Where are Canada’s foreign workers coming from?

New Canadian government data shows us where temporary foreign workers have been arriving from in 2020.

New statistics provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) offer fresh insights on where temporary foreign workers (TFWs) have been arriving to Canada from since the start of 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting Canada’s TFW levels but not to the same extent as permanent residents.

The data captures new work permits issued to TFWs who were eligible to work in Canada under either the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) or International Mobility Program (IMP).

The TFWP is the smaller of the two programs that admits foreign workers to Canada. It exists to address the immediate labour market needs of Canadian employers who are unable to find Canadian workers to fill a job vacancy. Its main use in recent years has been to admit seasonal agricultural workers into Canada, although it is also used by employers who have job vacancies in various other sectors and occupations.

The IMP exists to meet Canada’s broad economic and social needs. The majority of TFWs obtain a work permit under an IMP stream.

The streams vary from the Global Talent Stream, which exists to welcome technology workers to Canada, to International Experience Canada, which exists to strengthen Canada’s economic and social ties with many of its peer countries, to the Post-Graduation Work Permit, which exists to provide international students with the Canadian experience they often need to become eligible for permanent residence.

TFWP: Down 18 per cent compared with 2019

Between January and April of 2020, Canada issued just over 33,000 work permits under the TFWP. The top 5 source countries were Mexico, Jamaica, India, Guatemala, and the Philippines. Mexicans accounted for 41 per cent of all these TFWs.

Some 66 per cent of the 33,000 work permits were issued to agricultural workers.

Total TFWP arrivals are down 18 per cent compared with the same period last year which is almost certainly a function of the COVID-19 pandemic.

IMP: Down 16 per cent

Over 76,000 work permits were issued under the IMP, with 27,000 (36 per cent) going to Indian nationals. Rounding out the top 5 source countries are France, China, the U.S., and the U.K.. Brazil and South Korea ranked closely behind.

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) remains the leading stream of work permits obtained under the IMP. It accounted for some 35 per cent of all IMP work permits issued at the start of 2020. This figure is even larger when you account for the work permits issued to the spouses of PGWP holders.

The PGWP is highly coveted among international students because they can gain professional work experience in Canada, and use that experience to strengthen their immigration applications. Given that Indians are the leading source of Canada’s international students, it comes as no surprise they are also the leading source of work permit holders under the IMP.

Overall, total work permits issued under the IMP are down 16 per cent compared with the first four months of 2019.

Outlook for the rest of 2020

COVID-19 will continue to impact Canada’s permanent and temporary resident numbers over the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, Canada’s TFW numbers will be less impacted by the pandemic than permanent residents. Reasons for this include that TFWs are largely exempt from Canada’s travel restrictions, and many of the individuals who will eventually obtain new work permits in 2020 are already in Canada (e.g., international students who will get a PGWP).

IRCC continues to stress they are processing new work permit applications submitted by TFWs and employers. TFWs currently outside of Canada will be able to enter the country as long as they are travelling to Canada for non-optional reasons.

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