Immigration lawyers caution Ottawa on new Express Entry system

Some noteworthy comments:

Canada’s major overhaul of its Express Entry System to attract more economic migrants will see a dramatic increase in “invitations to apply” (ITAs) being issued by Immigration Canada (IRCC)

This could exacerbate the country’s historic visa backlog — 2.2 million applications under processing by IRCC as of this month — given the expansion and priority for immigration programs managed under the Express Entry system.

Nurse aides, long-term care aides, hospital attendants, elementary and secondary school teacher assistants, and transport truck drivers are examples of some of the 16 occupations now included in Express Entry under the National Occupational Classification (NOC) 2021.

Veteran Vancouver Immigration lawyer Victor Ing said the new NOC codes which took effect on Nov. 16  are generally viewed as a good move but cautioned that IRCC should be prepared for “backlog-easing shifts and measures” to meet the recent immigration targets set by the government.

Rising immigration levels

Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration announced this month that Canada is looking to settle 500,000 new immigrants by 2025. The announcement comes on the heels of a record-setting year in 2021 when Canada welcomed more than 405,000 newcomers.

Speaking to NCM, Ing said the federal immigration minister highlighted in his announcement that he intends to meet 60 per cent of his 500,000 target by welcoming “economic immigrants,” including those classes of applicants that fall under the Express Entry system.

“With the Minister’s latest announcement, we should expect that the number of ITAs being issued will continue to increase over time and that the increase could be quite dramatic,” said Ing.

He said before the pandemic, IRCC had never issued more than 4,500 ITAs at any one time. By comparison, during the most recent round of ITAs on Nov.9, the government issued 4,750 ITAs.

“We are, therefore, already seeing the effects of the Minister’s agenda to increase our immigration levels after a 10-month, pandemic-related hiatus from issuing any ITAs between September 2021 and July 2022,” Ing said.

“We need to have the resources in place to process the ITAs while not hampering applications in other pathways and the government needs to be transparent on how it plans to do it… The Express Entry system must continue to be a major contributor to our immigration system in the coming years.”

Uncertainty looms

Catherine Sas, former co-chair of the Immigration and Nationality Committee of the International Bar Association, said the new NOC 2021 system will open doors for many individuals, but may also raise concerns for other applicants.

“If NOC 2021 will cause your occupation to fall below the new eligibility requirements, you are faced with a few options and you need to begin looking towards alternatives,” said Sas. “The introduction of NOC 2021 brings the most significant changes to Canada’s occupational classification system that we’ve seen in the past 10 years.

For prospective immigrants and for those who are currently in the process of applying, you will need to watch, assess, and potentially adjust your Canadian immigration plans.”

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) said while it is pleased with the recent return of all-program draws and six-month processing standards, it is the expected introduction of targeted draws in early 2023 is a concern.

“One of the advantages Canada offers prospective immigrants is certainty they will be assessed objectively,” the association said in a statement. “Express Entry candidates have a strong sense of what Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score they need to compete for a permanent residence invitation.

“The looming introduction of targeted draws, however, erases this certainty, thereby potentially eroding the competitive standing of Canada’s immigration system. Moreover, it begs the question as to what criteria and processes Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will employ to implement targeted draws.”

Marina Sedai, the past national chair (2018-2019) of the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Section and past provincial chair of the CBA BC Immigration Law Section, said she does not expect the processing backlog to be impacted significantly with the new NOC codes.

“Will the NOC 2021 serve Canada’s labour market needs better?  Yes, I think so,” Sedai told NCM.

“One example: Canada has had a truck driver shortage for years, which contributes to supply chain disruptions and inflation. Now, more truck drivers can settle in Canada permanently, easing the stress on these two variables.”

Sedai suggested the NOC be restructured more often than every 10 years because the labour market is evolving quickly.

“As someone who uses the NOC in my daily work life, I would like to see it restructured every 5-7 years,” she said. “We have to keep up to the labour market realities; otherwise, we impair Canada’s economy and interfere with the jobs, services, and goods that Canadians need.”

Immigration Canada told NCM that the department is planning to consult a wide range of stakeholders to inform new categories in Express Entry, as required by the legislation, and is preparing for technical implementation in spring 2023.

“IRCC will continue to invite candidates to apply through generic-ranked (ITA) rounds, such as those with high Comprehensive Ranking System scores, and program-specific (ITA) rounds,” said IRCC spokesperson, Peter Liang.

Source: Immigration lawyers caution Ottawa on new Express Entry system

Canada’s permanent resident application backlog is forcing thousands of skilled workers to quit and return home

Major policy and program fail, unfortunately yet another one, as a result of the government’s fixation on artificial immigration targets and attracting applications rather than addressing the existing “inventory” of potential immigrants from the Canada Experience Class, creating backlogs and hardship:

Thousands of highly skilled immigrants who in previous years would easily have qualified for permanent residence in Canada are being forced to return to their home countries as their work permits expire – the result of a backlog created by federal policy decisions intended to boost immigration during the pandemic.

Many of them are former international students who landed jobs in Canada mid-pandemic, during a critical labour shortage. Now they find themselves in limbo, waiting for opportunities to apply for permanent resident status – opportunities that may never arrive.

“I have spent weeks trying to figure out what to do, but I don’t think there’s anything left that I can really do but leave Canada and find a job elsewhere,” said Gaurav Purohit, a Toronto-based finance professional who has worked at a prominent global financial services company for the past 15 months.

Mr. Purohit came to Canada from India in 2017 and completed a master’s program in Indigenous Studies at Trent University the following year. His work permit expires this month.

His immigration problems, and those of other people who now find themselves in similar situations, stem from the earliest days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 caused a steep drop in the number of immigrants being granted permanent residence in Canada. Sensing trouble for the country’s immigrant-dependent work force, the federal government introduced measures to reverse the trend.

Those measures succeeded in attracting a great many applications for permanent residence, but there was an undesired side effect: Canada’s immigration bureaucracy soon buckled under the pressure to process the avalanche of paperwork. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal immigration ministry, responded to the backlog by imposing a moratorium on new applications from people who had already lived and worked in Canada. The pause lasted for almost a year.

Now, Mr. Purohit and other immigrants with Canadian work experience, many of whom would likely have sailed through the federal vetting process before the pandemic, are still waiting for the government to invite them to apply for permanent residence. If their work permits expire before that happens, many of them will be unable to remain in the country.

“Our immigration system is already a particularly complicated one, but the pandemic and the decisions made by the federal government during the pandemic created an even bigger mess,” said Meika Lalonde, a partner at McCrea Immigration Law in Vancouver. “We are now in a situation where tens of thousands of individuals who are integrated into the labour market – the perfect individuals to stay here forever – have to leave.”

Canada’s economy relies heavily on immigrants. Every year, the government sets a target for the number of them it hopes to turn into permanent residents, who can live and work in the country indefinitely and eventually apply for citizenship.

The target in 2020 was 341,000 – but, because of the pandemic, only 185,000 new permanent residence visas were granted.

This was the exact opposite of what the government was trying to achieve. In late 2020, it announced that it was increasing its targets for the next three years, in the hopes of admitting over 1.2 million new permanent residents by the end of 2023.

And so the government decided to take steps to boost the number of permanent residence applications it was receiving. One of the first things it did to accomplish this was make a dramatic adjustment to Express Entry.

Skilled immigrants who want to live permanently in Canada usually start by submitting their personal information to Express Entry, which is a federal program that puts them all in a pool of candidates who are competing against one another for permanent residence.

Each person in the Express Entry pool gets a score from the government’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS), which awards them points for having positive attributes like Canadian work experience, advanced academic degrees or fluency in English or French. Everyone in the pool is waiting for the government to invite them to apply for permanent residence. Normally, only those with the highest CRS scores get invites.

Immigrants like Mr. Purohit, who have already worked in Canada for at least one year, typically apply for permanent residence through the Express Entry program’s Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream, whose candidates form a smaller pool within the Express Entry pool.

The government usually issues 3,500 to 4,000 CEC application invitations every two weeks, which gives the pool time to replenish its supply of high-scoring candidates. But in February, 2021, during the push for more applications, IRCC handed out invitations to all 27,332 people remaining in the CEC pool at the time. To send out all those invites, it lowered the minimum CRS score to 75, from its usual average of 450.

Another way the government boosted 2021 immigration levels was by creating a new program: the “temporary resident to permanent resident pathway,” or TR to PR. The special program was designed as a quick path to permanent residence for foreign nationals who were already in Canada and working in essential sectors like health care.

The resulting increase in the number of permanent residence applications created a processing backlog at IRCC.

“It’s easy to make an announcement that you’re going to boost immigration levels. But they created a massive problem for the people who worked in the department, who had to now process tens of thousands more applications,” said Mikal Skuterud, a professor of labour economics at the University of Waterloo who has spent decades researching Canada’s immigration system.

In September, 2021, to stop that backlog from growing, IRCC abruptly paused permanent residence invitations for work permit holders in the CEC pool. The invitations didn’t resume until July, 2022.

“If you happened to be in the CEC pool when the CRS score was lowered to 75, you plainly got lucky. If you were in the CEC pool during the pause and your CRS score was high, above the old average of 450, it didn’t matter. You had to sit and wait, even if your work permit was on the brink of expiring,” Ms. Lalonde explained.

IRCC acknowledged these backlogs in a March, 2022, internal memo, which said “existing federal high skilled inventory would have to be reduced by more than half” before any new invitations were sent out. Caught up in this delay were immigrants like Mr. Purohit.

Canada did succeed at hitting its immigration target for 2021. That December, the government announced it had admitted more than 401,000 new permanent residents, the highest annual number on record.

“There was a cost to reaching those 2021 immigration targets. You now have huge numbers of talented, high-skilled workers, who would have previously qualified easily, sitting in this pool, just waiting,” Prof. Skuterud said.

In a statement to The Globe, IRCC said it paused invitations to “manage growing inventories.” It added that Express Entry is an application management system, meaning reducing or pausing invitations is “precisely part of what the system was designed to do.”

IRCC also said new applications will now be processed within the usual six-month time frame.

In response to a question about why the minimum CRS score was lowered to 75, IRCC said the average score of candidates invited in that round was 415.

“All candidates in the Express Entry pool, even those with the lowest CRS scores, qualify for at least one economic immigration program and therefore have the necessary skills to succeed and contribute to the economy,” the ministry said.

The government has offered some supports to immigrants who now find themselves with expiring work permits and no way to apply for permanent residence.

In January, 2021, IRCC introduced a special temporary program that gave people with postgraduation work permits 18-month extensions on their permits’ expiry dates. The permits, which are given to people who studied in Canada, typically expire after eight months to three years.

The rationale for the extensions was pandemic-related: because much of the country was in lockdown, many former international students struggled to find work in Canada. Without Canadian work experience, it’s much harder for a person to gain permanent residence.

The government estimated that roughly 52,000 former international students would benefit from the extensions. Mr. Purohit was one of them. “I was really happy to get the 18-month extension in April, 2021,” he said.

He worked as a part-time instructor at Trent University before landing his current job in July, 2021.

By October, 2021, Mr. Purohit had worked full-time in Canada for a year, his CRS score was high, and he was confident he would get an invitation to apply for permanent residence before the extension on his work permit expired.

But by the time the government resumed draws from the CEC pool in July, 2022, there were so many applicants in the pool that the average CRS score required to receive an invite had risen above 500.

“Now I’m in a situation where I’m not going to get an invitation for PR because my score is too low,” Mr. Purohit said. “And it is ironic, because when the government granted us the 18-month extension, they said it was to ensure we would all get permanent residency.”

Ramkumar Narayanaraja, a Vancouver-based graphic designer who came to Canada from India, is in a similar situation.

His 18-month extension expired in September. He is now waiting for his employer to agree to apply for a labour market impact assessment, which would allow the company to get government approval to hire a certain number of temporary foreign workers. Meanwhile, Mr. Narayanaraja’s wife is about to give birth, and the couple has been racking up hospital bills because their immigration status prevents them from getting public health benefits.

“It just seems unfair that I paid my taxes, contributed to the system, and I’m faced with so much uncertainty,” Mr. Narayanaraja said. His CRS score is high, but not high enough to clear the new, elevated bar for a permanent residence invite.

If he’s able to remain in Canada as a temporary worker, and if the minimum CRS score eventually declines, he might one day be able to apply. But it’s more likely that he and his wife will have to leave the country.

In August, the government announced another 18-month extension for post-graduation work permit holders, but only for those whose initial permits had expiry dates between September, 2021, and December, 2022. Neither Mr. Purohit nor Mr. Narayanaraja are in that category.

In response to questions about whether they and others will be granted further extensions, IRCC said it “cannot speculate on future policy or program decisions.” But the ministry noted that in some cases people who were issued extensions under the 2021 policy will also be eligible for the extension announced this year.

It is unclear exactly how many skilled immigrants are currently living in limbo, unsure when or if they will obtain permanent residence, but Prof. Skuterud and Ms. Lalonde estimate that there are tens of thousands. The number of people in the Express Entry pool currently waiting for permanent residence invitations has ballooned to nearly 240,000 since early 2021.

Prof. Skuterud argued that the government lost sight, during the pandemic, of the real objective of economic immigration.

“Look, the Express Entry program and the CRS score was created in 2015 in order to get the best immigrants into this country,” he said. “And for years, it worked well. There’s been a clear improvement in the average earnings of new immigrants since 2015.”

“But the government got really fixated on making up for the 2020 shortfall, so they lowered the CRS score for the CEC pool, and created the TR to PR pathway. The result is we gained a lot of low-skilled immigrants, and we are currently losing high-skilled immigrants because of an avoidable backlog.”

Ms. Lalonde said the obvious solution is to hand out targeted work permit extensions to people like Mr. Purohit and Mr. Narayanaraja, who have high CRS scores and would easily have qualified for permanent residence had the pandemic not happened. And she said the government should be more transparent about how it intends to address the current backlog.

In September, the government announced steps to shorten application processing times. Those included hiring 1,250 new employees at IRCC and exempting permanent and temporary residence applicants who are already in Canada from medical exams.

But that won’t help people whose work permits are on the verge of expiring.

“There is so much uncertainty. And it’s unfortunate, because these people did so much to get to this point,” Ms. Lalonde said. “We really shouldn’t have to lose them.”

Source: Canada’s permanent resident application backlog is forcing thousands of skilled workers to quit and return home

Immigration ‘very difficult’ for applicants once they turn 40

By design for economic immigrants, given aging demographics:

Canada is credited for having one of the world’s most immigrant-friendly policies, ranking fourth internationally in the Migrant Integration Policy Index. But the criteria used to prioritize applicants based on age leaves many at a disadvantage, even though they might have the qualifications Canada is looking for.

With immigration backlogs and several technical glitches on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) online portal during the pandemic, many have become ineligible for certain programs that consider age as a criterion.

When Pedro Carvalho arrived with his wife in 2017 from Brazil, the couple was in their 30s.

But after missing the Express Entry (EE) draw this year because of a technical glitch, Carvalho was skeptical about meeting the CRS cut-off score due to his age.

After the resumption of EE draws in July 2022, the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score has been on the higher end (above 500 points) in comparison to pre-pandemic levels, touching 557 on July 6th.

With high cut-off scores at the time, many like Carvalho were pessimistic and switched to another program called temporary resident to permanent resident program (TR to PR) to ensure they can stay in Canada as permanent residents.

“Now I turned 40, so I lost points. To be honest I don’t know what else I can say,” Carvalho said in an email to CTVNews.ca in August.

Rick Lamanna, director at Fragomen Canada, an immigration services provider, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that it can be frustrating for certain applicants waiting in the pool.

“They see themselves losing points every year because of these delays. They may have fewer points than they did a couple of years ago or even a year ago,” he said.

At first glance, age is not highlighted as a major criterion by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

But for certain programs—such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) or Canadian Experience Class (CEC)— the importance of being young becomes quite explicit, especially for applicants touching the 40s threshold.

A DEEPER LOOK AT THE POINT-BASED SYSTEM

Programs under EE include the FSWP, Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), CEC, and a portion of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). An applicant needs to be eligible for one of the above to enter the EE pool of candidates.

Canadian employers typically rely on EE designed to attract highly skilled foreign workers through its programs that lead to permanent residency (PR) and among these, FSWP, and the CEC are popular—both of which consider age as one of the core/human capital factors.

Lamanna says, while age can drop the score of a CEC or FSWP candidate, other factors can help raise CRS scores.

“However,” he said, “It is very difficult. Because applicants in their 40s lose a lot of points on age relative to people in their 20s or 30s.”

CRS is a points-based system that scores a profile to rank applicants in the Express Entry pool. To get an invitation to apply (ITA), the candidate should meet a score above the CRS score.

The maximum score in CRS is 1200 and this evaluation is based on several characteristics such as level of education, English/French skills, and work experience. If an applicant doesn’t meet the CRS score in a specific draw, he/she has to upload their profile again to be considered for the next pool.

By design for economic immigrants given aging demographics:

Canada is credited for having one of the world’s most immigrant-friendly policies, ranking fourth internationally in the Migrant Integration Policy Index. But the criteria used to prioritize applicants based on age leaves many at a disadvantage, even though they might have the qualifications Canada is looking for.

With immigration backlogs and several technical glitches on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) online portal during the pandemic, many have become ineligible for certain programs that consider age as a criterion.

When Pedro Carvalho arrived with his wife in 2017 from Brazil, the couple was in their 30s.

But after missing the Express Entry (EE) draw this year because of a technical glitch, Carvalho was skeptical about meeting the CRS cut-off score due to his age.

After the resumption of EE draws in July 2022, the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score has been on the higher end (above 500 points) in comparison to pre-pandemic levels, touching 557 on July 6th.

With high cut-off scores at the time, many like Carvalho were pessimistic and switched to another program called temporary resident to permanent resident program (TR to PR) to ensure they can stay in Canada as permanent residents.

“Now I turned 40, so I lost points. To be honest I don’t know what else I can say,” Carvalho said in an email to CTVNews.ca in August.

Rick Lamanna, director at Fragomen Canada, an immigration services provider, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that it can be frustrating for certain applicants waiting in the pool.

“They see themselves losing points every year because of these delays. They may have fewer points than they did a couple of years ago or even a year ago,” he said.

At first glance, age is not highlighted as a major criterion by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

But for certain programs—such as the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) or Canadian Experience Class (CEC)— the importance of being young becomes quite explicit, especially for applicants touching the 40s threshold.

A DEEPER LOOK AT THE POINT-BASED SYSTEM

Programs under EE include the FSWP, Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), CEC, and a portion of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). An applicant needs to be eligible for one of the above to enter the EE pool of candidates.

Canadian employers typically rely on EE designed to attract highly skilled foreign workers through its programs that lead to permanent residency (PR) and among these, FSWP, and the CEC are popular—both of which consider age as one of the core/human capital factors.

Lamanna says, while age can drop the score of a CEC or FSWP candidate, other factors can help raise CRS scores.

“However,” he said, “It is very difficult. Because applicants in their 40s lose a lot of points on age relative to people in their 20s or 30s.”

CRS is a points-based system that scores a profile to rank applicants in the Express Entry pool. To get an invitation to apply (ITA), the candidate should meet a score above the CRS score.

The maximum score in CRS is 1200 and this evaluation is based on several characteristics such as level of education, English/French skills, and work experience. If an applicant doesn’t meet the CRS score in a specific draw, he/she has to upload their profile again to be considered for the next pool.

POINT DROP FOR OLDER APPLICANTS

Under the CRS score, candidates can get a higher score if they are single and fall under the Express Entry category. However, the score falls dramatically for those above the age of 44. Canada’s comprehensive ranking system gives no points to those above 45 years of age.
Not only that, starting from the age of 40, the points reduce by 10 versus 5 before the age of 40. While a 29-year-old can get a maximum of 110 CRS points for age, an applicant of a similar caliber approaching their 30th birthday may see a sharp decline. By the time they reach 39, just 55 points are available, and by the time they reach 45, there are no points.

Under FSWP, the applicant’s age is worth 12 per cent of the overall selection criteria on the selection grid. The FAQ section makes it clear that someone over the age of 47 will not get any points under the Age factor of the CRS, but may get points on other factors such as job offer, skills, and language abilities.

DOES CANADA NEED YOUNG WORKERS?

Immigration has played a critical role in Canada’s economy, providing a relatively young stream of workers. More than 80% of the immigrants admitted in recent years have been under 45 years old.

According to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), young immigrants are generally much more educated than immigrants nearing retirement and this is true for those entering the labour force.

With an aging native-born labour force and low fertility rates (roughly 1.4 births per woman in 2020), an inflow of immigrants has become increasingly important for Canada. The country suffers a shortage of skilled workers despite attempts to attract immigrants. According to the data from Statistics Canada, immigrants account for a little over one-quarter of Canadian workers.

Recent census data from 2021 shows that people nearing retirement outnumber those who are too old to enter the labour market in Canada. Additionally, rural populations are also aging faster than those in urban areas – partially due to the lower influx of immigrants.

The Canadian population is seeing a big shift, with baby boomers getting older, according to a report by Statistics Canada. The shift will have significant consequences on the labour market, services to seniors, and the consumption of goods and services.

A recent Census report by Statistics Canada shows that young immigrants are helping boost numbers in Canada’s population growth. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) were between 25 and 40 years old in 2021, and are already the fastest-growing generation. In Canada, their numbers rose 8.6 per cent between 2016 and 2021 due to immigration, according to the StatsCan report.

But when it comes to the age factor in economic immigration, Canada is not alone.

Australia has age as one of the selection criteria for permanent residency and the age of the applicant should be below 45 years to apply for a PR visa. Germany recently introduced its version of the “green card” (known as Chancenkarte) to meet the country’s growing labour shortage. Three of the four criteria to be considered for the program include that applicant is below the age of 35.

BUT TARGETED DRAWS IN 2023 COULD BE A GAMECHANGER

Lamanna says as 2023 approaches, applicants need to brace themselves for specified targeted draws, which are designed to address the labour shortage that Canada currently faces in certain sectors.

The recently passed Bill C-19 allows invitations to those applicants under Express Entry that support the regional economic needs. The training, education, experience, and responsibilities (TEER) system would allow IRCC to invite applicants based on occupation, language or education rather than the traditional CRS score.

“While the issue of age is currently important, a bigger issue will be what happens when targeted draws occur,” he said. If someone is not in the pool of that specific occupation type, then applicants may be left in limbo and these could include those with higher CRS scores.

Lamanna said provinces have more autonomy in selecting people in certain occupations to help employers in certain jurisdictions. There is a risk-reward to targeted draws. It helps meet the labour shortage in specific industries such as health care, manufacturing and construction.

“The risk is there are people in the queue who know that at some point, they will be selected as long as they meet the CRS score. But if a minister shifts to occupation-based selective selection process, then people may be left wondering when their turn will come next,” Lamanna said.

Source: Immigration ‘very difficult’ for applicants once they turn 40

CILA: “We Apologize for the Inconvenience”: A Cautionary Tale of IRCC’s Decision to Move PR Applications Online

Hopefully only teething problems but IRCC seems to have a number of them post-pandemic, not limited to digital services:

Excitement spread through our office upon learning that IRCC will resume Express Entry draws in July, after almost a one-year hiatus. In anticipation of this much-welcomed return, we made sure to review and update all our client’s profiles so that once the “we are pleased to invite you to apply for permanent residence” correspondence came in – we were ready.

After the first round of invitations, we had a few fortunate clients who had received such correspondence. We immediately began completing the eAPR’s and uploading documentation onto my authorized representative portal. For one client, however, each time we attempted to access the eAPR – we were met with a message from IRCC that their system was down as they are either updating the website or experiencing technical difficulties.

Given the frequency of portal glitches and technical issues myself and fellow immigration lawyers have experienced while using IRCC’s portal, I was not too alarmed and figured to try again later. Unfortunately, the technical issue did not resolve the following day, or even after performing the common ritual of clearing my browser history and using different search engines.

On its website, IRCC states that if you are experiencing any technical difficulties, you can submit a webform. If an application cannot be submitted online and requires accommodations, one can contact IRCC to request an alternative format. Following this advice, we submitted multiple webforms enclosing screenshots of the glitch, and requested for alternative instructions to submit the application given that Express Entry PR applications can only be submitted online.

None of our webform pleas for help and assistance received a response. Emails which were responded simply included links to IRCC’s webform. Calling the IRCC helpline is a task I would only assign as a form of punishment.

Alas – I receive an email response from the Immigration Representatives Mailbox:

“We regret to inform you that your client’s EE profile has now expired due to a technical issue with our online tools. You must create and submit a new EE profile and wait for another ITA to be issued before you can apply for permanent residence. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

This response is alarming, as it ultimately places the burden on the applicant to deal with the consequences of a dysfunctional portal. This response does not take into account that, perhaps, there was an expiring LMIA, work permit, English test results – or that the applicant’s score may not be high enough to make the CRS cut-off on a future round.

The response is also an example that supports the concern fellow Canadian immigration lawyers have expressed with respect to the recent announcement by IRCC, whereby it will be mandatory to submit most permanent residence applications online.

The ability to submit PR applications by paper or online has been imperative, given the poorly functioning platforms and lack of timely user technical support. It is not uncommon to see the ‘rep portal is down’ email in our inbox and responses to webforms which were submitted over 30 days prior. IRCC has been made aware of these issues, but fully functional portals and timely responses to calls for help remain to be delivered.

Document upload size along with symbol size limits on IRCC’s Permanent and Temporary Residence portals have led applications to be filed on paper versus online, as the difficulties in navigating these restrictions and lack of technical support caused undue stress and delays for the immigration lawyer community and their clients – especially when there are impending deadlines.

No system is perfect, and technological issues may occur with the various tools legal practitioners have the ability to utilize these days. What is problematic, however, is the lack of support and guidance available to both immigration law practitioners as well as to unrepresented clients when dealing with IRCC’s online portals. Most of the time, inquiries are not answered, or responses to critical inquiries are significantly delayed, which has led applicants to postpone their work, studies or even miss PR submission deadlines which ultimately decide the fate of their future in Canada

There is room for improvement in how IRCC’s technical capabilities can be facilitated. For example, IRCC can provide explicit instructions on their website to those who are experiencing technical issues with submitting an application by listing a designated email address or location to which the application can be sent via courier accompanied by screenshots or explanations. A designated, live support chat or inbox for communicating errors or glitches would also be welcome, especially in time-sensitive situations.

Until IRCC can assure the public that the platforms will be fully functional and there will be ways to access timely assistance in case of technical issues, it should pause the transition of moving PR applications to be fully digitized or allow paper applications to be submitted as an alternative method in the event applicants face technical challenges with IRCC’s portals.

Source: “We Apologize for the Inconvenience”: A Cautionary Tale of IRCC’s Decision to Move PR Applications Online

‘Brought down to my knees:’ Restaurateur slams changes to New Brunswick immigration

To govern is to choose, and hard to argue that healthcare and more highly skilled international students were not a valid policy choice:

When Michael Petrovici posts a job opening for one of his northern New Brunswick restaurants, he’s lucky if he gets one application.

“It’s very, very challenging to recruit people locally,” said the entrepreneur who owns a fast-food restaurant, a coffee shop and a full-service eatery in Bathurst.

The small city on the Chaleur Bay is quickly becoming the epicentre of Canada’s restaurant industry labour shortage after the province paused a popular immigration stream used by businesses to attract workers to the area.

“We were already struggling before. Now it’s just impossible for us,” Petrovici said. “I’m not sure how we’ll get through the summer.”

At issue is a decision by the New Brunswick government to suspend the province’s express entry stream, part of the provincial nominee program.

Arlene Dunn, the province’s minister responsible for immigration, said the application process was temporarily paused to ensure the needs of all sectors are met after a significant increase in demand.

“If it was allowed to continue, under the current circumstances, the large demand on our existing programming would jeopardize access to immigration for certain sectors … such as internationally educated nurses or international students who are currently in New Brunswick,” she said in a letter to Petrovici in response to his concerns.

The Canadian Press reached out to New Brunswick government departments that oversee immigration, economic development and business for comment but did not receive a response.

Restaurants across the country are confronting a worker shortfall.

The sector was slammed by two years of pandemic shutdowns, repeated layoffs and strict capacity limits. About 13,000 eateries across the country closed permanently and many workers left the industry altogether.

“The food service industry has been the hardest hit in terms of job losses as a result of COVID,” Restaurants Canada’s Atlantic Canada vice-president Richard Alexander said.

“The impact is even more significant in Atlantic Canada because of our unique labour challenges.”

Bathurst, for example, has a median age of 53 — more than a decade older than Canada’s median age of 40.4, according to Statistics Canada.

“The aging demographic makes it tough to find workers,” Petrovici said. “Rural areas are at an ever bigger disadvantage.”

Still, New Brunswick recorded a mini population boom during the pandemic.

The province added 15,000 newcomers in just 12 months — the fastest rate of population growth since 1976 — reaching 800,000 people, the province said in March.

Yet Petrovici, who owns a Pita Pit franchise, the coffee shop Kaffeine and the full-service restaurant Au Bootlegger, said he still can’t find enough workers to staff his eateries.

“We’re in crisis mode and it’s going to get worse,” he said. “The labour shortage is a really dire situation.”

Given the recent changes to the province’s immigration program, he said four of his employees will be leaving New Brunswick.

“I am brought down to my knees,” he said in a letter to Dunn. “We already have a mountain ahead of us in small rural communities just to attract newcomers.”

The changes to the immigration program have paused applications for food service supervisors, food counter attendants and food and beverage services indefinitely, he said.

“It feels like we’re being treated like a second-class business,” said Petrovici.

In her letter to Petrovici, Dunn suggested he consider the federal temporary foreign worker program.

But Petrovici said he doesn’t have the resources required to pursue other immigration streams, which are more complicated to navigate and require labour market assessments.

“Maybe if you’re a big business owner with 20 franchise locations and can afford to pay consultants it could be worth it,” he said. “But we’re just a mom and pop shop.”

Petrovici said he was told one of the issues is a delay with the federal allocation of candidates _ the number of foreign workers the province is able to welcome each year.

Remi Lariviere, a spokesperson for the federal Immigration Department, said allocations for 2022 were delayed due to the 2021 federal election, the conflict in Ukraine and ongoing challenges related to the pandemic.

Still, he said all provinces and territories participating in these immigration programs were told they could expect, at a minimum, the same number of allocations that they received in 2021.

“They’ve sort of passed the buck to the federal immigration (department),” Petrovici said. “I don’t know what the problem really is but we need a solution.”

He added: “All we need and want is to be able to keep our doors open.”

Source: ‘Brought down to my knees:’ Restaurateur slams changes to New Brunswick immigration

El-Assal: Canada wants to change Express Entry: A look at the pros and cons

Usual good balanced analysis, that overall gives the impression that the cons are stronger than the pros:

The Canadian government is set to make the biggest reform to Express Entry since it introduced the application management system in January 2015.

Bill C-19 is currently being evaluated by Canada’s Parliament and based on precedent, should become law sometime in June before Parliament recesses for the summer. It contains a provision that would allow Canada’s Immigration Minister to create Express Entry groups and then issue Invitations to Apply (ITAs) to these groups. As explained by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada(IRCC), the minister would be able to form groups based on occupations in demand, and to address other policy goals, such as welcoming more francophone immigrants.

This proposal would give IRCC the ability to depart significantly from the current method it uses to issue ITAs for permanent residence. Since the Express Entry application management system was launched, IRCC has issued ITAs based on Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score, and Express Entry program of eligibility.

Prior to the pandemic, IRCC generally prioritized ITAs to candidates with the highest CRS score. The rationale being, the CRS is an objective way to forecast an Express Entry candidate’s likelihood of economically establishing in Canada. That is, candidates with higher CRS scores have a better chance of success in the Canadian labour market. IRCC has temporarily departed from this approach, but will be returning to it in early July when it resumes all-program Express Entry draws.

For much of the pandemic, IRCC has been issuing program-specific ITAs. Until September 2021, it invited Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates as it sought to transition as many in-Canada candidates to permanent residence to achieve its goal of landing over 400,000 immigrants last year. It has also been inviting Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates to help the provinces and territories address their labour force needs.

While these two methods of issuing ITAs are imperfect, they are still relatively objective and give candidates some form of certainty. Once all-program draws resume in early July, candidates will once again know that their best shot of getting an ITA is to maximize their CRS score.

Lack of certainty is one of the major drawbacks of the proposal to allow ITAs to be issued based on groups. Moving forward, IRCC will have significant discretion to issue ITAs based on any criteria the department chooses. This runs the risk of ITAs being issued on non-objective criteria, such as public sentiment. For instance, IRCC may feel pressure from the public or special interest groups to issue ITAs to candidates in a given sector, even if objective economic data does not indicate the sector has labour shortages. Although this is an extreme example, it is meant to highlight a potential limitation of giving IRCC such wide autonomy when it comes to ITAs.

The lack of certainty is extremely problematic from a candidate’s perspective. In theory, having a very high CRS score may no longer result in an ITA. For instance, a candidate with a CRS 480, which was more than enough to guarantee an ITA prior to the pandemic, may no longer receive an ITA, at the expense of a candidate with a CRS 200 who happens to fall under an occupation in-demand. This would occur in the absence of evidence suggesting that it is wise for the Canadian government to select lower scoring candidates ahead of higher scoring ones.

When it launched Express Entry, IRCC argued that the CRS was shaped by many decades of Statistics Canada research outlining which human capital criteria best predicted the economic outcomes of immigrants. This explains why candidates get more CRS points for the likes of being young, and having high levels of education, language skills, and having professional work experience. Moving forward, IRCC will be able to issue ITAs in the absence of evidence justifying why certain groupings are more worthy of ITAs than others.

Another concern is the lack of public consultations in the lead up to these reforms being proposed. The Express Entry reforms have been included in Bill C-19, which is a collection of various reforms across a spectrum of policy areas that are being proposed together as a means of allowing the ruling federal government to make legislative changes quickly.

While there is a time and place to make legal changes quickly, such as during crisis periods like with what we dealt with at the beginning of the pandemic, it is difficult to understand why the federal government feels the rush to implement such important changes to Express Entry with little time for stakeholder consultations, oversight, and debate.

The current debate in Parliament appears to be a formality since the ruling Liberal Party of Canada have the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP). This means we are the verge of the biggest change to Express Entry ever without the opportunity for stakeholders to highlight potential problems with the change.

IRCC is arguing that if the change becomes law, it will consult with stakeholders before it establishes Express Entry groupings. However, given the lack of consultations leading up to this proposal, why should we feel confident IRCC will consult if the proposal goes into law?

On the other hand, there are also potential benefits to be had from the proposal. There are particular areas of the economy that are being hit hard by Canada’s over one million job vacancies. Providing IRCC with the tools to issue ITAs to help fill job vacancies in such areas will be beneficial to the economy and to Canadians. For instance, Canada is grappling with a shortage of health care workers due to its aging population and the pandemic, and so prioritizing health care workers in the Express Entry pool will be helpful.

In addition, it will be beneficial for IRCC to issue ITAs based on important policy goals, such as strengthening francophone immigration across Canada. As a country with two official languages, English and French, it is crucial the federal government continues its efforts to welcome more francophone immigrants.

Looking ahead, the proposal will likely soon go into law but it is unknown when IRCC would begin to employ its newfound authority. We will need to wait to hear more from the department in this regard.

In the meantime, we can only hope that IRCC will be as transparent as possible before it establishes Express Entry groups and consults widely before issuing ITAs.

There are many expert stakeholders who are available to provide IRCC with objective insights on how to best form Express Entry groups to address Canada’s various labour market needs.

Source: Canada wants to change Express Entry: A look at the pros and cons

Express Entry: The case for resuming invitations to FSWP and CEC candidates

Good assessment by Kareem El-Assal:

It is in Canada’s policy interests to resume Express Entry invitations to FSWP and CEC candidates in short order.

Upon its launch in 2015, Express Entry sought to invite the highest scoring candidates to apply for permanent residence. Its dynamic nature sought to end backlogs since IRCC only needs to process the applications of those it invited rather than processing every application it receives. Unfortunately, IRCC has departed from inviting the highest scoring candidates and backlogs have grown due to it shifting its resources to prioritizing permanent residence applications submitted within Canada as well as the processing of Afghan refugee applications.

Back in 2015, IRCC argued that using the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS)to score and rank candidates was the best way to identify new immigrants most likely to successfully integrate into Canada’s economy. The CRS was informed by many decades of Statistics Canada research and hence is meant to be a scientific way of selecting the Canadians of tomorrow. Thus, it is in Canada’s best interests to use the CRS as the main determinant for Express Entry invitations. One may even argue a stronger case can be made to stick with the CRS now, during an economically turbulent period, since Statistics Canada research also shows immigrants who land during a recession have weaker economic outcomes throughout their careers in Canada than those who land during stronger economic times.

An argument to stick to the CRS can also be made on grounds of fairness. Between 2015 and the end of 2020, IRCC had been overwhelmingly issuing Express Entry invitations based on CRS score but departed from this approach in January 2021 without warning. Many candidates entered the Express Entry pool after taking steps to maximize their CRS score or have taken steps since entering the pool to improve their CRS score. Such efforts have gone for naught through no fault of their own due to IRCC shifting the goalposts on them with no advanced notice (IRCC remains quiet on its Express Entry plans for 2022).

The growth in the Express Entry backlog was avoidable since IRCC made the deliberate choice to expedite CEC application processing while holding off on processing FSWP and other applications. In the second half of 2021 it was processing about 14,000 CEC applications per month and just 600 FSWP applications monthly.

The backlog of FSWP and other applications of skilled workers abroad is proving costly since it is resulting in weaker population, labour force and economic growth. Canada’s population growth is the weakest since 1915/16 and the country is currently grappling with the highest job vacancy rate on record with nearly 1 million jobs currently unfilled. Crucial industries across the Canadian economy from health care, to transportation, to agri-food, and many others are in dire need of more workers. It goes without saying then, it is in Canada’s economic interests for IRCC to get the application processing of skilled workers abroad back on track so they can soon arrive to alleviate the labour shortages that are slowing the country’s economic recovery.

Finally, the pause in CEC draws since September is also concerning from both economic and fairness perspectives. CEC candidates tend to work for Canadian employers and are able to remain with them indefinitely after getting permanent residence via Express Entry. Many CEC candidates risk losing their legal status due to the absence of Express Entry invitations which may force them to leave the country. This would result in less economic activity in Canada and contribute to additional labour shortages and pressure for Canadian employers. From a fairness point of view, it would not be right to also shift the goalposts on such individuals with no advanced notice, and ask them to leave the country, after they have spent years contributing to Canada’s economy and society.

Source: Express Entry: The case for resuming invitations to FSWP and CEC candidates

‘We Can’t Take Immigrants for Granted’: Minister

Bit of an odd comment by the minister – “ranking immigrants one against the other” – given that the old point system and current Express Entry application process do just that. Or maybe he was simply trying to communicate an increased focus on lower-skilled essential workers.

But perhaps the massive draw earlier this year with minimal comprehensive ranking score of 75 suggests that the government’s objective in meeting this year’s target of 400,000 makes previous merit assessment approaches less important:

Minister Marco Mendicino has emphasized the need to modernize Canada’s immigration system so that future public health crises don’t threaten the economy the way COVID-19 has, though he was scant on details about how to achieve it.

Speaking at an online event on Friday organized by First Policy Response, Mendicino said bringing immigrants into the country is critical for the Canadian economy, while also recognizing the “contributions (of immigrants) that we took for granted before the pandemic.”

“We believe that we are an open country, an inclusive country, but our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it,” he said.

Mendicino believes the $1 billion slated in the 2021 budget to “modernize and transform” the immigration system will lead “not only to better service…but to faster outcomes” for people trying to immigrate into the country. As he sees it, it is part of a “shift in the paradigm in the way we talk about immigration,” which should include getting rid of discriminatory practices like “ranking immigrants one against the other” – namely those considered low-skill versus those with higher qualifications.

“I think the pandemic has allowed us to really understand that each and every newcomer has something to contribute to our economy, to our communities and to our country,” the Minister said.

The government has taken some steps during the pandemic to continue some level of immigration. These have included writing new laws and policies to authorize entry based on “the needs of the economy;” the digitization of permanent residence and citizenship application processes; and the extension of permanent residence to immigrants already working in the country but lacking status through programs like the Essential Workers Pathway and the Guardian Angel programs, the latter of which allowed “asylum seekers to stay in Canada thanks to their contributions in hospitals and long-term care homes,” Mendicino said.

“We prioritized the needs of the economy. Immigration will create jobs, further opportunities and strengthen our long-term prosperity.”

But other than “investing in hiring additional people, introducing new technologies and putting in place policy flexibility,” there were few, if any, details on what will be done going forward to ensure immigrants don’t fall into precarious employment. Raju Mohandoss, one of the four panelists and the director of newcomer programs and services at WoodGreen Community Services, a settlement organization in Toronto, referred to these employments as “survival jobs.”

“When newcomers come – even qualified ones – they get into survival jobs that sustain them during a period when they are putting other things together and trying to access other services to integrate,” he said after the Minister had finished speaking and left. “But all these survival jobs are in the hospitality, retail, or manufacturing sectors…all of which are completely wiped out because of the pandemic situation.”

To his credit, before leaving, Mendicino had mentioned the importance of “making sure we protect (migrant workers’) rights” and “ensure that their workplaces are safe and healthy,” but he again failed to specify how this would be done.

He also made no mention of the precarious nature of most of those so-called “survival jobs.” And while he recognized that speaking of immigration must include a discussion on how to “attract people not only for the purposes of adding to our economy…but to protect that promise of Canada” as a welcoming, safe country, he gave no details on what will happen to people whose permanent residence applications are stuck in limbo or in a backlog, other than “keep the faith” and “we hear you.”

The four-member panel that followed Mendicino’s presentation, which consisted of immigration experts from various fields, failed to find the Minister’s announcement as much more than a self-congratulatory moment.

Rupa Banerjee is the Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson. She said that while she agreed with Mendicino that “a lot of news early in the pandemic really [was] quicker” than what is expected from governments, little work has been done to help newcomers integrate into society.

Mendicino “talked about selection and modernization,” she said, “but, at the end of the day, those do not exist in a vacuum…Newcomers face challenges once they arrive in Canada, and those challenges need to be integrated into the selection system as well.”

What is needed immediately in order to help newcomers, added Mohandoss, are dollars. While the $1 billion investment is “good to hear,” Mohandoss stressed that “no new dollars” have been made available for settlement agencies, which are crucial in helping newcomers find, understand and access available resources. According to him, there hasn’t been any investment in the settlement agencies sector for “more than a decade and a half.”

“We have these targets – that’s great – but what happens to (newcomers) when they’re here?” he said. “Unless we’re improving settlement services, these people are going to continue to struggle being here…So, dollar investments in digitizing and innovating stops short of investing in settlement services.”

Much of the rest of the conversation between the panelists involved discussing what they saw as Canada’s “two-tier immigration system,” referring to the premium the government puts on the Canadian Experience Class versus so-called “low-skill” immigrants. The result, said Shamira Madhany, World Education Services’ managing director, is that Canada ends up “with a lot of people who come to Canada through the two-tiered system but don’t grow our economy” as their experience abroad is discounted and thus often goes underutilized, forcing them onto precarious so-called survival jobs.

“Even with pathways to permanent residence, people still struggle greatly after transition,” added Banerjee.

Madhany suggested a three-pronged approach to help boost the economy by properly utilizing newcomers’ experiences and skills as they integrate without having to sacrifice their safety: a national strategy to enhance immigration and labour market integration; policies that are intentionally passed with those who are “impacted greatly” in mind, such as racialized women and people relegated to low-wage labour; and developing innovative tools and approaches to recognize and assess skills and experience gained abroad.

“We need to think about being intentional about leveraging the skills people bring,” she said. “This isn’t just about bringing people in and taking any job…but using people’s deep experience.”

Source: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/t-immigrants-granted-minister-185607613.html

Law firms scramble to help clients capitalize on shift in Canada’s immigration policy

Money quote: “it doesn’t speak favourably of the integrity and predictability of our immigration system:”

Law firms are urging their clients to get in Canada’s express pool of immigration candidates as soon as possible after the federal government invited a record number of people in that system to apply for permanent residency to help hit ambitious targets.

On Feb. 13, Immigration Canada issued the invitations to more than 27,000 people in the Express Entry system, which is aimed at expediting the intake of skilled workers. That round of invitations – known as a draw – focused on those who had at least one year of recent work experience in Canada.

The number was more than five times larger than the previous record. To hit that mark, the federal government had to drastically reduce the immigration scores needed for an invitation to apply.

The decision sent a jolt through the legal community, with initial confusion giving way to a flurry of phone calls. Many lawyers had steered clients away from Express Entry because it was unlikely they could get a high enough score.

The situation has prompted a rethink. Several law firms contacted by The Globe and Mail are now telling clients that anyone who can get into the Express Entry pool should do so, given the potential for the federal government to surprise again.

“At this point, it seems like all bets are off, and we have no predictability in terms of who’s going to be selected and who’s not,” said Meika Lalonde, partner at McCrea Immigration Law in Vancouver. “We do know that the government has some ambitious immigration targets that it wants to fill this year. So there is a possibility that they’ll draw again at a remarkably low score.”

Owing to the pandemic, Canada has just had an exceptionally weak year for immigration. About 184,000 new permanent residents were added in 2020, well short of the 341,000 target. To make up for that, Immigration Canada raised its targets for the next three years, starting with an intake of 401,000 in 2021.

With border restrictions still in place, Ottawa is focused on foreign workers and students already here. Most of the invitations issued on Feb. 13 were to people in Canada, the federal government said.

Launched in 2015, Express Entry is one of several pathways for immigration. When people go into that pool, they’re assigned a score in points based on age, education, work experience and other factors. Draws are usually held every two weeks and have a cut-off score for who gets invited.

The cut-off is usually at much more than 400 points. Successful candidates in the category of people with Canadian work experience have often been under 30 years old and had advanced degrees and strong English or French skills.

This time, the cut-off score was slashed to 75. That meant nearly everyone in the Canadian-experience stream of Express Entry got an invitation, all but depleting that source of candidates.

“I actually thought it was a mistake,” said Adrienne Smith, partner at Battista Smith Migration Law Group in Toronto. “I was completely shocked.”

Once she learned it was real, Ms. Smith advised clients to try to get into the express pool. “I just don’t want to have another client that misses out on this potential draw,” she said.

The message was the same from Sonia Matkowsky, an immigration lawyer in Toronto: “I do advise individuals [who would get] lower scores to enter the pool,” she said. “Especially this year. Anything can happen.”

It’s unclear how the coming months will play out. While the Canadian-experience stream was nearly emptied, it’s undoubtedly starting to grow again. The question is whether the cut-off score will be low in future draws.

Several lawyers say they think the federal government will eventually shift its focus outside the country. Thousands of Express Entry candidates are abroad and lack Canadian work experience, but otherwise have desirable credentials. Their entry is complicated by border restrictions.

“A lot of our clients overseas were also contacting us,” Ms. Smith said. “I think the hope and the anticipation is that in order to meet the 400,000-person target, that [the government is] going to have to move to overseas applicants next.”

Even then, the 2021 target should be tough to hit. In a recent report, RBC Economics estimated that Canada would add only 275,000 new permanent residents this year.

Some lawyers said the recent draw undermined the purpose of the Express Entry system, which is intended as a way to fast-track the top candidates rather than send a blanket invitation to virtually everyone.

“It’s a very good news story for a lot of individuals,” Ms. Lalonde said. “But I would say it doesn’t speak favourably of the integrity and predictability of our immigration system.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-immigration-strategies-take-u-turn-after-surprise-government-decision/

Canada’s record-setting invitation to immigrants after COVID shortfall an ‘absolute shock’

More reaction to the minimal Express Entry score of 75 and essentially opening to all with work experience in Canada. Money quote: “The draw transforms a well-structured and predictable system into a lottery ticket,” said [immigration lawyer Sergio] Karas. “It makes the system look worthless and game-able.”:

If you’re an immigrant living in Canada and looking for permanent residency, this might be your lucky year.

Canada has set a record for the number of skilled migrants invited to apply for permanent residence on a single day, as the government scrambles to make up for an immigration shortage caused by COVID-19 and the resulting travel restrictions.

On Saturday, Feb. 13, the immigration department held its latest draw from a pool of candidates and issued 27,332 invitations — five times more than its previous high of 5,000 people — to hopeful candidates already living in the country.

The news caught immigration experts and applicants by surprise and created a buzz on social media, with pundits tagging it #SaturdaySurprise from Canada.

“It was an absolute shock to everyone. We all thought there was a glitch on our screens and the numbers were incorrect,” said Kareem El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at CanadaVisa.com.

The plan is not without its critics, however, who say the strategy could open up the program to people with limited qualifications who would have been out of luck had it not been for Ottawa’s attempt to meet its immigration targets in the middle of a pandemic.

Applying for permanent residency is usually a long and competitive process.

Skilled immigrants who are interested must create a profile in a government management system called Express Entry, where they score points for things such as age, language skills, educational attainments and work experience.

The highest rankings are then invited via routine draws to apply for immigration. While an individual typically needs a minimum score of 400 points or above to make the cutoff, the lowest-ranked person invited in the latest round only had a score of 75. (The immigration department posts the results of each draw on its website.)

This latest draw applies to people in what’s called Canadian Experience Class, meaning they’ve worked in the country.

The instance of requirement loosening means some applicants, with scores too low to normally be considered, are now being encouraged to create a profile and try their luck, experts say.

“Between now and the next draw, you are going to have more Canadian Experience Class candidates entering the pool,” said El-Assal.

“If I’m in Canada right now and I meet the minimum requirements, I will be rushing to submit my profile ASAP because there’s a very good chance that I will be invited.”

Given the challenges presented by the travel restrictions and reduced processing capacity, El-Assal expects the immigration department will continue to prioritize immigration candidates from within Canada before it looks further abroad.

Canada had set to bring in 340,000 new permanent residents in 2020, but ultimately only 180,000 landed here, the lowest annual immigration intake since 1998, according to El-Assal.

This year, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino planned to bump up immigration levels to 401,000 in order to make immigration part of Canada’s economic recovery post-COVID-19.

But as the pandemic continues, international travel remains slow, and immigration with it.

“They’ve got these massive (immigration) levels that they have to hit and they took a real beating last year. They thought the border would be more open now but they are not. They’re scrambling to find a way to meet those targets,” said Alberta-based immigration lawyer Mark Holthe, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section.

“This was a really wonderful development. So many people have invested so much time and effort in getting here in the first place, whether it’s the hundreds of thousands of dollars that (foreign) students have paid and worked here. They’re paying taxes. They’re contributing. It’s not like they’re on handouts.”

In a news release, the immigration department said 90 per cent of the 27,332 people invited in this round are already living in Canada, with at least one year of Canadian work experience.

“This means they’re unaffected by current travel restrictions and won’t face the same barriers as overseas applicants when gathering the required documentation and undergoing criminality and medical screening,” it said.

“Those invited to apply who are not currently living in Canada will be able to travel once restrictions are lifted.”

However, Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas said trying to meet the immigration target by lowering the bar is a “terrible” way to make policies.

The latest draw unfairly rewards the low scorers, who “took a flyer” and entered the pool, he said, even if they have poor qualifications, poor language skills and poor job prospects while qualified applicants who are still collecting documentation and not yet in the system lose out.

“The draw transforms a well-structured and predictable system into a lottery ticket,” said Karas. “It makes the system look worthless and game-able.”

Since immigration employees are still working from home, he questioned whether the department has the processing capacity for the flood of applications coming from this draw without compromising the processing time or quality of decisions.

Independent immigration policy analyst Richard Kurland said the system is nimble and flexible as it’s supposed to in adapting to the challenging environment under the pandemic.

“Due to COVID, fewer people registered in the system, resulting in a lower pass mark,” he said. “Now, the publicity (of this news) will flood the system with new candidates. You’ll likely see a lot more people registering just in case immigration lightning strikes twice, increasing the pass mark again.”

Source: Canada’s record-setting invitation to immigrants after COVID shortfall an ‘absolute shock’