I want to apply for permanent residence – where do I start!?

Did you know there are over 100 different permanent residency programs in Canada, including federal, provincial, territorial and pilot programs? No wonder getting started can be daunting and overwhelming!

You may qualify for more than 1 program. It’s important to strategically approach your application for permanent residence, selecting the program that positions you for the highest likelihood of success.  This requires comparing and contrasting your options, learning the process of each option so you can assess which one is most likely to succeed (i.e. do you need an invitation to apply and, if yes, are you likely to get one?) and choosing the program that best aligns with your other goals and objectives (like family and career).

Understanding the fundamentals of Canada’s economic immigration system will help you prepare for permanent residence and help you get started on the right path.

What is Express Entry?

Most people aspiring to apply for permanent residence (PR) have heard of Express Entry. PR applications submitted in the Express Entry system are typically processed in 6 months or less, the fastest processing time among all types of PR applications.

Express Entry is an online application system used to submit certain applications for permanent residence. Applications to the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Federal Skilled Trades (FST) program are submitted using this system. Some PR applications from Provincial Nominees are also submitted through the Express Entry system. You can compare programs to begin assessing your eligibility here.

Applicants who meet the criteria of either the CEC, FSWP or FST must first complete a language test and, in the case of those applying to the FSWP, an Education Credential Assessment (ECA). In fact, we recommend all applicants obtain an ECA regardless of the program to which you’re applying.

Once you have valid language test results and an ECA, create a profile in the Express Entry system. If you’re eligible, your profile will be entered into a pool of candidates where it will be ranked based on factors like age, level of education (only if you have an ECA!) and language ability. Your rank is your Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) then invites applicants with the highest CRS scores to submit their application for permanent residence. Receiving an invitation is not a guarantee, even if you qualify. Therefore, focusing on increasing your Express Entry rank is important.

What is a NOC Code?
The National Occupational Classification (NOC) system is used to categorize occupations by skill level. Your eligibility for permanent residence will depend on the skill level of your work experience in Canada and abroad.

To qualify for programs managed by the Express Entry system, you must have work experience in a “skilled job”. These are jobs that are categorized as NOC Skill 0, A or B.

If you have Canadian work experience in a semi-skilled or entry level occupation (NOC C or D), you will need to explore provincial, territorial and pilot programs.

Can I continue working while I’m applying for permanent residence? 

Applying for PR does not authorize you to remain in Canada while your application is processed. You must maintain temporary resident status (i.e. worker, student or visitor) until you formally become a permanent resident.

Can I apply to extend my International Experience Canada (IEC) work permit?
IEC participants are limited to a certain number of participations in the program based on bilateral country agreements, which means IEC permits (like working holiday and young professional) generally cannot be extended.

Participants from most countries are only allowed one Working Holiday Permit. Participants from some countries can participate in the IEC program again in another category, like the Young Professional or International Co-op (Australian citizens can apply for either a working holiday permit or young professional permit – they may not have both).

An IEC permit can be extended in some cases, for example, if your work permit was issued for a shorter duration than you are eligible based on your country agreement. Find out if you are eligible to extend your IEC work permit. Participants who have used the maximum allowable participations based on their country agreement may be eligible to apply for another Working Holiday or Young Professional permit by participating through a Recognized Organization.

What is a Bridging Open Work Permit?
Applicants who have applied for permanent residence through the Express Entry system, are still in Canada and have a valid work permit may apply for a bridging open work permit (BOWP).

If you do not qualify for a BOWP, you may apply for another work permit while you wait for your PR application to be processed through various other means. For example, if you have a job offer from an employer with a valid Labour Market Impact Assessment or you are a French speaker. Explore the different types of work permits here.

Can I keep working if I applied to extend my work permit?
You may be authorized to remain in Canada and keep working if you are eligible for a new type of work permit and applied for the new permit from within Canada before your original work permit expired. This is called maintained status.

You can keep working in Canada under the same conditions of your original work permit while IRCC processes the new application, as long as you do not leave the country in the meantime. If the new work permit is approved, you will receive the document by mail and may continue working under the conditions of the new work permit. If the application is refused, you must stop working immediately upon notification of the refusal.

What if I do not qualify for an Express Entry program?
If you do not qualify for an Express Entry program, consider applying to a provincial nominee program (PNP). PNPs are also great alternatives for applicants who might not have a high enough CRS rank to get invited to apply through the Express Entry system, even if they meet the criteria to qualify under one of the Express Entry programs.

What documents should I start collecting for my Express Entry application?
Passport – applicants require a passport that is valid for at least 6 months at the time your PR application is finalized.

Language test – a language test (English or French, better if you have both) is needed to create your Express Entry profile. You must complete an approved language test and there are different versions of each test (i.e. academic vs. general training). Make sure you take the correct test.

Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) – this is used to verify that your foreign degree, diploma, or certificate is valid and equal to a Canadian one. An ECA isn’t always required to meet program criteria, but it will increase your CRS score, therefore it is a good idea to have one. It can take several months to obtain, so start the application process early

Police Clearance – it can take a long time to get police certificates. Failure to submit the correct police clearances is the no. 1 reason why applications are cancelled in the Express Entry system so make sure you follow the instructions on IRCC’s website very carefully to obtain the proper documents for your application. You should consider applying for police clearances as soon as your profile is in the pool. You must include police clearances from each country you stayed in for more than 6 months or more in a row in the past 10 years.

Medical Exam – a medical exam must be completed by an IRCC panel physician (not your family doctor). It is best practice to complete your medical exam as soon as you are invited to apply in Express Entry (not earlier or the results could expire before your application is finalized)