IRCC working on successful implementation of the Express Entry Program

By Scarlett Wilson [Published 26 Jan, 2022 | 05:21 AM] 1145
IRCC working on successful implementation of the Express Entry Program

Restoring Express Entry is critical to Canada's economic recovery. However, an internal IRCC briefing note was made public last week, sparking conjecture and consternation over Canada's immigration authority handling Express Entry in 2022 and beyond.

The IRCC briefing, which was signed on November 24, 2021, provides background information on why Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has not issued Express Entry invitations to Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) candidates since December 2020 and to Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates since September 2021.

Since the briefing was highly classified, it is impossible to draw clear conclusions from it. However, despite its ambiguity, the briefing implies that the halt is being implemented to allow IRCC to reduce application backlogs and eventually get closer to its declared service standard of processing Express Entry applicants within six months. Processing times are currently increasing as the department tries to catch up.

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According to the newer IRCC memo, Express Entry backlogs have grown due to factors such as previous travel restrictions and the department's focus on transitioning those already in Canada to permanent residence in order to meet the department's immigration levels goal of landing 401,000 permanent residents by 2021.

IRCC granted a significant number of ITAs to CEC applicants and established a specific Temporary Residence to Permanent Residence (TR to PR) pathway to achieve their immigration levels target. However, the emphasis on in-Canada applications has come at the expense of candidates who have filed Express Entry applications from outside of Canada, resulting in much longer processing delays.

As per IRCC, Express Entry admissions are anticipated to "see a considerable decrease to suit other ministerial and departmental objectives" as it analyses alternatives for its Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024. Some preliminary scenarios proposed at the time of the memo envisaged reductions of more than half of the 110,500 allotted in the current 2021-2023 levels plan. According to the email, these cuts may be necessary to meet the TR to PR pathway and the Canadian government's aim of resettling 40,000 Afghan refugees. By February 14, 2022, the new level plan will be announced.

It is essential to understand that the "Invitations" and "admissions" to Express Entry are two distinct metrics. The message does not specify when drawings for FSWP, CEC, and FSTP applicants would resume. Instead, it claims that an anticipated 76,000 Express Entry applicants will be on the waiting list at the start of 2022, which is much more than what is necessary to satisfy admissions objectives, and so no fresh Express Entry intake is required until at least the first half of 2022. One point of contention in this debate is whether IRCC refers to "invitations" or "intake." Candidates have up to 60 days from the moment they get an invitation to apply to IRCC for permanent residency. When IRCC receives the completed application, the "intake" process begins.

Before contemplating expanding its Express Entry draws again, the government intends to reduce its Express Entry application backlog by more than half. This is because IRCC wants to guarantee that applications from individuals who have been invited are processed as quickly as possible. Based on its current capacity to complete over 16,000 Express Entry applications per month, IRCC may be able to reduce its Express Entry backlog by more than 50% by the early part of 2022. As a result, theoretically, IRCC can restart invites to FSWP, CEC, and FSTP in the coming months, knowing that another two months will pass before they get new intake.

The upcoming announcement of the levels plan in February will provide some further clarification. The levels plan is regularly amended in the run-up to its formal announcement, as IRCC examines a slew of operational and policy concerns right up until the last second. This raises the potential that the November 2021 document no longer represents the IRCC's Express Entry plan.

It is crucial to note that IRCC's projected reduction in Express Entry admissions in 2022 does not necessarily imply that it will cease inviting more Express Entry candidates this year, as admissions and invites are two separate measures.

Admission is the final step in the Express Entry procedure, which presently takes at least a year from start to finish owing to application backlogs. According to the document, the current processing time for CEC candidates is around eight months, while for FSWP candidates, it is roughly 20 months. This is despite the fact that the IRCC's website continues to say that the Express Entry processing standard is six months. An Express Entry applicant gets admitted after receiving an invitation to apply for permanent residence, submitting their permanent residence application, and having it processed. When a person arrives in Canada from overseas and becomes a permanent resident, his or her admission is complete.

It is also possible for a temporary resident in Canada to change their legal status to permanent residency. Because of the lengthy nature of this procedure, IRCC is still issuing Express Entry invites in the meanwhile. When IRCC receives a completed permanent residency application, it has the option of processing it immediately, as it did before the pandemic. Alternatively, IRCC can begin processing the application later, as it is now doing in response to the unfolding pandemic situation as well as shifting policy priorities.

It is in Canada's best interests to quickly begin Express Entry invites to FSWP and CEC candidates. Express Entry, which debuted in 2015, aims to encourage the highest-scoring individuals to apply for permanent residency. Its dynamic design attempted to eliminate backlogs by requiring IRCC to process just the applications of those invited rather than every application received. Unfortunately, the IRCC has shifted its resources away from inviting the highest-scoring individuals, and backlogs have risen due to it prioritizing permanent residence applications submitted within Canada and the processing of Afghan refugee applications.

IRCC stated in 2015 that utilizing the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) to score and rank applicants was the best approach to identify new immigrants most likely to integrate into Canadian society effectively. In addition, the CRS was guided by decades of Statistics Canada research and is thus intended to be a scientific method of selecting Canadians of the future. As a result, Canada's best interest is to employ the CRS as the primary determinant of Express Entry invites.

One could even argue that there is a stronger case to be made for continuing to use the CRS now, during an economically turbulent period, because Statistics Canada research shows that immigrants who arrive during a recession have poorer economic outcomes throughout their careers in Canada than those who arrive during a stronger economic period. Sticking to the CRS can also be justified on the basis of fairness. For example, between 2015 to the end of 2020, IRCC issued the majority of Express Entry invites based on CRS score but abruptly abandoned this practice in January 2021.

Many applicants entered the Express Entry pool after taking measures to optimize their CRS score or have taken actions to increase their CRS score after entering the pool. The increase in the Express Entry backlog was preventable since IRCC took the conscious decision to priorities CEC application processing while deferring the processing of FSWP and other applications. As a result, it was processing around 14,000 CEC applications per month and just 600 FSWP applications per month in the second half of 2021.

The backlog of FSWP and other skilled worker applications from outside is proving costly since it is resulting in a weakened population, labor force, and economic growth. Canada's population growth is the slowest since 1915/16, and the country is also dealing with the largest employment vacancy rate on record, with about 1 million open positions. Many critical areas in the Canadian Economy, including health care, transportation, and agri-food, are in desperate need of more people. It goes without saying that it is in Canada's economic interests for IRCC to get the application processing of skilled workers from other countries back on track so that they can come soon to help ease the labour shortages that are impeding the country's economic recovery.

Finally, the delay in CEC draws since September is troubling from both an economic and a justice standpoint. CEC applicants often work for Canadian firms and can stay with them continuously after obtaining permanent residence through Express Entry. Many CEC applicants face losing their legal status due to the lack of Express Entry invitations, which might compel them to leave the country. This would result in reduced economic activity in Canada and increased labor shortages and pressure on Canadian companies. In fairness, it would not be appropriate to suddenly change the goalposts on such folks and ask them to leave the nation after they have spent years contributing to Canada's Economy and society.

Tags: backlog, backlogs, cec, coronavirus, covid, express entry, express entry 2021, express entry 2022, fstp, fswp, immigration levels Canada, immigration levels plan, immigration levels plan 2022-2024, immigration minister, IRCC, sean fraser

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