A displaced talent strategy in Canada’s federal party platforms

Photo: Ishmael n. Daro from Toronto, Canada, CC BY 2.0

Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage its full range of immigration options to support displaced talent. We didn’t have the policy tools or supporting infrastructure in place during past humanitarian security crises, like the displacement unfolding from Afghanistan’s borders, that have moved Canadians to contribute. But we do now. 

Canada has pioneered efforts to open skilled visas to applicants living in refugee circumstances under the Economic Mobility Pathways Project (EMPP). The pilot helps applicants overcome some of the displacement-related barriers they might face despite their skills and potential, like an expired passport with no safe or affordable way to renew it, and little to no savings to demonstrate their ability to settle. Now, when someone is compelled to leave their country in search of safety, their skills can open doors to Canada that were firmly closed before for no good reason. 

As Canadians of all political stripes search for ways to support Afghans and other displaced people worldwide, Canada’s political parties should share how their future governments would continue and expand the use of skilled visas by talented candidates in displacement – and by the teams across Canada who are eager to hire them. 

We outline below the essential commitments to signal a scalable and inclusive approach to Canada’s displaced talent strategy. 

A commitment to continue Canada’s pioneering efforts to attract displaced talent by: 

  • Expanding access to skilled immigration pathways for applicants living in refugee circumstances, which is a solution to both skills shortages in Canada and displacement worldwide, as an additional and complementary mobility option to humanitarian and resettlement pathways. This solution leverages the immense potential within refugee populations as well as the demand for international talent and the availability of skilled visa pathways. It advances equitable access to opportunities that are available to talent from other backgrounds and circumstances. It does all this while preserving and growing the resettlement program for those most in need. 
  • Adapting work permit criteria to enable access by displaced applicants. Specifically, removing the requirement that applicants living in refugee circumstances demonstrate their ability and willingness to leave Canada, and instead asking them to demonstrate their ability to stay through a transition plan to permanent residence. Work permits are the swiftest and most common route to Canada for international talent, and open additional permanent residence options that require in-Canada work experience. Access to work permits is essential to scale and equity of access, because employers require fast and predictable timelines when they hire international talent.
  • Applying open and flexible eligibility criteria with respect to applicants, so that lengthy refugee determinations and other red tape do not impede recruitment efforts, and with respect to the skilled visa pathways within scope of the pilot. People who are displaced outside their home country and who are in need of international protection should be included, regardless of whether they have yet had an official Refugee Status Determination. All skilled visa pathways should be within scope as a matter of principle and practicality, because displaced talent belongs across the full breadth of the economic stream. 
  • Working with stakeholders to continuously improve. This includes working with the business community, provinces and territories, supporting NGOs, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to embed further flexibility across skilled visa programs that aims to overcome displacement-related barriers for otherwise qualified applicants. These barriers may include administrative, documentary, and financial rules that have nothing to do with skills and potential. 
  • Setting ambitious targets instead of quotas or caps for displaced talent applicants, to enable predictability, scale, and mainstreaming of access by this immense talent pool. 

We’ve gathered the platform commitments in this field by the main parties. We’ll publish updates as new commitments are announced. 

Bloc Québécois:

Skilled immigration – general:

  • Transfer the control of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to Quebec.
  • Reduce processing delays of immigration applications.

EMPP/Skilled immigration – displaced talent:

  • No related commitments at this time.

Conservative Party: 

Skilled immigration – general:

  • Prioritize and streamline immigration that would strengthen the health system including new measures to attract healthcare workers, especially in priority areas and regions. 
  • Rework the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to better align it with domestic needs and to protect workers and create a trusted employer system to prevent companies from continuously re-applying to the program. 
  • Establish clear standards and timelines for Labour Market Impact Assessment processes, including options for fee-based expedited visas when necessary. 
  • Establish a path to permanence for those who enter Canada as lower-skilled workers by allowing employers to sponsor applications for permanent residence. 

EMPP/Skilled immigration – displaced talent:

  • EMPP is not referenced but the platform highlights the importance of filling critical gaps and robustly growing the economy with bold and necessary solutions using our immigration system to meet this objective.

Green Party: 

Skilled immigration – general:

  • Bring more skilled workers and address current inequalities within the existing systems in Canada.
  • Introduce exceptions for permanent residency and citizenship application costs based on household income.
  • Introduce lower barrier, more accessible pathways to permanent residency for temporeign foreign and frontline workers.
  • Develop safe strategies for temporary foreign workers and whistle blowers to report abusive employers without losing their status.

EMPP/Skilled immigration – displaced talent:

  • No related commitments at this time.

Liberal Party: 

Skilled immigration – general:

  • Reform economic immigration programs to expand pathways to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers and former international students through the Express Entry system.
  • Establish a Trusted Employer system to streamline the application process for Canadian companies hiring temporary foreign workers to fill labour shortages that cannot be filled by Canadian workers.
  • Grow and improve the Global Talent Stream program by simplifying permit renewals, upholding the 2-week processing time, and establishing an employer hotline, to allow Canadian companies to attract and hire highly-skilled workers.
  • Continue to work with provinces, territories, and regulatory bodies to improve foreign credential recognition.

EMPP/Skilled immigration – displaced talent:

  • Build on theEMPP and work with employers and communities across Canada to welcome 2,000 skilled refugees to fill labour shortages in in-demand sectors such as healthcare.

New Democratic Party (NDP): 

Skilled immigration – general:

  • Ensure that immigration policies and levels meet Canada’s labour force needs and recognize people’s experiences, contributions, and ties to Canada. 
  • Work with the provinces to address gaps in settlement services and improve foreign credential recognition. 
  • Explore pathways to permanent residence for temporary foreign workers

EMPP/Skilled immigration – displaced talent:

  • No related commitments at this time. 

Contact TalentLift for insights on developing a displaced talent strategy. 

Reimagining relocation to Canada, where access depends on potential and not privilege

A software developer landed in Toronto in March 2019, greeted by his new team members from a tech firm in Kitchener. Months later a chef arrived who would start working in Mississauga, and next came an engineer headed for Niagara Falls. 

In a few more months, a healthcare employer from Pictou County would return from a recruitment mission overseas having made job offers to 13 nurses. A manufacturer from Collingwood did the same, returning after hiring 11 engineers. 

All these stories of recruitment and relocation are ordinary, except that each new employee was someone living as a refugee. Getting a job and relocating from displacement is, still, extraordinary. Refugees were largely locked out of skilled immigration to countries like Canada until very recently. 

When conflict or other danger overturns a person’s life and they seek safety on the other side of a border, opportunity becomes scarce. Work permits are rare or prohibited for people living as refugees, forcing many to work illegally with poor pay and protection. This is true across every profession, from mechanics, nurses, and software developers to cooks and engineers. Career plans are upended. Travel to a better, more stable life in another country is nearly impossible through regular immigration routes, so families face choices like staying put in survival mode or risking a dangerous journey by land or sea. 

The primary immigration system available to people living as refugees, humanitarian resettlement, is a vital but unfathomable long shot. Programs are oversubscribed, and the limited number of opportunities available globally means that it works for less than 1% of the world’s 26 million people in need of a permanent, safe home.

Another skilled immigration system exists for millions of people who move around the world each year for work. If you’re a Canadian citizen reading this, and you get a job in Australia or in Spain, there’s a good chance you could move there in mere months. The reason skilled immigration doesn’t work for refugees is because it wasn’t built for them. These pathways often require a valid passport, without considering how someone with an expired passport might apply. It can require money in a bank account, overlooking people who can’t legally open one. Such barriers have unfairly kept refugees out of the global job market.

Against these odds, 29 people living as refugees have relocated for work to Canada under the pilot Economic Mobility Pathways Project, and dozens of others are close behind them. Pioneering work by Canadian federal, provincial and territorial governments, employers, civil society groups like Talent Beyond Boundaries and RefugePoint, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reimagined Canada’s skilled immigration system as an opportunity for talented refugees too. The success seen so far led Canada to announce last June an expansion of the pilot to support 500 principal applicants and their families to move as skilled immigrants over two years.

TalentLift emerged to meet this moment and grow opportunities for many more talented candidates and the employers and communities who welcome them. We envision a world where talented people living as refugees can compete for jobs and skilled visas; where access depends on potential and not the privilege of living without fear.

TalentLift is a Canadian non-profit talent sourcing partner. We are the first social enterprise of our kind in Canada to offer in-house recruitment, visa and settlement coordination services. We support employers to hire and relocate talent from within refugee and displaced populations to fill skills shortages – enabling refugees along with their families to lift to their potential, secure their futures and leave displacement behind. We partner with refugee-serving organizations around the world working with diverse and underserved populations. 

Each year, Canada welcomes among the world’s highest per capita levels of permanent immigrants as an essential source of creativity and vitality. In 2019, Canada issued more than 404,000 work permits to applicants in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program, many of whom become permanent residents. If refugees could access even 1% of work permits to Canada with a pathway to permanence, that would be over 4,000 people moving each year for work and secure futures.

TalentLift is built on our years of work with organizations implementing the Economic Mobility Pathways Project. We know the potential of this solution for employers and those they hire.

Employers across Canada can find immensely talented new team members while deepening their own missions to advance inclusion and enrich communities. 

Individuals like Anas, Mokhles and Nawar can use their skills to relocate out of refugee circumstances. They can reach their potential and contribute in places where they can plan their futures, where their kids can go to school and thrive. 

More inclusive relocation to Canada is possible, and transformative.  

Ways to get involved: