Kitchener-Waterloo

A 'relief' or too stringent? Ottawa's new pathway for foreign nationals gets mixed reviews in Waterloo region

The federal government’s new pathway to permanent residency for foreign nationals in essential jobs, such as personal support and health services, is getting mixed reaction in Waterloo region.

New policy will allow up to 90,000 people to convert from temporary to permanent status

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says the new policy will help the government achieve its goal of welcoming 401,000 permanent residents to the country. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal government's new pathway to permanent residency for foreign nationals working in essential jobs such as personal support and health services is drawing mixed reaction in Waterloo region.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, who announced the new policy last week, said up to 90,000 workers and international graduates already in Canada will be allowed to convert their temporary status to permanent residency.

The executive director of the Waterloo Immigration Partnership said she's excited to see this program.

"I think this is a really important program for many residents of our community," Tara Bedard told CBC News.

Bedard said there is a big temporary resident population in Waterloo region, with some 35,000 in 2018, the last year numbers were available because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half are international students and just under half are temporary foreign workers, she said.

Since I am a PhD student, I am not considered a worker, even though I get paid for being a TA and pay taxes for it. This feels unfair. There seems to currently be no way for PR for me.​​​- Marvin Pafla - PhD student at UWaterloo

To be eligible for Ottawa's new pathway program, workers must have at least one year of Canadian work experience in one of 40 different health-care jobs or 95 other pre-approved essential jobs. Graduates must have completed an eligible Canadian post-secondary program over the last four years.

Bedard said the new pathway is "a big relief" for employers and employees alike.

"It gives more stability to their workforce and really gives people the opportunity to establish on a permanent basis their roots here," she said.

"This program will have a really positive impact for employers in essential sectors in our region and for the people who are working in it. 

"Thirty-thousand spaces [have been] set aside for temporary workers who are doing other essential occupations like sales, construction, trade, transportation and heavy equipment operators in the farming industry. We know that these are all sectors in Waterloo region where temporary workers are being utilized, and so this will benefit both the employers and workers in those industries," Bedard added. 

Marvin Pafla, a first-year PhD student in computer science at University of Waterloo, says he's disappointed you have to be in a job already to take advantage of the new pathway to Canada program. (Submitted by Marvin Pafla)

A flicker of hope

Marvin Pafla, a first-year PhD student in Computer Science at University of Waterloo, was excited when he first heard about the new policy, but then felt let down.

Pafla, who also completed his master's in systems design engineering in Waterloo, has been in Canada for around four years. 

"When I first heard about the new policy I was excited that I might be eligible because I lack the work experience you normally need for express entry applications," Pafla told CBC News.

"However, when I then looked through the detailed requirements, I found out that I have to be currently working in a job. Since I am a PhD student, I am not considered a worker, even though I get paid for being a TA and pay taxes for it. This feels unfair. There seems to currently be no way for PR for me," add Pafla, who first came to Canada on an exchange from Germany.

Jenna Hennebry, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, says while the new policy is a step in the right direction, it's not sustainable. (Jenna Hennebry/Twitter)

Jenna Hennebry, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University who specializes in women and gender studies, says while the new policy is a step in the right direction, it's not sustainable.

"I would sort of characterize it as a bit of an ad-hoc fleeting move of convenience, with an attempt to at least bolster the ability to be able to reach the [permanent residency] targets that were just recently announced, that are quite high," Hennebry told CBC News.

"It's not meant as a sustainable solution for addressing the underlying issues that are necessary to be addressed in order for us to ... be able to continue to meet our population needs and our economic issues."

Call for more long-term pathways 

Hennebry also believes a lot of people won't meet the eligibility criteria for permanent residency.

"It's particularly stringent," she said.

"It has an English and French-Canadian language benchmark of four, and so it means it's highly unlikely for many migrant agricultural workers to access this.

"It's a great opportunity for international students, but it's really necessary to think about creating a mechanism for those that are not here under the international mobility program to be able to access permanent residency. So we need to have better pathways, but they need to be more long term," said Hennebry.

Eligible workers and graduates will be able to apply for permanent status through three streams between May 6, 2021, and Nov. 5, 2021. 

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will take up to:

  • 20,000 applications for temporary workers in health care.
  • 30,000 applications for temporary workers in the essential jobs category.
  • 40,000 applications for international students.

All applicants must be proficient in either English or French, and a certain portion of spots will be reserved for French-speaking or bilingual candidates.

The federal department says the new policy will help the government achieve its goal of welcoming 401,000 new permanent residents to the country.

With files from Melissa Galevski and CBC News

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