Canada’s immigration minister restated his promise to improve processing times for work permits during meetings with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Last week, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the committee that Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) would use its $85 million budget to reduce processing times that the pandemic has exacerbated. The minister had previously announced that service standards for work permits, study permits, proof of citizenship, and permanent residence card renewals would return to normal by the end of 2022.

The IRCC webpage estimates processing times for work permits submitted from most countries are currently not meeting the processing standard. Nonetheless, IRCC is processing a higher level of work permits. In 2021, Canada issued some 420,000 under the International Mobility Program (IMP) and Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). In 2019, the total was about 405,000.

The TFWP allows Canadian employers to hire foreign nationals to fill labor shortages in Canada. The IMP promotes Canada’s broad economic, social, and cultural interests.

The processing standard for work permits submitted outside of Canada is 60 days, except for International Experience Canada (IEC) work permits, which are supposed to be processed in 56 days. Work permit extensions submitted in Canada have a processing standard of 120 days. Before the pandemic, IRCC met these standards more than 87 percent of the time. However, official data on how often IRCC met its service standards in 2020-2021 have not yet been released.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, IRCC operations worldwide halted operations. The result eventually led to a backlog in applications. As of February 1, IRCC has more than 85,000 work permit applications in its inventory.

IRCC Assistant Deputy Minister Daniel Mills was also at the committee meeting. Mills said in French that the $85 million budget would not improve processing times for permanent residents. Still, it will allow IRCC to develop tools such as electronic application systems and online application trackers. Minister Fraser had previously noted that processing for new spousal sponsorship applications has returned to the one-year standard.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration is a group of Canadian politicians from major political parties that conduct studies and offer policy recommendations on improving the immigration system.

The importance of fast work permit processing

According to the latest job vacancies report, Canada had nearly 900,000 job openings this past November. Immigration has long been touted as a strategy to support labor market growth in Canada.

Since employers in specific industries have long demonstrated a consistent need for foreign talent, some work permits have expedited processes for workers in specific sectors. The Global Talent Stream, for example, has a processing standard of 10 business days. It is meant for employers in the tech sector to onboard foreign talent.

The LMIA is required for the hiring of some foreign nationals. The Canadian government may require a labor market test to demonstrate that a worker in Canada is unavailable to do the job. In addition, Canada offers fast-tracked LMIA processing for the GTS and Quebec facilitated occupations list.

In 2021, about one-quarter of work permits granted required an LMIA. The remaining 75 percent did not require an LMIA.

Staying in Canada

If workers apply to extend their status before their work permit expires, they can stay in Canada on a maintained level until IRCC decides. Then, they are allowed to work under the same conditions as their work permit, staying in Canada while waiting. The maintained status could also apply to study permit holders and visitors applying to extend their temporary status.

If the worker applies for permanent residence, they may be able to get a Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP), which will allow them to stay in Canada until their application is processed.