Today’s major announcements provide more certainty for Canadian immigration candidates.

Canada’s immigration minister Sean Fraser has just announced Express Entry invitations to FSWP and CEC candidates will resume by “early July.”

Minister Sean Fraser made several other major announcements, such as that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will be offering an open work permit extension of up to 18 months to Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders.

A summary of today’s major announcements

  • Express Entry invitations to FSWP, CEC, and FSTP candidates will resume in early July.
  • The vast majority of new Express Entry applications will be processed within the six-month service standard. According to IRCC, current Express Entry processing times range from seven months to in excess of 20 months.
  • Those with an expiring PGWP between January and December 2022 will qualify for an additional open work permit of up to 18 months beginning this summer. IRCC is working on a simplified process and will provide further details “in the weeks ahead.” IRCC notes about 95,000 PGWPs will expire in 2022, and it estimates as many as 50,000 PGWP holders could benefit from this new open work permit.
  • Applicants will no longer be required to remain in Canada throughout the entire time their application is being processed.
  • Applicants who also apply for an open work permit while they wait for their permanent residence application to be processed will be able to get work permits that are valid until the end of 2024. This will ensure all permanent residence applications will be finalized before applicants need to apply to extend their temporary status again.
  • To support family reunification, the immediate family members included in a principal applicant’s permanent residence application who are outside of Canada will be eligible to get their own open work permit.

Express Entry during the pandemic

Up until this year, Express Entry was main way Canada welcomed economic-class immigrants.

Express Entry is an application management system for the following three immigration programs: the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), and the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP). It also manages a portion of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). It is a points-based system where eligible candidates get a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score for human capital factors such as their age, education, language skills, work experience, and more.

Before the pandemic, IRCC would invite the highest-scoring candidates to apply for immigration. Usually, these draws did not select candidates based on their program of eligibility.

Earlier in the pandemic, IRCC focused on inviting CEC candidates to achieve its goal to admit a record-high number of immigrants in a single year amid travel restrictions. CEC candidates are oftentimes already in Canada, and therefore were not subject to the travel restrictions Canada had in place between 2020-2021. This focus enabled Canada to land over 405,000 permanent residents last year, the highest newcomer total in its history.

IRCC has also focused on inviting PNP candidates throughout the pandemic to support provincial immigration goals.

The combination of this shift in Express Entry policy and pandemic-related challenges have resulted in backlogs within the immigration system, including Express Entry. As such, IRCC has not invited FSWP candidates since December 2020, and CEC candidates since September 2021.

The lack of FSWP and CEC invitations comes at a time when Canada is dealing with historic labour shortages. Unemployment is at a record low and job vacancies are near record highs.

CEC candidates tend to be international students who have graduated from a Canadian designated learning institution and who go on to obtain a Post-Graduation Work Permit. The PGWP is an open work permit that enables international graduates to get the one-year of Canadian work experience they often need to apply for permanent residence. Generally speaking, you can only get a PGWP once, meaning that if you are not able to submit a permanent residence application while holding the PGWP, you risk losing your work permit status unless you can find another work permit that you are eligible for.

As such, CEC candidates have been losing their work permit status since the lack of Express Entry Invitations to Apply (ITAs) means they cannot apply for a Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP) while they wait for IRCC to process their permanent residence applications. As the name implies, the BOWP “bridges” the gap between the expiring of a work permit, such as the PGWP, and the candidate ultimately receiving permanent residence. The BOWP enables certain permanent residence applicants to continue working in Canada for any employer of their choice.

Between January and July of 2021, IRCC made an exception to its PGWP policy by offering a one-time open work permit of 18-months in duration. The purpose of this was to give PGWP holders more time to get the requisite work experience to be eligible for permanent residence if their Canadian employment prospects were negatively impacted by the pandemic (e.g., layoffs early in the pandemic).

Meanwhile, the FSWP was the main source of foreign skilled immigrants to Canada between its launch in 1967 until recently, when IRCC decided to focus on inviting and processing CEC candidates. This temporary pandemic-induced policy shift has reduced the flow of foreign skilled immigrants into the Canadian workforce amid a time of a historically tight labour market due to the aging of Canada’s population and the pandemic resulting in major changes to the labour market.

In the meantime, IRCC is looking to land 55,000 Express Entry permanent residents in 2022, which is about half of its 2021 target. The reason for the temporary decline in Express Entry targets is so it can wind down its Temporary to Permanent Residence (TR2PR) program and accommodate other priorities. Between May and November 2021, IRCC invited up to 90,000 international graduates and essential workers to apply for permanent residence through the TR2PR program.

According to the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, Express Entry landings are set to increase over the next two years with IRCC seeking to welcome more than 110,000 newcomers through Express Entry by 2024.

IRCC: More applications being processed

IRCC notes that the Express Entry backlog has been cut by more than half from nearly 112,000 people in September 2021 to 48,000 in March 2022. It has also doubled the number of permanent resident decisions made in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. IRCC finalized 156,000 permanent residence decisions between January 1st and March 31, 2022. In addition, IRCC has processed over 100,000 work permit applications in the first quarter of 2022, compared to 58,000 during the same period last year.

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