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Canada’s Express Entry immigration system: Is it living up to expectations after Five Years?

Canadian Express Entry immigration system has changed Canada’s approach to skilled worker immigration in essential ways

The Canadian Express Entry system in Launched in Jan 2015, marked as a big curve from Canada’s strategy of managing applications to its main Economic Class immigration programs until then. 

Canada processed applications to the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC), and Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC) on a first-come, first-served basis, before the launch of Canadian Express Entry.

In this approach, all the candidates were sure to have their applications reviewed for eligibility; those applicants that met the eligibility requirements received their permanent residence(PR) — The candidate also needs to pass an admissibility check (for criminality, security, and health ).

In Express Entry System, Eligible applicants for the CEC, FSTC, and FSWC programs, and some of the Canadian Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) are given scores and ranked with Comprehensive Ranking System(CRS).

Considering the factors such as age, education, skilled work experience, and proficiency in English or French, and only the highest-ranked candidates are invited to apply for Canadian permanent residence (PR) through regular draws in CRS.

The Old system was too slow

The first-come, first-served approach provided certainty to applicants who could tick all the boxes, but, it also had important shortcomings like.

  1. Outnumbered applications,
  2. Limited permanent residence spots, 
  3. Significant backlogs that stretched into years.

These shortcomings left applicants and their families in oblivion. These delayed processing also left Canada facing the circumstance, that those who finally gained permanent residence no longer met the needs of Canada’s labor market. 

A 44-year-old data analyst might have been in high demand when he or she applied, but six years later, this may not be the case, and, now 50, they had a smaller window to integrate into the labor market.

No backlogs 

The arrival of Express Entry helped to clear this backlog and reduce the wait time to six months or less.

Early criticisms that it removed the certainty of permanent residence for eligible candidates have since proven unfounded. Express Entry draws give candidates a clear sense of the number of CRS points they need to have a competitive shot at obtaining an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence.

This year has seen candidates with scores ranging from 439, and 472 issued an ITA. 

Candidates with a CRS score below the median score of around 459 to look into possibilities for increasing their CRS score, or consider other immigration options.

Possibilities for improving a candidate’s CRS score include improving language test results, gaining additional work experience, studying in Canada, or obtaining a job offer or a provincial nomination, among others.

Labor market integration has become stronger

While it’s early to tell if Express Entry has led to better economic outcomes for immigrants, there is a strong chance that immigrants will fare better due to the way Express Entry awards points.

Young candidates, have high levels of education and English or French proficiency, and have Canadian experience (e.g., as foreign workers or international students) can achieve a higher CRS.

Moreover, candidates with a job offer or a provincial nomination are awarded additional points (600 for a provincial nomination), as are candidates with siblings in Canada.

All of this makes sense, as federal government research shows candidates with high human capital integrate quickly into the economy, as do those with Canadian experience. Research also indicates having a job offer, being nominated by a province, or having family in Canada expedites the economic integration process.

Two-tier application management system

Express Entry does have its limitations, namely its creation of a two-tier application management system across Canada.

Those who apply through Express Entry can obtain permanent residence within six months, while those who use under other federal programs that are not covered by Express Entry, as well as those who apply to Quebec, must often wait an appreciably more extended period.

The federal government reports it currently needs about 18 months to process a PNP application that’s not linked to Express Entry.

Such delays may hurt confidence in the PNP and undermine Canada’s efforts to promote economic development across the country. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the four Atlantic provinces depend on the PNP for the majority of their economic class immigrants. Processing delays constrain their ability to welcome even more immigrants to support their economic growth.

There have been other limitations. For example, only four percent of Express Entry candidates who received an ITA in 2018 were proficient in French. Canada’s efforts to strengthen its Francophone communities outside of Quebec through immigration strained.

Express Entry is meeting expectations

Overall, Express Entry’s strengths overshadow its limitations, and the system is meeting expectations.

The federal government has also demonstrated policy flexibility since January 2015 by introducing reforms to Express Entry that reflect stakeholder feedback. For instance, the view that Express Entry was not giving enough preference to international students led to changes whereby international students are now awarded up to 30 additional points under the CRS.

These changes are a reminder that, even after five years, Express Entry is a work in progress, and the federal government will continue to identify ways to recalibrate and improve it.

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