On March 8, 2016, John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) tabled the 2015 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration (the “2015 IRCC Report”)  It states that in 2016 Canada will welcome between 280,000 and 305,000 immigrants, with a target of 300,000.  While this target if fulfilled would be Canada’s highest annual immigration number in over a century, not all immigration categories are being increased.

The 2015 IRCC Report reveals that 2016 will be a good year for the spouses and common-law partners of Canadians.  It also suggests that it will be a frustrating one for economic migrants, especially international graduates seeking to transition to permanent residency.

Before proceeding, it is important to note that while IRCC in the 2015 IRCC Report released a detailed breakdown of immigration statistics to Canada in 2014, it did not publish data for 2015.  As such, as of writing it is only possible to compare what the Liberal Government of Canada (the “Liberals”) is planning in 2016 with what the previous Conservative Government of Canada (the “Conservatives”) achieved in 2014, and what it planned in 2015.

Economic Immigration Programs

In 2016, Canada will accept between 54,000 to 58,400 immigrants in its federal economic immigration programs, which include the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Canadian Experience Class, and the Federal Skilled Trades Class.  This represents a significant reduction from the 62,487 individuals admitted through these programs in 2014, and an even greater reduction from the 68,000 to 74,000 immigrants that the previous Conservative Government of Canada targeted for these programs in 2015.  The practical consequence of this reduction will be that the threshold number of points that is required in IRCC’s Express Entry application intake management system to apply for permanent residency will remain higher in 2016 than many people would have hopped.

The unfortunate reality is that 2015 will remain a frustrating year for many potential economic migrants, especially international graduates, who were especially negatively impacted by the introduction of Express Entry and its comprehensive ranking system that treats foreign and Canadian degrees the same. Although the 2015 IRCC Report states that the Liberals are committed to exploring reforms to the Canadian Experience Class to reduce barriers to students, this vague statement will be of little comfort to international graduates who month after month in 2016 remain below the Invitation to Apply threshold because of the reduced economic immigration intake.

The 2016 IRCC Report states that in 2016 a further 46,000 to 48,000 immigrants will be admitted through the Provincial Nominee Program.  Prior to the release of the 2016 IRCC Report Minister McCallum stated that he would hand more control to the provinces over the selection of economic migrants. Provincial governments can be forgiven for wondering what happened.

The Liberal Government of Canada is also slightly reducing the number of spaces being made available for Caregivers, which includes the Live-in Caregiver Program, the High Medical Needs pathway and the Caring for Children stream.  They are also reducing the number of planned admissions in the Business Immigration programs, which should dash the hopes of those hoping for a return of the federal Immigrant Investor Program.

The overall result is that 2016 will likely be even a more difficult year than 2015 was for potential economic immigrants to Canada.  Obtaining a positive Labour Market Impact Assessment or an Express Entry provincial nomination will be more important than ever.

Family Class

On the other hand, the 2016 IRCC Report contains very good news for the spouses and common-law partners of Canadians.  The number of admissions in these streams will be between 57,000 to 62,000. This is a substantial increase from the 45,389 people admitted under this category in 2014, and the 45,000 – 48,000 that the previous Conservatives targeted in 2015.  Processing times will likely plummet, which will bring great relief to families that are either separated because of immigration or are in Canada and facing uncertainty.

On the other hand, the number of admittances through the parents and grandparent sponsorship programs will be surprisingly only be 18,000 – 20,000, which is about the same number as what IRCC under the Conservatives processed in 2014 and what it committed to process in 2015. The Liberals earlier this year boasted about increasing the cap of parent and grandparents that IRCC would accept into processing in 2016 from 5,000 to 10,000. By doubling the number of applications accepted into processing without increasing the actual number of admissions the only result can be slower processing times.

Refugees, Protected Persons, and Humanitarian Cases

By far the biggest change to Canadian immigration levels in 2016 will be the increase in the number of Refugees and Protected Persons.  In 2016 Canada will admit 51,000 to 57,000 Protected Persons and Refugees.  Of this, 24,000 to 25,000 will be Government Assisted Refugees, while 15,000 – 18,000 will be Privately Sponsored refugees. These levels are more than triple what they were in previous years.  The commitments are also high enough that IRCC should be able to go above and beyond the government’s commitment to resettling Syrian refugees, and to also help other displaced people.

Finally, the Liberals plan on admitting 2,800 – 3,600 to Canada as permanent residents through the humanitarian and compassionate (“H&C”) stream. This is a slight reduction from previous years.  Considering that the Supreme Court of Canada recently ordered that IRCC stop being so restrictive in its processing of these applications, it will be interesting to see if there is a resulting increase in H&C applications, and what sort of backlogs, if any, start to form.


Prior to releasing the 2015 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration Minister McCallum told the media that immigration to Canada was a zero-sum game and that there would always need to be trade-offs.  Considering that Minister McCallum writes the rules to the game, it is difficult to understand why he could not maintain economic immigration levels to Canada.  These immigrants often already have jobs in Canada, speak one of Canada’s official languages, and are established.  Their tax dollars will likely help pay for the resettlement of the increased refugee intake.  The 2016 Liberal targets represent a 7% increase over last year’s immigration numbers. By not increasing this by only a further few percent, the government missed an opportunity to save thousands of people anguish, and to permanently welcome many deserving people as permanent residents.

Photo: Photoman29 / Shutterstock.com

Steven Meurrens
Steven Meurrens is a partner at Larlee Rosenberg LLP, an immigration law firm in Vancouver. He is the chair of the Canadian Bar Association of British Columbia’s immigration subsection and also a member of the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration.

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