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A young new Canadian holds a flag as she takes part in a citizenship ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 17, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Canadian government has changed its immigration selection program as of June 28 for skilled workers, moving from a points-based system to prioritizing workers with experience in specific fields, including technology and health care. Here’s what you need to know about the changes to the permanent residency system.

How has the permanent residency process changed?

The federal government uses what they call the Express Entry system, where candidates are assigned a score based on factors such as age, language ability and education. The government then selected those with the highest scores to apply for permanent resident (PR) status. The scores correspond to their expected earnings in Canada, based on the outcomes of previous newcomers.

In the past, Ottawa would select a few thousand people with the highest scores every two weeks to apply for permanent residency. Policy experts have likened this to a “cream-skimming” approach that would boost economic outcomes by targeting people with the highest earnings potential.

As of June 28, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is changing tack and applying a category-based approach to PR invitations, targeting candidates who they hope can fill specific jobs. The government says the new focus will help ease hiring challenges that have frustrated many sectors of the economy over the past few years.

What work experience and other attributes is the federal government now prioritizing?

The federal government will be prioritizing candidates who can speak French and people with recent work experience in five fields: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), health care, skilled trades, agriculture and transportation.

Between 28 per cent and 31 per cent of PR invitations this year will go to people with recent experience in certain STEM jobs, such as data scientists and software developers.

The other targeted candidates are those with French-language proficiency (11 per cent to 15 per cent of invitations), health care experience (nine per cent to 12 per cent), trades (three per cent to four per cent), transportation and agriculture (one per cent to two per cent each). The categories are in effect for 2023 and subject to change thereafter.

How will this affect candidates who have already applied to become a permanent resident?

“There are going to be winners and losers in this particular policy shift, as there always is,” said Rupa Banerjee, a Canada Research Chair in immigration and economics at Toronto Metropolitan University. She notes that candidates who fall into the new categories will have a huge advantage, whereas some other high-ranking candidates may now get overlooked and face an additional barrier that will slow down the process of being eligible to apply for permanent residency.

Dr. Banerjee said this change adds “uncertainty” to a system that, because of the points system, was more predictable for prospective immigrants.

How will international students be affected?

Many international students view studying in Canada as the first step toward permanent residence. According to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, 72 per cent of international students surveyed in 2021 said they intended to apply for a postgraduate work permit. At the same time, 59 per cent said they intended to apply for permanent residence.

As Dr. Banjeree notes, many international students study business-related areas and those areas are not generally on the new list of categories. “Many folks saw this as a kind of fast-track to becoming a permanent resident, but this could now slow them down when they’re not able to leverage their studies.”

She says it’s likely we’ll see an increase in international students enrolled in programs related to the categories.

How do these changes relate to Canada’s current labour needs?

Some economists have raised concerns that Canada’s current labour demands could change quickly and leave the country with a glut of workers in some fields. While some industries, like health care and social assistance, appear to have a persistently high demand for labour, in some white-collar industries, like technology, there has been a steep drop in vacancies. For example, job postings in software development have plummeted to below pre-pandemic levels on the hiring site Indeed Canada.

Dr. Banerjee notes that the new system may overlook some workers in sectors facing shortages, including careworkers and early childhood educators.

Has Canada made other changes to its immigration policies?

As of Aug. 15, the federal government is dropping education requirements for Hong Kongers with at least a year of work experience in Canada in response to a crackdown on political dissent in Hong Kong.

Previously, Ottawa had two immigration pathways for Hong Kong residents who had either worked or studied in Canada: Stream A applies to former Hong Kong residents who graduated from a postsecondary institution in Canada within the past three years. People with at least one year of work experience in Canada who graduated from a foreign or Canadian institution within the past five years could apply for Stream B. The change opens up Stream B to anyone with a year of work experience in Canada, regardless of education.

What are Canada’s immigration targets?

Canada’s economy relies heavily on immigrants. Every year, the government sets a target for the number of them it hopes to turn into permanent residents, who can live and work in the country indefinitely and eventually apply for citizenship. This year’s target range is from 410,000 to 505,000; from 430,000 to 542,500 in 2024; and from 442,500 to 550,000 in 2025.

With reports from Matt Lundy, Vanmala Subramaniam and Canadian Press

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