IRCC continues to evaluate Express Entry options, but will resume FSWP and CEC invitations in 2022

Useful and good analysis of memo and strategy. Backlog in citizenship processing will likely be much longer, looking at most recent operational numbers.

Remarkably short turn-around time for an ATIP request – less than two months:

CIC News obtained the memo today via an access to information request to IRCC.The memo was submitted to IRCC’s Deputy Minister on January 21, 2022. The Deputy Minister is the most senior non-political official in each Canadian government department. Unlike the Minister, who is an elected official tasked with carrying out the government’s political agenda, the Deputy Minister is responsible for providing the government with technocratic advice.

Key components of the memo include:

  • Invitation to apply rounds for Federal Skilled Worker Program, Canadian Experience Class, and Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) candidates will resume later in 2022.
  • IRCC will extend its temporary pause on invitations to FSWP, CEC, and FSTP candidates until March 31st, while continuing Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) invitations.
  • The continued pause will allow IRCC to address its inventory backlogs. The full length of the pause will need to be determined by IRCC’s evolving priorities.
  • IRCC will return to the Deputy Minister in March with a plan on the future of Express Entry invitations to determine what timeline and volume will align with the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024 and processing time objectives.
  • IRCC acknowledges candidates in the Express Entry pool, including those holding work permits due to expire, will continue to face uncertainty in the short term.
  • The backlog growth of Express Entry applications is due to the pandemic and IRCC focusing on landing in-Canada candidates to achieve its 401,000 immigration target in 2021. The backlog has caused IRCC’s average application processing times to exceed its 6 month service standard for Express Entry.
  • IRCC would need to reduce the Express Entry backlog by more than half in order to achieve the 6 month service standard for new applicants.

It is important to note the IRCC website continues to tell applicants the processing standard for Express Entry is 6 months.

How we got here

Up until this year, Express Entry was the main way Canada welcomed economic class immigrants. Prior to the pandemic, IRCC typically held biweekly Express Entry draws inviting the highest-scoring candidates, irrespective of their eligibility program, to apply for permanent residence. Most invitations went to FSWP and CEC candidates, while only about one per cent went to FSTP candidates. IRCC aimed to process the permanent residence applications within 6 months.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, IRCC initially held draws where it only invited CEC and PNP candidates. The rationale was that in light of COVID-19 disruptions including Canada’s travel restrictions, IRCC felt it made sense to invite CEC candidates since they were mostly likely to be able to transition to permanent residence given they mostly lived in Canada. PNP draws occurred to help support the labour market needs of provinces and territories across the country. Later in the year, IRCC also invited FSWP candidates in its Express Entry draws.

However IRCC then stopped inviting FSWP candidates in January 2021, and issued large numbers of invitations to CEC candidates. We learned later the rationale for this change was because IRCC wanted to transition as many in-Canada immigration applicants as possible to permanent residence to achieve its ambitious 401,000 immigration goal for 2021. CEC candidates comprised one-third of the 405,000 immigrants Canada landed last year.

IRCC also implemented a Temporary to Permanent Residence (“TR2PR”) program between May and November of last year to allow more international graduates and essential workers living in Canada to apply for permanent residence. This was meant as another way to support its levels goal for 2021.

The focus on CEC candidates and the launch of the TR2PR program caused IRCC’s backlogs to swell, and has seen the department fall behind its service standard of processing Express Entry applications within 6 months. This resulted in IRCC also pausing invitations to CEC candidates in September 2021.

Last month, IRCC announced its new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, which will reduce Express Entry admissions in 2022 and 2023 so the department can process all TR2PR program applications over these 2 years. This will relegate Express Entry to the second leading economic class admissions pathway after the PNP. In 2024, IRCC aims to return Express Entry to the leading economic class pathway by targeting over 110,000 immigrant admissions.

As noted in the memo, the pause in FSWP and CEC candidates is creating uncertainty for many prospective immigrants. The FSWP was Canada’s main source of skilled worker immigrants between its launch in 1967 and the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, CEC candidates risk losing their status and being forced to leave Canada. IRCC has not provided indication if they will introduce a special measure to allow CEC candidates to extend their temporary status until Express Entry returns to normal.

IRCC has processed 4,000 people in the FSWP backlog in the past 2 weeks, something that took 7 months in 2021

Recent IRCC data obtained by CIC News indicates major progress is being made in tackling Express Entry backlogs. Based on its recent rate of application processing, IRCC could see the Express Entry backlog fall to half by this May. This does not guarantee Express Entry invites to FSWP and CEC candidates will resume by then, but it would represent a milestone IRCC continues to note as one they want to achieve to be able to more strongly consider resuming FSWP and CEC invitations.

IRCC has processed more FSWP applications over the past 2.5 months than it did in all of 2021. In February, it processed the FSWP applications of over 4,300 people, compared to the roughly 600 people it was processing monthly for much of 2021. As of March 15, 2022, there were about 41,300 people in the FSWP inventory, a decrease of 4,000 people over the past two weeks. To put this figure into context, in the past 2 weeks, IRCC achieved what it took it 7 months to do in 2021 (i.e., process 4,000 people in the FSWP backlog).

Its current processing rate suggests it could bring the existing FSWP backlog to an end by the close of 2021, if not sooner.

CEC backlog could reach 0 by this spring

Meanwhile, there are just over 10,000 people left in the CEC backlog. IRCC processed 2,000 people in the CEC backlog over the past two weeks. At its current rate, IRCC could draw down the CEC backlog by the spring.

Minister Sean Fraser: Express Entry draws to resume in the “near term”

While this latest IRCC memo remains coy on when Express Entry will return to normal, there are some positive signs out there for FSWP and CEC candidates. IRCC is planning to resume invites to them this year, it is processing FSWP applications more quickly, and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has gone on the record to say the draws will resume in the “near term.” In the meantime, Express Entry invitations to PNP candidates continue biweekly. Yesterday, IRCC invited 924 PNP candidates to apply for immigration through Express Entry.

Source: IRCC continues to evaluate Express Entry options, but will resume FSWP and CEC invitations in 2022

Quebec’s 2022 immigration plan is not enough to address labour shortages

The fallacy lies in repeating business arguments about immigration being the solution rather than being one element in addressing labour shortages. On the other hand, if the federal government and other provinces continue with expanded immigration levels, Quebec’s share of the population will continue to decline, leading to declining seats in Parliament in relative if not absolute terms.

And I suspect that immigration levels will not feature greatly in next year’s provincial election, given identity-related issues like Bills 21 and 96, along with federal-provincial relations and respective roles:

This morning, the province announced it would welcome up to 52,500 new permanent residents in 2022.

Unfortunately, the province continues to fall short of the targets it needs to support stronger economic growth.

Quebec currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. Its unemployment rate was 5.9 per cent in September compared with 7.1 per cent nationally. One of the reasons for its low unemployment rate is Quebec has one of Canada’s oldest populations. Over 20 per cent of Quebec’s population is aged 65-and-older, compared with 18.5 per cent nationally. Quebec also has a birth rate that is just as low as the national average, and one of the country’s lowest immigration rates per capita. When you put all this together, the province is facing significant labour shortages. According to Statistics Canada, Quebec is seeing among the highest increases in job vacancies in the country.

Labour shortages are problematic for several reasons. They make it difficult for employers to operate at full capacity, which makes it difficult for them to serve the needs of consumers. This, in turn, makes it difficult for employers to make investments, which hurts job creation and economic growth.

The topic of labour shortages has featured in Quebec media headlines throughout 2021 with stakeholders pointing to the need for higher immigration as part of the solution to better meet the province’s labour market needs.

For instance, the President of the Quebec Employers’ Council wrote an article in July providing ten solutions to tackle worker shortages, two of which pertained to increasing immigration levels and reforming the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). In September, Quebec Manufacturers and Exporters published a report that labour shortages cost the province $18 billion over the past two years, and it also called for more immigrants to help solve this problem.

To put Quebec’s immigration figures into context, the province was targeting the arrival of some 50,000 immigrants annually until it elected a new government in the fall of 2018. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) party successfully campaigned on a promise to reduce immigration by 20 per cent due to its believe more needed to be done to improve newcomer integration in the province. Under its first plan, CAQ set a target of welcoming a maximum of 41,800 immigrants in 2019.

Welcoming 50,000 new immigrants per year prior to 2019 was already low, so CAQ’s new policy created even greater pressure on the province’s economy. Even though Quebec has the authority to set its own immigration targets (an authority no other province or territory has), it continues to choose to welcome just 12 per cent of all newcomers to Canada, despite it being home to 23 per cent of Canada’s population. On a per capita basis, Quebec is now aiming for an immigration rate of 0.6 per cent. This pales in comparison to the immigration rate of 1 per cent that the Canadian government is pursuing under the Immigration Levels Plan 2021-2023.

It is important to stress that higher levels of immigration will not solve all of Quebec’s labour market challenges. Analysts and commentators point out that a variety of solutions are needed such as more skills training and helping marginalized members of society access job opportunities. At the same time, immigration is a key part of the equation.

So, what is an optimal level of immigration for Quebec?

Given how significant the province’s demographic and labour force challenges are, a strong case can be made Quebec needs to set much higher levels.

A good benchmark would be setting Quebec’s immigrate rate at the same level as the targets currently being pursued by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

This means that given its population of some 8.4 million people, it may be wise for Quebec to pursue an immigration target of 84,000 immigrants per year.

This figure may seem high but it would be in line with the national average and would allow Quebec’s immigration rate to catch up after lagging the rest of the country for many years. It would be difficult to increase immigration this dramatically in a short period of time, but the province could set a multi-year plan to gradually reach this figure within five years or so.

At the end of the day, however, CAQ was democratically elected and was given a mandate by voters to keep immigration in the province low. Nonetheless, CAQ also has a mandate to increase the prosperity of its province, and seeking higher newcomer levels without compromising integration is a key element of a prosperous Quebec.

Now that the province’s 2022 plan has been set, we can not expect Quebec’s immigration targets to be adjusted within the next year. But, by this time next year, Quebec voters will head to the ballot box to decide who will lead their next government. At that point, CAQ and opposition parties will have the chance to share their vision of the future for Quebec, including what each party feels is an appropriate level of immigration to support the province’s economy.

Source: Quebec’s 2022 immigration plan is not enough to address labour shortages

Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

Not much media coverage or commentary to date:

The Liberals are promising to eliminate the application fee for Canadian citizenship, removing what some immigrant advocates have called a key barrier for many newcomers.

Tucked in the party’s platform released Sunday is a promise to make the path to citizenship “more affordable.” The estimated cost is $400 million over four years.

“Becoming a citizen allows new immigrants to fully participate in Canadian society and the process of granting citizenship is a government service, not something that should be paid for with a user fee,” the platform reads. “To make citizenship more affordable, we will make the application process free for those who have fulfilled the requirements needed to obtain it.”

The processing fee is now $530, which was hiked from $100 by the previous Conservative government. There is also a $100 “right of citizenship” fee.

Cost is considered a hurdle for many newcomers hoping to become Canadian citizens, especially low-income refugee families.

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has pressed the government to eliminate it.

Added costs for citizenship

“The application fee is only one of the costs people have to assume — for example, many people have to pay for a test to prove they speak English or French well enough,” said CCR executive director Janet Dench.

Andrew Griffith, a former senior immigration official and author on immigration issues, said while he has long railed against the “steep” increase brought in by the Conservatives, he doesn’t see the need to eliminate fees entirely.

Becoming a citizen benefits Canada in terms of improved integration and participation and benefits the citizen with the right to a Canadian passport and voting rights, he said. Griffith said a fee of $300 would reflect that balance.

Shouldn’t be free

“Waiving the fees completely, at a cost of some $100 million a year, is excessive and will likely be perceived as political positioning to attract immigrant voters, rather than being evidence-based,” he said.

“To my knowledge, no Western country offers free citizenship.”

According to Elections Canada, there were 337,265 Canadian citizens added to the national register since the 2015 election.

In 2017, the Liberals loosened some rules around citizenship. They reduced the length of time that would-be citizens must be physically present in Canada. They lowered the age range for language and knowledge requirements. The fee remained the same.

In a statement to CBC, Ahmed Hussen, the immigration minister who is seeking re-election as an MP, said the promise stems from consultations on how to improve the system.

“We heard from groups across the country who have said that the prohibitive fees were stopping families from finally becoming Canadian. Currently, the cost of applying for citizenship for an average family of four is almost $1,500,” he said.

Source: Liberal promise to wipe out citizenship fees would cost $100M a year

CIC news also covered the platform commitment:

Analysis: Why the Liberals are proposing a Municipal Nominee Program and free citizenship applications