From displacement to citizenship: First EMPP candidate is now a Canadian

Mohammed is a software developer and the first candidate who arrived under Canada’s EMPP. He became a Canadian citizen in July 2023.

As he waited for the Zoom meeting to start, Mohammed wasn’t sure how a virtual ceremony would feel. He had scheduled an online ceremony to more quickly complete this last step of his Canadian citizenship, eager to get a Canadian passport to travel again to see family. As he listened to the ceremony and saw the video panels of dozens of fellow newcomers, he felt deeply moved and part of a bigger whole, in his own living room. His wife, already a Canadian, stood just off camera capturing everything.

Mohammed is a talented software developer living and working in Ontario. He arrived in Canada just over four years ago.

After fleeing the war in Syria, he found himself living in displacement in Lebanon for several years. Despite the challenges he faced, Mohammed’s passion for technology and coding never wavered. His story took a remarkable turn when he became the first candidate to relocate under the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), a groundbreaking initiative that began as a proof of concept collaboration between the Canadian government and select NGOs to test the possibility for people living as refugees to immigrate as skilled workers. Mohammed is the program’s first success story.

After receiving a job offer with a tech firm in Kitchener, Ontario, Mohammed arrived in Canada in 2019, bringing his skills and determination to a new home. He moved from junior to senior roles, to become a key member of his team. He met his wife and began a family. Through the EMPP, remarkable people like Mohammed can arrive in Canada to continue their lives and careers with a clear pathway to citizenship.

Mohammed has been a champion for many others to follow under the EMPP. He has shared his story to inspire other hiring teams across Canada, and leant his guidance and friendship to excited but nervous families arriving behind him. His leadership continues – allowing us to celebrate this milestone as we outline the journey ahead for others!

The following is an overview of the different status options available to talented people who arrive on skilled visas to Canada and the steps towards citizenship.

Temporary vs permanent residence

A temporary resident is a foreign national who is legally authorized to enter and remain in Canada for purposes including work. Many skilled workers move to Canada first with temporary residence status using a work permit before submitting an application for permanent residence.

Employer-specific work permits allow a foreign national to only work for the employer, position, and location as indicated on the work permit. An employer who supports a work permit is under no obligation to continue to employ the foreign national throughout the duration of their work permit. An open work permit, on the other hand, is more flexible and allows the foreign worker to work for any Canadian employer without the need for a specific job offer.

Read more about temporary residence status in Canada here.

A permanent resident is someone who has been given permanent residence status by immigrating to Canada, but is not yet a Canadian citizen.

Permanent residents have the right to: 

  • Get most social benefits that Canadian citizens receive, including health care coverage
  • Live, work or study anywhere in Canada
  • Apply for Canadian citizenship
  • Leave and re-enter Canada

To keep permanent residence status, individuals must have been in Canada for at least 730 days during the last five years. These 730 days do not need to be continuous.

Read more about permanent residence status in Canada here.

When is a temporary residence (work permit) pathway used instead of a permanent residence pathway?

Canada has temporary residence (work permit) and permanent residence skilled visa pathways. The EMPP flexibilities only apply to certain permanent residence pathways. However, TalentLift supports candidates to apply for work permits in situations where it is the preferred or only visa pathway available, where no EMPP flexibilities are required, and where candidates have a pathway to permanent residence available to them either in parallel to the work permit application or after arrival in Canada.

Work permits are used by the majority of skilled workers entering Canada because they can be faster, are more affordable, are more available, and can be a mandatory first step for permanent residence pathways that require in-Canada work experience. If TalentLift supports a candidate and their family to relocate with temporary residence, we first provide them with detailed information about temporary residence in Canada and a transition plan to permanent residence prepared by our legal counsel. This allows the candidate and their family to make an informed decision before deciding whether or not to proceed.

How do permanent residents become Canadian citizens?

To become a Canadian citizen, most applicants must:

  • Be a permanent resident
  • Have lived in Canada for at least 3 out of the last 5 years (1,095 days)
  • Have filed their taxes, if they need to
  • Pass a citizenship test
  • Prove their language skills in English or French

This means that those who continue to reside in Canada after arrival, and who meet all the criteria, can typically apply after three years. There is a fee to apply and the processing time varies and is generally between 12-18 months.

Canadian citizens have the right to: 

  • Apply for a passport
  • Vote in an election

There are other neat perks too. All citizens get one year of free admission to Canada’s natural parks and cultural centres. Check out the Canoo app.

Read more about applying for Canadian citizenship here.

Canada keeps getting better

Mohammed was instrumental in confirming that people living in refugee circumstances can successfully apply to Canada’s skilled immigration pathways and respond to skills shortages if displacement-related barriers that have nothing to do with talent and potential are removed. His case is part of the foundation of a much more accessible, seamless skilled visa system for displaced talent and the teams that hire them.

Companies like the one that welcomed Mohammed are recognizing the immense talent within refugee populations and catalyzing transformative change in the lives of individuals and their families by providing a secure future and a route to citizenship.

Mohammed, this country is lucky to have you!

Mohammed is a Senior Software Engineer at Epoch and the first candidate to arrive under the EMPP. He spent 3+ years with the incredible Bonfire team before shifting to a new role. Prior to relocating to Canada, Mohammed was living in Lebanon as a refugee from Syria and working as a software developer. He is a member of Volunteers Without Borders, and a Media Management Volunteer with Beirut Marathon Association. Mohammed holds a Bachelor’s of Engineering, Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications from Al-Baath University, and a Bachelor’s of Applied Science, Information Technology from Lebanese International University. He serves as TalentLift’s Talent Advisor.

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