Last week, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) held its first all-program Express Entry draw since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to Canada imposing travel restrictions to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the federal government was considering all eligible candidates during its bi-weekly Express Entry draws.
This meant that eligible Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates all had a chance to secure an invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residence if their CRS score met IRCC’s cut-off requirement.
Once Canada introduced coronavirus travel restrictions, however, IRCC began to hold PNP- and CEC-specific draws, much to the disappointment of FSWP and FSTP candidates.
In 2019, the FSWP accounted for 45 per cent of all ITAs issued by IRCC. The CEC came in second at 36 per cent, followed by the PNP at 18 per cent, and the FSTP at 1 per cent.
Fortunately, last week’s draw provides plenty of good news.
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IRCC’s rationale for the program-specific draws was that CEC and PNP candidates are more likely to be in Canada, and hence, less likely to face coronavirus-related challenges during their permanent residence application and landing process.
This rationale was problematic for several reasons.
A candidate’s physical location in the world is not determined by what Express Entry program they are eligible for. A candidate can be eligible for the CEC but is currently living overseas. Meanwhile, a FSWP candidate can be currently living in Canada. It was unfair to exclude FSWP and FSTP candidates while other candidates overseas had been securing ITAs since March.
Secondly, IRCC’s permanent residence processing standard for successful Express Entry candidates is six months or less. This provides candidates overseas such as FSWP candidates with ample time to navigate potential coronavirus disruptions to submit a completed permanent residence application and hopefully complete their landing in Canada (assuming that flights are readily available and Canada relaxes its travel restrictions).
Even if a successful FSWP faces obstacles in the coming months, IRCC has been very clear that it will accommodate candidates as much as possible so that candidates can achieve their immigration goals.
Hence, there was little reason to exclude FSWP candidates in the first place.
Third, the rationale behind Express Entry is that Canada wants a competitive immigration process where the highest-ranking candidates earn ITAs. This approach, the logic goes, is fairest for candidates since they are all treated equally, and best for Canada since the country selects the candidates most likely to succeed in its economy.
While it is understandable that the coronavirus has resulted in changes to Canadian immigration policy, it is regrettable that we temporarily deviated from Express Entry’s reason for existence.
FSWP candidates are excellent for Canada’s economy since they have very high levels of human capital. In fact, recent Canadian government research shows that FSWP candidates, just like CEC and PNP candidates, integrate very well in Canada’s economy.
It is unfortunate that Canada excluded such strong immigration candidates in recent months. Such FSWP candidates may have been doubly punished for other reasons. For example, a candidate who would have otherwise obtained an ITA may have lost CRS points after turning one year older during the program-specific draws.
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PNP candidates are not affected by the return to all-program draws since the 600 points they gain through a provincial nomination effectively guarantees they will be issued an ITA.
The tension exists between CEC and FSWP candidates. CEC-specific draws saw CRS scores decline.
Whereas the CRS cut-off was 471 prior to the pandemic, it fell to 431 in the last CEC-specific draw on June 25.
The CRS fell because the bar to become eligible for the FSWP is higher than it is for CEC.
To become eligible under the FSWP, a candidate needs to obtain a minimum of a CLB 7 on their official language test and they need to get an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) for their foreign education.
In addition, FSWP candidates can claim additional points for their spouse’s language skills.
On the other hand, CEC candidates with NOC B work experience can become eligible for Express Entry with a CLB 5 and CEC candidates do not need to obtain an ECA to enter the Express Entry pool.
These reasons help us understand why FSWP tend to drive-up CRS cut-offs when IRCC holds all-program draws.
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The pandemic has created unpredictability around the world throughout 2020 and as such, no one knows what the near future has in store.
However, IRCC continues to do its best to provide immigrate candidates with peace of mind. Last week’s draw is evidence that IRCC will return to treating Express Entry candidates equally regardless of where they are currently located in the world.
This means that FSWP candidates should not hesitate to enter the Express Entry pool as soon as they are able to in order to give themselves a chance to be drawn from the pool. Unlike at the start of the pandemic, candidates can now complete an IELTS or CELPIP test and obtain an ECA.
CEC candidates may be concerned that it will be more difficult to obtain ITAs now. On the other hand, they should not lose sight of the fact that they are very competitive Express Entry candidates due to their Canadian experience. Moreover, they should not forget they were provided with a significant advantage over FSWP candidates during the program-specific draws. Third, CEC candidates should also not discount the possibility of IRCC holding CEC-specific draws again during the pandemic.
Every immigration candidate wants to be treated fairly and hence, all-program draws is the fairest way to treat those in the Express Entry pool. Imagine how upset CEC candidates would be if IRCC only held FSWP-specific draws. Therefore, the return to all-program draws should be celebrated by candidates.
The last major reason for celebration is last week’s draw indicates we are inching closer to normalcy.
The all-program draw strongly suggests IRCC believes the immigration system will return to a semblance of normalcy in the coming months. IRCC would not have resumed FSWP invitations if it was not confident in its ability to process their permanent residence applications within a reasonable amount of time and that FSWP and other candidates overseas would not be able to travel to Canada in the near future.
Whether you are a CEC, FSWP, PNP, or FSTP candidate, the return to a normal immigration system, and normal world, is something that we all desperately want.
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