When Siobhán Young was told after nine years in Sydney that she had just 28 days to leave Australia, it was, as she calls it, “the worst moment of my life”.
After multiple attempts to secure employer sponsorship, including a lengthy appeals process, Young had to make alternative plans. She had burned thousands of dollars on legal fees in an ultimately fruitless attempt to prove she was worthy of permanent settlement in Australia.
“My whole world was turned upside-down,” the Tipperary woman explains.
A stopover in North America on the way home ended with a trip to Vancouver. The coastal city, tucked into a mild corner of British Columbia sheltered by the 460-kilometre-long Vancouver Island, made an immediate impression.
A few months later, Young was heading back with a a two-year open work permit under the International Experience Canada (IEC) initiative. Within months she had established a business, BC Bia, distributing Irish snacks to bars and shops in the city. Running her own business was a dream she couldn’t fulfil in Australia, under restrictions of her visa.
“I’ve never felt so settled. The business is up and running, and I’ve loads of friends. I feel very much part of this community already, and I’m only here two years,” says Young, who now has a clear pathway to permanent residence through common-law sponsorship with her Canadian boyfriend.
Young is just one of many Irish who have left Australia frustrated by visa restrictions, only to find a new life in Canada.
Last April, the Australian government led by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull adopted an “Australians first” approach to skilled migration, scrapping the employer-sponsored 457-visa programme and announcing a much stricter replacement. The 457 had been an immigration route traveled by thousands of Irish citizens over the preceding years. While existing 457 holders were allowed to remain under the terms of the visa, those with applications in the system that had not yet been processed were subject to the new rules.
Moving the immigration goalposts has become a pastime for Australian governments, leaving many would-be visa holders scrambling for a solution.
By remarkable coincidence, Turnbull’s announcement came within hours of US president Donald Trump signing a “Buy American, Hire American” executive order. Trump’s acolytes in the Senate then tabled a bill that would cut legal immigration levels in half and only offer skilled immigration to a niche segment of the global workforce.
New Zealand followed suit by implementing more restrictive immigration policies last April. A few months later, new prime minister Jacinda Ardern was carried into office on a platform that included a proposal to reduce immigration levels and make it more difficult for temporary residents such as international students to remain long-term.
The traditional destination countries for Irish emigrants were closing their doors or leaving them only slightly ajar. One popular destination, however, was taking a different approach.
Opportunities in Canada
Between now and the end of 2020, Canada will welcome around one million new permanent residents. Announcing the multi-year plan in November, immigration minister Ahmed Hussen, himself a Somali immigrant to Canada, said the plan would “result in the most ambitious immigration levels in recent Canadian history, and represents a major investment into Canada’s prosperity now and into the future”.
Of these newcomers, the majority will be admitted as economic migrants, chosen for their experience, education level, age, language skills, and employment prospects. Canada also offers family sponsorship programmes, giving Canadian citizens and permanent residents the opportunity to sponsor their foreign spouse or common-law partner, parents, grandparents, or dependent children.
Canada will also uphold its international reputation as a safe haven for refugees, with tens of thousands to be settled each year, and continue to welcome a steady inflow of students, many of whom are likely to transition to permanent residence.
If the governing Liberals win another majority in the next election – and there is every possibility they will – Canada may increase immigration levels even further into the coming decade. Theirs is an avowedly pro-immigration, pro-diversity agenda.
Even if the opposition Conservatives come to power, a reverse on immigration policy is unlikely. When the Conservatives last held office in Ottawa from 2006 to 2015, annual immigration levels steadily increased past the quarter-million-a-year mark. In last year’s party leadership contest, the one candidate who espoused a departure from the national consensus on immigration was roundly defeated, finishing well down the ballot with 7 per cent of the vote.
Immigration debates in Ottawa and across Canada are typically fought over the details – settlement resources, recognition of foreign credentials – rather than on ideology. The few individuals and institutions proposing a significant reduction in immigration levels are viewed as a fringe element.
Irish citizens are in a particularly privileged position when it comes to planning a move to Canada. Not only is Ireland included among the countries with which Canada has a reciprocal agreement under the IEC initiative, but Irish citizens under 36 years old are eligible for two-year open work permits, whereas most eligible international youth may only get one year. This work permit gives individuals the opportunity to work for any employer in any location in Canada, allowing them to gain plenty of experience and plot a pathway towards permanent residence.
After Siobhán Young transitions to permanent residence, as she can expect once her application is processed, it will end a decade of uncertainty for her, and allow her to make long-term plans for a life in Canada.