cent increase enjoyed by Canada during Q1 2022 continues into subsequent quarters, we could see as many as 270,000 international students arrive to Canada between July and September of this year.
Temporary foreign workers: Over 100,000 work permits likely to be issued in Q3
Canada has two categories of temporary foreign workers. Those welcomed to address labour shortages are done so under what is called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). The TFWP comprises the minority of Canada’s work permit holders. The majority are welcomed under the International Mobility Program (IMP), which sees work permits issued for a host of economic, social, and cultural purposes.
In Q1 2022, Canada welcomed about 28,000 people under the TFWP. This is actually lower than the 33,000 welcomed in Q1 2021, but still over 20 per cent higher compared to Q1 2019. TFWP levels tend to spike in Q2 as agricultural workers arrive at the start of Canada’s harvest season. Levels in Q3 tend to be similar as Q1, meaning we can expect another 28,000 or so work permit holders to arrive under the TFWP between July and September.
Unlike the TFWP, which sees most new work permit holders arrive from overseas, the IMP sees a mix of its work permit holders arrive from overseas and a mix getting their work permits after already residing in Canada for some time. The main source of work permit holders under the IMP are international students who completed their programs in Canada and then go on to obtain what is called a Post-Graduation Work Permit. The Canadian government offers the PGWP as an opportunity for international graduates to obtain work experience, which increases their chances of applying for permanent residence.
Canada saw some 73,000 work permits issued under the IMP in the first quarter of this year. This is also down compared to the 91,000 that were issued in Q1 2021. Nevertheless, IMP numbers tend to be strongest in Q3, due to, for instance, many international graduates getting a PGWP following the completion of their programs (typically in Q2). As such, we should see somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 work permits issued under the IMP over the summer (assuming that there is also pent-up demand among the IMP that will see stronger work permit figures than usual this summer).
When combining TFWP and IMP projections, we could see between 110,000 and 120,000 new work permits issued between July and September.
Grand total: Over 500,000 people likely to land, as well as see their study and work permits take effect
All told, we could see 520,000 or more people getting permanent residence, as well as seeing their study and work permits take effect over the course of this summer. This would be a considerable figure in just a three-month period and would represent a remarkable turnaround following two difficult years in Canadian immigration.
By way of comparison, some 445,000 people got permanent residence, or saw their study or work permits take effect in Q3 2021.
It is important to note that projecting Canada’s newcomer figures is difficult for a variety of reasons. There is double-counting, and even triple-counting, since it is routine for newcomers to switch their visa status. For instance, an international student can begin with a study permit, switch to a PGWP, and then obtain permanent residence. If this all occurs in the same year, they would be counted three different times in IRCC’s statistics. More commonly, an individual may switch visa status twice in a given year (e.g., from a study permit to a PGWP, or from a work permit to permanent residence). There is also the issue of IRCC’s processing capacity. IRCC has proven the ability to process very high volumes of applications over the past year, but it also faces obstacles routinely which may slow it down There are also variables such as the desire of new international students to come to Canada or decide to study elsewhere, as well as the desire and ability of Canadian employers to hire foreign workers.
Despite these variables, there is a high likelihood of the aforementioned newcomer categories exceeding 500,000 people over the summer due to reasons such as pandemic travel restrictions being largely lifted as well as IRCC processing record-high levels of applications to get through its pandemic-induced backlogs.