Canada | Business Roundtable


  • General Inquiries
  • Mailing Address
    300 New Jersey Avenue, NW
    Suite 800
    Washington, D.C. 20001
  • Media Contact
    Rayna Farrell
    Director, Communications

Membership Contact
Marty Hall
Senior Vice President & Chief of Staff


What is Business Roundtable

Business Roundtable (BRT) is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving U.S. economy.

Return to Report Home

The State of ImmigrationCanada

Outcompeting Its Southern Neighbor

As a percentage of its population, Canada admits twice as many immigrants annually as the United States, and its new Express Entry system shows the country wants to continue to attract immigrants, particularly those with job offers from an employer. Retaining international students postgraduation remains important to the country, and giving a role to provinces is innovative. However, taking into account recent government restrictions on temporary visas for high-skilled and lower-skilled workers makes Canada’s immigration policies “moderately favorable” to economic growth.

Twenty percent of the residents of Canada are foreign born, much higher than the United States’ 13 percent.142 In a given year, Canada admits twice as many immigrants as a percentage of its population than does the United States.143

Canada’s points-based system has been largely unimportant to most employers, who typically first hire individuals on temporary visas and then sponsor them for permanent residence. Sometimes individuals use employer sponsorship to gain quicker permanent residence via the points system. However, overall, the points-based system has taken on less importance over the years as employer sponsorship and the Provincial Nominee Programs have become more vital to retaining valued workers. The major flaw in Canada’s points-based system has been the “Ph.D. taxi driver” syndrome, whereby people have good paper credentials, but Canadian employers are not interested in hiring them.

One goal of Canada’s new Express Entry program is to correct the flaws in its points-based system. Express Entry would act as a “filter,” said attorney David Crawford, by accepting people employers wish to sponsor and, in effect, give them priority over others without work experience in Canada.144 The Canadian government would then use that “expression of interest” in immigrating and “invite” people to apply, with an emphasis on those with employer sponsors.

Express Entry remains new, and attorneys are concerned the new process is likely to take much longer than the six months from the date of filing advertised by the Canadian government. Moreover, there is concern the process could adversely affect Canada’s retention of international students.

If there is an area of Canadian immigration law most worth emulating for the United States, it is the Provincial Nominee Programs. The Provincial Nominee Programs allow regions to attract foreign workers based on each province’s unique economic needs. (All Canadian provinces and two of its territories operate a program.) High-skilled workers are prized as engines of economic growth, but in Manitoba, for example, employers can hire someone at a meat packing plant on a temporary visa, and he or she (and his or her family) can receive permanent residence within six months under the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program, noted immigration attorney Peter Rekai.145

The Provincial Nominee Programs have become the second largest source of economic immigrants in Canada, increasing six-fold from 2004 to 2011.146 Canadian attorneys reported that it remains far from perfect for employers. Alberta, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have “streams” for semi-skilled workers but only in specific industries and occupations, while some provinces, such as Ontario, do not have a pathway for lower-skilled workers.147

While over the past year Canada has tightened rules on temporary visas, particularly the labor market testing process, the Express Entry program shows that the government wants to continue to attract immigrants to Canada with a focus on individuals that companies want to employ. But Canadian immigration law gives the type of leeway to bureaucratic officials that the U.S. Congress would hesitate to permit, including setting annual quotas. That is one reason why immigration policies in Canada change much more frequently than in America.

U.S. policymakers should take note of Canada’s eagerness to attract immigrants. When a foreign-born engineer or scientist in Michigan finds he or she must wait 10 years to attain permanent residence in the United States, but the process could take one year or less across the Ambassador Bridge in Canada, then the choice may become obvious. 

142. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012 data.
143. Ibid.
144. Interview with David Crawford.
145. Interview with Peter Rekai. The Provincial Nominee Programs will generally continue outside of the new Express Entry program. However, Rekai noted that it is likely any province that successfully negotiates a higher quota with the federal government will have those additional numbers go through the Express Entry program.
146. Library of Congress (February 28, 2014), Points-Based Immigration Systems: Canada.
147. Interview with Audrea Golding.

Score Breakdown: Canada vs. United States

Attracting Foreign Entrepreneurs
Attracting Foreign Entrepreneurs
2.0 (vs. United States 1.5)

At the federal level, the Canadian government has experimented with entrepreneur visa programs without success. A number of Canadian provinces maintain programs that have brought in a small number of foreign entrepreneurs. 

View Category Profile
Hiring High-Skilled Foreign Nationals
Hiring High-Skilled Foreign Nationals
3.5 (vs. United States 2.0)

There is no annual quota for hiring high-skilled foreign nationals. Employers must pay a market wage; recent requirements for employers to test the labor market have made the process much more difficult for employers.

View Category Profile
Hiring Lower-Skilled Workers
Hiring Lower-Skilled Workers
3.0 (vs. United States 1.5)

Canada has retreated from its more employer-friendly policies on lower-skilled workers, adding large fees and limits (10 percent) on the number of foreign “low-wage” workers per company worksite. Even with the new restrictions, Canada remains far more open to lower-skilled workers than the United States, including by giving caregivers the chance to gain temporary and permanent status. The Provincial Nominee Program, which allows provinces with different needs to sponsor lower-skilled workers (today in more limited numbers), is a model the United States might examine. 

View Category Profile
Lawful Permanent Residence For High-Skilled Workers
Lawful Permanent Residence For High-Skilled Workers
4.0 (vs. United States 2.5)

Canada allows employers to sponsor both high-skilled and lower-skilled foreign nationals for permanent residence either directly or via immigration programs in Canadian provinces. In 2015, the government started the Express Entry system, which aims at permanent residence within one year, with an emphasis on employer sponsorship and job offers. Some are concerned the new system could shut out some skilled immigrants who would have gained permanent residence in the past. 

View Category Profile
Retention of International Students Postgraduation
Retention of International Students Postgraduation
4.0 (vs. United States 3.0)

Canada provides “open” work permits allowing international students to work postgraduation for up to three years. Many students can transition to permanent residence during this time period without leaving the country. The new Express Entry system could prevent some international students from gaining permanent residence.

View Category Profile
Transferring High-Skilled Employees Across Borders
Transferring High-Skilled Employees Across Borders
3.5 (vs. United States 3.0)

Rules on intracompany transferees, including for those with specialized knowledge, have been tightened in the past two years, but transferring employees is still considered easier than in the United States.

View Category Profile

About the Report

Business Roundtable selected the evaluated countries based on five criteria:

1. Worldwide university rankings;
2. Per-capita income;
3. Gross domestic product growth rate;
4. Net migration rate; and
5. Research and development investment.

After comparing each advanced economy relative to the five criteria, the top 10 countries (including the United States) were selected for the study: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (U.K.). Not coincidentally, these are the countries with which the United States competes most for foreign talent, particularly in science and technology fields.

Download Full Report