Why Desperate People Are Suing Immigration Canada

Good article and discussion, with good comments by Kareem El-Assal and Richard Kurland, particularly liked Aurland’s contrasting IRCC lack of status updates and application tracking with CRA’s client service:

From January to the end of February, Alejandro Ginares woke up daily at 6 a.m. in order to grab a spot in the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada phone queue.

He went about the business of his day — preparing breakfast, doing dishes and feeding his cat — until eventually, sometimes after eight hours of being on hold, he’d reach the front of the queue and receive a pre-recorded message: “all our agents are busy, try again later.” He’d hang up. If it was early he’d try again. If it was after 3 p.m., when the offices out east close, he’d make dinner, go to bed and start all over again the next day.

While news articles have been filled with stories of long lineups of Canadians stymied while renewing passports, less has been reported on how the pandemic and its knock-on effects have impacted would-be Canadians, whose immigration applications have been left in a backlog that has only increased since the beginning of the pandemic.

In Ginares’s case, he was desperately trying to track down the status of a permanent residency application he’d submitted 15 months before.

Occasionally he’d reach a human being, only to be told that his application was “not in the system.” He was baffled. He had paid the processing fee and had a Canada Post delivery confirmation in hand, certifying that the application had arrived at IRCC. He knew they’d received it. So why wasn’t he in the system?

Ginares eventually reached an agent who promised to help him. A few days later he got a response confirming for certain that his application had not entered the system.

It was then that he realized that IRCC had most likely lost his application.

“It’s awful to be waiting,” he says. “We don’t know if we’re waiting for a purpose or if we’re waiting for nothing.”

Resubmitting his application was risky. It would mean starting all over again. And it would cost another $1,000. He didn’t know what to do.

A geological engineer in Uruguay, Ginares had left his home and family to join his husband, Wendall Seldura, in Canada. The two had met in a cocktail and music bar in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 2017. They’d fallen in love immediately and quickly decided that Canada was the country where they’d spend their future.

Ginares knew that permanent residency processing times can often reach 15 months. But he didn’t think it would take 15 months for the system to even receive his application, or approve a work permit.

Back home, Ginares worked, studied and volunteered. Now he feels like he’s stuck in limbo. “I fight every morning when I wake up to find motivation,” he says.

According to data released by IRCC Oct. 31, 2.2 million people are waiting for approval for temporary residence, permanent residence and Canadian citizenship applications. Like Ginares, 1.2 million have waited beyond the standard time expected for their application.

In permanent residency specifically, there are 603,700 applicants. Only 279,700 of these are being processed within standard times; 54 per cent, or 324,000 applications, are not being processed within the times projected by the agency.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix recently hit headlines when he called on Ottawa to halt the deportation of Claudia Zamorano, a hospital worker whose family is facing deportation because their applications have not yet been processed.

Nathaniel Preston, Ginares’s immigration consultant, says that he is seeing long wait times for all his clients. His colleagues report the same. “You exist but you don’t. You’re technically not supposed to be here. But maybe you could be here, if they approve the visa, or they restore your status,” he says.

Hospital staff shortages: Immigration backlog leaves professionals on sidelines

Of note, appears that the bottleneck more immigration-related than credential recognition delays:

As hospitals across the country struggle under the weight of major staffing shortages, an immigration backlog described by lawyers as the worst they have ever seen is leaving qualified health professionals sitting on the sidelines.

In Februrary 2021, Sharlene Ullani applied for a permanent resident card after years spent working in Canada as a caregiver for children. Eighteen months later, the internationally trained nurse with more than seven years experience hasn’t heard anything from Immigration Canada about her application status.

Online, the government estimates the processing time for new permanent residence cards is 2.6 months, or 81 days, as of Aug. 2.

“I’ve been sending emails two times a month and the answer is always the same: ‘You have to wait, thank you for your patience. We have this pandemic’,” she told CTV National News.

Ullani currently holds a temporary work permit, but it does not allow her to switch jobs — even from a caregiver for children to a caregiver for adults — without losing status. In the months since she filled an application for permanent residency, Ullani has written exams and completed the paperwork necessary to get her foreign credentials translated into a valid licence to work in Ontario as a registered practical nurse.

“It is heartbreaking to see nurses working so hard and we are here, willing to help,” she said. “We are willing to help, but we cannot do so because of our status.”

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario said there are roughly 26,000 nurses “ready and waiting” to work in Ontario, 14,000 of those are registered nurses. CEO Doris Grinspun says the great majority of those people are waiting for their international qualifications to get approved by the college, but thousands have already passed their exams and are waiting for their immigration status to change so they can work.

“The big impact of the backlog for patients is that they are either being short changed in the quality of care or they are not getting care all together,” she said. “If you look at home care, they are likely not getting care all together. If you look at ICU or ER that are closing down or shrinking, even in an emergency, it is desperation.”

Recently, Grinspun worked with the federal government to approve the immigration applications of 26 nurses. Given the health care staffing crisis across the country, Grinspun said the government should prioritize applications filed on behalf of applicants with backgrounds in health care, especially nurses.

“Having internationally trained nurses, RPN … able to join the workforce when they are ready to work in Ontario, and especially those who have already passed their exams and are just waiting on work permits by the feds, move them on. Move them on because nurses and patients need them desperately,” she said.

Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, NDP leader Jagmeet SIngh echoed Grinspun’s calls, saying he has called on Ottawa to implement a fast track immigration system for qualified health-care workers. Singh said he does not know why Ottawa has not yet followed through.

“There is no excuse for this,” Singh said. “I can’t understand why the government is not willing to do this… We need to respond in an urgent way because these are folks who can work here and want to work here.”

In June, the immigration department said more than 2.4 million applications were in the backlog, up from 2.1 million in June. CTV News reached out to the department multiple times for updated figures, but did not hear back at the time of publishing. The department said it usually takes five business days to process and gather statistical data.

Toronto Immigration lawyer Chantal Desloges attributes the backlog to a “perfect storm” of factors related to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many embassies and consulates closed and immigration staff started working from home.

“When everyone else was doing business online, it wasn’t that easy for the government to pivot,” she said. Desloges added that when offices were closed, applications were still being submitted, but nobody was there to process them.

“All of these things happening at the same time just made a toxic soup of circumstances.”

To speed up the process, Desloges said immigration staff who can’t do 100 per cent of their job from home should be ordered back into the office. She also suggests the government could expedite the approval process by reducing the number and frequency of applicant interviews.

“It is really hard to predict how long it is going to take to sort this mess out, if ever,” she said.

On Tuesday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) introduced new measures to speed up the processing of applications for foreign nationals with expired or expiring post-graduation work permits, and for temporary resident to permanent residence pathway applicants. Under the change, individuals in either of those cases will have their current work permits extended while their applications are being processed.

Director of Policy at CanadaVisa.com Kareem El-Assal applauded the change, but said it should have been implemented back in 2020.

“This is a solution that should have been adopted since the start of the pandemic and would have saved applicants a lot of heartache and would have actually saved the canadian government a lot of time as well,” he said.

As delays drag on, applicants like post doctoral researcher Julie Ottoy are left in llimbo, unable to leave the country or attend international conferences for work.

“It is very frustrating,” she said. “It’s been close to five months now not hearing from IRCC and interestingly, last year I submitted this application around the same time and the exact same renewal was approved in two weeks.”

Source: Hospital staff shortages: Immigration backlog leaves professionals on sidelines

Will Canada welcome over 500,000 new immigrants per year?

Real question is should Canada welcome over 500,000 new immigrants per year given the externalities involved (e.g., housing, transit, infrastructure, environmental impact etc):

Minister Sean Fraser believes Canada’s immigration levels will surpass 500,000 per year “sooner rather than later”, but the minister cautioned that future increases must be done in a careful manner that supports the needs of communities across the country.

The immigration minister was in Toronto last week to speak at Collision, a global technology conference. Following his speaking engagement, he sat down with CIC News for an in-depth conversation on the future of Canada’s immigration system.

Canada now seeking over 430,000 immigrants annually

Prior to the pandemic, Canada was seeking over 340,000 new immigrants per year but immigration fell in 2020 due to travel restrictions and Canadian government officials needing to work remotely. In October 2020, Canada announced it would seek over 400,000 immigrants annually beginning in 2021 to support its post-COVID economic recovery. Canada ended up exceeding its target by landing a record 405,000 new permanent residents last year.

In February, Fraser tabled Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024. Canada is now seeking over 430,000 immigrants per year and will target 450,000 by 2024.

Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025: Over 500,000 new permanent residents per year?

Fraser is due to announce updated targets yet again by this November 1st, when he announces the Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025.

Although it is still too early to finalize the 2023-2025 plan, CIC News asked Fraser to share his early thoughts on the plan, and more specifically, whether he was working towards getting the annual target to over 500,000 per year.

“Look, I wouldn’t put it on the clock. I think we will get there. We’re growing in excess of 1% of our population through the existing track. That trajectory is going to continue. I don’t know the exact year we’re going to cross that threshold [500,000 immigrants per year]. It’s going to be based on the needs of communities.”

“It’s not a point of pride that I have to be the minister that gets to 500,000…what’s important to me is that I’m meeting the needs of communities and giving them the opportunity to experience success through our immigration system. If that means we have to welcome 500,000 new permanent residents in a calendar year, then that’s great. And I’m very happy to advance that.”

“My sense is we’re going to get there sooner rather than later, because the needs and opportunities associated with welcoming newcomers are great. And if we can ensure we do not exceed our absorptive capacity of our communities on our way to getting there, then this is going to be a huge strategic advantage for Canada.”

Fraser is aware of the importance of providing enough supports to Canadians and newcomers alike

Among the major immigration levels considerations is Canada’s capacity to provide the necessary infrastructure and supports to its existing population as well as new arrivals.

While speaking on stage at Collision, the minister was asked whether he felt Canada had enough housing available to accommodate its rising immigrant population.

The minister replied this issue is top of mind with his federal colleagues in Ottawa. Our conversation on housing usually goes as follows. Ahmed, will you be able to build houses fast enough for Canada’s new immigrants? He replies, Sean, will you bring immigrant workers into Canada quickly enough to build the houses?”

Source: Will Canada welcome over 500,000 new immigrants per year?

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

El-Assal: How can Canada avoid major immigration backlogs in the future?

Reasonable and practical recommendations. We share belief in need for independent review but I would argue for a broader focus than just IRCC’s ability to deliver and implement.

A more fundamental review of the government’s approach, priorities and levels across the whole suite of immigration programs is needed, more on the why than the how:

Earlier this month the Canadian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) began a study on IRCC’s application processing times and backlogs.

The purpose of CIMM is to provide oversight of the immigration system and release studies that contain recommendations for improvement. CIMM invited me to Ottawa to participate in this study, which I did on May 5th. I would like to use this article as an opportunity to elaborate on my recommendations.

The backlog has doubled since the start of the pandemic to 2.1 million people. This includes applicants for permanent residence, temporary residence, and citizenship. Needless to say, the backlog is hurting Canada’s economy, keeping families apart, and undermining Canada’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

There is no doubt the pandemic has been a major contributor to the backlog. At the start of the pandemic, Canadian government employees needed to work remotely which limited their ability to process applications. However, the pandemic is not the only reason for the backlog, and at the very least, the pandemic cannot explain why Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has delivered such poor customer service for over two years now.

The following are six steps I feel can help improve the state of Canadian immigration operations.

1) Treat applicants with greater respect

The first step Canada needs to take to avoid backlogs from getting out of control again in the future is by treating all of its immigration applicants with far more respect. When we discuss backlogs, we often think about the number of files in the queue, and sometimes we forget about the number of human lives that are being negatively affected.

Taking a more human-centric approach to our immigration system is a necessary step towards progress. There is no justification for IRCC going months or even years on end without responding to enquiries from its clients. The lack of urgency to provide updates also explains why there has been a lack of urgency to process applications.

For some reason, we do not see immigration applicants as worthy enough of getting quality customer service, even though IRCC has a legal mandate to process applications. It is only fair that applicants get quality service given they are required to pay IRCC a fee for their papers to be processed. Imagine how upset you would be if you paid a postal company to deliver a parcel, only to discover they have yet to ship it and are not responding to any of your calls or emails.

Just like companies putting customers front and center of everything they do, so too should IRCC. Every decision the department makes should be through the lens of providing the best customer experience possible.

2) Align intake with processing capacity

The second step is for Canada to do a better job of aligning its intake with its processing capacity. We already do this with various programs such as IRCC’s economic class pilots, the Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP), the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), among others. Federal and provincial governments work within the confines of the allocation for a given program and ensure they do not solicit more applications than they are capable of processing within the allocation. This is not a perfect model and often leads to disappointment, as is the case with the PGP, but at the same time it helps us limit the potential for excessive processing times.

IRCC made several major mistakes at the start of the pandemic which has made the backlog much worse. It continued to solicit applications even when its processing capacity was slowed, meaning that it had a huge mountain to climb once its processing capacity began to return to normal.

For instance, Express Entry was launched in 2015 to help avoid backlogs by only inviting candidates that IRCC wanted to process. Nonetheless, we saw our Express Entry backlog skyrocket since IRCC continued to invite candidates throughout 2020, before realizing it needed to implement two major pauses in December 2020 and then in September 2021 to manage its Express Entry inventory. This could have been avoided altogether if IRCC simply reduced its Express Entry invitations in 2020 until its operations got back on track.

Unfortunately, IRCC made the same mistake in 2021 by first, continuing to issue very high levels of Express Entry invitations, and then second, by welcoming 90,000 additional applications under the Temporary Residence to Permanent Residence (“TR2PR”) Program. According to the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, it will now take IRCC two more years to catch up on all those applications before it can bring its economic class programming back to normal by 2024. Moving forward, IRCC should be more careful and ensure it has the capacity to process incoming applications within a timely manner.

3) Expedite technological transformation

The third step is for Canada to expedite the badly-needed technological transformation of its immigration system. Much of the immigration system remains paper-based, which slows things down. Moreover, it makes it difficult for staff to process applications remotely and to transfer files to other offices. IRCC should strive for all applications to be online within the near future, while at the same time providing accommodations for those who have disabilities, the elderly, among others who may need to submit paper-based applications. Technology is a major asset to the immigration system, and can expedite many processes. At some point we should strive to complete as many immigration processes online, such as changing visas status for those in Canada, and citizenship ceremonies.

4) Be more transparent

The fourth is for Canada to be more transparent on the state of immigration policies and operations. IRCC has kept us in the dark for much of the pandemic rather than fulfilling its obligation to inform the public on its policy priorities and state of operations. For instance, it went between December 2020 and April 2022 before telling Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) candidates when they would be invited under Express Entry again. It did the same for Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates between September 2021 and April 2022. Moving forward, IRCC should provide regular public updates, preferably on a monthly basis, outlining what its current policy priorities are, and the state of its backlogs. This will allow all stakeholders including applicants themselves, employers, post-secondary institutions, and more, to be able to plan accordingly.

5) Conduct an independent study

The fifth step is for Canada to be more accountable about its immigration system shortcomings during the pandemic. An independent study should be commissioned to evaluate what IRCC did right, what it did wrong, and what it can do better. While the pandemic is a valid excuse, it is not the only explanation why the backlog has ballooned over the past two years.

An independent study can shed light on the policy and operational causes of the backlog and provide recommendations so the mistakes do not happen again. Being more accountable will also help to restore trust in Canada’s immigration system. Many stakeholders have had a bad experience during the pandemic which has hurt the reputation of our immigration system. Showing the public that the Canadian government is capable of acknowledging its mistakes and rectifying them will likely result in more applicants viewing Canada in a positive light.

6) Form a National Advisory Council on Immigration

Sixth, the Canadian government needs to collaborate more with Canadian immigration experts. Canada has a large immigration ecosystem full of experts from many different industries such as law, business, the settlement sector, research, academia, governments, post-secondary institutions, and more. Yet, there have been few meaningful immigration consultations during the pandemic, leading to avoidable consequences.

Forming a National Advisory Council on Immigration (NACI) would be a positive step towards harnessing all this expertise so Canada can make the best immigration decisions possible. These sorts of expert councils exist among other Canadian government departments. Forming one on immigration would be a major asset for IRCC.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, we should feel optimistic that Canada’s immigration system will eventually get back on track. Immigration is far too important to Canada’s prosperity for the system to remain disrupted for much longer.

The technological investments Canada is making, plus the hiring of more IRCC staff, and increased public scrutiny from the likes of the media, CIMM, employers, post-secondary institutions, and applicants themselves will hopefully lead to Canada delivering a much better experience to immigration applicants in the years ahead.

Source: How can Canada avoid major immigration backlogs in the future?

El-Assal on backlogs etc

Good and sound testimony before CIMM, with reasonable recommendations to improve transparency, accountability and collaboration (the harder of the three):

Canada’s immigration backlog stands at over two million people. It has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic. The permanent residence inventory has grown from 400,000 people to 530,000 people. The temporary residence inventory has doubled to 1.2 million people, and the citizenship inventory has gone from 230,000 people to 400,000 people.

    The backlog is undermining Canada’s economic, social and humanitarian objectives. We have the lowest unemployment rate on record and over 800,000 job vacancies. The backlog hurts our economic recovery effort, since we can’t bring newcomers into Canada quickly enough to address our labour shortages. For instance, it’s now taking 31 months to process Quebec’s skilled worker applications and 28 months to process paper-based provincial nominee program applications, even though the service standard for both is 11 months.

    The backlog is keeping families apart. For example, although the service standard for spousal sponsorship is 12 months, it’s taking us 20 months on average to process outland applications.

    On the humanitarian side, Canada is making refugees and displaced persons live in discomfort for far longer than necessary, as we’re currently seeing with Afghans and Ukrainians. It is absolutely imperative that we get the immigration system back on track.

    Within the next decade, all nine million baby boomers will reach retirement age. We’re going to need more immigrants to grow our labour force, tax base and economy. However, other countries will win the race for talent if Canada continues to struggle to provide immigrants with certainty that we’ll process their applications quickly and fairly. This will be to the detriment of our economic and fiscal health.

    I’d like to provide three recommendations to the committee.

    First, we need more transparency. 

    The government should be mandated to provide monthly updates to the public on the state of immigration policy and operations. Immigration in Canada is far too important to be a black box. We should not have to rely on access to information requests, as has been the case during the pandemic, to remain informed about the immigration system. The monthly update should contain critical information, such as the government’s policy priorities and its backlog reduction plan, among other details that can help to restore the trust in our immigration system that was eroded during the pandemic. Providing monthly updates would also reflect well on the government. People are more understanding and forgiving when you’re honest with them.

    Second, we need more accountability. 

    An independent study should be commissioned to better understand the operations of the immigration system during the pandemic. Right now, we have many unanswered questions. What are the causes of this backlog? The pandemic alone can’t entirely explain the situation we’re in. For instance, express entry was designed to avoid backlogs, so why then do we have an express entry backlog? We need an evidence-based study that answers these sorts of questions and provides us with guidance to ensure such backlogs never happen again.

    Third, we need to work more collaboratively. 

    Major decisions have been made during the pandemic with little consultation, leading to avoidable consequences. We’re blessed to live in a country with many immigration experts from law, academia, think tanks, business and the settlement sector, among others. They are assets to our immigration system. 

    Hence, my final recommendation is that the government form a national advisory council on immigration. The council’s mandate would be to provide the government with technocratic advice to inform our country’s major immigration decisions. We’re a diverse nation with diverse immigration objectives; we need diverse views reflected in our immigration policy.

    To conclude, I want us to remember that among these two million people waiting in the backlog are future colleagues, friends, neighbours, voters, politicians, and business and civil society leaders. They are Canada’s future, and we must treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

Source: https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/44-1/CIMM/meeting-21/evidence

Immigration Plan 2022-24: Reports and Reactions

Expect to see more detailed analysis and commentary over coming days to round out the initial reporting.

Overall, the plan continues the government strategy of growing the economy through growing the numbers of immigrants.

This reflects the various interests of the “immigration industry” and business: more bodies means more consumers, more work for immigration lawyers and consultants, more funding for settlement organizations, more research opportunities for academics etc.

Not surprisingly, no questioning of these perspectives in articles and commentary to date (see my earlier Increasing immigration to boost population? Not so fast.). The government strategy continues to be based on overall GDP growth, not per capita GDP growth and productivity, a long standing issue that governments have tried to address with limited to no success.

The articles below capture some of the aspects which groups and individuals quoted have raised as concerns, but these are all in the context of general suppoort.

In terms of the politics of the plan, unlikely that this will create many issues for the government. The NDP generally supports higher numbers and the Conservatives will likely continue to focus on implementation and administrative issues, given the backlogs and that this is much safer than engaging in a debate over numbers, given their vulnerability to charges of being anti-immigration (unfair IMO but too tempting a target for the Liberals given the Conservatives still wear the legacy of the “barbaric practices tip line” and other ill-thought political messaging).

Given the overall shorter-term perspective of most immigration analysis and commentary, I continue to advocate for a royal commission or equivalent for a more independent and thorough look at immigration policy and programs with a longer-term perspective.

Media articles and commentary to date (nothing negative so far but expect some in more right leaning media and will continue to monitor):

The Star:

Canada plans to welcome more than 1.3 million new immigrants to the country over the next three years to help its economy recover from COVID-19 and to drive future growth.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s multi-year immigration-levels plan was announced Monday.

“If we’re not ready to significantly increase our ambition when it comes to immigration, we are going to be in a position where our economy will suffer, and it could put into jeopardy so many of the public services and social supports that make me very proud to be Canadian,” Fraser said.

But the plan comes amid calls from critics for the federal government to first reduce the ballooning backlog of 1.8 million applications piling up in the system as a result of slowed processing capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new plan calls for an annual intake that will reach 431,645 in 2022; 447,055 in 2023; and 451,000 in 2024 — equivalent to 1.14 per cent of the population by 2024.

This year, the number of new permanent residents will include 241,850 from the economic class; 105,000 through family reunification; and 76,545 as refugees and protected persons.

Canada reached its 2021 goal — bringing in a record 405,000 newcomers — largely by granting permanent residence to migrants such as international students and foreign workers who were already in Canada and therefore not hampered by pandemic travel restrictions and border closures.

However, the disruptions caused by COVID-19 here and abroad — and the unexpected Afghan refugee crisis — have created an unprecedented backlog in the immigration system that experts believe will take at least three years to clear.

As of December, there were 548,195 pending permanent residence applications; 775,741 temporary residence applications, including study and work permits; and 468,000 citizenship applications in the queue for processing.

Fraser said he hopes to rein in the backlog through additional hiring and by modernizing processing through new digital platforms.

The new plan will change the composition of the intake slightly this year, with the share of economic and skilled immigrants down from 60 per cent to 56 per cent. The portion of newcomers under the family class will also fall from 26 per cent to 24 per cent, while the ratio of refugees will go from 14 to 20 per cent.

Immigration policy analyst Kareem El-Assal said he’s unsure how reducing the share of economic migrants to Canada is going to benefit the country’s economy, which faces a labour shortage equivalent to nearly one million jobs.

“That’s what they’re trying to tell us. And then you look at the numbers and you see that’s not what’s happened,” said El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at CanadaVisa.com.

“You don’t have to spin anything for us. Just tell us, ‘This is what we’re doing temporarily. We’re going to be reducing the economic class share and the family class share temporarily for two years so that we can accommodate more refugees.’”

Calling the government plan “ambitious,” Ravi Jain of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association said he was concerned about reducing the permanent residence quota for federal high skilled workers by half, from 111,000 to 55,900.

During the pandemic, many international students have been unable to earn the job experience they need to qualify for permanent residence despite the high tuition fees they have paid. Jain said Ottawa needs an immediate plan to extend their work permits in Canada.

“They’re going to be waiting potentially a few years and they’re going to need the status to be able to buy that time,” said the Toronto lawyer. “There are some major concerns around what to do about the people who are here and who won’t necessarily have a pathway for permanent residence.”

The federal government has devoted $827.3 million over five years to enable the department to develop and deliver an enterprise-wide digital platform, with an additional $85 million to hire staff to reduce backlogs.

But the system hasn’t transformed fast enough to meet the insatiable demand for immigration to Canada.

Shamira Madhany, managing director of World Education Services, said Canada can’t rest on its laurels, as other countries are also competing for skilled talents for their post-COVID economic recovery.

“What Canada has done here is basically saying, ‘Our borders are open for immigration,’” said Madhany. “In terms of our capacity (to absorb immigrants), it’s a different question. We need to make sure we have mechanisms and tools in place to leverage their prior skills and experience. We don’t want highly skilled people to come here to do low-skilled jobs.”

MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP immigration critic, said Fraser’s plan shows a continuation of the Liberals’ Band-Aid approach to systemic immigration problems.

“The government simply cannot continue to shift resources and immigration levels from one stream to another. This pattern of behaviour has and will continue to create further problems and chaos in the system,” said Kwan.

Source: Canada wants to welcome 1.3 million newcomers over three years — but can its immigration system keep up?

Globe and Mail:

The federal government aims to welcome nearly 432,000 immigrants to Canada this year, as a part of a three-year plan to fill critical labour-market gaps and support a post-pandemic economic recovery.

The annual immigration levels plan, tabled in Parliament Monday, projects Canada will admit 431,645 permanent residents in 2022, followed approximately by 447,000 in 2023 and 451,000 in 2024. The majority of the permanent resident spots – 56 per cent – will be designated for immigrants coming to Canada to fill job vacancies this year.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how key immigrants are to Canada’s success, as newcomers fill many front-line jobs.

“When I talk to restaurants, machine shops, health care providers or virtually any other business, I see help-wanted signs in windows,” Mr. Fraser said.

“By launching what is the most ambitious immigration plan in the history of Canada, we are going to equip the Canadian economy with the workers it needs.”

Ottawa says immigration accounts for 100 per cent of labour-force growth and, with five million Canadians set to retire by the end of this decade, the worker-to-retiree ratio will drop – demonstrating the need for increased immigration.

Goldy Hyder, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of Canada, said the number of job vacancies in the country is near an all-time high and immigration will be a key driver of pandemic recovery. He welcomed the government’s immigration targets Monday, but he said the plan must be supported by increased processing capability and supports for newcomers.

“To help meet these new targets, we urge the government to expand the immigration system’s processing capacity by adding new processing centres, updating outdated IT systems, and increasing recruitment and training of border agents and settlement services personnel. A growing workforce should also be accompanied by increased investments in public services, housing, and infrastructure,” Mr. Hyder said in a statement.

Mr. Fraser said the government recently hired 500 new processing staff and set aside $85-million in new funding to reduce application backlogs.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan urged the government to introduce special immigration levels to give the 500,000 migrant workers already in Canada a path to settlement and help address the labour-skill shortage.

While the government plans to increase the number of economic immigrants it welcomes to Canada over the next three years, from nearly 242,000 this year to more than 267,000 in 2024, it will simultaneously reduce the number of refugees to whom it offers safe haven. Canada will resettle approximately 77,000 refugees this year, 74,000 in 2023 and 62,500 in 2024. Mr. Fraser said resettlement numbers will gradually decrease as Canada follows through with its commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees over the next two years. More than 7,550 Afghan refugees have been resettled in Canada since last August.

The reduction in refugee-resettlement targets – particularly the government’s plan to accept more privately sponsored refugees than government-assisted refugees – has sparked concern for advocates.

“The responsibility to resettle refugees lies with the government – to reflect that responsibility, the government should resettle more refugees than private citizens. Yet the levels show private sponsors are being asked to do one and a half times as much resettlement as the government,” the Canadian Council for Refugees said in a statement.

Overall immigration levels have grown substantially since the Liberals took power in 2015. Numbers continued to grow until 2020, when Canada only admitted 184,500 newcomers because of the challenges posed by the pandemic. Shuttered overseas visa offices, closed borders, quarantine restrictions and challenges booking flights heavily affected the immigration system.

Immigration numbers rebounded in 2021, when Canada welcomed 405,000 new permanent residents – breaking the all-time record set in 1913. The majority of the newcomers were already in Canada on temporary status, including temporary foreign workers in the skilled trades, health care and technology, and international students.

The government has not tabled an immigration levels plans since October, 2020. It normally announces it immigration targets by Nov. 1, but last year’s plan was delayed because of the federal election.

Source: Canada aims to welcome 432,000 immigrants in 2022 as part of three-year plan to fill labour gaps

Le Devoir

Ottawa espère également atteindre enfin sa cible d’immigration francophone hors Québec en 2023, soit 4,4 % de toutes les admissions, une cible ratée depuis des années selon le commissaire aux langues officielles.

En 2020, 184 606 résidents permanents ont été enregistrés au Canada, c’est-à-dire beaucoup moins que la cible annoncée de 341 000, confirme également ce rapport annuel. Ce nombre, selon le ministre Fraser, est néanmoins un « succès impressionnant compte tenu des fermetures et des restrictions frontalières » dues à la pandémie, y écrit-il.

Pour cette même année, on a compté 326 116 titulaires de permis de travail temporaire au pays, ce qui illustre une autre tendance lourde, soit l’augmentation des catégories temporaires. Ce qui s’appelle le « solde de résidents non permanents » représentait 1,3 million de personnes au 1er janvier 2020, selon des informations communiquées précédemment par le ministère fédéral de l’Immigration au Devoir. Les détenteurs de titre de séjour temporaire, toutes catégories de permis confondues, représentaient ainsi près de 3,5 % de la population totale la même année.

Il s’agissait lundi de la première annonce officielle de cibles depuis octobre 2020. En décembre dernier, le ministre Fraser avait affirmé dans une entrevue au Devoir vouloir être le gouvernement le plus ambitieux de tous les temps en matière d’immigration.

Pour 2021, il estime avoir atteint « cette réalisation historique » en accueillant plus de 401 000 nouveaux résidents permanents, avait-il annoncé par communiqué. La majorité de ces personnes était déjà à l’intérieur des frontières sous un statut temporaire et a accédé à la permanence par divers programmes.

Le record précédent datait de 1913, quand 400 900 nouveaux immigrants permanents avaient foulé le sol canadien. Le pays comptait alors seulement 7,6 millions d’habitants ; cet afflux représentait donc une proportion plus importante de sa population totale, soit plus de 5 %. En comparaison, la cible d’immigration pour 2022 équivaut à 1 % de tous les Canadiens.

Source: Ottawa dévoile des cibles d’immigration encore plus ambitieuses

New Canadian Media

Canada aims to attract about 1.3 million new immigrants over the next three years to help fill critical labour shortages and fuel post-pandemic growth.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) Sean Fraser announced the new targets on Monday as the government struggles to clear a backlog of about 1.8 million visa/citizenship and other applications in the queue exacerbated by pandemic-induced delays.

At the same time, the latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that job vacancies in the country remain high, with 874,700 unfilled positions.

In a statement, IRCC said there are still hundreds of thousands of positions in all sectors waiting to be filled. 

Immigrants  needed

“Immigration already accounts for almost 100% of labour force growth, and with 5 million Canadians set to retire by the end of this decade, the worker to retiree ratio will drop down to only 3:1,”  it said. “This is a clear sign that we have a strong economic need for increased immigration.”

The 2022–2024 Immigration Levels Plan aims to continue welcoming immigrants at a rate of about 1 per cent of Canada’s population, including 431,645 permanent residents in 2022 (an increase of about 21,000 people from its original plan), 447,055 in 2023, and 451,000 in 2024. 

“From farming and fishing to manufacturing, healthcare and the transportation sector, Canada relies on immigrants. Setting bold new immigration targets, as outlined in the 2022-2024 Levels Plan, will further help bring the immeasurable contribution of immigrants to our communities and across all sectors of the economy,” Fraser said during the announcement.

To support the new ambitious targets, which follows a record year of 405,000 new permanent residents in 2021, IRCC had earlier announced a plantomodernize Canada’s immigration system to fuel economic recovery and improve client experience.

Veteran Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, Richard Kurland, told  NCM  that “IRCC is banking on new information technology to deliver an aggressive program that will be faster for applicants and cheaper for government.”

“The objective is to have more people here, in less time, at less cost,” he said.

Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, said “even with full employment, the country will need newcomers to help fill all the jobs available.”

“To help meet these new targets, we urge the government to expand the immigration system’s processing capacity by adding new processing centres, updating outdated IT systems, and increasing recruitment and training of border agents and settlement services personnel,” Hyder said in a statement.

Perpetuating problems’

Jenny Kwan, the Vancouver East MP, who also acts as the NDP Immigration Critic, said the government is actually scaling back the Federal Skilled Workers Program by almost 50 per cent by shifting resources and immigration levels from one stream to another. 

“The immigration levels released today shows that the government is perpetuating the problems they created when they failed to adjust the levels to accommodate the new (temporary to permanent resident pathway) immigration measure,” she said.

The measure, also known as TR2PR, is a limited-time pathway to permanent residence applicable only to temporary residents currently working in Canada and to their families.

According to a government memo cited by the National Post, the federal skilled workers program was being scaled back because IRCC simply can’t process the applications quickly enough. 

It also said the “reductions are due to admissions space required to accommodate the TR2PR stream and the resettlement of Afghan nationals to Canada.”

“This pattern of behaviour has and will continue to create further problems and chaos in the system,” Kwan told New Canadian Media in an email.

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) said it is pleased with the modest newcomer increase announced today, adding it will give IRCC time to improve its client experience, tackle its backlogs, and make the technological modernizations necessary to better manage the system moving forward.

However, it is calling for IRCC, in conjunction with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), to immediately expand the list of occupations eligible for premium processing under the Global Talent Stream.  

According to CILA, an added support for Canadian employers would be for IRCC and ESDC to waive national recruitment requirements for all occupations processed under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program where labour shortages are well documented by industry.

“By immediately helping employers address their labour needs over the next two years or more, IRCC and ESDC can reduce government red tape that only serves to delay and frustrate international recruitment,” the association said.

A visa as Valentine’s

Meanwhile, IRCC’s Valentine’s Day message on its Facebook site has been met with derision from those in limbo waiting for their visa, PR cards and citizenship documents.

Mahmoud AR wrote “ How about you guys give me a Valentine’s day gift by finishing my 30 month application for citizenship?”

“Please give my wife (a) visa as Valentine’s gift,” said Pargat Gill

Mary Joy Lee responded “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Finish Applications that are delayed & overdue.”

Source: Canada eyes 1.3 million immigrants to overcome labour pains

And among the advocates, starting with CILA:

The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) is pleased with the modest newcomer increase announced today under the new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024. 

The gradual increase will give Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) time to improve its client experience, tackle its backlogs, and make the technological modernizations necessary to better manage the immigration system moving forward.

The new levels plan is beneficial to families and will provide safety to more refugees. On the other hand, CILA regrets that economic class immigrants will be negatively impacted by this plan as IRCC looks to reduce its backlogs. CILA once again calls on IRCC to share its backlog reduction plan so that applicants know where they stand in the queue.

Economic Class 

Express Entry: CILA is disappointed with the halving of Express Entry admissions in 2022 and calls on IRCC to reverse course by immediately resuming invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates.

FSWP candidates have unfairly paid the price throughout the pandemic. This has included expired holders of Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) being neglected at the start of the pandemic, FSWP processing being significantly reduced in 2021, and IRCC pausing invitations to FSWP candidates since December 2020.

Welcoming more immigrants under the FSWP is key to supporting Canada’s labour force and economic growth. Temporarily cutting Express Entry admissions will undermine IRCC’s stated goal of strengthening the labour force via immigration. 

Ongoing disruptions to the FSWP will also hurt Canada’s international competitiveness as global talent will be forced to look elsewhere due to dimmer prospects for them in Canada over the next two years.

While it is good news that IRCC plans to bring Express Entry levels back to normal by 2024, this will be of little comfort to the many Canadian employers in desperate need of talent to address their immediate labour shortages.

The halving of Express Entry admissions this year will also be of grave consequence to Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates. The pause in CEC invitations since September 2021 is creating significant hardship for thousands of international students and temporary foreign workers who have spent years contributing to Canada’s economy and society, and who now have fewer permanent residence spots available to them. Many such individuals risk losing their legal status in Canada which may cause them to leave the country. This will also hurt Canadian employers and the economy. CILA calls on IRCC to quickly offer bridging permits to those with Express Entry profiles who have jobs, regardless of whether they have received an Express Entry Invitation to Apply. Alternatively, IRCC could re-introduce a one-time extension to Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders like it did in early 2021.

Provincial Nominee Program (PNP): CILA is pleased to see that IRCC will be increasing its PNP admissions targets from 80,000 to 93,000 immigrants by 2024. Since its launch in 1998, the PNP has been successful in promoting a broader distribution of immigration across Canada and addressing local labour market needs. The PNP is crucial to regions across the country amid labour shortages caused by Canada’s aging population and shifts to the economy amid the pandemic.

Start-up Visa Program: CILA believes processing times for Canada’s Start-up Visa Program (SUVP) are not globally competitive and is disappointed to see that admission targets remain unchanged under the new levels plan. IRCC has noted that processing times for the SUVP are now up to six years which is far too slow to support an innovation-driven economy.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP): The new immigration levels plan is ambitious and is premised on acute labour shortages across Canada. Employers experiencing labour shortages need continued access to international talent to meet the demand for their products and services in Canada and international markets. To complement the new levels plans, IRCC in conjunction with Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) should immediately expand the list of occupations eligible for premium processing under the Global Talent Stream. IRCC should immediately devote resources to applications eligible for two week processing under the Global Skills Strategy (GSS). Pending applications under the GSS remain backlogged by several months thereby negating the purpose of introducing the GSS.

An added support for Canadian employers would be for IRCC and ESDC to waive national recruitment requirements for all occupations processed under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) where labour shortages are well documented by industry and government data. A good practice that can be replicated across Canada is the Quebec List of Occupations Eligible for Facilitated Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs). By immediately helping employers address their labour needs over the next two years or more, IRCC and ESDC can reduce government red tape that only serves to delay and frustrate international recruitment.

Family Class 

Spouses and Partners: CILA reiterates its call for IRCC to extend its Spousal Open Work Permit Pilot Program to spouses and partners living outside of Canada. It is unfair to offer work permits to inland sponsorship applicants as well as the partners of study and work permit holders, but force outland sponsorship applicants to remain separated or unemployed while inside Canada. Allowing spouses and common-law partners to work would allow these applicants to contribute to the labour market immediately. In addition, CILA hopes IRCC will achieve its goal of returning to a 12-month service standard for spousal sponsorship applications by the end of this year.

Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP): The increase in Canada’s PGP intake over the coming years is welcome and will help to support families across the country. At the same time, CILA encourages IRCC to consult widely on how to effectively manage the PGP moving forward.

Refugee and Humanitarian Class

Afghan refugees: CILA welcomes the Canadian government’s desire to fulfill its international humanitarian obligations by welcoming more refugees. CILA hopes Canada will be able to resettle Afghan refugees as quickly as possible to achieve its goal of providing safety to 40,000 Afghans.

Source: CILA’s Statement on Canada’s Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024

Canada’s decision to land over 400,000 immigrants in 2021 has come at a cost

Good analysis and reasonable recommendations by Kareem Al-Assal:

Consequences of the 401,000 newcomer target

On the flip side, IRCC has recognized the decision to pursue 401,000 landings in 2021 has resulted in negative consequences. Regrettably, these consequences could have been avoided had the Canadian government chosen to pursue a more sustainable immigration policy last year

The purpose of increasing the immigration target was primarily to promote population, labour force, and economic growth, while also continuing to reunite families and help refugees. Given that some 60 per cent of new immigrants fall under the economic class, it is safe to say Canada’s main immigration objective is economic in nature.

And yet ironically, the Canadian government’s goal last year undermined its own objective of supporting the economy via immigration. It decided to focus on transitioning more people from within Canada to permanent residence. Prior to the pandemic, about 30 per cent of new economic class permanent residents transitioned from within Canada, while 70 per cent arrived from abroad. Last year, this was reversed, as 70 per cent of new economic class landings came from within Canada, while 30 per cent came from abroad.

A first consequence of this decision is the reduced flow of new immigrants from abroad is contributing to weaker population, labour force, and economic growth. Canada’s population growth is the weakest since 1915/16. Prior to the pandemic, Canada’s population was growing by over one per cent per year which was the highest rate among highly developed countries. Some 80 per cent of annual population growth was thanks to immigrants moving to Canada.

Reducing the share of new economic class immigrants coming from abroad last year has also hurt the labour market. Immigrants were comprising 80 per cent or more of Canada’s new workers each year. The limited foreign arrivals is contributing to the highest job vacancy rate in Canadian history, with nearly 1 million jobs currently unfilled.

Pursuing the target has also led to IRCC reducing its selection standards. When it launched Express Entry in 2015, IRCC said the new Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) was a scientific way of selecting candidates best positioned to succeed in the labour market.

Prior to the pandemic, a candidate needed a CRS score of around 470 to be invited to apply for permanent residence. Last year, however, IRCC brought the score down to as low as 75, so it could get more in-Canada candidates to count towards its 401,000 admissions target. In other words, the Canadian government felt it was more important to achieve this target than to use the own evidence-based criteria it has set to evaluate an Express Entry candidate’s suitability to succeed in our economy.

This is not to say that those with lower CRS scores are unable to contribute to Canada. History shows that immigrants of all socio-economic backgrounds do make overwhelmingly positive contributions. But rather, this observation is meant to point out the disconnect in the Canadian government’s immigration policy.

It remains to be seen how well those who gained permanent residence via Express Entry with a lower CRS score will do in the labour market. Chances are they will do just fine, but IRCC and Statistics Canada research strongly suggests candidates with higher human capital end up with higher earnings and better overall labour market outcomes. If this holds true, IRCC will have given up the opportunity to select higher-potential immigration candidates in exchange for breaking Canada’s annual admissions record.

IRCC concedes that the focus on the target has made backlogs even worse. The department now sits on a backlog featuring 1.8 million people, up from 1.5 million in July 2021. This is because IRCC focused on processing in-Canada applications while existing and new applications were given less priority since they would not count towards the 401,000 admissions goal. Unfortunately, this is creating a vicious cycle.

The backlog will continue to slow the arrival of economic class immigrants from abroad, further stalling labour force and economic growth. In addition, family reunification and refugee resettlement processing will also remain slower.

As noted, IRCC and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser came out on January 31 to do some damage control by acknowledging the scale of the backlog problem and outlining the steps being taken to get processing times back to IRCC’s service standards.

This is a positive step but there are other things the government can do in the meantime to get the immigration system back on track.

Suggestions to get the immigration system back on track

It would be beneficial for IRCC to communicate to the public its strategy to tackle the backlogs. Applicants have a right to know where they stand and when they can expect decisions to be made on their files. It would be better for IRCC to be transparent and honest about the actual length of time it is taking to process a given application stream as opposed to the current approach of applicants being left in the dark for much of the process.

IRCC also needs to sustain its processing capacity at a high level throughout the year. Its processing capacity understandably fell immediately following the pandemic. However it was not until June 2021 that it began to finalize permanent residence applications at a much higher rate and they eventually managed to finalize over 500,000 in total last year.

According to IRCC, sustaining this level will see it get through its entire permanent residence inventory by the end of this year. IRCC should keep up this pace beyond 2022 so that all applicants see their files processed in a timely manner.

IRCC should also resume Express Entry invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates immediately for a variety of reasons.

First, Express Entry is crucial to Canada’s economic recovery and alleviating current labour shortages.

Second, given its current Express Entry inventory, IRCC should be able to reduce processing times for new Express Entry applications by the second half of the year, and hence issuing Invitations to Apply (ITA) now would not create significant additional pressure for the department since they will be in better position to process such applications in a timely manner once they are submitted (applicants have up to 60 days from when they receive an ITA to submit a completed permanent residence application).

Third, the rationale for pausing FSWP invitations (travel restrictions) has not existed since Canada lifted travel restrictions on all Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders in June 2021. It is also worth noting IRCC has been processing work permitstudy permit, and temporary resident visa applications of those abroad over the past year, so there is little justification for the slow pace of FSWP application processing.

Fourth, resuming draws would help to restore Canada’s global competitive standing. The pause in FSWP draws over the past year has caused global talent to consider their immigration options elsewhere.

Fifth, a sustained pause in draws will see thousands of CEC candidates lose their status in Canada and the absence of a solution by IRCC will force such individuals to leave Canada.

This leads to a final suggestion: IRCC should introduce another temporary public policy to allow those in Canada seeking to remain as a permanent resident to extend their temporary status in an easier way. For example, it can offer a one-time work permit extension to all CEC candidates residing in Canada that have been affected by the pause in Express Entry invitations to them since September 2021.

IRCC did something similar last year when it offered a one-time 18 month work permit extension to Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders so they would have more time to obtain permanent residence. Among the benefits of this approach is it would give Canadian employers sustained access to such work permit holders and would mitigate the labour market risks of seeing tens of thousands of workers having to leave Canada due to the expiry of their work permit status.

The Canadian government can not undo the past, but what they can do is think creatively to come up with solutions to the negative consequences that have occurred due to their pursuit of over 400,000 immigrant landings in 2021. Coming up with effective solutions will be to everyone’s benefit and would be another major reason to commend IRCC.

Source: Canada’s decision to land over 400,000 immigrants in 2021 has come at a cost

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

Here’s how the federal election could change Canada’s immigration system

The Star’s take on the party platforms:

Jhoey Dulaca isn’t eligible to vote in the upcoming election, but the migrant worker from the Philippines is keeping an eye out for the political parties’ immigration plans.

The Toronto woman says she feels migrants’ voices have once again been muted and lost as the issue that matters most to them — ballooning backlogs and endless processing times as a result of the pandemic — have drawn little attention or debate from party leaders.

“No one is talking about the immigration backlog and long wait times,” says Dulaca, who came as a live-in caregiver in 2016 and just received her permanent residence in Canada on Aug. 18 after two long years of processing.

The 41-year-old single mother is unsure how long it will now take to reunite with her two daughters, Tess, 19, and Thea, 16, whom she has not seen for five years.

“All these parties are making policies that affect us and our families, but our voices are not heard because we cannot vote and we don’t matter.”

In recent election campaigns, immigration has rarely made headlines. The major parties’ platforms generally have more elements in common than those that distinguish them. The outlier was the 2015 election, when the Syrian refugee crisis dominated the campaign.

Experts say immigration has been a non-issue because parties — with the exception of the People’s Party of Canada under former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier — recognize the importance of minority votes and don’t want to appear racist or xenophobic.

“The parties try to focus on issues that are going to make them look good and will help them move up in the polls,” said Kareem El-Assal, policy director for CanadaVisa.com, an immigration information site run by a Quebec-based law firm.

“Most people that are being affected by the backlogs are not voters. There aren’t many votes to be won.”

But there are major issues that will determine the future of immigration in this country — not least among them Canada’s plans to deal with applications that have been piling up during the pandemic.

Digging out of a major backlog

To El-Assal, one of the biggest issues missing in the parties’ platforms is how they plan to manage growing backlogs as Canada’s immigration system slowly returns to normal in the wake of the pandemic.

“Immigration is going to be one of the most formative government policy areas over the next decade and beyond, especially amid the damage that’s been caused by the pandemic,” he said.

As a result of the pandemic, Ottawa closed the border with the U.S. with few exemptions. That has greatly reduced this country’s refugee backlog.

However, between February 2020 and this past July, the backlog of permanent residence applications skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases. The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned to 369,677 people in the queue from 208,069 before the pandemic.

Experts and advocates have said Ottawa must prioritize and bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but have been kept outside of Canada during the pandemic, while expediting the transition to online processing and eliminating red tape to quickly reduce backlog as new applications continue to flood the system.

In its 2021 budget, the Liberal government announced plans to invest $429 million over five years to modernize its IT infrastructure to manage and process immigration applications, but its campaign platform mentions none of that or its plan to streamline processing.

The Conservatives vows to address “administrative backlogs” by simplifying and streamlining processes, investing in IT infrastructure and tech to speed up application vetting, letting applicants correct “simple and honest” mistakes instead of sending back their applications.

The New Democrats say they would “take on the backlogs that are keeping families apart.”

Both parties’ plans lack details and specifics.

Beyond the numbers

None of the parties mention what they plan to do with Canada’s annual immigrant intake of 401,000 for 2021; 411,000 for 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — except for the People’s Party of Canada, which proposes to reduce the annual intake to between 100,000 and 150,000.

However Andrew Griffith, fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Environics Institute, says Canada is in need of a “more fundamental re-examination” of what the immigration level should be: “What the mix should be, how the integration process works, how do we actually reduce hate and racism, and all of those things.”

Griffith proposes the establishment of an immigration commission to investigate those issues and the related policies.

“They can’t really be addressed by Parliament in an effective way because of the partisan nature.”

While debates about immigration are important, some say they can also open the door for all sorts of racist views around newcomers, further polarizing public opinion.

Robert Falconer, a research associate at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy who focuses on immigration and refugee policies, said parties and voters need to discuss what objectives immigration is going to serve and what the composition should look like.

“Sometimes,” says Falconer, “we have dumbed immigration down to just immigrants as economic agents — all they do is contribute or detract from our economy; when there is cultural, spiritual, religious, demographic considerations that are very, very important.”

Trying to maintain a labour market growth amid an aging population and low birth rate is part of the challenge, he said, but how to manage the demographic makeup and ensure newcomers from diverse background are welcomed is often overlooked.

“What are the parties saying about issues not directly stemming from immigration, but (that) strongly relate to it, which is issues of anti-racism, hate and multiculturalism?” Falconer asked.

In tackling anti-racism and hate, the Liberals are committed to a national plan on combatting hate, new legislation to police online content and strengthening the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code against perpetrators.

The Conservatives say they will protect Canadians from online hate while “preserving free speech” and celebrating Canadian heritage, including a $75-million fund to municipalities for the repair and restoration of historical monuments, statues and heritage buildings.

The NDP would ensure all major cities have dedicated hate-crime units within local police forces, and convene a national working group to counter online hate.

The Bloc includes “Quebec bashing” in relation to its platform on racism.

New ideas from the Conservative party

While there is much in common when it comes to immigration policies of the major parties, Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives have some “innovative” ideas, Griffith said.

Among them:

  • The introduction of a fee for those who would like to have their immigration applications expedited, with the revenues directed toward hiring additional staff to streamline processing time;
  • Replacing the current lottery system for immigration sponsorship of parents and grandparents with a first-come, first-served model that prioritizes applicants on criteria such as providing child care or family support, and language proficiency;
  • Replacing government-assisted refugee spots with private and joint sponsorship places, so all refugees resettling in Canada will do so under private or joint sponsorship programs, with exceptions in cases of emergency or specific programs.

“There are some interesting ideas in the Conservative platform that merits some discussion and debate. I mean, some I don’t think will go anywhere, but others may,” said Griffith, who has studied and compared the immigration platforms of all six parties in this election.

The proposed expedited processing fee, for instance, could create a two-tiered system between rich and poor applicants. A sponsorship of parents and grandparents based on an applicant’s ability to babysit may not sit well with the spirit of family reunification.

What to do with the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement?

In the 2019 federal election, a major issue was the surge in asylum seekers via the U.S. land border as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-migrant policies. The development prompted a fierce debate over the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement.

The bilateral pact, which has been in place between Ottawa and Washington since 2004, is not mentioned in either the Liberal or the New Democrat platform.

That accord allows Canada to turn back potential refugees who arrive at land ports of entry on the basis they should pursue their claims in the U.S.

Like the People’s Party, the Conservatives propose a complete ban on migrants from the U.S. seeking asylum in Canada and recommends joint Canada-U.S. border patrols similar to what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Green Party and Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, want the pact revoked altogether.

Refugee claimants and advocates have taken Ottawa to court over the constitutionality of the bilateral pact and the case is now before the Supreme Court of Canada, after the Liberal government successfully challenged a lower-court decision that found claimants’ charter rights were being breached.

Critics say the agreement, implemented under both the Liberal and Conservative governments, has not helped deter would be refugee claimants from crossing through unguarded parts of the border.

“I don’t know why the Liberals don’t take a position on it, but everything I’ve seen the Liberals do tells me that they actually align with the Conservatives’ position,” Falconer said.

“There are much more humane ways to address concerns in surges of asylum seekers that would again address the backlog that the Liberals and Conservatives tear their hair out over.”

Queen’s University immigration law professor Sharry Aiken said both parties understand patrolling the world’s longest shared border requires massive government resources. It would also likely encourage people to seek help from traffickers to sneak through the border and move underground for lack of access for asylum once inside Canada.

“That’s the exact problem in the United States, where there’s millions of undocumented people because there hasn’t been a way for them to actually make a claim through legal channels because of all of the different barriers in place that preclude access,” Aiken noted.

Temporary resident to permanent resident pathway

During the pandemic, the recognition of migrant workers doing essential work on farms, in nursing homes and driving food-delivery trucks prompted Ottawa to introduce one-time immigration programs for migrant workers and international students to become permanent residents.

The Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats all are in favour of expanding those pathways.

The Liberals categorically said the party would expand the pathways to permanent residence for migrant workers and former international students while the Conservatives would do it by offering a path for “low-skilled workers,” whose demand is “justified by concrete labour market data.”

All the NDP has to say about this issue is: “If someone is good enough to come and work here, then there should be a path for them to stay permanently.”

Expanding these temporary-to-permanent pathways, say migrants’ advocates, is wrong-headed because they reinforce, legitimize and justify Canada’s increasingly two-tiered immigration system, which exploits vulnerable temporary residents by dangling before them the prospects of permanent residency in the country down the road.

Political parties can’t adopt a Band-Aid approach and create a new pathway each time a group is falling through the cracks — Canada currently has more than 100 different skilled worker immigration programs, said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Leaders and policymakers need to be bold and ensure equality and equity for migrants from the get-go, which can only be achieved by granting them permanent residence in Canada upon arrival, he noted.

“The term pathway to permanent residence misrepresents what it is,” said Hussan. “It’s really a pathway to precariousness.”

His group estimated there are half a million work permits issued in Canada today, up from 60,000 two decades ago, but only a fraction of the migrant workers will get a chance to become permanent residents.

“The entire immigration system has been turned into a system of temporariness. It has created a fundamentally divided society. The natural progression of a system of temporary migration, which we now have, is more people who are undocumented and more people who are being even more exploited,” Hussan said.

“We have turned this country’s immigration system into a revolving door temp agency run by employers that profits from it. Instead, we want to ensure equal rights for everyone in the country. And to do that, we must ensure that everyone has the same citizenship rights.”

‘More migrants are falling through the cracks’

Dulaca said she has had her share of owed wages and unpaid overtime from her Canadian employers, and she put up with it because she needed the jobs to support her daughters back home and, more importantly, to meet the employment requirement for her permanent residence.

“The politicians are creating more and more pathways, but these pathways are not the solutions and more migrants are falling through the cracks,” said Dulaca, who runs a support group on Facebook to help other migrant caregivers.

“We all come to Canada so we can give our children a better life, a better future. I can’t vote now and you bet I will exercise my voting rights when I become a Canadian citizen three years from now.”

Source: Here’s how the federal election could change Canada’s immigration system