IRCC continues to evaluate Express Entry options, but will resume FSWP and CEC invitations in 2022

Kareem El-Assal
Published: March 17, 2022

A recent internal memo by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) states the department remains undecided on its Express Entry plans for this year but invitations to FSWP and CEC candidates will resume "later in 2022."

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CIC News obtained the memo today via an access to information request to IRCC. The memo was submitted to IRCC's Deputy Minister on January 21, 2022. The Deputy Minister is the senior-most non-political official in each Canadian government department. Unlike the Minister, who is an elected official tasked with carrying out the government's political agenda, the Deputy Minister is responsible for providing the government with technocratic advice.

Key components of the memo include:

  • Invitation to apply rounds for Federal Skilled Worker Program, Canadian Experience Class, and Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) candidates will resume later in 2022.
  • IRCC will extend its temporary pause on invitations to FSWP, CEC, and FSTP candidates until March 31st, while continuing Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) invitations.
  • The continued pause will allow IRCC to address its inventory backlogs. The full length of the pause will need to be determined by IRCC's evolving priorities.
  • IRCC will return to the Deputy Minister in March with a plan on the future of Express Entry invitations to determine what timeline and volume will align with the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024 and processing time objectives.
  • IRCC acknowledges candidates in the Express Entry pool, including those holding work permits due to expire, will continue to face uncertainty in the short term.
  • The backlog growth of Express Entry applications is due to the pandemic and IRCC focusing on landing in-Canada candidates to achieve its 401,000 immigration target in 2021. The backlog has caused IRCC's average application processing times to exceed its 6 month service standard for Express Entry.
  • IRCC would need to reduce the Express Entry backlog by more than half in order to achieve the 6 month service standard for new applicants.

It is important to note the IRCC website continues to tell applicants the processing standard for Express Entry is 6 months.

How we got here

Up until this year, Express Entry was the main way Canada welcomed economic class immigrants. Prior to the pandemic, IRCC typically held biweekly Express Entry draws inviting the highest-scoring candidates, irrespective of their eligibility program, to apply for permanent residence. Most invitations went to FSWP and CEC candidates, while only about one per cent went to FSTP candidates. IRCC aimed to process the permanent residence applications within 6 months.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, IRCC initially held draws where it only invited CEC and PNP candidates. The rationale was that in light of COVID-19 disruptions including Canada's travel restrictions, IRCC felt it made sense to invite CEC candidates since they were mostly likely to be able to transition to permanent residence given they mostly lived in Canada. PNP draws occurred to help support the labour market needs of provinces and territories across the country. Later in the year, IRCC also invited FSWP candidates in its Express Entry draws.

However IRCC then stopped inviting FSWP candidates in January 2021, and issued large numbers of invitations to CEC candidates. We learned later the rationale for this change was because IRCC wanted to transition as many in-Canada immigration applicants as possible to permanent residence to achieve its ambitious 401,000 immigration goal for 2021. CEC candidates comprised one-third of the 405,000 immigrants Canada landed last year.

IRCC also implemented a Temporary to Permanent Residence ("TR2PR") program between May and November of last year to allow more international graduates and essential workers living in Canada to apply for permanent residence. This was meant as another way to support its levels goal for 2021.

The focus on CEC candidates and the launch of the TR2PR program caused IRCC's backlogs to swell, and has seen the department fall behind its service standard of processing Express Entry applications within 6 months. This resulted in IRCC also pausing invitations to CEC candidates in September 2021.

Last month, IRCC announced its new Immigration Levels Plan 2022-2024, which will reduce Express Entry admissions in 2022 and 2023 so the department can process all TR2PR program applications over these 2 years. This will relegate Express Entry to the second leading economic class admissions pathway after the PNP. In 2024, IRCC aims to return Express Entry to the leading economic class pathway by targeting over 110,000 immigrant admissions.

As noted in the memo, the pause in FSWP and CEC candidates is creating uncertainty for many prospective immigrants. The FSWP was Canada's main source of skilled worker immigrants between its launch in 1967 and the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, CEC candidates risk losing their status and being forced to leave Canada. IRCC has not provided indication if they will introduce a special measure to allow CEC candidates to extend their temporary status until Express Entry returns to normal.

IRCC has processed 4,000 people in the FSWP backlog in the past 2 weeks, something that took 7 months in 2021

Recent IRCC data obtained by CIC News indicates major progress is being made in tackling Express Entry backlogs. Based on its recent rate of application processing, IRCC could see the Express Entry backlog fall to half by this May. This would represent a key milestone IRCC wants to achieve before considering resuming FSWP and CEC invitations.

IRCC has processed more FSWP applications over the past 2.5 months than it did in all of 2021. In February, it processed the FSWP applications of over 4,300 people, compared to the roughly 600 people it was processing monthly for much of 2021. As of March 15, 2022, there were about 41,300 people in the FSWP inventory, a decrease of 4,000 people over the past two weeks. To put this figure into context, in the past 2 weeks, IRCC achieved what it took it 7 months to do in 2021 (i.e., process 4,000 people in the FSWP backlog).

Its current processing rate suggests it could bring the existing FSWP backlog to an end by the close of 2022, if not sooner.

CEC backlog could reach 0 by this spring

Meanwhile, there are just over 10,000 people left in the CEC backlog. IRCC processed 2,000 people in the CEC backlog over the past two weeks. At its current rate, IRCC could draw down the CEC backlog by the spring.

Minister Sean Fraser: Express Entry draws to resume in the "near term"

While this latest IRCC memo remains coy on when Express Entry will return to normal, there are some positive signs out there for FSWP and CEC candidates. IRCC is planning to resume invitations to them this year, it is processing FSWP applications more quickly, and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser has gone on the record to say the draws will resume in the "near term." In the meantime, Express Entry invitations to PNP candidates continue biweekly. Yesterday, IRCC invited 924 PNP candidates to apply for immigration through Express Entry.

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