Canada’s immigration minister restated his promise to improve processing times for work permits during meetings with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
Last week, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the committee that Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will use its $85 million budget to reduce processing times that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The minister had previously announced that service standards for work permits, study permits, proof of citizenship, and permanent residence card renewals would return to normal by the end of 2022.
The IRCC webpage estimates processing times for work permits submitted from most countries are currently not meeting the processing standard. Nonetheless, IRCC is processing a higher level of work permits. In 2021, Canada issued some 420,000 under the International Mobility Program (IMP) and Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). In 2019, the total was about 405,000.
The TFWP allows Canadian employers to hire foreign nationals to fill labour shortages in Canada. The IMP promotes Canada’s broad economic, social, and cultural interests.
The processing standard for work permits submitted outside of Canada is 60 days, except for International Experience Canada (IEC) work permits, which are supposed to be processed in 56 days. Work permit extensions submitted in Canada have a processing standard of 120 days. Before the pandemic, IRCC met these standards more than 87 per cent of the time. Official data on how often IRCC met its service standards in 2020-2021 have not yet been released.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, IRCC operations around the world halted operations. The result eventually led to a backlog in applications. As of February 1, IRCC has more than 85,000 work permit applications in its inventory.
IRCC Assistant Deputy Minister Daniel Mills was also at the committee meeting. Mills said in French that the $85 million budget will not improve processing times for permanent residents, but it will allow IRCC to develop tools such as electronic application systems and online application trackers. Minister Fraser had previously noted that processing for new spousal sponsorship applications has returned to the one-year standard.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is a group of Canadian politicians from major political parties that conduct studies and offer policy recommendations on how to improve the immigration system.
The importance of fast work permit processing
Canada had nearly 900,000 job openings this past November, according to the latest job vacancies report. Immigration has long been touted as a strategy to support labour market growth in Canada.
Since employers in certain industries have long demonstrated that there is a consistent need for foreign talent, there are some work permits that have expedited processes for workers in certain sectors. The Global Talent Stream, for example, has a processing standard of 10 business days. It is meant for employers in the tech sector to onboard foreign talent.
The province of Quebec offers a list of occupations that exempt the employer from the advertising requirement of the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process. Although they still need an LMIA for these positions, they can get one much faster without having to advertise a job opening.
The LMIA is required for the hiring of some foreign nationals. It is a labour market test that the Canadian government may require to demonstrate a worker in Canada is unavailable to do the job. Canada offers fast-tracked LMIA processing for the GTS and Quebec facilitated occupations list.
In 2021, about one-quarter of work permits granted required an LMIA. The remaining 75 per cent did not require an LMIA.
Staying in Canada
If a worker applies to extend their status before their work permit expires, they can stay in Canada on maintained status until IRCC makes a decision. They are allowed to work under the same conditions as their work permit, as long as they stay in Canada while waiting. The maintained status could also apply to study permit holders and visitors applying to extend their temporary status.
If the worker applies for permanent residence, they may be able to get a Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP), which will allow them to stay in Canada until their application is processed.