Last Updated on December 29, 2021
The year 2021 is likely to go down as one of the most remarkable in the history of Canada immigration.
Despite international travel and border restrictions due to a lingering COVID-19 pandemic, Ottawa reached its target of 401,000 new permanent residents, a feat that did not look possible with well over half the year gone.
But significant developments including a mammoth Express Entry draw in February and the launch of the TR to PR Pathway meant monthly permanent resident arrivals hit new heights in the latter part of the year, to well over 45,000 newcomers.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has effectively changed the whole system in response to the pandemic. Canada immigration became a two-step process in 2021, where work permit and study permit holders already in the country were able to obtain permanent residence.
The negative impact on the system has been increased processing times, with an estimated 1.8 million permanent residence, temporary residence and citizenship applications in the system.
Signs throughout the year were that the coronavirus pandemic was on the way out, with many travel restrictions lifted in August and September. But December has seen a resurgence of cases in Canada and around the world because of the emergence of the Omicron variant.
As the year ends, federal and provincial governments are once again imposing restrictions in the grip of a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, every Canadian province is reporting chronic labour shortages, as businesses struggle to find the staff to aid their pandemic recovery. This represents an important opportunity for immigrants.
International travel and Canada-U.S. border restrictions remained in place for the bulk of 2021. Fully vaccinated travellers from the U.S. were allowed to cross the border as of early August, while international travellers with two doses of the vaccine were allowed in from early September.
Also in August, Canada finally began to allow in those who have Confirmation of Permanent Residence documents issued after March 2020. These were people who had all but complete the immigration process, delayed at the final hurdle by coronavirus restrictions.
From January 15, 2022, Canada is requiring groups of travellers previously covered by exemptions to be fully vaccinated when entering the country.
Those groups are:
- Those travelling to reunite with family.
- International students aged 18 and older.
- Those with a valid work permit, including most temporary foreign workers (not those working in agriculture and food processing).
- Essential service providers, including truck drivers.
- Professional and amateur athletes.
After January 15 unvaccinated or partially vaccinated travellers can only enter Canada if they are covered by an exemption.
Exemptions apply to:
- New permanent residents.
- Agricultural and food processing workers.
- Marine crew members.
- Those entering on compassionate grounds.
- Resettling refugees.
- Some children under the age of 18.
Exempt unvaccinated travellers will continue to be subject to testing, quarantine, and other entry requirements.
Canada currently recognises the following vaccines, in line with the World Health Organisation list:
- Johnson & Johnson
Canada has also loosened requirements for negative PCR tests for travel and short trips, but those were reimposed in December due to fears over the spread of Omicron.
Canada immigration and COVID-19 remains an extremely fluid situation, with governments waiting to see data on whether the Omicron variant, despite spreading much faster than previous variants, is a less severe form of the virus.
Canada’s permanent resident numbers for 2021 are nothing short of remarkable.
After the first six months of the years, it looked extremely unlikely that Ottawa would hits its 401,000 target, needing multiple consecutive record months to do so.
But that was exactly what happened. Ottawa announced just before Christmas that Canada had hit its 401,000 target, although official figures are currently only available until the end of October.
After 10 months of 2021, Canada welcomed 313,700 new permanent residents, compared to 158,365 in the same period of 2020.
Permanent Residence in 2021: Read More
One of the main reasons Canada has been able to hit its 2021 target is the TR to PR Pathway, aiming to accept applications from 90,000 temporary foreign workers and international graduates already in the country.
The applications were allocated as follows:
- 20,000 applications for temporary workers in health care;
- 30,000 applications for temporary workers in other selected essential occupations, and;
- 40,000 applications for international students who graduated from an eligible Canadian institution.
The pathway also accepted an uncapped number of applications from francophone candidates in each of the three categories.
When the pathway closed on November 5, Canada had received a combined 84,177 applications through all the categories.
TR to PR Pathway: Read More
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It was a remarkable year on many levels for Canada’s flagship Express Entry system.
A new record for the most Invitations to Apply (ITAs) in a calendar year was set at 114,431, eclipsing the 2020 total of 107,350.
Before these two years, the record was the 89,800 issued in 2018.
The year 2021 also saw IRCC do something it has never done before.
One Saturday in February, Canada issued ITAs to 27,332 Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates, with a minimum Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score of 75.
It was easily the largest draw and lowest CRS score in history, as IRCC showed its hand on how it planned to meet its immigration target for 2021.
In another first, IRCC has not conducted a single all-program Express Entry draw during 2021, instead preferring to conduct program-specific draws aimed at CEC and Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates. Not a single invitation was issued to a Federal Skilled Worker candidate this year.
This effectively switched Canada to a two-step immigration system, with economic candidates needing to be in the country and working first before making the transition to permanent residence.
As processing backlogs grew in the second half of the year, IRCC then switch to PNP draws only. Since September 14, only PNP candidates have received Express Entry invitations.
It is not known when CEC or all-program draws will resume, with IRCC prioritising the clearing of the backlog.
Express Entry in 2021: Read More
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It was a busy year for Quebec immigration, with the francophone province dealing with a chronic labour shortage and a provincial government gradually accepting it needs to increase (not decrease) immigration.
After immigration fell to just over 25,000 newcomers in 2020, Quebec introduced rebalancing measures to try and bring in more newcomers in 2021.
However, with the province unlikely to hit its 2021 target, it said in October that it would plan to welcome more than 70,000 newcomers in 2022 to make up the shortfall.
Quebec’s 2022 Immigration Levels Plan
|Results||Plan 2021||Forecast 2021||Plan 2022|
|– Skilled Workers||19,098||11,477||3,500||22,900||24,200||23,500||25,600||12,700||27,400||28,800|
|– Other Economic||644||189||100||600||800||0||100||0||600||800|
In the meantime, Quebec is trying to bring in as many temporary workers as it can.
The province has been one of the biggest users of the Global Talent Stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in 2021.
It also made it easier to hire temporary workers in a slew of occupations, and said it would pay up to $1,200 in lawyer fees for employers looking to hire temporary workers.
Throughout the year, Quebec also launched its new pilot immigration programs for food production workers, orderlies and tech workers to help industries with chronic labour shortages.
Through its Arrima Expression of Interest system, it introduced and new scoring system for profiles to allow it to target certain skillsets and occupations. Later in the year, Quebec conducted its first draws aimed at specific occupations using the EOI system.
The province was also embroiled in a dispute with Ottawa over processing times as a backlog of candidates with Quebec Selection Certificates (CSQs) built up with the IRCC.
Later in the year, Quebec also saw a change in immigration minister, with Jean Boulet taking on the role from Nadine Girault, who was advised to take time off due tohealth problems.
Quebec Immigration 2021: Read More
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British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program
After a year of conducting draws excluding certain occupations, British Columbia returned to almost normality in 2021.
While it returned to general draws for all occupations, it also conducted separate draws targeting two NOC codes: 0621 for Retail and Wholesale Trade Managers and 0631 for Restaurant and Food Service Managers. These were considered in high demand.
The province also took the step of making the BC PNP Tech Pilot a permanent program in 2021. B.C. was one of the first provinces to introduce tech-targeted draws, which have been highly successful.
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Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program
Ontario was another province to have a busy year on immigration, including launching a new Expression of Interest system.
The EOI system covered Ontario’s Employer Job Offer stream, plus its extremely popular streams for Masters and PhD Graduates, with several draws taking place and thousands of invitations issued.
Ontario also became the first province to try to make it easier for immigrants in regulated professions to find employment, by ending the need for Canadian work experience, as well as softening other requirements.
Summary of Ontario NOIs/ITAs 2021
|Employer Job Offer: Foreign Worker Stream||2,866|
|Employer Job Offer: International Student Stream||2,290|
|Employer Job Offer: In-Demand Skills||238|
|Masters Graduate Stream Draws 2021||1,834|
|PhD Graduate Stream Draws 2021||204|
|Human Capital Priorities Stream (HCP)||4,851|
|French Speaking Skilled Worker Stream (FSSW)||651|
|Skilled Trades Stream (ST)||1,324|
Ontario officials also repeated calls for its nomination allocation through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) to be double in 2022.
Later in the year, the province announced a new drive to attract $20 million investment through its existing Entrepreneur Stream.
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Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program
Manitoba, which operates Canada’s oldest provincial nominee program, had a quiet year on the immigration front in terms of program developments.
However, the provincial government did set up a new immigration department with the aim of boosting the numbers of newcomers to the province.
Regular draws have continued throughout the year under the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program (MPNP).
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Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program
The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program had a quiet year, before a flurry of activity in November and December.
First, it launched a new Hard-to-Fill Skills Pilot targeting 23 low-skilled and entry-level occupations in sectors including health, manufacturing, agriculture, ag-tech, construction, hospitality and retail.
Saskatchewan Hard-To-Fill Skills Pilot: Eligible Occupations
|3413||Nurse aides, orderlies, and patient service associates|
|3414||Other assisting occupations in support of health services|
|4412||Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations|
|7611||Construction trades helpers and labourers|
|7521||Heavy equipment operators (except crane)|
|9536||Industrial painters, coaters and metal finishing process operators|
|9526||Mechanical assemblers and inspectors|
|9416||Metalworking and forging machine operators|
|9612||Labourers in metal fabrication|
|9431||Sawmill machine operators|
|9617||Labourers in food and beverage processing|
|9461||Process control and machine operators, food and beverage processing|
|1521||Shippers and receivers|
|9619||Other labourers in processing, manufacturing and utilities|
|6513||Food and beverage servers|
|6525||Hotel front desk clerk|
|6731||Light duty cleaners|
|6711||Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations|
|6733||Janitors, caretakers and building superintendents|
|7511||Transport truck drivers|
|8431||General farm workers|
Then, it launched a new International Healthcare Worker EOI Pool, design to match qualified newcomers to health jobs in Saskatchewan.
Candidates matched with a job can then apply for immigration from the SINP’s International Skilled Worker: Employment Offer sub-category or the Hard-to-Fill Skills Pilot.
International Healthcare Worker EOI: Eligible Occupations
|1252||Health Information Management Practitioner|
|3012||Registered Nurse and Registered Psychiatric Nurse|
|3141||Audiologist and Speech Language Pathologist|
|3211||Combined Laboratory & X‐Ray Technologist, Clinical Genetics Technologist, and Medical Laboratory Technologist|
|3212||Medical laboratory technicians and pathologists’ assistants|
|3214||Respiratory Therapists, Cardiopulmonary Function Technologist, Perfusionist|
|3215||Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist, Medical Radiation Technologist, Nuclear Medicine Technologist|
|3216||Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer, Diagnostic Medical Sonographer|
|3217||Cardiology Technologist and Cardiovascular Technologist, Electroneurophysiology Technologist|
|3223||Dental technologists, technicians and laboratory assistants|
|3233||Licensed Practical Nurse|
|3234||Emergency Medical Technician|
|3237||Other technical occupations in therapy and assessment|
|3413||Continuing Care Assistant|
|4151||Psychologist (Masters and PhD)|
The province has also continued to conduct regular draws throughout the year.
SINP: Key Articles and Pages
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Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program
Alberta announced in December that it had reached its nomination allocation of 6,250 through the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program.
Alberta was the only province to announce it was limiting immigration in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, regular draws returned in 2021, with CRS scores as low as 300 through Alberta Express Entry.
The province also moved to ease requirements for its two international graduate entrepreneur streams later in the year.
AINP: Key Articles and Pages
Nova Scotia Nominee Program
Nova Scotia earned the feather in its cap of one of its MPs becoming the new Canada immigration minister in 2021.
Sean Fraser took over from Marco Mendicino following the October election victory for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
In terms of the Nova Scotia Nominee Program, the province has been active, and not just in terms of regular draws.
It launched a new International Graduates in Demand stream in July, initially targeting nurse aides, orderlies and early childhood educators.
It then twice added occupations to its Occupations In-Demand stream, firstly heavy equipment operators and then restaurant workers.
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New Brunswick Provincial Nominee Program
New Brunswick was another of the smaller, lower-immigration provinces to have an active year in 2021.
After introducing a specific pathway for truck drivers in late 2020, it moved to reduce the work experience requirement in 2021.
It then moved to create a new route to permanent residence for international graduates doing lower-skilled jobs, such as fruit pickers, cleaners and oil field workers.
In August it launched a new pilot program for international graduates from four private career colleges in New Brunswick.
The program allows the graduates to work and live in the province while they wait for permanent residency.
Targeted occupations for this pilot include:
- social and community service workers;
- early childhood educators and assistants;
- educational assistants;
- health-care aides;
- home support workers;
- licensed practical nurses;
- paramedics and related occupations;
- medical laboratory technologists;
- medical laboratory technicians and pathologists’ assistants;
- medical administrative assistants;
- computer programmers and interactive media developers;
- web designers and developers;
- computer network technicians;
- user support technicians;
- accounting technicians and bookkeepers;
- payroll clerks;
- shippers and receivers;
- supply chain and logistics supervisors; and
- production logistics co-ordinators.
NBPNP: Key Articles and Pages
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Prince Edward Island Provincial Nomination Program
Prince Edward Island has had the quietest of years on the immigration front, with no program changes.
Regular draws continued through the province’s Labour Impact, Express Entry and Business Impact streams.
PEI PNP: Key Articles and Pages
Newfoundland & Labrador Provincial Nominee Program
Newfoundland & Labrador made some important PNP changes in 2021.
First it moved to create a new program to match immigrants to available jobs in the province.
Under the new program, employers are able to fill full-time jobs and newcomers can find work more easily.
Later in the year, the province also enhanced the healthcare available to international students, allowing them to stay covered after graduation so they can look for jobs.
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Citizenship applications were among those mired in Canada’s backlog during 2021.
During the year, IRCC moved the citizenship application process online in another move towards a fully digital application system.
Canada also boosted the number of online citizenship tests to try and clear a backlog that had built up during COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, the citizenship test could only be done in person.
In his mandate letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his aim of making the citizenship application process free.
Canada’s leader outlined the same plan after the previous election, although the focus has been elsewhere due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Temporary workers enjoyed a major year in 2021, and during the whole COVID-19 pandemic, given that, along with international students, they became the major source of new permanent residents to Canada.
The move under Express Entry to focus on CEC and PNP candidates meant the majority of ITAs went to candidates already working in Canada.
Furthermore, the TR to PR Pathway created another opportunity for temporary workers to make the transition to permanent residence.
During the pandemic, temporary workers with job offers were among the only group exempt from travel restrictions.
With Canada effectively switching to a two-step immigration system in 2021, temporary workers became the focus as permanent residence candidates.
Quebec also introduced a number of changes to attract more temporary workers, with the francophone province, as well as the rest of Canada,embroiled in a chronic labour shortage.
Temporary Workers in 2021: Read More
Canada continued to do everything it could to help international students and graduates impacted by the pandemic during 2021.
Early in the year, then-Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a new Open Work Permit for candidates with expired Post-Graduation Work Permits to help them gain the experience they needed to qualify for permanent residence.
Canada also doubled the number of countries qualifying for the Student Direct Stream, a fast-track Study Permit program.
Then, later in the year, Canada extended the period for which the online studies counted towards the length of a PGWP for international students unable to travel because of the pandemic. Under normal circumstances, online studies do not count towards the length of the PGWP.
Much like temporary workers, international students and graduates were also the focus of permanent residence programs in 2021, including the TR to PR Pathway and Express Entry.
The current federal government has always said it coveted international students as new permanent residents of Canada, and during the pandemic it has backed that up with some creative policy making.
International Students in 2021: Read More
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The future of Canada immigration remains uncertain in 2022, with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 creating havoc around the world.
Canada plans to welcome 411,000 newcomers next year, meaning it must redouble its efforts after a record 2021.
The first job in 2022 is to clear the backlog that is driving up processing times and causing uncertainty for immigration candidates.
Only after that can a return to normal Express Entry draws be expected, although again that relies on Canada’s ability to cope with the pandemic.
Canada’s 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan
|Overall Planned Permanent Resident Admissions||401,000||411,000||421,000|
|Economic||Federal High Skilled||108,500||110,500||113,750|
|Economic Pilots: Caregivers; Agri-Food Pilot; Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot||8,500||10,000||10,250|
|Atlantic Immigration Pilot||6,000||6,250||6,500|
|Provincial Nominee Program||80,800||81,500||83,000|
|Quebec Skilled Workers and Business||See the Quebec immigration plan||To be determined||To be determined|
|Family||Spouses, Partners and Children||80,000||80,000||81,000|
|Parents and Grandparents||23,500||23,500||23,500|
|Refugees and Protected Persons||Protected Persons in Canada and Dependents Abroad||23,500||24,500||25,000|
|Resettled Refugees – Government-Assisted||12,500||12,500||12,500|
|Resettled Refugees – Privately Sponsored||22,500||22,500||22,500|
|Resettled Refugees – Blended Visa Office-Referred||1,000||1,000||1,000|
|Total Refugees and Protected Persons||59,500||60,500||61,000|
|Humanitarian and Other||Total Humanitarian and Other||5,500||5,500||6,000|
Trudeau laid out his policy priorities for Immigration Minister Fraser as part of a new round of mandate letters following the recent Liberal election victory.
Trudeau calls for action on economic immigration, temporary workers, processing times, family reunification, citizenship, francophone immigration and refugees.
The broad main statement of the letter called on Fraser to ‘prioritize ongoing work to strengthen Canada’s immigration and refugee system, including bringing in more newcomers to all regions of Canada who will support Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It goes on to urge action to help Afghans and human rights defenders, also requesting that Fraser “continue to strengthen family reunification and reduce application processing times, especially those impacted by COVID-19.”
Canada’s National Occupational Classification overhaul is set to be implemented later in 2022. The NOC will move from a four-digit number to categorize each occupation using a five-digit code.
Within the new five-digit code, the Canadian government will break down the level of skill of each occupation, now called the Skill Levels, into six categories from the current four to better reflect the level of Training, Education, Experience and Responsibilities (TEER) of each job.
Canada has also promised to revamp economic immigration programs under Express Entry next year. One way it could do this would be to introduce NOC occupation-specific Express Entry draws.
Whatever happens, it is clear Canada is in for an active year on the immigration file.