Changes to the Citizenship Act came into effect in October 2017 making it easier and faster to obtain Canadian citizenship. This created a rush in new applications and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) reported that they received more than 30,000 new applications in the first two weeks after the changes, more than double what they would have received in each month prior to the change. This will likely mean longer processing times but we hope that the efficient processing of the past two years will continue and IRCC can keep processing times from spiralling out of control.
The Express Entry (“EE”) system of selecting immigrants is still the largest source of economic immigrants to Canada. In 2017 over than 85,000 applicants were invited to apply through the EE system, more than the number of total number of invitations issued in 2015 and 2016. IRCC has made improvements to the EE system in late 2016 that allowed more applicants to qualify. We have also seen the minimum score required to be invited under EE come down to as low as 413 points (May 2017) and if Canada is to meet it's target of attracting one million new immigrants over the next three years there will likely be further downward pressure on the minimum score and we will see more applicants qualify under EE.
The process of registering for the parent and grandparent sponsorship program was changed in 2017 to a lottery system and the same system is in place this year, albeit with some minor changes. IRCC is again set to select 10,000 applicants under this program to fill its annual quota.
The spousal sponsorship program also made news in 2017 as IRCC worked to meet the target of processing these applications within 12 months. By the end of 2017 the average processing time across all visa offices was 12 months, a significant improvement on previous years where families sometimes had to wait years to be reunited in Canada.
New Definition of Dependent Child
IRCC's definition of eligible “dependent children” changed in October 2017 to include children up to 22 years of age. For new applications can now include these dependent children, and in some cases applicants have until 31 January 2018 to add qualifying dependent children to existing permanent residence visa applications.
Provincial Nominee Programs
Provincial Nominee Programs (“PNPs”) allow provinces to identify and select potential immigrants for settlement in their local economy and labour market. While PNPs have existed for many years, the provinces have spent 2017 expanding their programs, providing qualified applicants with more options for settling in towns and cities across Canada. IRCC's target for 2018 is to process 55,000 PNP applications.
Global Talent Stream and Two Week Processing
In June 2017, IRCC introduced the Global Talent Stream (“GTS”) allowing for fast-tracked processing of Labour Market Impact Assessments leading to work permits in as little as two weeks. The program is focused on areas where there are significant labour shortages, particularly in technology related fields, and has so far been a great success in helping Canadian companies attract and bring in much needed employees to develop and grow their businesses in Canada. Amazon and Facebook opened new offices in Canada in 2017 after Google, Apple and Microsoft all expanded their operations in Canada in 2016. These companies, along with hundreds of start ups and medium sized companies are looking to hire workers with the help of the GTS.
For now the GTS is a pilot program but if it continues to build on the success of its first six months we hope that IRCC will keep and expand the program to give Canadian businesses a competitive advantage.
While 2017 was a year of big changes, there always room for the government to surprise us again in 2018. As Canada works towards its target to admit one million immigrants over the next three years we are likely to see more changes and immigration programs introduced this year.