Like many others, I have spent the last several weeks glued to my TV to the athletic wonders of the Olympic Games. From perfect dives to strained bike rides, we have witnessed incredible feats from Canadian athletes, but also around the world.
One of the major elements that was showcased, and by Canada too, is the power of (im)migration to new assumed identities and countries of citizenship. Some of my favourite athletes of the games were Somalian Canadians, Brazilian-Poles, and Spanish-Russians. Many of the best athletes representing countries, were not born there, often did not grow up there nor have family there, but found themselves pursuing opportunities for the country and obtaining citizenship through naturalization in the process or as a result of their talent and self-employment as world-class ahtletes.
A Difficult Pathway to Permanent Residence and Citizenship for Athletes, Actors, and Artists
In order to become a Canadian citizen on the basis of athletic talent is not simple, especially if you are a rising star rather than an established one. Discretionary grants are rare, and unfortunately, the past few years have seen the self-employment program for permanent residency face major delays and is on the brink of dissolution. I have clients who are close to two-years in to processing, inside Canada, and without access to bridging open work permits that are a lifeline for permanent residence applicants.
Unsurprisingly, self-employed applicants who are in Canada (many of whom have worked for years as actors and artists in Canada or started their own businesses here rather than become employees) are hooped.
Canada cut off invitations to the Federal Skilled Workers invitations under Express Entry, even where applicants were actually in Canada and working – a policy flaw I believe will directly impact our immigrant talent pool. While programs like the start-up visa or provincial programs supporting nominees or work permit processes do exist, they do not begin to capture the type of sole practitioner/small business self-employed individual seeking stability for their immigration status. COVID has inspired more of these businesses. It is a shame and inexplicable that this work is not considered Canadian work experience for the purposes of supporting permanent residence under Express Entry.
On the other hand, one can somewhat understand this. Self employment is difficult to assess – difficult but not impossible. Many self-employed individuals do not incorporate or earn income in the traditional sense. When one is declaring one’s own experiences, it might not allow for the usual objective “validation” or “work experience letter” that IRCC puts heavy weight on. Yet, IRCC provides guidelines for applicants and like the self-employment permanent residence process requires, there can be letters of support and other public proof of one’s accomplishments and work. Self-employed work experience is often heavily scrutinized, especially in the context of foreign work experience.
The reality is, in this day and age contractors and multiple self-employed jobs are becoming the future norm. It is difficult for small businesses and start-ups to engage employees when their own operating budget is not there yet.
In addition to athletes, actors and artists are also struggling. Many film schools that attract applicants to Hollywood North are private institutions, unable to provide post-graduate work permits. IRCC has cut off largely matriculation agreements or those arrangements that allowed applicants to benefit from their time at the private institution when calculating post-graduate work permit duration. At the same time, work permits for film and television workers (that are labour market impact assessment (LMIA) exempt) are difficult to secure when union membership and opportunities require the work permit first as entry for opportunities and the type of indie-films and underground artists that become global talents, are often shutout from the process.
In addition to expanding the post-graduate work permit to these educational sectors and perhaps creating new programs to recruit international talent at a younger age, I would also suggest that openly and transparently supporting an easy process for work permits and a feasible pathway to permanent residence for world class talent who are training, interning, or endorsed by Canadian actor and artists unions, and athletics committees, would be a welcome step.
The current self-employed program falls short for not having specific streams or criteria specific to those areas. They require proof of ability to be self-employed in Canada and bring demonstrated economic benefits, but there is little follow-up or accountability and no role for Canadian supporters to be primary endorsers.
Rather than limit immigration targets to a mere 1000 a year, with a greater emphasis on the start-up visa, such a program could target sports Canadian seek to grow in, art forms that Canada needs practitioners in, and provide permanent residence to aspiring actors, actresses, and entertainment folks working for up and coming Canadian-based production companies.
Returning to the Olympics: The Global Recruitment for Talent
There are also a number of athletes I recognized from watching the Olympics who have decided to represent other countries, even while they were either born in Canadian, naturalized While there are many factors for this that are outside immigration, no doubt other countries are recruiting and many have ways to fast-track immigration and naturalizations in order to allow athletes to compete for them.
The steps being taken by Sheridan College, through the private sponsorship process, to support refugee Olympic athletes to represent Canada is laudable. Yet, think about a greater possibility where athletes who have demonstrated exceptional talent, years of commitment, and meeting certain world standards could come to Canada first as permanent residents, train for several years, and obtain citizenship in time to compete within one Olympic cycle. Think about global artists bringing their art form and inspiring interaction and the preservation of Indigenous art across cultures. I think about about as well being able to have more productions like Kim Convenience, or even the recent Manifest, forming movies that attract global audiences.
I truly hope Canada works out better self-employment processes and streams for our future athletes, actors, artists reflecting the growing entrepreneurial nature of these times.