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Number of non-permanent residents in Alberta soared to 180,000 at the end of 2023

This is Part 1 of Unsettling, a series from CBC Calgary on the complexities surrounding immigration in Canada.

For three years, Jyoti has been trying to immigrate to Calgary from her home in the city of Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi, India.

Her brother once went to school in Canada and she has family, her mom’s cousin, in Calgary.

“It looks beautiful, it’s serene, the life is good, you get good jobs,” Jyoti said.

“There’s not a lot of hassle about everything. So that’s been an image in my mind as well.”

CBC News is not using Jyoti’s last name because she is worried about her immigration application being impacted.

Jyoti thought she’d be a shoo-in; she has a master’s degree and over a decade of experience in hotel management, she’s fluent in English, and has family she could live with in Calgary.

“I’m from a field which is required everywhere in the world,” Jyoti said.

However, things haven’t gone as expected — Jyoti has already spent over $5,000 on immigration consultants in India, hoping to kickstart her application.

She’s even put off getting married because “that would bring my points down.”

Would-be immigrants like Jyoti are assigned points based on age, language, education and experience during the application process.

Her fiancé doesn’t have the skills she does.

So far, no luck.

Competition is already here

Jyoti is facing fierce competition and not just from other applicants worldwide.

There are millions of people already in Canada, on a temporary basis, and many are likely gearing up for their permanent residency applications.

These are the non-permanent residents or NPRs  whose numbers have ballooned to 2.5 million as of October 2023, according to Statistics Canada, up from 1.7 million a year prior. That’s over six per cent of the population.

Approximately 180,000 NPRs live in Alberta.

The graph below shows the total estimated number of NPRs in Canada, by type, and highlights the staggering growth between 2022 and 2023.

NPRs include international students, people with work permits or visitors. Ukrainians fleeing war also fall into this category.

And there is no cap on the number of temporary residents allowed in Canada.

The often-debated federal targets to allow in close to 500,000 immigrants a year for the next three years, are for permanent residents.

A deluge of non-permanent residents

For Calgary-based immigration lawyer Raj Sharma, the federal targets are reasonable.

“I’m not concerned about the PR [permanent resident] numbers at all. 400 to 500,000 sounds about right.” 

A close-up shot of a man smiling.
Calgary-based immigration lawyer Raj Sharma says many non-permanent residents will be faced with the harsh reality of not being able to make the transition to staying permanently. (Raj Sharma)

Sharma says those PRs have to bring enough money, ranging from $13,757 to $36,407 (or more), to survive for six months and they ultimately do well.

What he worries about is the dramatic increase in NPRs.

“You’ve got this flood, you’ve got a deluge.”

Becoming a permanent resident is not easy.

So, thousands of people bypass that every year and come here temporarily.

Often the goal is to work here, gain the valuable ‘Canadian work experience’ and then apply to stay permanently from within Canada.

Federal Immigration Minister Mark Miller has said that about a third of those who are chosen as permanent residents are already here on a temporary basis.

One common route is to come to Calgary on a visitor visa, and then try and apply for a work permit once here.

With the much coveted ‘Canadian work experience’ in place, people eventually apply to stay permanently. 

On YouTube, there are dozens of videos explaining how to convert a visitor visa to a work permit.

This makes sense considering the fact that a temporary COVID-era policy was extended until February 2025, allowing visitors in Canada with valid job offers to apply for work permits without leaving the country.

A risky move

Calgary-based immigration consultant Sheba Singh says there is nothing illegal about this option, but there are no guarantees it will work.

“You know, it is mind-boggling to me as an immigration person that … maybe all of these people are hoping that they’re going to get permanent residents, but our numbers are not going to allow that.”

A close-up shot a woman sporting bright lipstick.
Immigration consultant Sheba Singh believes that coming to Canada on a visitor visa in order to secure residency can be a risky move. (Submitted by Sheba Singh)

And lawyer Raj Sharma says many of these NPRs will be faced with the harsh reality of not being able to make that transition to staying permanently.

“I think that they had these expectations and then the cold hard reality’s about to settle in which is actually we just need you as cheap labour. We just need you to lubricate the gears of our economy and then you know what? Get lost. You’re just disposable like a Kleenex after we’ve utilized you for your youth and after you work your 18 hours a day here. So that is disconcerting to me.”

In the interim, everyone, regardless of status, needs health-care and housing.

University of Calgary sociologist Pallavi Banerjee studies immigration policy and says we haven’t incorporated all these temporary residents when we do our demographic planning. 

“Do we have the infrastructure to accommodate them and to integrate them in a way that would be not only been beneficial to Canada but to the for the well-being of the immigrants who are coming in.”

Close-up shot of a smiling woman in black.
University of Calgary sociologist Pallavi Banerjee studies immigration policy and says temporary residents haven’t been incorporated in demographic planning. (Submitted by Pallavi Banerjee)

Debate over housing affordability

Since there are no targets set for NPRs, it’s hard to plan, according to University of Calgary immigration researcher Robert Falconer.

“We have a debate over housing affordability within the city and this debate over how many homes we need to build in Calgary,” he said.

“If I’m a municipal government and I’m trying to plan around that, it would be great to have some idea of how many individuals looking actually realistically expect that realistically live in the city on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.”

A close-up shot of a man with brown hair.
Polling shows a declining support for immigration, according to David Coletto, who runs Abacus Data. (Carla Turner/CBC)

Meanwhile, Banerjee supports a pause on some of the paths to immigration until the country can better accommodate their needs.

Banerjee isn’t alone — this idea is gaining traction.

Polling shows a declining support for immigration, according to David Coletto, who runs Abacus Data.

“I think there’s still a subset of people who probably look at immigration through a racist or xenophobic lens. But I would say now the vast majority of those who perhaps want to pause it or at least review, you know, our immigration policy or doing it in their minds for very rational reasons,” Coletto said.

“And that’s because they think that we’re growing too fast. And whether it’s the federal government, the provincial government or municipal governments, we haven’t planned accordingly for that growth. So there’s not enough homes. There’s not enough family doctors and emergency room spaces.”

A close-up shot of a woman in a white shirt sporting eye makeup and bright lipstick.
Immigration consultant Nona Bains meets people hoping to immigrate to Alberta every day, young professionals looking to move abroad in search of a better life. (Carla Turner/CBC)

As an immigration consultant in multiple cities in India, Nona Bains meets people hoping to immigrate to Alberta everyday, young professionals looking to move abroad in search of a better life.

“So whenever a client comes in for immigration, especially if that person is a professional and IT professional or a marketing [professional] or engineers…the first option is always Canada.”

Most are disappointed; Bains says only about 10 per cent of her applicants succeed because of Canada’s competitive ‘points system.’ 

Many don’t don’t have the right combination of work experience, age, language and education to get the high points required.

“What happens is that most of these people are not able to come up to the point system,” Bains said.

Cracking the immigration code

Jyoti did consider bypassing the PR route and applying to come as an international student.

But she worried about relocating here and then not being able to stay. 

Instead she has now hired a Calgary-based immigration consultant; they are trying to find a provincial immigration program she might apply under that would value her skills more.

“I’m running around everywhere and doing well at everything and I’m quite shocked that I’m not able to crack this code,” Jyoti said.

She has given herself another year to try and “crack the code” that is the Canadian immigration system and get a coveted PR spot from India.

If that doesn’t work out, she’ll consider moving to another country, like Ireland or New Zealand.

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