What’s new for Canada’s displaced talent pilot

Canada’s groundbreaking pilot supporting talented people living as refugees to apply to economic immigration streams has an important set of new rules. Phase one of the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), launched in 2018, successfully demonstrated that displaced talent can more equitably apply if administrative or financial barriers are removed, enabling them to make significant contributions to the national economy and the communities where they and their families arrive to put down roots.

Last week, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship released details for phase two of the EMPP in a public policy. Although applications will not be accepted under the EMPP until late fall 2021, we are excited to share what has been revealed so far about the next stage of the pilot and our recommendations for further development.  

EMPP phase two overview:

  • Exclusive to applicants in provincial nominee programs, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP).
  • Includes various ways an IRCC officer may determine whether the applicant is in refugee circumstances.
  • Applicable to only those residing outside of Canada at the time of application for permanent residence.
  • Permanent residence and biometrics fees are waived for principal applicants and accompanying family members.
  • If the applicant has a job offer, the requirement to show funds “unencumbered by debts or other obligations” is exempted. This change allows for the use of alternative proof of settlement funds such as loans, donations or grants.
  • Extension of the recent work experience period requirement under AIP and RNIP. Instead of acquiring one year of full-time work experience in the last three years, the applicant can demonstrate work experience obtained any time in the past. 
  • Valid passport not required. This means applicants with expired or no passports can use alternative proof of identity and alternative travel documents. 
  • Accompanying family members are limited to spouses, common-law partners and dependent children. This is the same rule applied to all applicants to economic immigration programs.  
  • Applicants are subject to all other admissibility and eligibility requirements. 
  • There is a cap of 500 applications that will be implemented as follows:
    • 150 applications accepted until June 30, 2022
    • 350 applications accepted starting on July 1, 2022

The new rules provide important clarification and some new flexibility such as removing work experience recency – a requirement that many displaced applicants can’t meet if they’ve been unable to legally work in their field in a host country. However, there are limits to scope and scale that don’t necessarily align with the fundamental goal of equitable access for displaced talent to the full breadth of the economic program. 

Here are our recommendations for deeper equity and the growth of this important mobility option:

  • Extend access to work permits which would ensure that temporary pathways and the many permanent residence pathways that require in-Canada work experience are accessible to displaced talent. 
  • Extend application to all economic immigration pathways to preserve maximal opportunities and equity of access. This includes extending the exemption from work experience recency and the flexibility on settlement funds across any pathway.
  • Accept referrals from trusted partner organizations to determine eligibility of applicants as refugees and other displaced people in need of international protection. This method reduces bureaucracy and delays. 
  • Waive the requirement for education credential assessments or accept alternatives such as the WES Gateway Program assessment. Displaced applicants may be unable to obtain the appropriate documentation from institutions in their home country without putting themselves or their families at risk.
  • Remove the 500 limitation and the expiry of the public policy to allow for further scale.
  • Extend eligibility to those who are both inside and outside Canada at the time of a permanent residence application to maintain speed and flexibility towards permanence for those who are able to arrive first on work permits.

We are excited to support Canadian employers and the talented candidates they hire under this next phase of 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.

Ways to get involved: 

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. 

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: 

Policy brief on opening Canada’s skilled visas as a solution to displacement in Latin America

A chef arrives with his family in Toronto in 2019 under Canada’s Economic Mobility Pathways Project.

Displacement crises are unfolding across Latin America as people cross borders to seek safety from oppression, violence and environmental disaster. The number of Venezuelans alone who have fled their homes is approaching the scale of displacement caused by the war in Syria. They and others from across Central America are in neighbouring countries, often without work and decent living conditions, or making dangerous onward journeys. More than one million people are expected to seek safety at the American border this year. 

A significant Canadian contribution to this continent’s humanitarian emergency can be further opening skilled visas to talented applicants in displacement.

A policy brief released today co-authored by Craig Damian Smith, a senior research associate with the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration program at Ryerson University, and I outline a clear and actionable set of policies to support displaced talent in Latin America. The policy brief is the first in a new series launched by the CERC in Migration and Integration

We explain how “Canada’s economic pathways could provide new routes to safety and permanence for refugees in Latin America, enabling them to fill chronic skills shortages across the economy including in lower-wage sectors.”

Recommendations include modifying the “ability to leave” requirement in temporary work permits to enable refugees to access this swift mode of entry and with it, a broader range of jobs and visa pathways; and creating additional permanent residence pathways to fill lower-wage jobs in sectors and locations facing chronic skills shortages, such as agriculture and personal support work in populous provinces. 

The recommendations would require just modest policy change and funding. By taking these steps, “Canada can show its commitment to responsibility-sharing in the region by pioneering open economic pathways to refugees, in a clear signal that the global talent pool includes millions of people displaced in the Americas.”

Further reading: