Nearly 10 months after the introduction of the Express Entry Immigration system, businesses and prospective immigrants say it is not living up to its promise. Despite government claims that the system was designed to attract and quickly admit highly skilled workers from across the world to meet Canada’s labour needs, many claim that the system features an unbalanced points system, a poor job matching tool, and requirement for a mandatory LMIA which renders the system ‘unusable’.
The Conservatives launched the Express Entry System on January 1, with the federal government acting as the go-between for “the best and brightest” immigrants and Canadian employers looking to fill their job openings.
Speaking recently, former immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the Express Entry System is “a system that is fast and connects people to the labour market so they can realize their dreams and fulfil their potential upon arrival in Canada”.
He continues to claim that new economic immigrants are arriving in Canada in months rather than years. He also asserts that a growing percentage of applicants have jobs lined up before they arrive in Canada and this helps them avoid being stuck in survival jobs for years following their arrival.
However, critics point to figures that show that the Express Entry system has opened the door to very few new economic immigrants, with the majority of accepted applicants being temporary foreign workers and other foreign nationals already in the country.
According to a report published by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, over 85 per cent of the applicants who were sent Invitations to Apply (ITAs) under Express Entry in the first half of the year were already in Canada.
Critics say the system’s biggest flaw is that it is not enough for immigrants to have a job offer before applying to come to Canada, but that they must get a hard-to-obtain positive Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) as well.
“If it weren’t for that LMIA requirement, I think we might see more opportunity for employers to feel like this is a system that actually would facilitate the entry of some highly skilled individuals that they’ve identified.” says one analyst.
The Express Entry points system is heavily weighted towards the LMIA requirement, giving applicants with a permanent job offer backed by an LMIA an automatic 600 points out of the maximum of 1,200. The remaining 600 points are awarded based on factors such as age, education level, language proficiency and work experience.
“You could be a food-service supervisor with an LMIA-supported job offer and you would rank higher than the rocket scientist from abroad,” says one expert.
Additionally, the heavily promoted job-matching tool that matches registered candidates with employers looking for workers is said to be ineffective and “quite poor”, with many job postings reportedly being out of date.
Despite the problems with the system, the government is confident that it will prove to be a success.
“We wanted to get this right and what we’re seeing so far in 2015 is that it is going well. The pool is populated by lots of very qualified people. The processing times for the first successful applicants have been much faster than predicted, and news is getting out that this is a new beginning for Canadian immigration that is faster and more effective,” said Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.
Changes to the Canadian Experience Class scheme have caused the lives of thousands of immigrants to be plunged into uncertainty, with some experts saying the Canadian government is guilty of making misleading statements and false promises, but with little to no chance of them being held to account.
Starting this year, all prospective immigrants have been pooled together under the Express Entry system, with immigration officials selecting candidates on the basis of what many say is an unbalanced points system. A person who would have previously qualified under the Canadian Experience Class, and consequently gained permanent residency in Canada, is now at the mercy of what is seen as a lottery system.
The Canadian Experience Class was introduced in order to give foreigners who had graduated or were working in Canada an opportunity to become permanent residents after gaining skilled work experience in Canada.
Over the years, the government laid out this path through which prospective immigrants were virtually guaranteed permanent residency. The criteria was clearly defined and promoted, and it covered education, work experience and language abilities. Having been enticed by the promise of the scheme, thousands of immigrants uprooted themselves from their homelands to come to Canada. They left their homes, jobs, and families behind, altered the course of their work and academic lives and planned their entire futures around the scheme – only to now be told that the rules of the game have changed, and the desired outcome is now not only not guaranteed, but also very unlikely.
With their permanent residency no longer assured as a consequence of these changes, thousands of immigrants have seen their lives derailed and are unexpectedly facing an uncertain future.
Experts argue that the changes to the CEC system can be seen as retroactive in their repercussions, which in any other sphere would result in a flood of lawsuits. However the immigration system doesn’t seem to be held to such standards, and as some recent court decisions have indicated, there is little hope for the CIC to be held legally accountable for the damage their decisions cause.
One case in point is the Austria vs. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) ruling, where 1,400 immigrants lost their case against Citizenship and Immigration Canada for terminating their permanent residence applications due to resource and staffing issues. The residency applications were filed before 2008 and had not been assessed by March 2012, with legislation passed in June 2012 declaring that CIC was henceforth not obliged to process those applications. Effectively, what Parliament had done was retroactively removed obligations CIC was duty bound to carry out. With such an inefficient, bureaucratic and legally dubious system in place, it is no wonder that so many people are getting increasingly disenchanted with the Canadian immigration system.
Recent changes to Canada’s immigration regulations that came into effect on January 1st, 2015 have placed international graduates from Canadian universities at a disadvantage. Many were seeking to qualify for Canadian permanent residence. In the past, foreign students with work experience in Canada enjoyed an advantage over other applicants when seeking permanent residence. The new rules will also make it tougher for Canadian universities to recruit foreign students. The open system of residence after graduation was one of the factors that attracted 200,000 foreign students to postsecondary institutions in Canada in 2014.
Under the new rules, foreign students who hold a degree or diploma from Canadian educational institutions will be treated on par with other groups of skilled workers. All economic class candidates will form part of the pool from which Citizenship and Immigration Canada will issue invitations offering permanent residence. In the past, students were not required to compete with other groups of skilled workers when seeking permanent residence.
The Express Entry Pool, which forms the core aspect of the Express Entry system, has been established to reduce application times, and to facilitate improved connections between Canadian employers and employees intending to apply for permanent residence.
Invitations are issued on the basis of a ranking system based on the number of points earned by an aspiring immigrant. The maximum score is 1200 points. A Labor Market Impact Assessment which indicates the absence of a Canadian worker available for the position will enable the applicant to score 600 additional points. Other factors like education and age count for 600 points. The first two cohorts invited by the Ministry to apply for permanent residence had a cutoff of 800 points. Since students don’t qualify for a LMIA, they cannot avail the 600 points.
Students are likely to be hurt the most by the new system as those with very little work experience will find it difficult to prove that there is no native Canadian who can perform the task in question.
While students can seek permanent residence through Provincial Nominee Programs, tens of thousands of students who have entered through the Federal program cannot get transferred to provinces without complicated negotiations.
Provincial programs accord higher priority to permanent residence applications made by international students holding credentials from a Canadian postsecondary institution along with professional work experience. Ontario’s 2500 spots under its PNP are filled primarily by international students.
The Express Entry Immigration system, announced in detail in early December, is expected to have a very negative effect on those students who had planned on relying on favourable policies designed to help post-graduate students obtain permanent residence. These policies had been framed on the basis of findings that indicated that such students were most likely to adapt to life in Canada.
Many recent graduates sought to bypass the new rules by submitting their applications early. In December, the CIC had indicated that thousands of spots under the old regulations were still available. However, many fall graduate applicants learned that their applications were rejected on the ground that the quotas for Canadian Experience Class, the category under which they previously qualified, had been reached in October 2014. Now, these students are required to apply under the new regulations. Most will unlikely qualify unless they can meet provincial nomination programs.
Interestingly, many students who were hopeful of applying under the old rules were devastated to learn that the authorities had committed a mistake by indicating the availability of thousands of spots under the old rules. With students spending in excess of $100,000 towards their education in Canada, the premise under which they made such decisions has been vacated.
There are hopes that criticism of the functioning of the Express Entry system may result in changes that could include a reduction in the score required for a graduate student to be invited to apply for permanent residence. Until then those who had opted for Canada over the US or the UK due to the relatively ease to acquire Canadian residence, will have to just wait and watch. Canadian education institutions will likely share in this process.
Attorney Colin Singer Commentary:
Canadian immigration policy analysts have worked closely with the education industry to build Canada’s international reputation. It is clear that the Immigration Ministry is causing substantial harm to the industry with the new Express Entry regime.
Canada has always been a preferred destination for those seeking new opportunities or simply a peaceful and secure life. There are innumerable stories of families migrating from all parts of the world, settling in Canada, and working hard to build a better life for their future generations. However, Canada’s approach and focus towards immigration has undergone a drastic change.
While new programs like the Express Entry system are very positive and hold a lot of potential, the emphasis on attracting those with the maximum experience or the most educational qualifications may prove to be the programs undoing.
Such an approach would not have been an issue if all job vacancies in Canada had been at the senior levels. However, the ground reality in Canada is that most job vacancies are either at entry level or at levels where employees are required to possess junior skill sets. The Express Entry system is unlikely to solve labor shortages requiring junior skilled employees. Ironically, those immigrants who come to Canada find themselves overqualified for the jobs on offer.
The disillusionment is not restricted to immigrants alone. Canada is one of the top-ranked nations in the world in terms of post-secondary educational degrees and qualifications. Yet, young Canadians who have incurred student debt in excess of $50,000 securing multiple degrees discover that most jobs involve working at the local grocery store or pizza outlet.
Organizations in the hospitality and retail sector are struggling to find and retain talent even in large cities. In rural and remote regions that are rich in natural resources, businesses struggle to find suitable workers despite the presence of a large number of lucrative jobs.
The scale of the problem is evident from the fact that one tenth of all small businesses in Canada resort to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to tackle the problem of labor shortage. Unfortunately, this program has its own flaws and shortcomings. As of now, even this Program is no longer available for small businesses.
Today, small enterprises operating in the hospitality or retail sector are resorting to asking the working staff to put in more hours, reducing working hours, deferring expansion, or even shutting down the business—there are very few choices left and most of them are unattractive.
The conventional solution of hiking wages to attract talent too is not working. In the fast-growing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the rate of increase in wages is significantly outpacing the rate of inflation. Wage rates are rising faster than the rate at which the national wage rate is increasing. Industries in the hospitality sector also struggle with significantly lower margins as compared to the natural resources industry.
The plain truth is that there are many jobs in the country and many provinces in Canada where supply of labor is just not increasing. The success of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program despite the controversy surrounding temporary hiring of foreign workers indicates that Canadian youngsters are very choosy when it comes to selecting a job.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has proposed that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program be replaced by a solution addressing the labor shortage on a permanent basis. Introducing an ‘Introduction to Canada Visa’ targeting entry-level workers in foreign countries could address the critical shortages of labor faced by small businesses.
Such a move will return the immigration system of Canada back to its roots. Such a program will provide a platform for a skilled immigrant, irrespective of the level of skill, to work in Canada for a few years and become eligible to apply for permanent residence.
Job vacancy rates for the third quarter of 2014 indicate that unfilled jobs have risen by 2.7% all across the nation. This figure is at its highest level since the 2008 recession. Increase in job vacancies is inevitable when unemployment falls. Yet, this has created a desperate situation for small business owners in Canada.
Today, the Express Entry system would probably deny permission to many individuals who moved to Canada many decades ago. Instead of focusing solely on high-end qualifications, the immigration system should encourage inflow of all immigrants who are ready to work hard and create a better future for their families.