Why Canada’s 401,000 immigration target for 2021 is achievable

Kareem El-Assal
Published: February 18, 2021

Welcoming 401,000 immigrants this year is a steep mountain for the Canadian government to climb, but it can be done.

The Saturday February 13 Express Entry draw, which invited a stunning 27,332 candidates to apply for permanent residence, shows that the government is preparing to climb the mountain.

In the months leading up to the start of the pandemic, Canada was inviting around 3,500 candidates per Express Entry draw with a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score requirement in the 470 region. Towards the end of 2020, Canada broke the Express Entry draw record by inviting 5,000 candidates, a feat which it achieved four times up until Christmas.

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It then topped that record by nearly six times when it invited 27,332 candidates to apply for permanent residence on Saturday. In addition to the sheer size of the draw, what was also unusual was the fact the draw had the lowest CRS requirement ever (75 points), and occurred on a Saturday. Draws tend to occur on weekdays when government officials and immigration representatives such as lawyers are working and are able to serve their clients. Clients currently have only 90 days to submit their permanent residence application so each day is precious.

Why IRCC held this extraordinary Express Entry draw

Given the draw's magnitude, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) felt the need to provide their rationale.

IRCC explained that some 90 per cent of the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates invited were residing in Canada during the pandemic, and hence, they are less likely than those overseas to face coronavirus-related immigration disruptions.

Once a candidate receives an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence, they need to take several steps to complete the immigration process, including collecting and submitting documents, obtaining police and health clearances, submitting their biometrics, and of course, travelling to Canada. Prior to the pandemic, even those in Canada needed to "flagpole" to complete the process (the act of physically crossing the U.S. border, and then doing a U-turn and re-entering Canada to activate their new permanent resident status).

All of this has obviously become more difficult in a world of social distancing, lockdowns, and travel restrictions.

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Minister Mendicino: CEC candidates "are ready to build their future in Canada"

A key reason this draw makes sense is that plenty of IRCC and Statistics Canada research shows those with Canadian experience integrate very quickly into the labour market, something that is of greater importance during the difficult economic times we currently face.

As Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino noted to CIC News, These aspiring Canadians are already established here, possess valuable skills and are giving back to their communities. They are hard at work in some of the most essential parts of our economy and are ready to build their future in Canada.”

The main reason IRCC held this massive draw is they believe they can achieve their Immigration Levels Plan target of 401,000 newcomers in 2021 by focusing on immigration candidates currently in Canada. By inviting 27,332 candidates in February, IRCC can process their permanent residence applications by the end of the year to ensure these candidates complete their landing and are counted towards the levels plan target.

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Why the 401,000 target is achievable

The levels plan calls for about 60 per cent of immigrants to be welcomed under the economic class, about 25 per cent through the family class, and about 15 per cent under the refugee and humanitarian class.

Here is a summary of how it can be done.

The economic class target can be met by predominantly transitioning those in Canada now to permanent residence. It can be supplemented by also welcoming skilled workers currently exempt from the coronavirus travel restrictions. Family class immigrants are exempt from the travel restrictions, and some are currently in Canada waiting for IRCC to process their applications. Just under half of Canada's refugee intake each year is filled by asylum claimants who are in the country. That leaves about 40,000 resettled refugees who Canada may struggle to welcome to the country amid the pandemic. IRCC could choose instead to use the resettled refugee shortfall towards increasing its intake of economic and family class newcomers.

How to achieve Canada's economic class admissions goals in 2021

Under the Immigration Levels Plan, Canada is aiming to welcome 108,500 immigrants through Express Entry this year. It has already issued 37,986 ITAs in 2021 (compared with 10,300 at the same time in 2020). This means that if IRCC is able to issue another 30,000 or so ITAs within the next two months, they should have a strong chance to achieve their Express Entry target by year's end. This can be achieved by issuing at least 5,000 ITAs in bi-weekly draws between now and April. Again, Express Entry candidates have 90 days to submit their permanent residence applications and IRCC aims to process the applications within six months.

Beyond hitting its Express Entry target, IRCC will need to pursue additional exceptional measures to fulfil its 401,000 newcomer goal. The levels plan calls for Canada to land 80,800 immigrants through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) this year and another 15,500 through other federal programs such as the Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP). Quebec is also looking to welcome around 30,000 economic class immigrants this year.

IRCC could provide the provinces the green light to increase their PNP allocations and invite as many candidates as possible who are currently in Canada through PNP streams that are aligned with Express Entry. In recent days, both Ontario and British Columbia have held larger draws than usual. PNP-aligned Express Entry streams also have a six month processing standard for permanent residence applications which means those who receive invitations now are in good position to complete their landing by year's end.

With the exception of the AIP, however, processing for most other economic class programs tends to take over six months and in the case of PNP and Quebec, around two years. Given the travel restrictions, IRCC will need to expedite the processing of non-Express Entry files received from candidates currently in Canada if it is to have a realistic shot of achieving its levels goal for this year.

If their projections suggest that the pool of eligible candidates currently in Canada is too small to reach their immigration targets, IRCC and provinces could agree to relax their eligibility criteria during the pandemic. For example, rather than requiring 12 months of Canadian work experience, as is typically the case, IRCC and the provinces could reduce this to six months (as an example), so that more people have the opportunity to apply for permanent residence and obtain it in 2021.

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Achieving the family and refugee class targets

Canada aims to welcome 103,500 immigrants through the family class this year and another 66,000 for refugee and humanitarian purposes.

Achieving the family class target is made easier by the fact that immediate family are exempt by the travel restrictions. At the same time, IRCC will likely need to expedite spousal applications, which make up the bulk of the family class, as it did at the end of 2020 when it processed up to 6,000 spousal applications per month.

Achieving the refugee and humanitarian target will be difficult in light of the travel restrictions since most under this class are resettled from overseas.

One of the exceptional measures Canada could employ would be to create new economic class pathways for those with Canadian work experience. These pathways would have unique selection criteria that complement existing federal and provincial programs and would enable individuals already in Canada, such as asylum claimants to transition to permanent residence. Canada has already used this unconventional approach during the pandemic, recently launching economic class programs for "guardian angels"— asylum claimants who are working on the front lines in Canada's fight against COVID-19.

Canada will still look to candidates who are overseas

If you are a skilled worker currently overseas, you should not lose sight of the fact that IRCC and the provinces are still processing immigration applications received from abroad, and are also inviting new candidates who are outside of Canada. This is due to the fact that such candidates have the skills and other characteristics Canada seeks in support of its economic and social objectives.

If you are abroad, you should go ahead and submit your immigration application now so you can enter Canada as quickly as possible. IRCC is also likely to resume invitations to candidates overseas without warning, as it did last year, so you do not want to miss out by deciding to delay your application.

In the meantime, the 401,000 target appears daunting, but IRCC has overcome many daunting tasks throughout the department's history. Remember that just a few years ago, IRCC welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees in just 100 days. Similarly, IRCC can achieve their 401,000 goal if they put their mind to it.

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