Canada’s immigration system admits permanent residents in one of three ways: as economic immigrants bringing capital and labour skills that contribute to economic growth and community development, as sponsored family members for the purposes of family reunification, or as refugees on humanitarian grounds. The bulk of economic immigrants are higher-skilled workers who apply from outside of Canada and are assessed on a federally administered point system, business immigrants that include investors and entrepreneurs, and higher-skilled temporary workers and qualified international students already living in Canada who transition to permanent residency through the Canadian Experience Class.

PNPs represent a fourth pathway to permanent residency available to both higher and lower-skilled economic immigrants. These programs have developed in the context of an increasingly regionalized and decentralized immigration system in Canada, with the purposes of granting broader scope for provinces to tailor economic immigration in ways that meet their particular labour and overall economic development needs.

Provincial nominations for permanent residency in Canada emerged slowly in the late 1990s, but their popularity climbed steadily through the 2000s. Only 151 principle nominations were made in 1999, bringing a total of 477 immigrants, including spouses and dependents, to Canada through the PNP class in that year. By 2008, these numbers had climbed to 8,343 principle nominations and a total of PNP class 22,418 immigrants.[xxxvii] Manitoba led all other jurisdictions in PNP class immigrants in 2008, with 7,968 individuals – 34% of the Canadian total and more than double the number in British Columbia, the next most actively nominating province.[xxxviii]

As Table 3.1 makes clear, the quantitative significance of provincial nominees as a source of economic immigration varies considerably between provinces. In Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick, provincial nominees made up a relatively large proportion (75% or more) of the total permanent economic immigrants in 2008. By comparison, nominees were a less significant source of economic immigration overall in Alberta and British Columbia, despite the fact that these are among the provinces making the highest number of nominations per year. These two provinces also bring in the highest numbers of temporary foreign workers annually.[xxxix]





Table 3.1: Provincial Nominees in 2008
*Principle applications plus dependents
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Annual Report (2009).[xl] 

Note, however, that these proportions are not necessarily an accurate reflection of why and how provincial nominees are economically, socially and/or demographically significant for each province. No data are available from CIC, for example, on what percentage of these nominees are high and low-skilled workers, or whether they are concentrated in particular industries. For provinces such as Ontario that do not currently admit low-skilled workers through their PNPs, the available data reflect only high-skilled workers. In the latter case, it would be safe to assume that PNPs in these provinces still play a relatively minor role in economic immigration overall.

Federal-provincial agreements on immigration undergird the recent shift toward greater provincial control over economic immigration and create the legal supra-structure for the PNPs. All ten provinces and the Yukon Territory have negotiated bilateral framework agreements with the federal government.[xli] The resulting PNPs form what amount to a series of decentralized channels through which private employers, via provincial governments, can access foreign labour and establish workers in long-term employment relationships as permanent residents. Some agreements also include provisions that may increase the flexibility of TFWPs to suit provincial purposes and provisions that delegate responsibilities for settlement services and immigrant protections to provincial governments and municipalities.

All of the federal-provincial agreements on immigration, not including the Canada-Quebec Accord, were signed or subsequently updated after the IRPA came into force in 2002.[xlii] These agreements define the responsibilities of respective federal and provincial governments in relation to new immigrants, temporary residents and refugees, and establish the terms of cooperation in each area.[xliii] The earliest of the current agreements was signed in 1996 (Manitoba) and the most recent in 2008 (Prince Edward Island). Most of the framework agreements have an indefinite duration, with the exception of British Columbia and Ontario, whose agreements are scheduled to expire in 2010.[xliv]

At the most general level, the federal-provincial framework agreements envision an allocation of immigration responsibilities along the following lines. The federal government retains primary control over setting national immigration policy by defining classes of admissibility and inadmissibility, and by ensuring that Canada meets its international obligations with respect to refugees.[xlv] The framework agreements then leave broad scope for provincial governments to shape decision-making processes and to directly select the individuals who will populate the provincial nominee class, with attention to social, economic, and demographic objectives defined by the provinces themselves. Notably, the federal government does not set a cap on the number of individuals nominated annually by the provinces, making room for the nominee class to become a very large box.[xlvi]  The bulk of each agreement then goes on to define the terms of cooperation between the parties, with annexes providing for specific programs such as the PNPs and settlement services. Many provincial nominees will be individuals who initially entered the country with a temporary work permit under one of the federal TFWPs. Successful provincial nominees are fast-tracked through the immigration process in a fraction of the time that it would take them to gain permanent residency status via other federal immigration streams and are subject to special admission criteria designed by the responsible provincial government.[xlvii]

An early incarnation of the current nominee programs was negotiated by Manitoba in the mid-1990s as a response to labour shortages plaguing the province’s booming garment industry. At that time, public debates were ongoing between garment industry employers, who were pushing for greater flexibility to recruit foreign workers for permanent positions, mainly as sewing machine operators, and the Progressive Conservative provincial government of the day, which was generally in favour of preserving jobs for domestic labour. Eventually the garment industry employers won out.[xlviii] In 1996, Manitoba struck a deal with the federal government to recruit 200 foreign garment workers to settle permanently in the province.[xlix] Most of the workers recruited under this agreement were female sewing machine operators from the Philippines. The terms of the agreement placed stringent requirements on employers, requiring them to sponsor foreign garment workers, in the absence of family sponsorship, for a period of ten years. Employer sponsorship included responsibilities to ensure that workers did not access unemployment insurance or social assistance.[l] The actual degree of oversight or enforcement of sponsorship responsibilities has been called into question, however, as no government reports addressing this aspect of the agreement have ever been publically filed.[li]

Despite the Manitoba program’s early roots as a targeted labour migration scheme in lower-skilled sectors, recent trajectories suggest that its PNP has evolved as part of a much more broad-based regional immigration strategy.[lii] Some other provincial programs have developed along similar lines. New Brunswick, for example, implemented its PNP in 1999 as a mechanism to begin addressing long-term population decline, and to promote a more diverse population through immigration.[liii] As a result, the province’s early efforts through its PNP were largely directed toward higher-skilled economic immigrants and focused on attracting individuals to the main urban centres.  Yet other provinces – British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in particular – appear to view their PNPs as a much narrower policy tool, using these programs in conjunction with the TFWPs to fill targeted labour shortages without addressing larger employment and immigration contexts. Finally provinces with newer programs that admit relatively few nominees, such as Ontario, have yet to define an over-arching policy direction. The implications of these divergent provincial approaches for lower-skilled temporary foreign workers are discussed in detail below.


3.1.1        General Features Common to PNPs

At least two features common to contemporary PNPs in Canada and relevant to lower-skilled foreign workers are discernable. First, provincial autonomy to develop and administer nominee programs under the framework agreements is nearly unlimited. According to all PNP agreements signed to date, provincial governments hold exclusive authority to establish program criteria, nomination quotas, and administrative schemes, leaving the federal government with a limited role to monitor basic admissibility requirements under the IRPA and to negotiate evaluation processes for each provincial program. The language of the framework agreements indicates unequivocally that these programs are designed for the provinces to occupy maximum jurisdictional space. The Canada-Ontario Agreement, for example, recognizes that “Ontario is best positioned to determine the specific needs of the province vis-à-vis immigration.”[liv] This and similar provisions represent a strong undercurrent pulling toward highly decentralized economic immigration programs.

At the level of program design, current PNP agreements enable the provinces to establish their own criteria for making nominations and to set target numbers for nominees from year to year.[lv] Most provinces have created distinct sub-categories or streams in their PNPs based on skill level, family statues, or planned business development, and sometimes restrict these to specific industries and occupations. Provinces do not require approval from CIC when they create or implement new streams or when they make changes to existing ones.[lvi] The PNP agreements also call for the federal and provincial governments to negotiate evaluation plans for each provincial program, but so far negotiations in this area have not been forthcoming, leaving the provinces effectively unrestrained in developing and modifying their programs.[lvii]

At the level of evaluating individual nomination applications, provincial governments, sometimes in partnership with employers and other non-governmental actors, are given the broad authority to make most, if not all, substantive determinations about eligibility. These parties process nominee applications and present a final nomination certificate to the CIC, which assesses basic individual admissibility requirements with respect to the health, criminality and security risk of the nominee.[lviii] Once the basic federal requirements are met, provincial nominees are normally approved and the necessary documents are issued by CIC to individual workers.

Notably, provinces may recommend that nominees be issued a temporary work permit, usually in the form of a permit renewal, without requiring an LMO. This process allows nominees to acquire a temporary work permit and continue working in the province while their application for permanent residency status is being processed. Some PNP agreements contain explicit language to recognize this power, but recent CIC Guidelines acknowledge the exemption for all provinces with PNP agreements in effect.[lix] Provincial needs to exercise this authority are also determined by the specific nomination requirements in place in each jurisdiction. All existing PNP streams for lower-skilled workers require nominees to first become temporary workers admitted into the province through one of the federal TFWP streams and to work under a temporary permit for a minimum time period before they are eligible to apply as a nominee (6 and 9 months are common). Other program steams for higher-skilled workers allow nominees to be recruited form outside Canada and to arrive directly without first applying through