Federal vs. provincial Immigration programs in Canada

Immigration programs offered in Canada are divided to two main categories:

  • Federal Programs, and
  • Provincial Programs

In Canada, the Federal Government is the sole body that has the power to issue visas; however, under the Canadian Constitution, immigration is a shared responsibility between both the federal and provincial governments. Therefore, provinces also have the jurisdiction to design and advertise their own immigration programs. Once a province approves/nominates an applicant a request for a visa is sent to the Federal government.

What makes the programs offered by the two levels of government different, are the steps taken towards obtaining a visa. Provincial programs’ applicants deal with both levels of government, while Federal programs’ applicants only deal with the Federal government.

Choosing the right program and stream of a program is a very complicated process, therefore a one size fits all is not a reasonable approach. Before making a choice, it is important the applicants understand the pros and cons of each program.

Canadian Federal Government Immigration Programs/Paths

Canadian Federal Government offers different programs for immigration. Each of these programs have their own criteria and application requirements:

  • Express Entry – this program is for skilled immigrants who want to settle in Canada permanently and be a part of Canadian Economy.
  • Start-up Visa – this program targets entrepreneurs who want to immigrate to Canada and have skills and potential to build successful businesses in the Country. Preferred applicants are entrepreneurs that are innovative, have clear plan to create jobs for Canadians, and can compete on a global scale.
  • Self-employed – this program is for self-employed professionals in cultural or athletic fields and must have relevant experience in cultural activities or athletics, and be willing and able to make significant contributions to the cultural or athletic life of Canada.
  • Caregivers – this program is for individuals that have recently worked as a home childcare provider or support worker.
  • Family Sponsorship – Canadian citizens or permanent residents can sponsor certain family members to live, study or work in Canada.

Pros of Canadian Federal Programs

Canadian Federal government programs have some advantages to their provincial counterparts. The first advantage of Federal Programs is that the permanent residency applicants won’t be dealing with any specific provinces, therefore only have to follow guidelines of one level of government.

Federal programs are more popular than provincial programs amongst applicants as these programs are more known to the general public and have been practiced longer. These programs are usually relatively faster than the provincial programs. Moreover,  programs such as Canadian Federal Skilled Worker (Express Entry, Canadian Experience Class, and Skilled Trades) [internal link] are Designed for larger numbers of applicants, therefore they have a larger capacity for incoming applications. Lastly, Federal immigration programs’ criteria and requirements are less likely to change frequently compared to the provincial program.

Cons of Canadian Federal Programs

The main cons of Canadian Federal programs are difficult criteria and requirements. These requirements are very difficult to meet for the majority of immigration applicants, therefore the mainstream applicants usually do not qualify for them. The difficulty of meeting these requirements lies in the fact that the pointing system is based on skills and conditions that tends to select young, very well educated, and highly skilled professional with high language proficiency and mostly, a job offer from a Canadian employer.

Canadian Provincial Government Immigration Programs/Paths

Canada is a vast country with a total of 10 provinces and 3 territories. Each of these provinces are unique in culture, climate, and economic atmosphere. Provincial Immigration Programs are therefore designed to address the unique economic and cultural needs of the provinces. The program requirements are also very reflective of the unique needs of the provinces.

Although provinces have the jurisdiction to design and manage their own programs, Provincial immigration programs are required to be approved by the federal government. The nominated applicants also need to be approved by the federal government for visa issuance.

There are three provinces that their programs can be considered as best practices for Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP): British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

In the past few years for example, the Province of Quebec mostly have focused on investment and skilled worker programs. These programs are an indication of Quebec’s shortage of skills in some areas and the province’s policy on bringing in an influx of capital. The main requirements were based on academic disciplines,  work experience and French language proficiency. The applicant that meets the criteria and gets nominated by the Province, will be passed to the Federal Government for visa issuance. The federal government will then conduct its own processing which includes security checks and information provided by the province.

Although provincial programs aim to take some load off from the Federal Government, in reality cases will have to enter the same stream of Federal programs, which makes the process more time-consuming.

Ontario has a slightly different approach to immigration compared to the Province of Quebec.

Although provincial programs are advertised to a great extent, applicants need to beware of the pros and cons of these programs. Provident of Ontario has designed various immigration programs based on education and the skills needed in the province. Ontario Immigration Nomination Program offers the following streams:

  • Employer Job Offer: Foreign Worker Stream
  • Employer Job Offer: International Student Stream
  • Employer Job Offer: In-Demand Skills Stream
  • Masters Graduate Stream
  • PhD Graduate Stream
  • French-Speaking Skilled Worker Stream
  • Skilled Trades Stream
  • Entrepreneur Stream

Pros of Canadian Provincial Immigration Programs

Some Provincial Nominee Immigration programs that have lower numbers of applicants, such as the Entrepreneur stream, are less crowded compared to streams like foreign workers or student streams, therefore, the path to permanent residency can be faster for applicants of these programs.

Another pros of Provincial Nominee Immigration Programs is the fact that being nominated by a province increases the total points earned by applicants. The boost of points will increase the processing time for Express Entry applications (which is a Federal Immigration Program. Some of the Provincial Nominee Programs actually provide a direct path to Canadian Permanent Residency, therefore the applicant does not need to engage in any further application process.

Cons of Canadian Provincial Immigration Programs

One of the main cons of Provincial Nominee Programs is that the popular streams have lengthier processing times, due to the large number of applications and the fact that applications will have to be processed by both levels of government, Federal and Provincial.

Other cons of provincial nominee immigration programs are constant changes in criteria in small windows of time. As a result, some applicants may be asked to provide a higher level of skills in education or language for example, in the middle of their application process. Volatility in program criteria can add up to the stress, expenses and time.

It is very important that applicants do not accept a one size fits all approach presented to them. Each applicant needs to understand the program requirements and make an assessment of which one of these programs match their skills and abilities.

Start your assessment with Exilex

Exilex provides very comprehensive and customized service packages to our clients. We will assess your skills and abilities and offer you the best path to immigration to Canada.

Other paths for Immigration to Canada

  • Canadian Federal Skilled worker program
  • Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) – Employer Job Offer – Foreign Worker Stream
  • Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) – Employer job offer – International Student Stream
  • Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) – Employer job offer –In-Demand Skills Stream
  • Canadian Atlantic Immigration pilot
  • Canadian Self-employed Program for people in cultural or athletic professions
  • Ontario Immigration Nominee Program (OINP) – Entrepreneurship
  • Canadian Federal Entrepreneur program
  • Canadian Start-up Visa Program


  • 12 May 2020