Canada: Applying for visas or citizenship

From the IEC working holiday visa to permanent residency through the Express Entry system, our guide will take you through your options

Applications for the two-year International Experience Canada (IEC) visa for Irish people open around February or March each year.

Applications for the two-year International Experience Canada (IEC) visa for Irish people open around February or March each year.

Irish citizens intending to work, study or set up a business in Canada need to have the right visa to suit their circumstances. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website has very comprehensive information on visas, including an online questionnaire to help you decide what type of visa to apply for. The list of visa types below is by no means exhaustive, but is a summary of the most popular options for Irish workers. Be aware that different rules apply for Quebec.
(Note: the information in this guide is intended as an overview. Visa regulations change on a regular basis, so candidates should check the above website for the most up-to-date information).
Temporary visas
International Experience Canada (IEC): A working-holiday visa that  allows people aged 18-35 from Ireland to work in Canada for up to two years. 
A quota is set for the number of visas issued to Irish people every year. In 2016, it was 10,700 in total – 7,700 for working-holiday makers, 2,500 for “young professionals” (who must have a signed letter of offer or contract of employment before applying), and 500 in the “international co-op” category for full-time students to take part in internship and work placement programmes, for up to 12 months. People who participate in this stream will also be eligible to apply for an additional two years on a second IEC visa, meaning they can stay in Canada for three years in total under the IEC.
The application rules changed for 2016, in order to prevent the prior annual crush for visas among Irish applicants. Under the old system, a quota of visas for Irish citizens was released in one or two rounds each year, on a first-come, first-served basis. Quotas were filled within minutes for several years in a row, leaving disappointed candidates waiting another year before they could apply again.
Under the new system, applicants for visas can begin the process now by creating an online profile, which will then be submitted into a “pool” of candidates if it meets requirements. Applicants will be drawn randomly from these pools at “regular intervals”, and sent an Invitation to Apply for a work permit. Draws will continue to be held until all places are filled for the year.
While the new system takes the pressure off candidates, the biggest drawback is that friends or couples cannot apply together for visas, and applicants must not be accompanied by dependents. This means one or more can be left waiting much longer for their application to be selected with no guarantee that they will get a visa before the end of the year, even if their friend or partner applied at the same time and has been accepted.
More information on how to apply for an IEC visa can be found on the Citizen and Immigration website.
You will need a scanned copy of the identification page of your passport and an electronic version of your up-to-date curriculum vitae, which must follow the format provided in a template on the IEC website, along with a fee of C$150 (€103). Participants in the working holiday-makers category must also pay an open work permit holder fee of C$100 when submitting an online work permit application through MyCIC.
International Co-op (Internship) participants, including those applying through an employer-specific recognised organisation, do not have to pay any other fees, but your Canadian employer will need to pay the employer compliance fee of C$230, and complete and submit an offer of employment directly to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
Visas are processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Successful candidates have a year from the date of issue to enter Canada. On arrival in Canada, you must have health insurance, a return flight or enough money to buy one, and proof of C$2,500 in your bank account. Irish-run information website has a good FAQ document, and a dedicated Facebook forum for IEC applicants.
Long-stay visas
2015 saw major changes to Canada’s visa application system with the opening of the online “Express Entry” programme. Applicants for three economic immigration programmes (Federal Skilled Workers, Federal Skilled Trades, and Canadian Experience Class) are now able to create an online profile to express their interest in gaining permanent residency (PR) in Canada.
There is no deadline to complete a profile and there are no caps on the number of candidates that will be accepted to the pool for consideration, but once created, profiles are valid for one year. Profiles will be ranked according to language proficiency, education and work experience, and the highest performers will be invited to apply for permanent residency within 60 days.
Provinces and territories select candidates for Provincial Nominee programmes from the Express Entry system. Successful candidates then need to complete the immigration process, which includes health and security checks.
Rather than a first-come-first-served basis, applications are processed based on score. The Department of Immigration says the majority of applications are processed in under six months.
Read more about Express Entry and how to apply in our guide here.
Federal Skilled Workers: For applicants whose occupation is one of 50 in demand in Canada. 
This programme is limited to 25,000 visas per year for all nationalities, but those with a job offer can still qualify even if the quota has been filled. Applicants must have at least one year of paid experience and fulfil certain criteria including a language test. Qualifications must be assessed by an independent accreditor, for an additional fee.
Federal Skilled Trades: This programme has a list of 90 skilled trades in demand. Applicants must have at least two years’ paid experience in the previous five years, and have either a job offer for a full year or a certificate of qualification. Click here for a full list of eligible trades. It is limited to 5,000 visas per year for all nationalities.
Employers can apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) on behalf of a worker if they can prove they cannot find a suitable Canadian candidate to fill a position. The LMIA allows the person to work for one specific employer and can provide a stepping stone to permanent residency, but does not provide security for the employee if they lose their job.
Permanent residency
Canadian Experience Class (CEC): Offers permanent residency to those with at least 12 months’ skilled work experience in Canada in the three years before they apply. They must apply at least four months before their visa expires, and pass a language and medical test. It takes six months to process but it is possible to get a bridging visa until the CEC is issued. It can cost up to C$1,200 in application and medical fees. It is capped at 8,000 visas per year for all nationalities.
Provincial Nominee Programme (PNP): Workers can be nominated for permanent residency based on the immigration needs of the specific province and their intention to settle there. It is an alternative option to the CEC for those who want to stay permanently.
Business Immigration Programme: Open to experienced investors, entrepreneurs and the self-employed. In 2014 the Federal Immigrant Investor and Entrepreneurs programmes were terminated; however this has been replaced by the Start-Up visa for entrepreneurs. There is also a Self-Employed Persons Program. 
Permanent residents can sponsor their spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner, dependent child or other eligible relative to become a permanent resident under the Family Sponsorship Programme.
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