Meeting notes between Canadian immigration lawyers and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser add nuance to discussions on Express Entry in 2022.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is still in the process of evaluating its Express Entry strategy for 2022, according to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

Express Entry is the main way Canada welcomes economic class immigrants. Candidates that meet the eligibility criteria of the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), Canadian Experience Class (CEC), or Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) are able to upload an Express Entry profile onto IRCC’s website. They get a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score based on the likes of their age, education, language skills, work experience, among other criteria. Approximately every two weeks, IRCC invites candidates to apply for permanent residence. Prior to the pandemic, FSWP candidates were the main recipients of Express Entry Invitations to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence.

During the pandemic, CEC candidates have received the most invitations. However, since September, IRCC has only been holding Express Entry draws for Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates in an effort to reduce its backlogs. IRCC continues to hold regular biweekly Express Entry draws, including most recently on January 19.

Fraser: IRCC still weighing its Express Entry options; has no plans to cancel applications

The recent public revelation of an internal IRCC briefing memo, signed on November 24, 2021, has fuelled speculation about Canada’s Express Entry strategy for this year. The memo explores the possibility of extending the pause on Express Entry invitations to FSWP, CEC, and FSTP candidates until the middle of this year to give IRCC more time to cut backlogs. However, due to the heavily redacted nature of the memo, much of its context is missing, leaving readers guessing how IRCC will manage Express Entry moving forward. The total immigration application backlog stands at 1.8 million people waiting in the queue as of December 2021, of whom some 120,000 fall under Express Entry.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser put some of the speculation to rest in a meeting with the Canadian Bar Association’s Immigration Section on January 20. The CBA’s Immigration Section is an association that represents Canadian immigration lawyers and meets with the Canadian government regularly to discuss how to improve the immigration system.

The minister stated that IRCC has yet to schedule its next FSWP and CEC draw, but they are still looking at their Express Entry draw options for 2022.

Fraser explained to the CBA that IRCC does not plan to cancel and refund already-submitted permanent residence applications in order to reduce its backlogs. This has been speculated on social media since it is something the Canadian government did about 10 years ago to reduce its inventory.

Minister Fraser pointed out that IRCC is working to stabilize application processing so that it can reduce its backlogs and noted the Canadian government has recently allocated an additional $85 million to support this goal.

Occupation-specific draws a possibility in the future

Fraser explained that IRCC is exploring the possibility of holding “occupation focused [Express Entry] draws responding to labour needs,” according to CBA notes.

The Canadian government’s Budget 2021 alluded to this possibility noting the government’s desire to reform Express Entry to “select those candidates who best meet Canada’s labour market needs.”

Issuing Express Entry invitations based on occupational background would be novel for Express Entry, but it would also harness a longstanding approach that has been employed by IRCC and the provinces and territories for decades.

In the past, FSWP candidates needed to fall under a National Occupational Classification (NOC) code that was in-demand in order to be eligible for the FSWP. Today, under various federal and provincial pathways, you need to fall under an eligible NOC in order to pursue immigration through the pathway.

Since its launch in 2015, Express Entry has managed FSWPCEC, and FSTP candidates based on their CRS score, and more so during the pandemic, based on program of eligibility. Prior to the pandemic, IRCC typically invited candidates with the highest CRS scores to apply for permanent residence irrespective of their program of eligibility. The rationale for this approach was that those with the highest CRS scores had the best likelihood to integrate into the Canadian labour market.

IRCC last held an all-program draw in December 2020. Between January and September 2021, IRCC issued invitations to CEC and PNP candidates eligible for Express Entry. The rationale for focusing on CEC candidates is they are most likely to be in Canada, and therefore they would not be impeded by travel restrictions or other public health measures. The rationale for inviting PNP candidates is so that IRCC can assist the provinces and territories in addressing their labour market needs.

Introducing an occupation-based approach to Express Entry invitations would provide IRCC with an additional tool in alleviating labour shortages. Express Entry already awards 50 or 200 CRS points for arranged employment but most candidates are able to earn a permanent residence invitation without a job offer. In 2020, only 16 per cent of those who received an ITA had arranged employment.

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