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Development of Immigration and Immigration Policy since the 19th Century | Canada |

Development of Immigration and Immigration Policy since the 19th Century

Jennifer Elrick

/ 8 Minuten zu lesen

Canada’s first Immigration Act was passed in 1869, two years after the country’s founding. The law was intended to counteract emigration to the United States and to help settle the country’s western territories.

Galician immigrant family in Quebec station in 1911. (© picture alliance / empics)

Immigration policy in the late 19th century

It did not place a great number of controls on the entry of newcomers, giving the federal government the power to prevent the entry of poor, sick and disabled persons. However, this laissez-faire approach soon gave way to successive laws that sought to attract persons deemed suitable for settlement, both in economic and ethnic/racial terms.

The late nineteenth century saw the introduction of a mass-immigration program designed to populate Canada’s west. To this end, aggressive information and recruitment campaigns were mounted in the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and other northern European countries. Once it became clear that the traditional source countries – particularly the United Kingdom – would not yield enough would-be immigrants, attention was turned to Central and Eastern Europe. These campaigns resulted in the first large influx of new arrivals from continental Europe, notably Ukrainians , Germans, Italians and Russians. The policy aimed to attract farmers and farm laborers. Artisans, clerks, common laborers and other city inhabitants, on the other hand, were considered ill-suited for settlement.

Definitions of who was well-suited for settlement were also influenced by the notion that Canada was a "British settler society" and that, as such, only certain national or ethnic groups could be assimilated without altering the fundamental character of the emerging nation. This belief led early on to the introduction of a series of formal and informal entry restrictions based on ethnicity and race, directed mainly at Chinese, Japanese and Indian migrants.

The 1952 Immigration Act

Entry restrictions designed to minimize cultural, ethnical and ideological diversity were maintained until well after the Second World War. In 1947, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, in an oft-quoted speech, maintained that immigration should not be allowed to "make a fundamental alteration in the character of our population." The 1952 Immigration Act gave significant powers to the government to restrict or prevent the admission of persons on the basis of nationality, citizenship, ethnic group, class, geographical area of origin, occupation, lifestyle, unsuitability with regard to Canada’s climate and "probable inability to become readily assimilated" into Canadian society. Regulations that went into effect along with the law established a list of preferred countries of origin.

Abolition of racist immigration policies and introduction of the point system

Canada’s racist immigration policy was mostly abandoned in 1962, when a regulation came into force allowing immigrants with the necessary education, skills or other qualifications to enter the country, irrespective of color, race or national origin. In 1967, the point system was introduced, allowing immigration officers to assign points up to a fixed maximum in categories such as education, language abilities and employment opportunities. Although the categories in which points are awarded and the sum needed to pass have changed over the years, this system remains a key component of Canadian immigration policy.

Six Selection Factors for Federal Skilled Workers

Selection factorMaximum points
English and/or French skills28
Education 25
Experience 15
Age 12
Arranged employment in Canada10
Total 100
Pass mark: 67 out of 100 points

The Immigration Act of 1976 set up four basic categories of individuals who could qualify as landed immigrants. It also required the government to set yearly targets for immigration numbers and to consult with the provinces regarding the planning and management of immigration. The Act is considered the cornerstone of present-day immigration policy in Canada.

The 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act

Immigration to Canada is currently regulated by the 2002 Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and its amendments. Under the IRPA, individuals can apply to become permanent residents in one of three so-called landing classes: economic class (i.e. skilled workers, business immigrants and their immediate family members), family class (e.g. spouses, partners, children, and other relatives of Canadian citizens or permanent residents) and protected persons/refugees. In addition to these classes, it is possible to be granted permanent residency under Humanitarian and Compassionate (H&C) provisions, at the discretion of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). Once a person has been accepted as a permanent resident, s/he enjoys rights similar to those of citizens, including unlimited access to the labor market and social services.

Contrary to popular belief, only a very small proportion of individuals seeking to enter Canada as permanent residents are subject to selection using the point system. This process applies only to principal applicants in the economic class, like Federal Skilled Workers. In 2011, 16 percent of incoming permanent residents were assessed under the point system.

Recent changes to the Federal Skilled Worker Program

Since 2012, fundamental changes have been made to the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP). Unable to cope with processing delays of up to six years for applicants in some parts of the world (especially Asia), CIC announced in November 2012 that is was suspending FSWP until mid-2013 and clearing its backlog of applications. Approximately 280,000 applications that had been filed before February 2008 but not yet processed were subsequently eliminated from the system and the processing fees returned to the applicants. In addition to evaluation under the point system, applicants to the re-vamped FSW-program must meet one of three criteria: (1) they must have a minimum of one year of work experience in one of 24 eligible occupations (mainly in the engineering, medical, and information technology fields); (2) they must have an offer of employment for a job that cannot be filled by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident; or (3) they must be an international student enrolled in a Ph.D. program at a Canadian university and have at least one year of work experience in a professional or managerial-level job. The eligible occupations and Ph.D. streams are limited to 5,000 and 1,000 applications per year, respectively. The imposition of quotas marks a sharp change from Canada’s longstanding emphasis on mass immigration. Additionally, self-assessments of language ability have been replaced by mandatory language testing, and applicants are now required to obtain an educational credential assessment for their educational qualifications.

The Federal Skilled Trades Program

Long criticized for ignoring the demand for workers in skilled trades in favor of professional and managerial workers, CIC introduced the Federal Skilled Trades Program in January 2013. Under this program, up to 3,000 individuals per year can apply to become permanent residents based on their qualifications and work experience in one of 43 trades. Applicants are also required to meet language requirements and have either an offer of employment or a certificate of qualification from a province or territory.

Changes in family immigration

Family-related immigration has long been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration policy; however, two recent developments indicate that this is changing. First, in December 2011, CIC introduced the so-called "Super Visa" for parents and grandparents. No longer eligible to immigrate to Canada as sponsored relatives, parents and grandparents can now receive a ten-year, multiple-entry visa to visit their families in Canada, provided the sponsoring family member meets minimum income requirements and can provide private medical insurance for the visitor. Second, in October 2012, CIC introduced a conditional permanent resident status for sponsored partners/spouses who have been in their relationships for less than two years and have no common children (see the Irregular Migration section for details).

Temporary immigration

While federal admissions streams for permanent residents are growing more restrictive, in qualitative and quantitative terms, Canada has experienced an exponential growth in temporary admissions programs over the past several years. It is possible for some temporary migrants to transition to permanent status, a policy approach referred to as “two-step” immigration. Canada’s first formal program for temporary migrants, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), was introduced in 1966 and continues to this day. It was joined in 1973 by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which was originally used to bring in people to fill shortages in highly-skilled occupations but was expanded to include low-skilled workers in 2002. The TFWP allows employers to hire workers from abroad. Generally, employers require a positive labor market opinion (LMO) from the federal government in order to recruit a foreign worker. A positive LMO confirms that the employer was unable to find a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to do the job, that the employment is genuine, and that the employer has not defaulted on any commitments to previous TFWPs. Both the SAWP and TFWP are intended to fill short-term labor market needs, although some participants in the TFWP program may transition to permanent residency through the Canadian Experience Class or a Provincial or Territorial Nominee Program (PTNP) (see below).

One of the most prominent temporary federal admissions programs is the Live-In Caregiver Program (LIC), which started in 1992. Under this program, individuals with a high-school education, knowledge of English or French, and experience in care work can apply to work in Canada for up to four years as a Live-In Caregiver for children or elderly or disabled persons in a household. This is the only temporary admissions program with a built-in mechanism for switching from temporary to permanent status. Since 2008, the Canada Experience Class (CEC) has provided a means for highly-skilled temporary workers, foreign students who have graduated from Canadian universities, and their families to transition to permanent residence status after one year of experience in a professional or managerial position, or in a trade, provided the principal applicant meets language and other requirements.

Provincial/Territorial Nominee Programs

In addition to federal admissions policies, a series of agreements between the federal government and the country’s provinces and territories have given the latter increasing powers to select their own immigrants based on regional economic needs and according to their own criteria and procedures. Provincial/Territorial Nominee Programs (PTNPs) are both a tool for selecting newcomers abroad for permanent or temporary entry as well as a pathway for newcomers already residing in Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) admitted under the federal system to transition to permanent resident status. The first and most comprehensive of these arrangements was signed with Québec in 1991, and most of the other provinces and territories have followed suit since 2000. The proliferation of PTNPs has resulted in a policy landscape that is difficult to understand in its entirety. It also marks a shift away from the traditionally centralized approach to migration management, the effects of which are as yet unclear.



  1. The term ‘racial’ is used here because ‘race’ is still used in official definitions of ‘visible minorities’ as found in the Canadian Census Dictionary and the Employment Equity Act.

  2. Ukrainian’ was the collective name applied to Slavs from regions of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires in Eastern and Southern Europe. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000).

  3. The Russians arriving during this time were primarily Doukhobors, members of a peasant sect marked by pacifism and a communal lifestyle which had been persecuted under the czarist regime in Russia.

  4. Cited in Kelley and Trebilcock (2010).

  5. Kelley and Trebilcock (2010).

  6. Immigrants from Europe and the Americas were still permitted to sponsor a wider range of relatives. This, too, was abandoned in 1967. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2000).

  7. See the CIC website: Externer Link: (accessed: 7-16-2013)

  8. 1. Québec is the only province that has complete authority to manage its immigration. It sets its own annual immigration targets, is solely responsible for selecting its immigrants (with the exception of those in the family class and refugees, whose status is determined at the federal level), and it has full responsibility for providing orientation courses and integration services. See Citizenship and Immigration Canada (2006).


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Jennifer Elrick is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on family-related immigration policies in Canada and Germany since 1945. E-Mail Link: