Pathways to Status

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!

Accessing Education for Precarious Migrant Students

black and white Abstract drawing of various shapes and

By: The S4 Collective

“The value of education and school was instilled in me from an early age. As a result, I have a deep-rooted passion for learning and the acquisition of knowledge. These ideals accompanied me on my migration journey to Canada – a land of opportunity. I was not prepared for the hurdles that I encountered in the realization of that goal.”

S4 Collective member

In the fall of 2018, the Sanctuary Students Solidarity and Support Collective (S4 Collective) was formed in Toronto. The group emerged in response to several challenges identified by a group of students with precarious immigration status at the threshold of post-secondary education. The realization of this group was supported by practitioners who had been working with newcomer youth in varying capacity for several years. Although early in its evolution, the group has two main objectives: 1) to support students with precarious immigration status in navigating various levels of education in Ontario; and 2) to support the capacity building of programs and institutions to increase equitable access for these populations. Several members of this collective have contributed to the development of this article, reflecting our own experiences in identifying and overcoming challenges with accessing education in Ontario. We would like to caution readers that our individual experiences may not directly reflect those of other precarious migrant students (particularly students outside of Toronto); however, we hope that this can provide a general roadmap for those in similar situations. If you would like additional information or support, please contact us at 

Overview of the Issue and Existing Responses 

In Ontario, every child under 18 has the right to attend school regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status. This right, ensured by Section 49.1 of the Ontario Education Act (OEA), however, is not extended to everyone. Most Canadians don’t worry about being turned away when they walk in to register for school. Non-status youth, on the other hand, continually face barriers and exclusion when trying to get an education in Ontario. Children as young as 4 or 5 have been sent away from schools, with the inaccurate and harmful message that they are not eligible to join their peers. 

Over the past two decades, targeted and community-driven advocacy campaigns led by Social Planning Toronto, No One Is Illegal, non-status youth and allies have significantly increased access to schooling in Ontario. These efforts have resulted in the greater implementation of section 49.1; the development of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy at the Toronto District School Board. This policy assures that student’s immigration status will not be shared with immigration authorities, and the creation of a ground-breaking new program at York University, which allows non-status (as well as students with precarious immigration status) to pursue undergraduate degrees at domestic fee rates. 

Despite this progress, barriers remain for non-status youth trying to exercise their right to education in Ontario. For instance, policies and directives are often misread or misinterpreted by administrators within primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions. These administrators, who stand between the students and the classroom for registration purposes, continue to turn youth away. Other youth and their families may be unaware of their right to education and/or unable to advocate for this right as they may be isolated or disconnected from community resources that could help them. These experiences of social exclusion are unfolding within the context of the growing anti-immigrant rhetoric in the global north, which further increases the likelihood of youth experiencing the harmful impacts of xenophobia and racism while striving for meaningful access to education. 

The Regulations and How they Work 

At the primary and secondary level, children and their parents face specific challenges enrolling in school if they do not have immigration documents to prove their status in Canada, which, in fact, directly contradicts section 49.1 of the OEA. They will also be turned away if they have been in the country for less than six months, indicating that they are still visitors/tourists. This temporary status is, therefore, a barrier for families that intend to stay and eventually submit an immigration application. Moreover, the absence of a proof of address, which many undocumented families do not have for a variety of reasons, may cause significant challenges for school registration. Finally, minors that travel to Canada alone to escape violence or persecution may also face challenges if they don’t have a guardian in Canada. Conversely, those who are over 18 years old are not covered under the OEA and may also be excluded. For those who do manage to get past the initial threshold of registration and thereafter attend classes, other experiences of discrimination often await them, barring them from having an equitable school experience comparable to that of their Canadian-born counterparts. 

Focusing on the progress that has been made over the years, we will outline some of the advocacy strategies that have enabled non-status youth to gain access to education. As mentioned above, it is important to caution readers that many pitfalls continue to exist, and not all strategies will work for everyone. Notably, there is a sweeping lack of consistency around how policies are understood and implemented by different gatekeepers in different settings. Much of the information we will provide is Toronto-centric, reflecting the larger concentration of non-status youth in this city. It is our experience that non-status youth outside of Toronto often feel more invisibilized, and are in turn more excluded or misunderstood as a result. If you know a young person who is trying to access some form of education with precarious immigration status, we would therefore strongly encourage them to seek community support (resources will be listed at the end of this article). 

High School 

Detailed information around the experiences of non-status youth at the high school level across Ontario can be found in the Uprooted Education Report. Although this report reflects experiences from 2015/2016, sadly little progress has been made since then. Youth reported continually having to disclose their status at multiple points, depending on the area, (at the school board, at an assessment center, at the school itself), which lead to significant anxiety about their status being disclosed to others, including immigration authorities. However, if they are able to get through these psychological and bureaucratic barriers, they have the right to study in Ontario – well, to a point. 

Section 49.1 of the Ontario Education Act states: “A person who is otherwise entitled to be admitted to a school and who is less than eighteen years of age shall not be refused admission because the person or the person’s parent or guardian is unlawfully in Canada. (1993, c. 11, s. 21).” This should mean that anyone is entitled to free primary and secondary education in Ontario IF they are under the age of 18, and IF they aren’t entitled to a study permit (excluding international students and visitors). However, within some school boards, youth who have been in Canada less than six months may be eligible to register for school so long as ONE of their parents has been present in Canada for more than six months or holds a valid work permit. However, this important information needs to be known and understood by school administrators and other key actors for it to be implemented effectively. 

In Toronto, non-status youth who meet the eligibility outlined in Section 49.1 have two options: the public school board (TDSB) or the Catholic school board (TCDSB). The registration processes differ quite significantly between the two. For the TDSB, youth first have to go to the school board offices at 5050 Yonge Street to request a letter of eligibility to move forward with their registration process. 5050 Yonge Street can be an intimidating place, as the austere building has an authoritarian feel, and families are asked about their status in a hallway of strangers. Youth must prove that they have been in the country for more than 6 months, reside in Toronto, and in some cases even prove parentage (as administrators have, at times, challenged family members with different last names). Once they have cleared these challenges and received the eligibility letter, the youth must go to a Newcomer Reception Centre to determine their competence with a math and English test. Here, they again need to disclose their status and resubmit some of the proof (but with arguably more sensitivity). Finally, these young people are given their assessment package and instructed to go to the school closest to their residence, fill out more paperwork, and finally start class. This process could take anywhere from a day or two, to a few weeks or even months. 

At the TCDSB, families need to show the same documentation (proof of being in the country more than six months, residence in the city of Toronto, parentage) but have a more “one-stop-shopping” experience. Youth can make an appointment with the TCDSB Orientation Centre, where they disclose their status, fill out some paperwork and take the assessment test all at once. They can sometimes even start school the next day. Another important difference lies at the primary level, where families can register their students directly at a school, as long as they can prove they’ve been in the country for more than six months, and the child has been baptized. 

As mentioned earlier, these issues are frequently less understood, with even less defined procedures outside of Toronto. The lack of visibility of non-status residents and subsequent lack of understanding of their situation in smaller municipalities may lead to greater confusion – and with harmful consequences. According to the Uprooted Education Report, there is no consistency between school boards, and even between schools across Ontario around registration procedures for precarious status students. The report mentions several factors that may influence the experience, including the personality and mood of the administrator that students first encounter, having an advocate with them, awareness of how the systems work and their rights within these systems. 

When advocating for access to schooling for non-status youth outside Toronto, some have tried referring school administrators to section 49.1 of the OEA, though certain administrators dismiss these efforts. For the safety and security of non-status families, people may prefer to seek appropriate assistance while navigating these systems. Advocates can begin by inquiring anonymously for families at particular schools/school boards to assess the barriers that exist. If this doesn’t work, advocates may attempt to strategically argue for access, leveraging existing legislation– including OEA and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. If responses remain negative, next steps may include advocating with sympathetic school board trustees or MPPs. This can also develop into larger advocacy efforts to change local policies and practices. 

Graduation and Moving Forward 

At the end of grade 12, despite the significant accomplishment and all the excitement around graduation, members of our group faced some really difficult decisions and insurmountable barriers. Applying to college and/or university often led to disappointment when members realized that they would be asked for a study permit and obliged to pay international fees. Without a SIN, many then faced the reality of having to take on precarious, often low-paid and exploitative work. There are currently no provincial provisions to facilitate access for non-status students at the post-secondary level. However, advocacy efforts and community-university collaboration at York University has led to a ground-breaking program which facilitates admission for non-status and precarious status students. This program has enabled many of our members to start undergraduate degrees and follow their passions. While the initiative at York University reduces many of the significant barriers faced by non-status students, additional obstacles often present themselves. Being ineligible for OSAP, as well as most scholarships and bursaries means that tuition fees must be entirely covered by the student, which is a big financial undertaking. Nonetheless, as the obstacles are increasingly being identified and efforts are made to address them, the opportunity for other post-secondary institutions to increase access is significant. While many of our members are excited to be studying at York, some have identified other universities or colleges as their first choice, which drives our efforts to continue to work for expanded access. 

Final Thoughts 

Access to equitable education is widely understood to represent an important social determinant of health. For people residing in Canada with precarious immigration status, navigating the school system continues to be a complex and fraught process. Far from a homogenous process, one’s experience can be shaped by the region they live in: access to advocacy support and community resources, the biases of administrators and other gatekeepers at a particular school, age, length of time in Canada, and other social markers of identity likely to contribute to ease of access. The Bridging Program at York University – established in 2017, currently represents the only avenue by which precarious status students can feasibly access undergraduate studies in Canada. The S4 Collective has therefore emerged as a community-based group of precarious status students and allies to offer support to individuals, families, and communities striving to meet their educational goals, and to advocate for policy shifts in support of equitable access regardless of immigration status.

Labour Rights for Migrant Workers

A illustration of man holding his child on his shoulders. text reads "migrant hope"

By: Migrant Workers Alliance for Change

Illustration provided by 2019 Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative

Working for Cash? You Have Rights at Work!

It is legal to be paid in cash. Workers can get paid in cash for a variety of jobs, such as construction, cleaning, day labour, employment through temp agencies, work in the service industry and more. 

If you get paid in cash but don’t have a Social Insurance Number, valid Work Permit, or don’t have immigration status, you still have rights under basic labour laws. 

It is important to be prepared in case your rights are violated at work. Keeping detailed records about your work, pay, and employer will help you defend your rights, get the wages you are owed, or file a complaint. 

Protect yourself: 

Keep your own record of the number of hours, dates and location of where you worked, and any problems that happen. Keep this information at home or on your personal cell phone. 

Write down how much you have been paid. Keep copies of any email transfers, receipts from payday loan or cash stores, or other evidence that shows your employer pays you. If possible, deposit all your cash into a bank account so that you can use your bank statements as evidence. 

Write down any information about your boss and the company that you can find: name, title, work and home address, phone numbers, license plate number. 

Keep records of any communication you have with your employer: texts, emails, phone calls, letters. 

If you have been working for cash, you may still qualify for EI (Employment Insurance). It is very important to have your own record of your hours worked and wages paid. Apply for EI as soon as you stop working. 

Your employer does not need to know your address. You can give your employer another address if you do not feel safe providing your real one. You may want to use an address where you can collect your mail. 

Only share information about your immigration status with people you trust. 

If you think your rights have been violated, call the Workers’ Action Centre immediately to get help. All calls are free and confidential. 

Getting Paid 

It is legal to be paid in cash but you must still be paid at least the minimum wage. Your employer must give you a record or “pay slip” every time you are paid. It should say how many hours you have worked, your pay rate, overtime, public holiday pay, vacation, and deductions taken for taxes, Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).   

A boss who pays you in cash may not want to give you a payslip because they want to avoid paying their employer contributions, such as EI or taxes. Even if you don’t get a pay slip, you still have rights. It is important to have your own record of your hours worked and wages paid. 

No Status? Undocumented? No work permit? 

If you are working without a valid Social Insurance Number (SIN) or work permit, or you do not have any status, you still have rights under basic labour laws. This includes employment standards, health and safety, human rights and workers’ compensation for injured on the job. You can file a claim at the Ministry of Labour if your rights have been violated. Provincial Labour Ministries are not supposed to share immigration information with the federal government. The Ministry of Labour can get you the wages you are owed even if you have left the country. 

Many of us who are undocumented are afraid of losing our jobs or being deported if we speak out about problems at work. But there are ways to protect ourselves when we are fighting for our unpaid wages or defending our rights. 

Email us for help. All emails are confidential. Please let us know where you live and we will connect you to the closest support center. 

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change 

If you are in Ontario, contact 

Workers’ Action Centre:          


Toll Free: 1-866-531-0778