The Basics: Finding a Pathway to PR

Table of Contents: 
A. The Big Picture: Selection Factors and Canadian Immigration
B. The Express Entry System
C. Other Federal Immigration Programs
D. Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs)
E. The Work Permit to Permanent Residence Route
F. The Study Permit to Work Permit to Permanent Residence Route

G. The Risks of Using the Temporary to Permanent Residence Routes


A. The Big Picture: Selection Factors and Canadian Immigration

On August 16, 1967, Canada became the first country in the world to use a points-based immigration system. The goal of the system is to use selection factors like age, language abilities, work experience and education to predict someone’s ability to find work and pay taxes in Canada. The system proved to be effective and ultimately facilitated the multicultural Canada that we know today.

After 54-years the Canadian government continues to use points-based systems and selection factors to pick applicants for economic immigration. There are now over 100 different immigration programs run by the federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada; with each program using varying selection factors to achieve different labour market goals.

My goal is to give you a process for navigating all 100 programs so that you can find a pathway to PR that works for you. It’s not a replacement for professional help but it’s certainly clearer than other information online. Since you’re doing this alone you’ll need to read into each program’s selection factors yourself and determine if you meet the criteria. You’re always encouraged to seek the advice of an immigration consultant or lawyer to perform a professional assessment based on your circumstances.


B. The Express Entry System

Express Entry is the first program I look at and it’s the one that gets the most coverage online. Its popularity is due to its fast-processing time of 6-months (subject to COVID delays) and its relatively simple process for applying. The three federal immigration programs that are managed through Express Entry include:

Start by determining your Express Entry points using this calculator. Only the top-ranking people are selected in Express Entry so a competitive score is required. Competitive scores change over time and currently stand at 462 for CEC and 415 for FSTP. FSWP is currently frozen so competitive scores are difficult to predict; 470 or higher would likely be enough. If your score is competitive then go back to the individual program eligibility criteria hyperlinked above to make sure you can proceed with one of these federal programs.

If your score is not competitive then adjust your answers in the calculator to see what can boost your score. Stronger language scores, education and work experience can often make the difference. However, if you’re really far off then it’s time to move on to the other federal immigration programs.


C. Other Federal Immigration Programs

To help you assess the options I’ve sorted the federal immigration programs into three major categories with key selection factors to the right of each program name:

Geography-Based Programs:

Occupation-Based Programs:

Business-Based Programs:

D. Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs)

If none of these options work then your next pathway is PNPs.

These programs are run by the provinces and territories of Canada. Applying involves a two-step process of getting approved by both the province and the federal government. Some of them also link-up to Express Entry where a successful PNP application converts to 600 additional points.

There are over 80 PNPs and they’re run by 9 provinces and 2 territories; excluding Nunavut and Quebec. The sheer number of options can make researching PNPs overwhelming. I therefore use two filtering techniques to help me through the process:

(1) Easer and Harder Provinces

Competition over limited slots results in harder selection factors in the following provinces:

Meanwhile the following provinces have easier selection factors:

(2) Key Questions

By asking clients the following 6 questions I can filter through almost all of the PNPs since they essentially breakdown into 6 categories:

(i) Job Offer PNPs:

Do you have a job offer in a province? (Yes/No)

(ii) Study Experience PNPs:

Do you have study experience in a province? (Yes/No)

(ii) Work Experience PNPs:

Do you have work experience in a province? (Yes/No)

(iv) Entrepreneur PNPs:

Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars to start or buy a business in a province? (Yes/No)

(v) Student Entrepreneur PNPs:

Have you studied in the province and plan to start a business? (Yes/No)

(vi) Non-Competitive Express Entry Hopefuls:

Are you currently looking at Express Entry but your score is not competitive? (Yes/No)

Remember to always consider additional actions that can boost your chances of securing a PNP. Common examples include work and study experience in a province or securing a job offer in the province. Keep in mind that you must have a genuine intent to reside in the province when applying for a PNP.

If none of the PNPs work then look at the work permit options below.


E. The Work Permit to Permanent Residence Route

Canadian work experience can lead to higher CRS points under Express Entry and can also lay the groundwork for eligibility under other federal and provincial immigration programs. Before applying for a work permit you should know exactly how it’s going to set you up for permanent residence; don’t just aim for Express Entry, it’s always advisable to have a PNP back-up as well (if possible).

Your work permit options include the following:

Based on Immigration Status:

Based on Nationality:

Based on Occupation:

Based on Nationality and Occupation:

Based on Abilities:


F. The Study Permit to Work Permit to Permanent Residence Route

The last route to permanent residency is study experience in Canada.

Completing the right studies in Canada leads to a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) which lasts between 8 to 36 months.

The challenge here is that study permits have the highest refusal rates out of all temporary residence applications. From 2016 to 2021 the refusal rate for study permits has fluctuated from a low of 31% to a high of 49%. On the other hand, the cost of studies in Canada is very high. The average cost of a 4-year bachelor’s program is $133,492 Canadian dollars. College programs are cheaper, but certainly not a bargain. A one-year college program with living expenses will cost about $25,000 or more.

From start to finish the process is filled with technical complications which can derail the whole process. It takes a minimum of 2-years to complete the study permit to work permit to permanent residence route, but it can take a lot longer. The key steps of this route include:

  1. School Acceptance: Find a post-secondary school, make sure it’s a Designated Learning Institution which offers PGWP-eligible programs, and get accepted into a study program. 
  2. Study Permit Application: Submit a study permit application to IRCC – if eligible, apply under Student Direct Stream – and get approved so that you can come to Canada and complete the study program. For a complete guide on study permits, please see my website.
  3. Study in Canada: Complete the study program. Make sure to comply with all other pre-conditions for a PGWP.
  4. Work Permit Application: Submit a PGWP application to IRCC after completing the study program to start working. 
  5. Work in Canada: Work in Canada in an appropriate NOC code/skill level for CRS points under Express Entry or to secure eligibility under another federal or provincial program. 
  6. Permanent Residence Application: Submit the appropriate permanent residence applications to the province and/or federal governments.


G. The Risks of Using the Temporary to Permanent Residence Routes

It’s worth noting the risks of temporary to permanent residence routes so that you can make a fully informed decision about your own pathway to PR:

(1) Bad Selection Strategies

The choices you make with respect to your program of study, the level of education (College/Bachelor/Masters/PhD), the duration of your studies, the province of study, the length of your work permit, the province where you work and the type of work (NOC Code and Skill Level) can all have significant impacts on your chances of getting PR down the road.

Before finding an employer or applying to a school you must select your preferred PR pathways and know all the eligibility criteria, application guide materials, required documents, and operational guidelines. You don’t want to make any mistakes regarding the variables listed above. The last thing you want is to come all the way to Canada and find out that you worked in the wrong occupation and now you’re out of luck!

(2) Technicalities and Infractions

International workers and students are subject to immigration laws, regulations, policies, and conditions on their individual permits. Breaking any of these rules can seriously impact your chances of getting PR down the road. The inherent risk of any multi-step plan to permanent residence is greater exposure to accidental rule breaking.

(3) Immigration Programs Change and ‘Life Happens’

Immigration programs bend and shift with the times. They’re constantly updated, revamped or even terminated to secure better outcomes for Canada and the provinces; for example, Budget 2021 hinted at changes to Express Entry meanwhile the AIPP is closing December 31, 2021.

What this means in practice is that a sudden change can make you ineligible. Alternatively the program might freeze or close entirely. Don’t get caught without a plan, move forward on the assumption that your preferred PR pathway might not exist in 2 to 3 years’ time. The solution is to stack your pathways to PR by lining up 2 or more options from the start.

Stacking pathways to PR also solves another very common problem – ‘life happens’. Issues can arise with studying or working in Canada and emergencies can quickly whisk you back to your home country. Having a back-up PR pathway that accounts for these issues will save you your sanity.

And that’s it!