A look back at Express Entry's historic year, as well as a look ahead. The last time candidates for the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) were picked from the Express Entry pool was on December 23, 2020. Most of us had no idea at the time that it would signal the start of a temporary halt in Express Entry invitations to FSWP candidates.
Since its inception in 1967, the FSWP has been Canada's principal avenue for low-income immigrants and a major boost for Canada immigration policies. The Canadian Experience Class was introduced by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in 2008 to supplement the FSWP (CEC). The CEC aims to create a specific immigration path for Canadian job experience (international students and temporary foreign workers). The Immigration and Refugee Commission (IRCC) established the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) in 2013 to provide an immigration pathway for skilled trades professionals.
IRCC created Express Entry in 2015 to oversee these three programs. Anyone who met the requirements of an Express Entry-managed program could create a profile and receive a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score based on human capital criteria such as age, education, English and/or French language skills, work experience, and Canadian experience, among other things. IRCC will invite the highest-scoring individuals to apply for Canada PR every two weeks.
The rationale for Express Entry was that it would allow IRCC to process applications more quickly (because they only needed to process those who were invited, as opposed to the previous model of reviewing every single application) and would give new immigrants a better chance of integrating into the Canadian economy (since IRCC was skimming the top to invite the highest-scoring candidates).
FSWP applicants received the most Express Entry invites between 2015 and the start of the epidemic. They got around 45 percent of all invites in 2019, followed by CEC candidates. All of this came to an end in 2021. IRCC started 2021 with a strategy for achieving its Immigration Levels Plan goal of landing 401,000 new permanent residents by the end of the year. The proposal called for a higher number of temporary residents staying in Canada during the epidemic to be granted permanent residency.
The plan's rationale was that in the face of COVID disruptions such as travel restrictions and other obstacles that may prevent overseas candidates from completing the permanent residence process, focusing on transitioning those already in Canada was the best bet for meeting the 401,000-newcomer target in 2021.
For much of this year, the strategy comprised shifting from evaluating all applicants in Express Entry to predominantly accepting CEC candidates, including the unprecedented February 13 draw that invited all 27,332 CEC candidates in the pool at the time (almost six-times more than the previous record for invitations in one draw). The proposal also called for implementing a one-time special public policy that would allow up to 90,000 vital employees and international graduates in Canada to seek permanent residency.
One has the right to argue the decision's merits to exclude FSWP applicants from Express Entry lotteries for the next year and a half. In reality, we will have plenty of time to argue the decision's merits as a variety of developments, such as the worldwide pandemic situation, IRCC's future policy decisions, and operational capacity, Canada's labour market picture, and the economic integration of Express Entry immigrants, continue to unfold. However, all of this implies that we will most likely need years to thoroughly examine the consequences of this decision. Nonetheless, based on our knowledge today, it is worthwhile to weigh the benefits and downsides of the option.
Advantages of excluding FSWP candidates
IRCC is on track to meet its newcomer target for the year, as it already receives over 45,000 new permanent residents per month and has received over 360,000 immigrants during the first eleven months of 2021. As a result, IRCC would claim that despite the tough choice to disqualify FSWP candidates, it could get a greater level of permanent residence in a challenging working environment.
Another advantage is that, according to Statistics Canada, persons with Canadian job experience tend to integrate successfully into the labour market once granted permanent residency. In addition to domestic work experience, individuals may enhance their language skills and network while in Canada as temporary residents, which improves their post-arrival job opportunities.
Third, Canada has had labour shortages throughout the epidemic. IRCC's concentration on Canadian applicants has allowed the country to take a more focused strategy to alleviate poverty and needs, particularly in critical occupations. For example, many of the essential workers who applied under IRCC's temporary public policy would not have had an opportunity to earn permanent residency if IRCC had not decided to reject FSWP applicants this year.
Disadvantages of excluding FSWP candidates
On the other side, one may argue that IRCC could meet its 401,000-newcomer objective while also inviting FSWP applicants. The reason for this is that there is typically a one-year or more gap between when an FSWP candidate is accepted and when they physically arrive in Canada. As a result, IRCC could have started issuing Express Entry invites to FSWP candidates in the second half of the year while still landing as many in-Canada applications as possible to meet its 2021 levels plan objective.
In fact, an internal IRCC letter discloses that the department considered this idea, although it is unknown why they did not pursue it. Another disadvantage of the decision is that it has reduced openness and confidence between FSWP applicants and the IRCC. The Canadian government and IRCC take themselves in being as open and transparent as possible. Still, they have not communicated anything to FSWP candidates regarding IRCC's Express Entry intentions for 2021 and beyond.
This is significant since many FSWP hopefuls approached the Express Entry pool in earnest this year, hoping for a chance to be chosen, but were turned down. Essentially, IRCC invites them to the restaurant but refuses to provide them with food.
Perhaps a better strategy would have been for IRCC to clearly express its objectives, allowing FSWP applicants to consider alternate options. In addition, since language test results are only valid for two years and Educational Credential Assessments (ECA) are valid for five years, the choice to omit them may negatively impact some candidates.
In the grand scheme of things, retaking a language test or applying for another ECA isn't the end of the world. Still, it would have been more considerate of IRCC to provide FSWP candidates with advance notice so they could avoid potential inconveniences in their pursuit of Canadian permanent residence.
Another disadvantage is that IRCC undermines the policy reason for Express Entry in the first place. For example, when Express Entry was first introduced in 2015, IRCC was ecstatic about the evidence-based methodology underpinning the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS).
The CRS, according to IRCC, was developed by several years of longitudinal data on the labour market performance of immigrants gathered and analyzed by Statistics Canada. As a result, the CRS score was created to reward candidates who are younger in age, have more education, work experience, language abilities, Canadian experience, and may have additional advantages such as a Canadian job offer or siblings residing in Canada.
However, with the decision to exclude FSWP applicants, IRCC has only been inviting individuals qualified for the CEC as well as the Provincial Nominee Program (some PNP streams are aligned with Express Entry). As a result, CRS score criteria have been reduced, allowing IRCC to meet its 401,000-newcomer objective.
This agile approach is admirable, but it may come at a cost. That is, applicants with lower CRS scores who received permanent residency invites in 2021 may have poorer labour market results than candidates who would have received invitations under more typical conditions (that is, being invited on the basis of having one of the highest CRS scores rather than based on meeting CEC eligibility criteria).
IRCC has constantly claimed that Express Entry is intended to be long-term. Therefore, according to IRCC, inviting applicants with the highest CRS scores is a wise approach since their strong human capital will allow them to adjust to the dynamic nature of the Canadian labour market. While this is an extreme scenario, it exemplifies the decision made by IRCC: the department determined that inviting a CEC applicant with a CRS score of 75 (as in the February 13 draw) was more necessary than inviting an FSWP candidate with a CRS score of 470 to meet its 2021 levels objective (the rough cut-off requirement before this year).
Another disadvantage identified by IRCC is that the choice to focus on candidates in Canada has worsened backlogs since IRCC has been processing permanent residence applications from people living abroad at a slower rate.
Given IRCC's lack of information about its Express Entry objectives, no one can estimate when it will restart invites to FSWP candidates. There are, however, a few points to bear in mind.
To begin, IRCC has been eliminating CEC applicants from drawings since September to clear its backlog. The agency has stated that it intends to reduce Express Entry backlogs by half before welcoming FSWP, CEC, and Federal Skilled Trades Program candidates again. Based on its present application processing rate, IRCC might be in this position by the first part of 2022.
Given the importance of FSWP applicants as a source of talent, IRCC will eventually need to restart invitations to them. As previously stated, they made up 45 percent of all invited candidates in 2019 and have recently made-up 85 percent of all candidates in the Express Entry pool. IRCC may soon run out of CEC candidates to invite and may have already reached that stage.
Another important factor to consider is that IRCC is critical to Canada's economic success. The agency encourages the entrance of permanent residents from other countries, therefore contributing to Canada's population, labour force, and economic growth.
However, the epidemic has hampered international immigration, contributing to Canada's slowest population increase in more than a century. Furthermore, the country is seeing some of the largest levels of job vacancies on record for various reasons, including a shortage of fresh employees from overseas. As a result, resuming FSWP draws will be critical to achieving Canada's economic growth goals.
Finally, while it made sense to remove FSWP applicants from drawings when Canada imposed harsher travel limits, it makes less sense now that Canada has eased travel restrictions on all Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders. Although the number of COVID cases worldwide is increasing, there are presently no Canadian government travel restrictions restricting FSWP candidates with COPRs from visiting Canada.
And, as previously stated, it takes approximately one year from the time an FSWP receives an invitation to the time they arrive in Canada, so pandemic volatility should not be the primary reason for continuing to hold off on FSWP invitations because none of us know what the world has in store for us one year or so from now. All of this to say, there looks to be a good argument for IRCC to begin FSWP invites in 2022.
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