The optimism of skills-based mobility greets UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi in Toronto

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank.

Durid is a Maintenance Technician and he and his spouse are working in a Southern Ontario community where their skills are in high demand, and where their daughter can go to school. Anas is a Software Engineer on a Waterloo-based team that has grown four times in size during the pandemic. Kinaz will soon relocate to British Columbia to join a healthcare employer providing critical in-home care. All three were displaced from their homes and careers due to conflict before getting jobs and pursuing skilled visas to Canada. 

These are stories that fill you with optimism, said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at a meeting in Toronto with Durid, Anas, Kinaz and three pioneering companies – ApplyBoard, Ice River Sustainable Solutions, and Scotiabank – behind a skills-based solution to displacement.

The scale of displacement today is unprecedented since the end of the Second World War. There were more than 26 million people living as refugees globally in 2021, before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August and the recent invasion of Ukraine.

Traditional solutions including humanitarian resettlement are essential but inadequate on their own to respond. Additional solutions are needed. Job-backed skilled visa opportunities hold immense promise – including potential to scale. 

Below are highlights from a discussion with High Commissioner Grandi on the promise of this solution. 

A bridge to opportunities

Anas relocated to Canada to join ApplyBoard after the team partnered with TalentLift to find software engineering talent. On his own, when he was living as a refugee in Lebanon, Anas couldn’t get traction in his international job search. It was a challenge getting a foot in the door, and there were other daily problems to face like electricity outages, a plummeting currency, and insecure status in the country. Kinaz faced similar challenges and long working days with little time beyond work and sleep. 

“You don’t have stability in your life that lets you focus on your long-term goals,” Anas said. 

He said the bridge between companies and candidates in displacement needs to widen. Organizations like TalentLift and our partner Talent Beyond Boundaries are part of that important infrastructure.

“I didn’t believe it.” 

When Durid got a call that the manufacturer Ice River Sustainable Solutions wanted to interview him, “I didn’t believe it.” After the interview, when he learned they wanted to hire him, “I still didn’t believe it,” he laughed. As awareness grows among the many thousands of talented people who could use their skills as a pathway out of displacement, more people can start believing it. 

Nearly one million vacancies

There were 915,500 open positions across Canada at the end of 2021. This is the opportunity space for connecting talented candidates in refugee circumstances with the teams and communities that need their skills.

International recruitment is a solution that is not just about workforce needs today but “understanding where the demand is going to be,” said Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank. It’s an investment with enormous payoff for new employees, their families, and the Canadian economy. 

Room to improve: Speed is key

Canada is among a handful of countries pioneering ways to make international recruitment and skilled visas work better for talented people living in refugee circumstances. Equity-based flexibility, like recognizing expired passports and loans instead of savings, is significantly deepening access. But further change is needed to ensure companies can recruit and relocate displaced talent with ease and speed.

The visa timeline remains a challenge, said Jordan Ingster, Senior Legal Advisor with Ice River Sustainable Solutions, which saw demand and operations expand even through the pandemic. The team hired nine trades professionals who were living as refugees and could hire others. 

“We need to make that pathway quick,” said Dan Weber, Senior Director of Innovation and Strategy with ApplyBoard, which recently grew from a team of 400 to 1,600. “We need talent, how can we get it here?”

For that part, TalentLift is here to help. Interested teams can express interest to become part of this impactful hiring solution. 

A discussion with High Commissioner Grandi hosted by Scotiabank in Toronto.
A discussion with High Commissioner Grandi hosted by Scotiabank in Toronto. 

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

Canada aims high in welcoming more talented candidates and their families from refugee circumstances in latest immigration plan

A family arrives in Canada supported by the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP). 

Canada released its first immigration plan since the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic today. It highlights the country’s priorities for the coming three years, including welcoming more newcomers into in-demand work from refugee circumstances under the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP).

The EMPP was first trialled as a smallscale pilot in 2018 to support people living as refugees to access job and skilled visa opportunities on a more level field with other international applicants, as a critical new mobility option that is additional and complementary to resettlement. The pilot entered a growth phase at the end of 2021 following the federal election and a pledge to see 2,000 people supported by it.

Employers working with TalentLift are eager to recruit from this talent pool – and this plan for growth is a nod to the skills needed across Canada’s economy, and to the aspirations of talented candidates in refugee circumstances globally. 

Here’s a breakdown of the number of permanent residents to be welcomed in 2022: 

  • EMPP pledge during the election: 2,000
  • Target for four pilots, including the EMPP: 10,250
  • Target for all skilled immigration (economic) stream admissions: 241,850
  • Target for all permanent resident admissions: 431,645

TalentLift is glad to see a significant target, and to know that targets are flexible and can be surpassed. There are more than 26 million people living as refugees around the world, many with the skills and talents needed in our communities. If this talent pool accounted for just 1% of newcomers under Canada’s economic stream, that would be 2,418 people moving from displacement to a secure future. 

This vision is within reach. Canada is continuing its leadership to build a more equitable skilled immigration system that works for displaced talent and the teams welcoming them. 


Read more about building an inclusive skilled immigration system and meet a remarkable newcomer, a software engineer, who recently joined the ApplyBoard team and left refugee circumstances behind.

Canada’s EMPP is open to support skilled immigration by displaced talent

Kinaz is a nurse living in displacement supported by TalentLift who will fill a critical role in healthcare in British Columbia.

Canada’s groundbreaking pilot supporting talented people living as refugees to apply to economic immigration streams is now open. As of today, people living in refugee circumstances can submit job-backed permanent residence applications through the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP).

The EMPP extends some flexibility to address administrative and financial requirements that have previously been a barrier to otherwise highly qualified applicants. Skilled immigration is an additional mobility option for those seeking a durable solution outside of traditional humanitarian resettlement. 

Talented candidates in refugee circumstances can now apply through selected economic programs with the following flexibility: 

  • 1 year of work experience accrued anytime (no recency period) under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) or Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) programs;
  • Use of a loan from a trusted microlender to satisfy a settlement funds requirement; 
  • Use of an expired passport or other ID in place of a valid passport; and
  • Waiver of the permanent residence processing fee and biometrics fee. 

These changes apply only to applicants to the provincial nominee programs (PNPs), AIP, and RNIP. 

A skills-based solution to displacement

One candidate whose application will be supported under the pilot is Mulham, hired as a CNC Machinist by a manufacturing firm in Ontario. Mulham and his family are living in refugee circumstances in Libya while they wait for their visas. 

Mulham told us this is a chance “to start a new life, to ensure that my children receive a good education and the right to live in a country that values equality among all people, away from conflicts, insecurity and fear of the future.”

Read more about this family: https://www.talentlift.ca/scotiarise-invests-400000-in-talentlift-to-help-job-seekers-in-refugee-circumstances-find-work-and-settle-in-canada/

Essential improvements for deeper equity

TalentLift has made recommendations for deeper equity and the growth of this important and win-win mobility option to Canada. These recommendations build on our team’s operational knowledge of barriers facing qualified candidates and their prospective employers:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GcjQ6LDnCbsIq4J6LYPEs5VkJYjUk3MkmglzUmBWqOg/edit

TalentLift is excited to support Canadian employers and the talented candidates they hire under  the EMPP. We and our partners across hiring teams, alongside IRCC, provinces and territories, and supporting NGOs, are modelling a scalable, skills-based solution to displacement as a complementary pathway to humanitarian resettlement.

ScotiaRISE invests $400,000 in TalentLift to help job seekers in refugee circumstances find work and settle in Canada

Mulham can build almost any wooden furniture and home decor. A baby crib with flowers carved into the headboard, a staircase, high-backed chairs, and a low coffee table with patterned sides are pictured in his portfolio.

His skills are prized in Canada where tradespeople are in critical shortage and are needed to drive growth in sectors like construction and manufacturing.

Mulham has a job offer with a furniture designer and manufacturer in Ontario. With TalentLift’s support, he applied for the job from outside Canada and is waiting for a skilled visa before he and his family immigrate to their new home.

The family will move from Libya where they now live as refugees. Mulham, his partner and their three children are from Syria and can’t return there safely or plan ahead in Libya with any certainty. Bribes and threats are everyday encounters with periodic arrests targeting the displaced community. Thousands have left these conditions to make dangerous sea journeys to Europe.

Mulham, a remarkable craftsperson, used his skills to unlock a better future.

Moving for work on skilled visas is an emerging opportunity for the 26 million people living as refugees worldwide who have historically had few options to achieve livelihoods and security, despite their skills and potential. Skilled visas attract newcomers with jobs or in-demand skills and are complementary and additional to humanitarian programs. Through an innovative pilot, Canada is expanding access to skilled immigration pathways working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and non-profit partners like TalentLift. 

TalentLift is a non-profit talent agency assisting Canadian employers in recruiting and relocating talent from within refugee populations as a solution to skills shortages in Canada and displacement worldwide. It’s the first organization of its kind to offer employers and the candidates they hire in-house services encompassing talent search, visa application, and settlement coordination. With funding from ScotiaRISE, TalentLift is building a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities.

By raising awareness of this out-of-country talent pool and providing a seamless experience for hiring teams, TalentLift is ensuring more people like Mulham can use their skills to compete for life-changing jobs and skilled visas.

“The global talent pool includes people in displaced and refugee circumstances, who when given the right opportunities, can make enormous contributions in new workplaces and communities,” said Sandra Odendahl, Vice President of Social Impact and Sustainability at Scotiabank. “Full inclusion begins before arrival in Canada, with the opportunities that make the journey possible. Through ScotiaRISE we are proud to partner with organizations like TalentLift to provide newcomers with the tools and resources needed to find jobs and build homes in Canada.”

Through TalentLift, assistance recipients and their families achieve a secure status with a pathway to Canadian permanent residence and citizenship. Once TalentLift candidates relocate to Canada, they enter jobs commensurate with their skills and career potential in communities where they can thrive. 

For Mulham, this is a chance “to start a new life, to ensure that my children receive a good education and the right to live in a country that values equality among all people, away from conflicts, insecurity and fear of the future.” He hopes others living in displacement find the same opportunity. “They deserve to get better job opportunities in a place that appreciates their talent, ambition and humanity.” 

Candidates living in refugee circumstances and seeking a job in Canada can join TalentLiftEmployers seeking global talent while engaging their team in something transformative can start hiring.

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. 

Ways for Canadians to support Afghans

A number of friends and colleagues have reached out asking us for ways to support Afghans. Below are some ideas on how Canadians can support those in need during a rapidly changing situation. 

If you have the ability to donate: 

FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance

Our partners at FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance work with Afghans both inside and outside the country who have been displaced by conflict and other disasters. FOCUS undertakes resettlement programmes for displaced families and extended relief and recovery support for communities living in vulnerable environments.

Donate here

Islamic Relief Canada

Islamic Relief Canada works with communities to strengthen their resilience and to provide emergency aid. They are on the ground in Afghanistan distributing food packs to those most in need with offices that remain open in Kabul, Balkh, Jalalabad and Bamyan. 

Donate here

Veterans Transition Network

The Veterans Transition Network (VTN) is a nationwide veteran-to-veteran support network for those transitioning to civilian life. VTN is accepting donations to provide shelter and support to interpreters in Afghanistan awaiting evacuation to Canada.

Donate here

If you’re part of a hiring team: 

If you’re considering displaced talent to fill skills shortages, thank you for exploring this talent pool and please alert us about your hiring needs here. We work with talented candidates who are living in refugee circumstances worldwide and who represent a range of professional backgrounds. They and their families may be displaced from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Venezuela, and other countries. All are in need of transformative job and relocation opportunities.

Watch: TalentLift’s Veronica Wilson discusses innovation in immigration practice with the Canadian Bar Association


Good people power good organizations. 

Veronica Wilson, TalentLift’s co-founder and Legal Director, joined Emily Lukaweski in a webinar hosted by the Canadian Bar Association on “TalentLift: Innovation in the Practice of Immigration and Law.”

Veronica spoke about her journey in immigration law that led her to co-founding TalentLift, Canada’s first non-profit talent agency offering in-house visa services that focuses exclusively on supporting employers to recruit and relocate talent from within refugee populations. In just six months of start-up work, Veronica has developed TalentLift into a Civil Society Organization registered with the Law Society of Ontario and is pioneering the use of additional skilled visa pathways under Canada’s Economic Mobility Pathways Project for employers and candidates across tech, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality sectors. 

She showed us why mission-driven leadership creates value for employers and the candidates they hire. “I really value having the time to get to know clients and work with them on a more personal level,” she said. 

Driving Veronica and the outstanding hiring teams that partner with us is the potential within this unique talent pool. Candidates living in refugee circumstances “have so much to contribute if given the opportunity to use their skills and showcase their talent.” 

Meet Veronica and hear her firsthand leadership journey by watching the video conversation below or on the Canadian Bar Association Facebook page.

Ways to get involved: 

Minister Mendicino announces latest steps to redesign skilled visas for talent in displacement

A family is greeted by new colleagues from Paramount Fine Foods in Toronto. The chef and his family arrived from displacement under Canada’s Economic Mobility Pathways Project.
A family is greeted by new colleagues from Paramount Fine Foods in Toronto. The chef and his family arrived from displacement under Canada’s Economic Mobility Pathways Project.

Canada is redesigning skilled immigration pathways to include talented applicants living in refugee circumstances worldwide. New steps announced today send a signal that as Canada welcomes record numbers of skilled newcomers to grow our companies and communities, this country will deliberately include the immense talent within refugee populations. 

Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, signaled a more inclusive skilled immigration system under the federal pilot Economic Mobility Pathways Project (EMPP), which aims to improve access to Canada’s skilled visas. 

He spoke alongside Mohammed Hakmi, a fullstack developer hired by Bonfire and the first candidate to arrive under the EMPP, Lisa Smith, CEO of Glen Haven Manor, a pioneering long-term care facility that hired 15 nurses living as refugees in Kenya and Lebanon, and Khodor Ramlawi, one of those talented nurses. 

The changes announced by the Minister include:

  • Expedited processing standard for federal permanent residence pathways: This can reduce total processing timelines to somewhere closer to 8-10 months depending on the first application stage, whether through a Provincial Nominee Program, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, or other programs. 
  • Alternative proof of settlement funds: This can overcome one of the main financial barriers, which is the requirement to demonstrate personal savings, typically in a bank account, that can approach $20,000 for a family of three. Refugees often have little or no savings after years in displacement. Enabling the use of loans to meet this requirement would be a much-needed, sustainable solution.
  • A flexible application process: This may refer to the use of scanned documents which can overcome tech, printing, and postage barriers while enabling more efficient paperless workflows. Traditionally, some permanent residence applications have been paper-based and require original documents, signatures and photos.
  • Waiving fees for permanent residence: This can further reduce the costs of skilled immigration that fall to applicants, reducing strain on their finances before arriving in Canada and earning a first paycheque.
  • Valid passport not required: The alternative, use of a single journey travel document (SJTD), enables travel after a Canadian visa is approved without need for a valid passport. Refugees often have expired or no passports, and it can be unsafe or prohibitively expensive to renew or obtain one for immigration purposes. 

Critically, the Minister did not yet signal his intention to extend access to work permits to displaced talent. This change would revolutionize their access, by allowing them to compete far more equitably with talent from other backgrounds. 

Work permits are the single fastest and most relied-upon entry into Canada for skilled workers. But applicants to work permits must demonstrate their ability to leave Canada, effectively shutting out anyone who had to flee their home country and can’t prove strong ties to another home. If displaced talent can’t access work permits, they have to arrive on the extended timelines of permanent residence, rendering them non-competitive for many employers who need the speed and predictability available to other talent. Additionally, they’re excluded from many permanent residence pathways that require or favour applicants with in-Canada work experience.

Bottom line: Canada is building a more inclusive and equitable skilled immigration system designed to attract and retain talent, regardless of circumstance, to power teams and new home communities. This will be a major source of hope for people living displaced who have potential, and now have opportunity. 

We can’t wait to support more teams in Canada to source this incredible talent! 

Work permits can bring this progress to scale. You can learn more about the imperative of full work permit access in a Globe and Mail op-ed by Craig Damian Smith and TalentLift’s Dana Wagner, a follow-up Globe and Mail column by Doug Saunders, and a policy brief released by the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University. 

Ways to get involved: 

In the News: Here’s one way Canada can help displaced Latin American workers

Canada can immediately and actively share responsibility by offering displaced people across Latin America safe passage through access to programs for skilled immigrants, Craig Damian Smith of Ryerson University and Dana Wagner of TalentLift explain in an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail. They argue that better access to work permits would revolutionize mobility opportunities to Canada for displaced talent worldwide – including for those living displaced in Canada’s own hemisphere.

Further reading: