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

Applicants to Canada’s skilled-worker immigration program will soon face 36-month wait times, documents reveal

Yet another article on the delays in the federal skilled worker program, reflecting in part the government focus on meeting its target of 401,000 by giving priority to those already in Canada (TR2PR):

Kartikay Sharma has a master’s degree in civil engineering and works as a researcher in building energy efficiency — knowledge and skills that are highly sought after in Canada these days.

In fact, Canada had selected and invited the Indian man to apply for permanent residence back in December 2020.

Yet more than a year after that offer, the 27-year-old is still waiting for Canada to complete his application and let him into the country.

Sharma is among thousands of skilled immigration applicants overseas whose lives and plans are in limbo, as Canada has halted the federal skilled immigration program since then in order to prioritize applicants already in Canada and to address Afghan refugee resettlement.

“Whenever anyone is talking about backlog, no one is talking about backlog for federal skilled applicants overseas,” Sharma told the Star. “As all of us are awaiting our permanent resident visa, we face huge uncertainties.”

Canada’s skilled worker program, introduced in 1967, was the first in the world to recruit the best and brightest immigrants as permanent residents through an objective system awarding points to candidates points based on their age, language proficiency, education achievements and job experience.

Despite updates through the years, it has been a signature economic immigration program that brings in people based on their general skills, knowledge and experience, in order to fill Canada’s labour market needs.

According to an Immigration Department internal memo, processing time for skilled applicants is already at 20.4 months — more than three times the six-month target — and that’s expected to climb to 36 months this year.

Anyone interested in becoming a skilled immigrant to Canada must put their names in a pool; Canada normally makes regular draws from the pool and those who meet the threshold scores in each draw will be invited to apply. However, the number of skilled immigration candidates was forecast to grow to 207,000 by last December and, said the memo, the backlog must be reduced by half before any new invitations are issued.

Source: Applicants to Canada’s skilled-worker immigration program will soon face 36-month wait times, documents reveal

Douglas Todd: Would-be immigrants to Canada being sold ‘false dreams’

Yet another story on immigration fraud with some examples of more reputable consultants:

The migration agents confronted Vancouver’s Laleh Sahba as she walked on the sidewalk last month near the Canadian embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

The street hawkers told her that, for $25,000 or more, they would get her to an immigration professional who would be sure to hand her a visitor or student visa so she could be well on her way to obtaining a Canada passport.

The sidewalk agents mistook Sahba for another near-desperate Middle Eastern person who would spend almost everything she had for the dream of becoming a permanent resident in Canada, land of promise.

But Sahba — an Iranian-Canadian and a regulated Canadian immigration consultant — says her encounter with Turkey’s street agents was just another reminder how easy it is for people abroad and in Canada to claim to be immigration experts to take vulnerable people for a nasty ride.

“They are selling wrong information. They are making up false dreams,” Sahba said at her downtown Vancouver office. “This is a huge business. And what disturbs me is that many are in it for the money in Canada. They’re playing with people’s lives.”

Sahba, who works with professional immigration partners in the Middle East, is among a small number of Canadian immigration consultants and lawyers who are coming forward to describe the wide range of misinformation, misdeeds and scams being foisted on would-be immigrants.

Some of those posing as immigration specialists are telling anxious people they will eventually get a Canadian passport if they pay large sums, in the tens of thousands of dollars, just to obtain a study or visitor’s visa, which have limited use. Some are also falsely telling clients they can finagle them status as a refugee.

The immigration fantasies of foreign nationals often end in tatters, says Sahba, 40, who came to Canada from Iran two decades ago and has been a consultant for 15 years. Many immigration specialists are making promises they can’t deliver on. By the time most would-be immigrants come to her to find a way out of their migration problems “they are absolutely screwed. We can’t help them.”

Much more must be done, Sahba says, to clean up the fast-growing immigration-advice industry, which in Canada includes 5,400 regulated immigration consultants and 1,000 immigration lawyers, but also an untold number of unlicensed agents.

Marina Sedai, a Surrey immigration lawyer, tends to agree. She told a Conference Board of Canada workshop in Vancouver last month that there is “rampant immigration fraud” being perpetrated by some consultants and agents.

Sedai said she is constantly hearing from troubled clients about how they’ve being misled or defrauded by self-professed experts who demand large fees to guide foreign nationals through Canada’s intricate immigration system.

As national chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section, Sedai highlighted how her organization has told federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen the system Ottawa has set up to regulate immigration consultants, who have less formal training than lawyers, is not working.  “There are good reasons,” the society said in 2017, “to limit the practice of immigration law to lawyers and Quebec notaries,” with immigration consultants working under the supervision of lawyers.

Many wives are being advised by immigration specialists to get a study visa so their husbands can come to Canada and work and their children can attend school, says Laleh Sahba. The trouble is many wives “don’t really want to study” and end up failing. It leads to big problems for the family.

Sahba, however, believes the majority of regulated immigration consultants do excellent work. Still, she hears at least five times a month from foreign nationals who have become embroiled in shady agreements that involve both Canadian immigration advisers and lawyers.

While Sahba generally supports Ottawa’s aim to make it simpler for some of the more than 500,000 foreign students in Canada to become permanent residents, for instance, she said some advisers are increasingly misrepresenting the study visa program as the backdoor immigration ticket for entire families.

Many wives in their 40s and 50s are being advised, she said, to apply for a study visa so that their husband can come to Canada on a spousal work visa and their children can attend schools in Toronto, Metro Vancouver and elsewhere.

The trouble, Sahba said, is many of the wives are unable to pass English-language exams and “don’t really want to study in the first place.” They begin failing courses and can’t get into postgraduate school, which means they and their husbands and children are expected to return home.

“It’s all over for them. They’ve wasted their time and huge amounts of money. And their kids have in the meantime become used to Canadian society. This is where my heart bleeds.”

In addition to describing scams in which so-called immigration specialists have charged clients many thousands of dollars just for a visitor’s visa, Sahba said other illicit schemes involve provincial immigrant entrepreneur programs, including those operated by Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba.

Since a large number of so-called immigration specialists also have real-estate licences, Sahba says, some become embroiled in housing deals with rich prospective newcomers.

Other advisers direct so-called entrepreneurs to make “passive investments” in Canadian properties or businesses, which often involve nothing more than appearing to transfer money between relatives’ bank accounts.

In one extreme case, Sahba worked with two sisters from Pakistan who transferred more than $170,000 to immigration agents in Canada who said they were arranging the purchases of a gift shop and pet store in Vancouver. The entire process, which involved transferring photos and signatures via Skype, was fake. The culprits couldn’t be tracked.

The Canadian Bar Association, in its attempts to target “incompetent and unscrupulous” immigration advisers, told Canada’s immigration minister in 2017 there had been an “astonishing” 1,470 complaints against the regulated members of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) since it began in 2011, plus 1,115 more against non-members.

That regulatory council posts some of the online allegations against its licensed Canadian immigration consultants, with one ICCRC page describing disciplinary investigations against almost 50 named members, who regularly charged clients $10,000 to $30,000 for relatively small tasks. Many of the consultants are accused of misdeeds such as: “Deceiving client,” “misleading client,” “falsely advising client,” “failing to notify client,” “charging client exorbitant fee” and of “misrepresenting” themselves in a variety of ways, including as border officials.

Sedai said some immigration advisers have even become involved in presenting false job offers to would-be immigrants — an activity she says she has run into in Surrey. Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee is among those who has tried to expose the widespread jobs deception.  

Although the clients of people who make a living in the immigration industry continue to take part in illicit schemes based on bad advice, Sabha wants to make clear some clients have not been innocent in the process. “They’ve got dirty hands, too.”

And the chances for all concerned of getting caught are increasing.

“The immigration officers are also not stupid anymore, not like in the old days,” Sahba says, chuckling. “They’re smart. And they’re looking at all aspects of every immigration application.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Would-be immigrants to Canada being sold ‘false dreams’