ANALYSIS: The Canadian government plans to make a significant modification to Express Entry, allowing IRCC to welcome anybody it wants. Here are the advantages and disadvantages.
The Canadian government is prepared to make the most significant changes to Express Entry since the system was launched in January 2015.
Bill C-19 is now being considered by Canada’s Parliament and based on previous practice, it is expected to become law before Parliament’s summer holiday in June. It includes a provision allowing Canada’s Immigration Minister to construct Express Entry groups and subsequently issue Invitations to Apply (ITAs) to those groups. The minister would be free to construct groups based on in-demand jobs and meet other policy goals, such as accepting more francophone immigrants, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
With this proposal, IRCC would be able to deviate significantly from the current system of issuing ITAs for permanent residency. Since the implementation of the Express Entry application management system, IRCC has issued ITAs based on the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score and eligibility for the Express Entry programme.
Prior to the pandemic, IRCC gave ITAs to candidates who scored the highest on the CRS. The rationale is that the CRS is an objective technique to predict an Express Entry candidate’s chances of establishing themselves economically in Canada. Candidates with higher CRS scores, in other words, have a better chance of landing a job in Canada. IRCC has temporarily abandoned this strategy but will restart it in early July when all-program Express Entry draws resume.
IRCC has been providing program-specific ITAs for the majority of the pandemic. It accepted Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates until September 2021 in order to transfer as many in-Canada candidates to permanent residency as possible in order to meet its target of landing over 400,000 immigrants last year. It has also been inviting candidates for the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) to assist provinces and territories with their labour force needs.
While these two ways of issuing ITAs are flawed, they are nonetheless objective and provide candidates with some assurance. Candidates will once again know that their best chance of securing an ITA is to maximize their CRS score once all-program draws resume in early July.
One of the biggest disadvantages of allowing ITAs to be granted based on groupings is the lack of assurance. In the future, IRCC will have a lot of leeway in issuing ITAs based on any criterion it wants. This increases the danger of ITAs being issued based on subjective criteria like public opinion. For example, IRCC may be under pressure from the public or special interest organizations to issue ITAs to candidates in a particular industry, even if objective economic data indicates that the industry is not experiencing labour shortages. Although this is an extreme case, it serves to illustrate a potential drawback of granting IRCC such broad control over ITAs.
From the standpoint of a candidate, the lack of assurance is particularly troublesome. In principle, an ITA may no longer be required if your CRS score is extremely high. For example, a candidate with a CRS 480, which was previously sufficient to ensure an ITA, may no longer be eligible, at the expense of a candidate with a CRS 200 who happens to work in a high-demand occupation. This would happen if there was no evidence that it was wise for the Canadian government to choose lower-scoring candidates over higher-scoring candidates.
When it first introduced Express Entry, IRCC said that the CRS was formed by decades of Statistics Canada research determining which human capital factors best-predicted immigrants’ economic outcomes. This explains why being young and having a high degree of education, language abilities, and professional work experience get candidates more CRS points. In the future, IRCC will be able to issue ITAs even if there is no evidence that certain groups are more deserving of ITAs than others.
Another source of worry is the lack of public discussions prior to the proposed measures. The Express Entry amendments are part of Bill C-19, which is a package of reforms spanning a wide range of policy sectors that are being introduced together as a way for the ruling federal government to make swift legislative changes.
While there are times and places for quick legal changes, such as when dealing with a crisis like the one we faced at the start of the pandemic, it’s difficult to understand why the federal government is in such a rush to implement such significant changes to Express Entry with little time for stakeholder consultations, oversight, and debate.
Since the ruling Liberal Party of Canada has the support of the New Democratic Party, the current debate in Parliament appears to be a formality (NDP). This means we’re on the approach to the most significant change to Express Entry in history, with no opportunity for stakeholders to raise concerns about the change.
If the amendment becomes law, the IRCC claims that it will confer with stakeholders before establishing Express Entry groupings. However, given the absence of consultations in the lead-up to this proposal, why can we trust IRCC to consult if it becomes law?
On the other hand, there are some potential advantages to the plan. The over one million employment vacancies in Canada are wreaking havoc on certain sectors of the economy. It will benefit the economy and Canadians if IRCC is given the tools to issue ITAs to help fill job shortages in these areas. For example, Canada is experiencing a shortage of healthcare employees as a result of its ageing population and the pandemic, so putting healthcare workers first in the Express Entry pool will be beneficial.
Furthermore, issuing ITAs based on essential policy goals, such as promoting francophone immigration across Canada, will be helpful to IRCC. As a country with two official languages, English and French, the federal government must continue to welcome more francophone immigrants.
Looking ahead, the plan is expected to become law soon, but it is unclear when the IRCC will begin to use its expanded jurisdiction. We’ll have to wait for more information from the department on this.
In the meanwhile, we can only hope that IRCC will be as open as possible before forming Express Entry groups and consulting with a wide range of stakeholders before issuing ITAs.
Many experts are available to give IRCC impartial perspectives on how to effectively build Express Entry groups to meet Canada’s different labour market needs.