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Immigrating to Canada: An overview of the various immigration programs

By Delaney Rombough

Posted on March 29, 2021

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There are many different paths newcomers can take when immigrating to Canada. The path you take may depend on your education, work experience, skills, and family. It is important to note that there are application fees associated with applying for visas, permanent residency, and citizenship. Below, we outline some of the ways you can come to Canada and stay long-term.

Immigration routes

In order to apply for a visa, you can apply online on the Immigration, Refugee, and Citizenship Canada website or visit the nearest Canadian embassy or consulate. Visa requirements change often so check the Government of Canada’s website for the latest, up-to-date, information.

Work visas

Work visas or work permits allow you to legally work in Canada. The type of work visa you can get depends on your skills, education, and current occupation.

  • Employer-Specific Work Permits state the name of the employer, how long you can work, and the location of employment. Your employer must complete certain steps and provide you with a copy of a Labour Market Impact Assessment or a job offer. If you have a job offer from a Canadian company, your employer will assist with the visa paperwork.
  • Open Work Permits allow you to work for any employer in Canada with few exceptions. You can only apply for an Open Work Permit in specific situations, for example, if you are an international student who recently graduated, are a dependent family member or spouse of a permanent resident or international student, or if you are a refugee.
  • If you are 18–35 years old, you also may be eligible for a Working Holiday visa under the International Experience Canada. This visa allows you to travel around Canada and work at the same time. If you are coming to Canada to travel, you don’t need a job offer to apply for this visa.
  • Business professionals can come and do business under free trade agreements. For example, under the Canada-United-States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), citizens of Canada, the United States, and Mexico can gain quick and easy access to each country for business or investment reasons. The four groups of business people considered under CUSMA are:
    1. Business visitors (can stay a few days or up to six months)
    2. Professionals (work in a qualifying job, have a job offer, and have a work permit)
    3. Intra-company transferees (work for the same country in a different country)
    4. Traders and investors (need a work permit)

These same groups of people are often covered in free trade agreements with other countries.

Student visas

If you are studying at a Designated Learning Institution in Canada, you are eligible for a student visa. To apply for a student visa, you need the following:

  • Proof of enrollment or acceptance at a Designated Learning Institution
  • Identification
  • Proof of financial support: You must be able to pay for your tuition, your living expenses and that of any other family members who come with you, and return transportation for yourself and any other family members accompanying you
  • Have no criminal record and provide a police certificate
  • Be in good health and get a medical examination (if required)
  • Proof of departure once your study permit expires

The study permit indicates the length of the study period and the expiry date. Student visas usually allow students to work 20 hours per week during the school year and 40 hours per week during scheduled school holidays. Student visas also typically have a 90-day extension after the program ends, so students can prepare to leave after graduation, re-apply to extend their stay, or change their immigration status in Canada. To learn more about how to come to Canada as an international student, check out this article by The Newcomer

Family sponsorships

If you are currently living in Canada, you may be able to sponsor your family living overseas. To sponsor a family member or relative, you must be at least 18 years old and a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident of Canada, or a person registered in Canada as an “Indian” under The Indian Act. You can download an application package from the Government of Canada’s website to apply. If you sponsor a family member, you must:

  • Be able to support them (and their dependents) financially
  • Be able to provide them and yourself with basic needs (for example, food, clothing, shelter, etc.) upon arrival
  • Prove that they don’t require social assistance from the government

Family members coming to Canada via sponsorship must provide:

  • Documents such as passports, marriage or divorce certificates, birth certificates, national identification cards, or other civil documents
  • Medical exams and biometrics

Provincial Nominee Program

The Provincial Nominee Program is a program for workers who:

  • Have the skills, work experience, and education to contribute to a province or territory’s economy
  • Want to live in that province
  • Want to become permanent residents of Canada

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Each province has its own immigration programs that target certain groups (called “streams”) and requirements. For example, provinces and territories might target students, business people, skilled workers, or semi-skilled workers. The application process varies depending on the province and stream you are applying to. The paper-based process is as follows:

  • Apply to the province or territory for nomination under a non-Express Entry stream. Application packages are available on the Government of Canada’s website.
  • Meet the eligibility requirements.
  • Submit a paper application for permanent residence to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada once you are nominated.
  • Pass a medical exam and get a police record check.

Express Entry

Express Entry is for skilled immigrant workers who want to become permanent residents of Canada. Skilled workers are chosen based on their skills and ability to contribute to Canada’s economy. Express Entry manages applications for three economic immigration programs: The Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program, and Canadian Experience Class. The minimum application requirements for these programs are:

  • Skilled work experience
  • Language ability
  • Education

You may also be assessed on age, whether or not you have a valid job offer, English and/or French language skills, and adaptability (how likely you are to settle in Canada). These criteria are assessed on a points-based system out of 100. The highest-ranking candidates in the applicant pool are then invited to apply for permanent residency.

Self-employed visa

The Self-Employed Persons Program allows those who are self-employed in the arts or athletics to immigrate to Canada permanently. If you are interested in this program, you must have relevant work experience in athletics or cultural activities and be willing and able to contribute to the cultural and athletic life of Canada. Selection criteria for this program includes:

  • Relevant experience (at least two years)
  • Age
  • Education
  • Language ability
  • Adaptability
  • Medical exam and police record check for you and your family members
  • Ability and willingness to be self-employed in Canada

Start-up visa

Canada’s start-up visa program targets immigrant entrepreneurs with the potential to build a business in Canada that is innovative, can compete globally, and can provide jobs for Canadians. In order to be eligible for the start-up visa program, you must:

  • Have a qualifying business
  • Receive a letter of support from a designated organization
  • Meet the language requirements
  • Have proof of financial support

You will also need to provide biometrics, fill out the application package with the appropriate documents, complete a medical exam, and provide a police certificate.

Refugee and asylum

You can apply for refugee status from within Canada. Canada offers protection for some people who fear persecution or who may be at risk of torture, threat to their life, or cruel and unusual treatment or punishment in their home country. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada makes decisions on refugee and immigration claims and determines whether you are a convention refugee or a person in need of protection.

  • A convention refugee — is a person who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or identification with a social group (for example, women, LGBTQ+).
  • A person in need of protection — is a person who can’t return to their home country safely due to danger of torture, risk to their life, or risk of cruel and unusual treatment.

To file a refugee claim, you can send an email and start your claim online or go to a designated port of entry to make your claim in person. You will need to fill out an application form detailing your background, your family, and why you want to make a refugee claim. The Newcomer has an article with more information about programs and resources for refugees and refugee claimants.

Job-specific immigration pathways

If you have a specific job or work in a specific industry, there are options for visas that can put you on the path to permanent residency and citizenship.

  • Caregivers – If your job involves providing care for children, the elderly, or those with medical needs, or if you work as a live-in caregiver, there are options for you to immigrate to Canada and work temporarily in the country or become a permanent resident.
  • Agri-Food Pilot – The Agri-Food Pilot program was created to address the needs of Canada’s agri-food industry. Eligible industries and occupations include cattle ranching and farming, poultry and egg production, hog and pig farming, and similar industries. This pilot program is for full-time, non-seasonal jobs.

Region-specific immigration

Various regions of Canada also have specific immigration pathways in order to encourage immigrants to settle in different areas and contribute to the economic development of various communities and regions.

  • Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot – This program is community driven. Its goal is to encourage immigration to smaller communities by creating a path to permanent residency. Some of the participating communities include: Sudbury, Ont., North Bay, Ont., Timmins, Ont., Moose Jaw, Sask., Brandon, Man., and Vernon, B.C.
  • Atlantic Immigration Pilot – This program is for recent graduates who attended a school in Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland and Labrador). You must receive a job offer from a designated employer in Atlantic Canada to participate in the program.
  • Quebec Selected Skilled Workers – This is a two-step application process for immigrant skilled workers who want to reside in Quebec and become permanent residents. Applicants must first apply to the Government of Quebec for a preliminary assessment. If Quebec accepts you, you can then apply to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada for permanent residence.

Getting your permanent residency card

In Canada, a permanent resident is someone who lives in Canada but is a citizen of another country. Permanent residents in Canada can live and work anywhere in Canada, receive social benefits including healthcare, apply for Canadian citizenship, and receive protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Permanent residents can’t vote or run for political office. They may not be able to hold some jobs that require high-level security clearance. Permanent residents also have to pay taxes and respect laws at federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
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In order to apply for your permanent resident (PR) card, you need to have lived in Canada for 730 days in the last five years. PR cards are valid for five years and can be renewed. You also must carry your PR card with you when you travel or have a Permanent Resident Travel Document if you are outside Canada.

Applying for citizenship

Once you’ve lived in Canada as a permanent resident for three out of the last five years (1,095 days) and you’ve filed your taxes, you can apply to become a Canadian citizen. You have to fill out an application form with the appropriate documents, attend an interview, and pass a citizenship test.

The citizenship test consists of 20 multiple choice or true/false questions that test your knowledge of Canadian history, geography, symbols, laws, economy, and government. The Government of Canada recommends using their free official study guide, “Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship,” to prepare for the test.

The last step in the process is to attend your citizenship ceremony. During the ceremony, you can expect to take the Oath of Citizenship, get your citizenship certificate, sign the Oath or Affirmation of Citizenship form, and sing “O Canada.” That’s it; congratulations, all your hard work and years of waiting has paid off. You are officially a Canadian citizen!

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