The launch of the Express Entry system in January 2015 marked a significant departure from Canada’s previous approach to managing applications to its main Economic Class immigration programs.
Prior to Express Entry’s launch, Canada processed applications to the Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC), Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) on a first-come, first-served basis.
This approach meant that all candidates were guaranteed to have their applications reviewed, and those that met the requirements received permanent residence — provided they passed an admissibility check (for health, security, and criminality).
Under Express Entry, eligible candidates for the FSWC, FSTC and CEC programs as well as a portion of Canada’s Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) are ranked based on a score awarded under what is known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, or CRS.
The CRS considers 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 through regular draws.
Although the first-come, first-served approach provided certainty to applicants who could tick all the boxes, it also had major shortcomings.
Applications always outnumbered the available permanent residence spots, creating significant backlogs that stretched into years and left candidates and their families in limbo.
These delays also left Canada facing the possibility that those who eventually gained permanent residence no longer met the needs of Canada’s labour 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 labour market.
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 transparent 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. This tells 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.
Options 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.
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 in fact fare better due to the way Express Entry awards points.
Candidates who are young, have high levels of education and English and/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 shows having a job offer, being nominated by a province, and/or having family in Canada expedites the economic integration process.
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 apply under other federal programs that are not covered by Express Entry, as well as those who apply to Quebec, must often wait an appreciably longer period.
The federal government reports it currently needs about 18 months to process a PNP application that is 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 per cent of Express Entry candidates who received an ITA in 2018 were proficient in French. This hurts Canada’s efforts to strengthen its Francophone communities outside of Quebec through immigration.
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.
Kareem El-Assal is the Director of Policy & Digital Strategy at Canadavisa.
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