It is widely known and acknowledged that Canada is the most open country in the world that readily accepts immigration from all over the globe. Canada is known for its welcoming and healthy attitude towards immigration like no other westernized nation in the world. This attitude comes from a host of decisions that led to the decentralization of immigration to Canada.
What Does Decentralization of Immigration Mean Compared to Other Westernized Countries?
Unlike countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, Immigration is centralized and only to the federal government. In Canada, there are over 100 immigration pathways managed by federal and provincial governments, municipalities and employers.
The rest of the world sees immigration as a nation-building function and centralizes its operations to the federal government, but Canada gives the freedom to all levels of the community to decide who settles across the country. This is the reason why Canada is the only country with the highest public support for its immigration policies. While its system is nowhere near perfect, it is designed to help and encourage foreign nationals from all walks of life to settle here.
How Did the Canadian Immigration System Get Decentralized?
This process was first started by the largest labor organization in Canada in 2017. The head of this organization held a meeting with the then immigration minister, Ahmed Hussein, to discuss the issue of growing underground workforces in the construction industry. It was coming to light that there were thousands of foreign workers employed as carpenters, concrete finishers, etc without proper work authorization.
Many came to Canada as temporary workers but failed to renew their work permits, some were international students on study permits, while others were tourists on visitor visas that never returned. A common outcome for these situations was the deportation of these foreign workers.
However, Canada faces a unique problem of an aging demographic and was expecting a boom of retirement in that sector that would lead to shortages of labor for the construction industry.
This led to the solution of having these foreign workers be set on the path towards Canadian citizenship. It was the first time in Canadian history that unions were given the responsibility of nominating applicants for permanent residence. This is one of the few ways Canada has used innovative immigration policies to deal with its unique problems.
Other countries like New Zealand and Australia have similar decentralized immigration policies. However, they can not compare to Canada’s level of open immigration policies that include specialized programs for butchers, mushroom harvesters, greenhouse workers, long-haul truck drivers, international graduates who want to set up their own business and other specific groups. It is also still continuously evolving!
How Did Quebec’s Cultural and Regional Self-Interest Spark Further Canadian Immigration Innovation?
Historically, this system began in 1991 when, after years of lobbying, Quebec won the right to retain its autonomy over nominating permanent residents for its province. This right was granted so that Quebec could retain its unique identity of being a predominantly French-speaking province.
The federal government gave Quebec the right to set up its immigration system and decide the number of individuals that will be allowed to enter annually. However, the federal government is still responsible for family sponsorship and refugee immigration. They will also ensure that all immigrants nominated by Quebec pass the admissibility tests.
This started a chain reaction where all the other provinces and territories wanted some level of control over their immigration policies. And since according to the constitution, immigration is explicitly a shared jurisdiction under Section 95, these demands couldn’t be ignored.
How Did the Creation of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) Revolutionize Canadian Immigration?
This gradually led to the creation of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) in 1996, where each province and territory would run its own separate version of the PNP. With the exception of Quebec Immigration and the newest territory, Nunavut. These programs would introduce various immigration streams tailored to the needs and requirements of the labor market of a particular province or territory. Eventually, these programs would emerge as an easier pathway for foreign nationals to obtain their Canadian permanent residency.
At first, everyone was skeptical about the efficiency of these programs as it was believed that provinces and other post-secondary institutions did not have a national interest as their primary focus. It was also worrying that these programs would lead to immigrants heading directly to provinces that already have established multi-ethnic communities.
Initially, these fears weren’t unbiased as it was observed that immigrants preferred settling down in Toronto (Ontario), Montreal (Quebec), and Vancouver (British Columbia) more which led to a shortage in other provinces. Many that chose to settle in other provinces rarely stayed there for long.
In 2013, only 28% of immigrants nominated by Prince Edward Island (PEI) in 2008 continued to reside there. This led to the problem of provinces being unable to retain their immigrants leading to overpopulation in select cities and underpopulation in others.
How Did Express Entry Help Immigration to Canada?
In January 2015, the Canadian government launched the Express Entry online system that included the three main federal economic immigration programs that funnels into Express Entry:
- Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP),
- Federal Skilled Trade Program (FSTP) and
- Canadian Experience Class (CEC)
All applications to these three programs were to be managed by the online Express Entry system which ranked their profiles based on the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS).
The Express Entry system was massively successful by increasing the flexibility in the nomination process of the applicants and meeting each regional labour market demands for skill shortages.