Ontario breaks new ground with refugee-inclusive design in skilled immigration system

Ontario recently updated its intake system for prospective skilled immigrants with a design tweak that enables the province to conduct targeted draws for applicants who are both skilled and living in refugee circumstances. It may be the first example of refugee-inclusive design in the development of a Canadian skilled immigration system. 

The new “expression of interest” (EOI) system in the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program, used to nominate people who have skills needed by the Ontario economy, asks all applicants to register a profile to determine eligibility and a points score. Those who meet the human capital and other eligibility requirements of a provincial nominee program, and who earn a competitive points score, receive an invitation to apply. What differentiates Ontario’s EOI system from others across provincial and federal jurisdictions is that it enables applicants to self-identify as someone living in refugee circumstances, who is supported under Canada’s pilot Economic Mobility Pathways Project. The new feature will be released pending further discussion between Ontario and the federal government on overall nomination allocation, but it is ready to launch and signals a new and more inclusive era in talent attraction.

For decades, Canada’s skilled immigration systems were unavailable to the talent present within refugee populations. Requirements across skilled visa pathways have systematically excluded applicants in displacement despite their skills and experience. For example, the requirement to have a valid passport excludes people who have expired passports, with no safe or affordable way to renew them from their home country governments; and the requirement to hold liquid funds in a bank account excludes those with little to no savings, who might also be disenfranchised from banking in host countries where they live. 

Canadian federal, provincial and territorial governments set out to better understand the barriers facing talented refugees to existing skilled immigration pathways under the Economic Mobility Pathways Project. Launched in 2018, the pilot was part of Canada’s effort alongside the international community to explore more safe and legal immigration pathways available to the now more than 26 million people living as refugees around the world. 

Ontario, an inaugural member of the pilot and home to the first person who arrived under it, supported the nominations of five candidates and their families who have relocated from displacement for in-demand work across the province in tech, the skilled trades, and hospitality. Many more candidates are in a visa processing pipeline who hold Ontario nominations. These pilot efforts confirmed beyond a doubt that there are immensely talented people living as refugees whose skills are in-demand in Ontario, and who can qualify for skilled visas as long as unfair barriers – mostly administrative – are removed.

Ontario has deepened its leadership in this pioneering work through the new EOI system. In our view, this system has the potential to do several things as it is trialled and refined. It could:  

  • Enable targeted draws to reflect Ontario’s priority to include and attract talent from within refugee populations.
  • Waive certain requirements that disproportionately impact the eligibility of these applicants.
  • Award alternative points for adaptability due to refugee circumstances – perseverance, creativity, reinvention – that offset points awarded for assets refugees cannot yet obtain like Canadian study and work experience.

Through any of these pursuits, Ontario advances the vision that talent lives within refugee populations, and that companies and communities across the province benefit from deliberately including and attracting it. Ontario has created a promising model for governments in Canada and worldwide to follow. 

Ways to get involved: 

TalentLift pioneers visa services for displaced talent as a Civil Society Organization with the Law Society of Ontario

TalentLift supports Canadian employers to find and relocate talent from within refugee populations, and is the first non-profit talent agency of its kind to offer clients in-house visa services. We achieved registration as a Civil Society Organization with the Law Society of Ontario this month.  

The Law Society of Ontario introduced a new Civil Society Organization status in April 2019 to make lawyer and paralegal services more accessible to the public. It enables lawyers and paralegals to provide their direct professional services as employees of charities and non-profits like TalentLift. Previously, legal services provided through these organizations needed to be outsourced. 

This milestone is wonderful news for TalentLift as we better serve employers and the candidates they hire from refugee circumstances. Our model encompasses recruitment, visa application (through our in-house legal department) and settlement coordination. It adapts what works in the private sector to achieve specialization and efficiency. It’s a major step towards advancing the competitiveness of refugees in the global job market where they can increasingly compete on a level field with all international talent.

The Law Society of Ontario has noted the many potential benefits to delivering lawyer and paralegal services through charities and non-profits, including:

For clients (i.e. our employers and candidates):

  • Quicker and more direct access to lawyer and paralegal services
  • Professional services delivered by trained, licensed, insured lawyers and paralegals
  • Earlier identification and potential resolution of legal issues
  • Reduced client stress and enhanced client outcomes and empowerment

For charities and non-profits (i.e. TalentLift):

  • Enhanced organizational capacity to identify and address client legal issues
  • Enhanced client service by having a lawyer or paralegal potentially on-site to address legal issues
  • Enhanced ability to provide holistic services to clients

This approval will benefit the companies we work with and the talented candidates they hire from displacement. With TalentLift, companies hire and relocate talent with ease and with significant impact. While candidates engage with a purpose-built and mission-driven legal team in their immigration journey to new companies and home communities across Canada.