One out of five foreign workers becomes permanent residents, twice the rate from two decades ago, says a groundbreaking study that examines an immigration system increasingly geared toward temporary migrants.
Only nine per cent of temporary foreign workers who came in the mid-1990s successfully obtained permanent resident status, while some 21 per cent of them did by the end of 2014, according to the new Statistics Canada report.
It was the first study ever that examined Canada’s national policies around attracting and retaining temporary foreign workers as immigrants.
Under the former Conservative government, Canada shifted toward an immigration system that absorbs migrant workers who first come to the country on temporary status to meet labour market needs, compared to the old “nation-building” model that let migrants in immediately as permanent residents.
The new approach was adopted to ensure the employability of newcomers and address the “doctor-driving-cab” immigrant conundrum, but has fuelled concerns that it creates a two-tiered system, where migrant workers don’t have the same protections as others and can be trapped in abusive and exploitative conditions in pursuit of permanent status.
The Statistics Canada report was released before Wednesday’s federal budget, which is expected to include further reforms to Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs.
The number of temporary residents entitled to work in Canada, including migrant workers and those under the international mobility program such as intra-company transfers, has tripled since early 2010s to more than 500,000, surpassing the 260,000 permanent residents settling here per year.
However, the share of higher-skilled foreign workers declined dramatically from 67 per cent in the late 1990s to just 40 per cent in the late 2000s.
The transition rate from temporary to permanent status varies dramatically for various classes of foreign workers, with live-in caregivers enjoying the greatest success despite a drastic drop from 83 per cent to 56 per cent in the last decade.
Among other groups, 31 per cent of low-skilled workers who arrived between 2005 and 2009 successfully became permanent residents compared to 23 per cent among their counterparts in higher-skilled occupations. The transition rate was less than 3 per cent among seasonal agricultural workers.
Temporary foreign workers from less developed countries were also more inclined to seek permanent residence in Canada, given expected increases in their standard of living.
Those from countries with higher gross domestic products per capita, such as the U.S., U.K., France and Japan had much lower transition rates than workers from the Philippines, India and China.
Four out of five of low-skilled workers obtained their permanent residence through the PNP program that allows provincial governments to select its own immigration candidates to meet local labour market needs.
About 38 per cent of higher-skilled workers got their status through the PNP program and half through the federal skilled workers program. The only option available for migrant farm workers is through marriage with Canadians.