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The Atlantic Immigration Program – now a permanent pathway for immigration

Included in Beyond the border: Immigration update – February 2022


Sara Espinal Henao

The Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program has finally become a permanent immigration pathway. Designated employers in Atlantic Canada will be able to continue using the program to fill labour shortages with international talent while supporting permanent settlement in the region. The Government of Canada announced this decision on December 17, 2021, and the program became a permanent fixture of Canada’s immigration landscape effective January 1, 2022, changing its name to the Atlantic Immigration Program (“AIP”). The Government of Canada will welcome 6,000 newcomers to Atlantic Canada per year using this pathway.

The decision to transition this program into a permanent immigration option is hardly surprising in light of its proven track record. Launched in 2017 as part of the Atlantic Growth Strategy, the Pilot was widely successful at both attracting and retaining talent, bringing almost 10,000 newcomers to the region. By 2019, only two years after its launch, the Pilot had already reached 78 per cent of its immigration target, approving 91 per cent of all AIP applications received, and bringing 5,590 newcomers. As of May 2021, AIP employers had collectively made over 9,200 job offers in various sectors, from manufacturing to health care, welcoming over 8,000 foreign nationals and their families to the region.

While the Pilot version of this now permanent immigration pathway officially closed on December 31, 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC”) continues to accept applications under the Pilot from those with a valid provincial endorsement until March 5, 2022. Candidates with valid endorsements under the permanent version will be able to submit applications under the new program starting March 6, 2022.

To meet varying labour market and skill level needs, this immigration pathway remains available for skilled workers and international graduates, depending on the individual’s job offer, work experience, and educational credentials. However, while remaining largely unchanged from its previous iteration, the AIP now includes a few noteworthy amendments to its process and eligibility criteria for both foreign nationals and the designated employers who seek to employ them.

Important changes for employers

A new designation process

Like its Pilot counterpart, the AIP operates with an employer-driven model. Employers will need to be designated under the new program by an Atlantic province to be able to use it to hire foreign talent. Previously designated employers under the Pilot version will also need to reapply for designation with their respective province. To date, new processes for designation under the program have already entered into effect in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Onboarding training now required 

While each province has its own guidelines for designation, all employers will now be required to take mandatory onboarding training and intercultural competency training before their first endorsement application under the program can be approved.

Onboarding training is expected to cover information about the Canadian immigration system and the AIP, and is intended to provide employers with a comprehensive overview of their roles and responsibilities under the program. Similarly, international competency training will include education on how to overcome implicit bias in hiring and managing employees, as part of the employer’s commitment to establishing a welcoming workplace environment. Training service providers are now available at each province to facilitate this process.

A Dedicated Service Channel

To facilitate communication with the government, designated employers under the program will have access to enhanced employer support services through a Dedicated Service Channel. Through this Channel, they will be able to receive timely support from program officers on applications submitted under the program. Provinces will refer employers to the Channel after their first endorsement, and will be available to employers for up to a year after they have successfully endorsed their first candidate under the program.

Important changes for foreign nationals

A modernized application process

At the federal level, the permanent residence application process for the AIP will be modernized with an online application option. This much welcomed digital submission option will eliminate the need to mail out applications for permanent residence on paper, potentially improving processing times and allowing the applicant to obtain immediate confirmation of receipt of their application once it is submitted.

Modified language and education requirements

One of the appeals of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program was its lower language and education requirements compared to most other immigration pathways at federal and provincial levels. Secondary level education was sufficient for the purpose of applying under the Pilot’s high-skilled and intermediate-skilled streams. Similarly, the Pilot only required that the applicant show a minimum level of Canadian Language Benchmark 4 to meet language proficiency requirements.

While still comparatively more lenient vis-à-vis other programs, the language and education requirements for certain occupations has been strengthened under the new program. Candidates with National Occupational Classifications (“NOC”) 0, A or B job offers will now need to show minimum language level of Canadian Language Benchmark 5. Similarly, candidates with NOC 0 or A job offers will now need to show a minimum one-year Canadian post-secondary program credential, or equivalency, demonstrated by an Educational Credential Assessment.

Expanded eligibility period for work experience

Despite somewhat increasing education and language requirements for some prospective applicants, the new program proves to be more lenient than its Pilot version regarding what will count as eligible work experience. The previous version counted only work experience obtained over the three years preceding the date of submission of an application. The new program expands the period of eligible work experience to five years. This shift is expected to expand the talent pool that employers would be able to recruit from.

Flexible work experience

In addition to extending the period of eligibility for qualifying work experience, the new program shows a more flexible approach to employment in the health care sector, carving out an exemption to the general rule that job offers must be at the same skill level, or higher, as the qualifying work experience. Down-skilling will be allowed for sector-specific job offers that fall under NOC 3413 (nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates) and NOC 4412 (home health care workers). Eligible candidates will be able to use related work experience gained in higher skilled positions, as practical or registered nurses. This flexibility would allow candidates with work experience in high-skilled health care occupations to access the program with a job offer in the health care sector at the intermediate-skill level, and aims to help the Atlantic region respond to labour market needs in this chronically in-demand sector.

Undoubtedly, the re-launch of AIP as a permanent pathway for immigration is a welcomed development by Canadian employers and newcomers alike, signaling a promising and enduring future for immigration to the region. If you are interested in exploring the AIP as an avenue for immigration or to fill your local labour demands, please contact a member of our immigration team and we would be happy to assist.


This client update is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of our Immigration group.

 

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