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What is Canada's Immigration Law?

Canadian immigration and refugee law deals with letting foreigners into Canada, their rights and responsibilities once they're here, and the rules for sending them back to their home country. Its main goals are economic growth, family reunification, and following humane treaties. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act is the law that covers these issues.

The Canada-Quebec Accord of 1991 gave Quebec full control over the selection process for business migrants entering the province. Starting in 2023, the Quebec government will choose between 50 and 60% of permanent residents who were born outside of Quebec. The rest will be picked by the national government.

Former laws and regulations

Since 1869, two years after Confederation, Canada has had rules and laws about who can come to live there.

Here is a timeline of how immigration was handled by the federal and provincial law systems of Canada in the past:

An Act to Regulate the Carrying of Passengers on Merchant Vessels (1828) was the first law to say that the Canadas were responsible for the safety and well-being of people leaving the British Isles. It limited the number of people who could be on a ship, decided how much room they could have, and said that food and water had to be provided for the trip.

immigrants Act, 1869: This was Canada's first law about immigrants after it joined the Union. It didn't put any limits on immigration; its main goal was to keep refugees safe on their way to Canada and keep them from being exploited once they got there.

The Dominion Lands Act (1872) was a law that tried to keep the Canadian Prairies from being claimed by the United States and encourage people to move there. The Act was very similar to the U.S. Homestead Act of 1862. It set the rules for how people could live in western areas and use their natural resources.

Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration (1885): The government set up this royal commission to try to show that Chinese immigration to Canada needed to be controlled. The Commission said that each Chinese person trying to enter Canada should pay a $10 fee.

The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 (with changes in 1887, 1892, 1900, and 1903) was Canada's first law to stop immigrants based on their race. It was made because of a big influx of Chinese workers to Canada in the 1880s. The Act created the well-known Chinese head tax, which was a fee that every Chinese person trying to enter Canada had to pay. The fee started at $50 per person and went up to $100 per person in 1900 and then to $500 per person in 1903.

The Royal Commission on Italian Immigration (1904–2055) was a royal commission that was set up in 1904 to look into how Italian workers were being taken advantage of by job agents called padroni. The padroni found Italian workers for Canadian companies and made sure they got to Canada and found work when they got there. The Commission's main focus was on Antonio Cordasco, whose main job was to hire workers for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Immigration Act of 1906 made it harder for people to come to the United States. It added more types of people who were not allowed to come, formalized the deportation process, and gave the government more freedom to make random decisions about entry.

The Newfoundland Chinese Immigration Act of 1906 was a law in Newfoundland, which was still a British colony at the time, that made Chinese newcomers pay a $300 head tax. The head tax stayed in place until 1949 when Newfoundland and Labrador joined the Canadian Federation.

Gentlemen’s Agreement (Hayashi–Lemieux Agreement; 1908) was a deal between Rodolphe Lemieux, who was Canada's minister of labor, and Tadasu Hayashi, who was Japan's foreign minister, to limit the number of Japanese people who could come to Canada. As part of the deal, the Japanese government agreed to limit the number of Japanese people coming to Canada each year to 400. People thought these rules were needed because of a recent increase of Japanese workers in British Columbia and a rise in anti-Asian feelings in the province, especially after the 1907 race riots on the Pacific Coast.

Continuous journey regulation (1908): a law that said people who wanted to move to Canada had to take a "continuous journey" from their home country. At that time, there was no direct ship path between India and Canada, so this stopped Indians from coming to live in Canada.

Immigration Act, 1910—a law that increased the number of people not allowed to come to the United States and gave the government more freedom to decide who could come and go. It kept people "unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada" from coming to the country.

Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324 (1911) was an Order in Council that said "any immigrants of the Negro race, which is deemed unsuitable to the climate and requirements of Canada," were not allowed to come to the country. (The ban wasn't put into the Immigration Act.)

Naturalization Act, 1914—a law that made it harder to become a Canadian citizen. To get a certificate of naturalization, newcomers had to live in Canada for 5 years, speak French or English well enough, and how they were moral.

The Immigration Act, of 1919, was an update to the Immigration Act of 1910. It made the rules stricter in response to the economic slump, labor unrest, and rising anti-foreign feelings after World War II. People coming from enemy alien countries were not allowed to enter, and the groups of political dissidents who were not allowed to enter were extended. The federal cabinet could also refuse to let in immigrants of any race, country, job, or social class because they had "unusual customs, habits, ways of life, and ways of holding property."

Empire Settlement Act, 1922: a deal between the British government and several Commonwealth countries to make it easier for farmers, farmworkers, and young immigrants to find new homes across the Empire.

Chinese Immigration Act, 1923—a law that made it hard for Chinese people to come to Canada.

Railway Agreement, 1925: The Canadian Government made a deal with the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railway that let the companies decide who to hire and where to live European farmers. In 1930, the deal was broken.

Order-in-Council P.C. 1931-695 (1931) was an order-in-council that was passed on March 21, 1931, and it made it possible for Canada to have its strictest immigration policy ever.

The Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947 is a law that created the category of Canadian citizenship and made it possible for anyone living in Canada to become a citizen, no matter what country they are from. (In the past, people born in Canada and newcomers who became citizens were called British subjects instead of Canadian citizens.)

The Immigration Act of 1952 was Canada's first new immigration law since 1910. It gave the federal cabinet more power and gave the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration a lot of freedom to decide who could come to Canada and who could be sent away.

Order-in-Council PC 1962-86, or the Immigration Regulations, got rid of overt racial discrimination in Canadian immigration policy in 1962.

The White Paper on Immigration (1966) was a policy paper that the federal government asked to look over immigration laws and suggest ways to make them better. The White Paper said that Canada should focus on hiring educated immigrants and make it harder for people to come to Canada legally so that there aren't too many unskilled workers. The study would set the stage for new rules on immigration the following year.

With the Immigration Regulations, Order-in-Council PC 1967-1616 (1967), new rules were set for evaluating potential immigrants using a point-based method.

The Immigration Act of 1976 was the first law in Canada to make it clear what the goals of immigration policy were, to recognize refugees as a separate group of immigrants, and to require the Canadian government to work with other levels of government when planning and managing immigration.