yellow background with blue hands reaching each other. the text reads "keep families together"

By: Mac Scott

Illustration provided by 2019 Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Before I list out the different pathways, I want to give a brief overview. First of all, my name is Mac, I work as a licensed immigration consultant for the Multiethnic Law Firm Carranza LLP. I am also a member of the migrant justice group. No One Is Illegal and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.

The immigration system is extremely political. It is based on a history of racism/colonialism, classism, ableism, ageism, sexism, and homophobia. It was, and continues, to be built on the idea of stolen land.

This is an important lens to use when looking at the pathways people can pursue status here. In essence, if you are white and middle class/rich, coming here is much much easier. Unfortunately, each status holds traps for people targetted by oppression; for example if you are a queer person claiming refugee status you will be forced to prove you are queer, if you are a woman being sponsored by a male partner, you will be forced to choose between getting status and staying in the relationship or leaving and losing your status. If you have any very visible disabilities or ailment you face a lot of barriers even in attaining status, so many don’t even try to apply

The system also has created a pyramid of status. Those with citizenship have full rights, those with permanent residency (the right to stay here permanently) have most rights, those with visitor, worker or student status have few rights, those without any status have very very few rights.

Finally, I must give the standard warning that this does not constitute legal advice. If you or a friend or family member is planning to make an application it is best to consult with a lawyer or licensed consultant.

For more information consult or the Immigration Refugee Problem Regulations.

Getting Status From Outside Canada

  • Economic Class
  • Refugee Class
  • Family Class
  • Humanitarian Class

There are several ‘streams” to apply to come to Canada with permanent residency. There are the economic class, family class, refugee, and humanitarian class. I will briefly cover each of these, along with the problems associated with each.

Economic Class

Express Entry

 This is the most used of the economic class applications. It replaces the so-called “points system” which replaced an earlier system in which race was an open category. It has many requirements:

  • You must have very good English and/or French
  • You must have a year’s experience doing paid skilled work (management position, positions requiring a university education, skilled trades, etc.); and
  • Without a job offer, you have to prove you have sufficient funds to settle in Canada.

To apply you first must take an English language or French Language test with a certified test agency. A list is available on the Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada [IRCC] website You then create a free online profile at You will then be rated based on your work experience, education, language skills, Canadian experience, and age. Once every two to three months, IRCC picks the top-rated people and invites them to become permanent residents of Canada. If picked, you have 90 days to do the application which is then usually processed within six months.

One way to avoid this lottery is to have a job offer where the employer has made a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). This means they apply to Employment Skills Development Canada (ESDC) to have it verified that the hire will have a neutral or positive impact on the Canadian economy. If you have such an offer you are automatically invited to become a permanent resident.

Like all these classes, you need to not be inadmissible to Canada. No criminal record, no security threat to Canada, sufficient funds to survive, no major medical issues or disability, and your spouse and children also must meet these criteria.

In-Home Caregivers

You have to get a job offer to take care of children or people with high medical issues in their homes. This job offer needs an LMIA where the employer has to show ESDC that they could not find a Canadian to fill the position. They have to pay a fee of $1000. The worker has to have either a six-month course in the field or one year’s work experience. You then get a work permit.

After working at least 2 years out of a total occupancy of 4 years, you can apply for permanent residency, you can apply for permanent residency. You must have proficiency in English or French, and you must have a degree, diploma, or other educational certificate from a one year program in Canada or elsewhere.

Business Class

These are for people who can make a substantial investment in a government fund that funds Canadian Businesses ($800,000), people who have managed a large business and can prove they can create the same here in Canada (employing two or more people, creating large profits, etc.), or people who have one year’s experience at a world-class level in cultural or athletic activities. This class also includes farmers who can show they will come here and create a farm.

Refugee Class

The person has to be outside their country of origin and been issued a certificate as a refugee by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. They then need a sponsor:

Government Assisted Refugees

 This is where the Canadian government agrees to look after the refugee or refugee family for the first year in Canada. Canada sponsors very few refugees, only around 10,000 a year. In contrast, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon have taken in around 2-3 million.

Group of Five

 Five Canadians and/or Permanent Residents agree to look after the refugee or refugee family for the first year. They need to show they earn enough to do so or that they have the money in trust.

Sponsorship Agreement Holders

 Certain organizations have signed agreements to sponsor refugees (Sponsorship Agreement Holders) they agree (sometimes along with community organizations or individuals) to take care of the refugee or refugee family for the first year.

From experience, refugee sponsorship processing times can take up to 5 years. The processing time starts the day they receive your complete application and ends when they make a decision. You can find up-to-date official processing times using the following website: 

Family Class

This is where a Canadian citizen or permanent resident sponsors their family. The sponsor cannot be on welfare, cannot be on disability (unless they are sponsoring their children or spouse), must earn a certain amount of money (unless they are sponsoring their children or spouse), cannot have a serious criminal record and must be over 18. People can sponsor their:


 Including common-law partner (living together for a year or more) and conjugal partner (together in a very serious relationship for a year or more but unable to be together due to circumstances beyond their control i.e. Prison, border separation, etc.).

Dependent child

 Must be under 22 and financially dependent on the Sponsor, or over 22 but financially dependent due to a disability.


 It takes a long time – sometimes over 5 years.


 Very very rarely can you sponsor other family members, usually only if they are your only relative alive.

Humanitarian Class

Humanitarian Assisted Abroad

Similar to the refugee sponsorship program, except affected by a serious humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian Applications

Able to show there are serious compassionate reasons why the person should be allowed to come to Canada. However, IRCC is not required to process the application.

Getting Status From Inside Canada

  • Refugee Claims
  • Humanitarian Application
  • Spousal Sponsorship

Refugee Claims

If someone gets to Canada, somehow (very difficult if you are from the global south and not rich), you can present yourself to an immigration officer and say you can’t go back to your country of origin because it is unsafe. This is because Canada has ratified (made into Canadian Law) the United Nations Convention on Refugees. You will lose whatever status you had and become a refugee claimant (you have a right to health coverage, to a work or study permit, and do not have to leave until you have your hearing and lose). After a year or so, you will have a hearing in front of a tribunal (a pseudo-court- the Refugee Protection Division) where you will have to prove that if returned to your country of origin either:

(This one is easier to prove than the next) You will be persecuted (i.e the state or others will seriously hurt you or discriminate against you) on the basis of your race, nationality, politics, religion or social grouping (this includes things like your gender, your sexuality, your disability, etc.), that the police can’t protect you, and that there is nowhere in the country that you can be safe; or

That you face a risk of serious harm or mistreatment, a risk to your life or a risk of torture (pain applied to get information or certain behaviour, either by the state or with the state ignoring it). Again, you have to prove that the police can’t protect you and that there is nowhere in the country that you can be safe, but also that the risk isn’t due to the lack of medical treatment (unless it is due to discrimination, i.e. You can’t get HIV treatment due to homophobia).

Humanitarian Application

You have to prove there are significant compassionate reasons why you should be allowed to be a permanent resident in Canada. Until there is approval (takes one year), you can be removed. If you are approved, you can get a work permit or study permit (but you have to pay for it). You can also stay at this point. It then takes about a year to get your permanent residency.

The things they look at are: hardship (this is different than risk in the refugee class, i.e a person that identifies as lesbian might not have been attacked in their country of origin but may not be able to get housing, employment, social services – this can be considered a hardship); establishment (how long have you been here? Are you working? Have you completed educational courses? Do you have friends here? Are you volunteering? Etc.); defacto family members – people you are close to and who are not spouses or children, but you are extremely interdependent (this could be chosen family); best interests of children directly affected (how will removal affect your kids?); and public interests (i.e. is it really a good idea to deport a woman pursuing charges against her abusive partner?).

Spousal Sponsorship

A spouse (including a common-law spouse) can be sponsored by their Canadian Citizen or permanent resident spouse. The problem is it can take 1-2 years and gives the sponsor a lot of power over the person being sponsored. If the relationship ends, the sponsorship is over (note, however, that there are options and no one should remain in an abusive relationship).

So looking through this, what is clear? In my view, it’s hard for poor people and working people from the global south to come to Canada. My great grandparents were farmers and workers, they came easily, they were white. LGBTIQA+ gets exposed to oppression in this system, either overtly or subtly. Women get stuck in abusive relationships, people with seriously visible or expensive physical/mental health-related issues are not even considered.

We can build an inclusive system, where people are not deported or detained, where borders are open, not just to trade but to people. We can recognize Indigenous title to land and provide reparations. But we need to organize. There is work being done through OPIRG Guelph on these issues, and check out Freedom to Move, Freedom to Leave, Freedom to Stay!

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