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Sask. pauses permanent residency pathway, leaving some immigrants scrambling

The Saskatchewan government has put its international skilled worker hard-to-fill skills pilot program on hold. It was launched “for intermediate and low-skilled workers in eligible, high-demand occupations.
The Saskatchewan government has put its international skilled worker hard-to-fill skills pilot program on hold. It was launched “for intermediate and low-skilled workers in eligible, high-demand occupations.

The Saskatchewan government has put a hold on its hard-to-fill skills pilot program.

In the wake of that decision, Saskatoon resident Rose Mary Antony is preparing to leave the country after five years of living in Canada. And she isn't the only one.

The pilot program was initiated in December 2021 "for intermediate and low-skilled workers in eligible, high-demand occupations."

Through the program, if a worker managed to get a job approval letter from an employer, they'd be eligible to apply for the Saskatchewan Immigration Nominee Program after working for as little as six months with that employer.

Antony moved from India to Canada in 2019 to study international business management at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont. She said she moved to Saskatoon in 2022 for better job prospects that would help her get permanent residency.

She said the pilot program was one of the reasons she was willing to undermine her qualifications to work in a "hard-to-fill" job.

Antony was working as a food counter attendant at a fast food chain before Saskatchewan paused its permanent residency pathway in January. She said she's no longer hopeful she'll be able to stay in Canada — a country she had already started calling home.

"For the people who already invested their time, effort, money, I think it's just completely unfair what happened," she said. "I'm just trying to be hopeful about my future, but at the moment with everything that's going on, I'm not sure anymore."

LISTEN | Sask. puts its hard-to-fill skills pilot program for permanent residency on hold:

On the federal government's side, it made a recent raft of changes to immigration policies, including announcing that 18-month extensions to work permits for international students wouldn't be provided starting this year.

That has left Antony in limbo — she can't extend her work permit and she can't apply for permanent residency either. She said this disruption affects her in more ways than one.

"It took a toll on my mental health and I'm the only one with an income back home. I have my parents who are retired. I'm the only source of income for them, so that's also going to throw me off financially."

Omer Khayyam, an immigration lawyer in Saskatoon, said the initial population boost for Saskatchewan could be attributed to easier permanent residency pathways.
Omer Khayyam, an immigration lawyer in Saskatoon, said the initial population boost for Saskatchewan could be attributed to easier permanent residency pathways.

Omer Khayyam, an immigration lawyer in Saskatoon, says the way the provincial government abruptly paused the pilot program was 'irresponsible.' (Osman Akthar)

Omer Khayyam, a Saskatoon-based immigration lawyer, said he heard from three or four people every day when the halt to the provincial program was first announced.

"It's sloppy. It's irresponsible the way they've done it; it really sends a bad message. It shows that the government really doesn't care for foreign workers," he said.

The government said it would still process employer-approved forms that were submitted prior to Jan. 11 and it would also consider applications that were added until Jan. 22 for existing employees working in the province. That gave employees a 10-day window to scramble for approvals.

Khayyam said 10 days were barely enough. He said the government should have given at least five to six months for employees to negotiate with their employers.

Category closed after cap reached, province says

The Saskatchewan government said it closed the program for a review, to be completed this spring. It said occupations in the health care, agriculture or value-added agriculture sectors are excluded from the closure.

The government said in an emailed response that it closed the category as it had reached its cap on nominations, and that it was a temporary category with a fixed allocation.

When asked about its sudden pause to the pathway with no prior notice to foreign workers, the government said it had added a banner to its website in 2021 advising people to look for future updates or changes to the program intake.

"The banner stated that depending on the program demand, thresholds or caps may be implemented to manage the number of applications under this pilot," Saskatchewan's Ministry of Immigration and Career Training said in the emailed response.

It added that the program review that's underway to evaluate the outcomes of the pilot will determine if and when the program will reopen.