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The future of express entry: Targeted draws to meet Canada’s economic needs

By Sara Espinal Henao

Since its initial launch in January 2015, Express Entry has been a pillar of Canada’s immigration system. Recently passed amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) promise to drive major changes in they way permanent residents will be selected under the online platform. These changes are expected to greatly benefit prospective applicants in select occupations that are in high demand, as well as the Canadian employers who seek to employ and retain international talent in those industries.

The Express Entry System

Express Entry is an online platform used for the management of various permanent residence pathways offered by IRCC: The Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and select Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP).

Foreign nationals who want to apply for permanent residence use the platform to create an Express Entry profile outlining their background information, such as their age, education, language abilities, work experience, family composition, and Canadian employment. The Express Entry platform assesses the background information provided by the candidate and assigns a points-based score to those in the pool using its Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). IRCC then conducts rounds of Invitations to Apply (ITA) for Permanent Residence under an eligible program for those in the pool of applicants based on the CRS data. Invitation cycles have varying cut-off scores under the system, and only applicants with a sufficient number of CRS points in a given round will receive an ITA.

The Changes: Bill C-19

Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused seismic service disruptions in the delivery of immigration services, including those reliant on the Express Entry system. Following a backlog of up to half a million unprocessed Permanent Residence applications over the course of the past two years, Express Entry draws were paused entirely in September 2021, resuming only by July 6, 2022 with a mere 1,500 new ITAs. Nevertheless, far from signifying a return to business as usual, this much anticipated reopening came on the heels of the introduction of Bill C-19, which received royal assent on June 23, 2022.

Before the passing of Bill C-19, applicants with the highest express entry scores who met the eligibility criteria for a given program would be prioritized to receive ITAs for permanent residence. The system did not engage in further differentiations between candidates based on other factors that may be evident in their Express Entry profile, such as their industry of work or the intended region in Canada where they would like to settle on a permanent basis.

Bill C-19 amends IRPA and drastically changes the way in which Express Entry data is interpreted and used by IRCC; it gives the Immigration Minister the power to tailor Express Entry draws based on additional specific criteria if it supports regional or economic needs. Targeted draws, to be implemented during the first quarter of 2023, will allow the government to identify Express Entry candidates in the applicant pool who are in occupations that are in high demand at the moment, or who intend to reside in regions where there are significant labor shortages.

The main rationale behind this measure is an underlying need to identify, among a highly competitive and ever-growing Express Entry pool of candidates, those who are best positioned to meet the needs of the Canadian economy. High interest in Canada as an immigration destination for international talent has garnered increasing numbers of potentially eligible candidates in the Express Entry pool. Without further selection, those with the highest CRS scores are not necessarily those who will meet the needs of the Canadian economy.

The amendments not only allow ITAs to be issued in a more strategic manner, but they also respond to the policy goal of maximizing foreign nationals’ successful settlement in Canada in the long-term. Because those selected under the targeted draws may be best suited to fill local labour needs, this new measure is expected to improve immigrant retention rates by increasing their chances of successfully settling where they have better opportunities for work and advancement.

The Effects

Greater weight to labour demands

Specifically, these new powers will enable the minister to set up additional categories of foreign nationals that can receive ITAs and define the economic goals that those categories are intended to address. Future Express Entry draws may therefore be occupation-specific, targeting candidates with relevant work experience or Canadian employment in select National Occupational Codes. Relatedly, these targeted draws may also group candidates with proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages in order to address labour shortages in specific regions of the country, further tailoring Express Entry draws to meet local labour needs.

It is expected that greater weight will be given to a candidate’s current or expected occupation in Canada and their projected contribution to the local labour market for the purpose of obtaining permanent residence. Similarly, as labour market needs are expected to take the forefront in the selection process, it is anticipated that applicants with educational backgrounds in fields with worker shortages will be prioritized over other otherwise eligible candidates in the Express Entry pool.

Lower emphasis on CRS scores

The potential for occupation-based Express Entry draws may also allow for the prioritization of candidates whose CRS score falls below the points threshold established as the minimum required for regular ITAs rounds. This would be the case provided the selected candidates have been identified for their potential to fulfill labour shortages in occupations that are in high-demand.

Industry-Specific, Long-Term Labour Gains

In addition to favoring candidates in occupations that are in high demand, Bill C-19 promises to benefit Canadian employers in industries facing chronic labor shortages that heavily rely on immigration to address them. It is widely known that Canada is increasingly dependent on international talent to fill labour gaps. With an aging population and job vacancies scaling up to 80% higher by late 2021 than prior to the pandemic, high levels of immigration remain critical to address labour demands.[1] By early 2022, almost 4 in 10 businesses anticipated worker shortages, and a similar percentage expected challenges in recruiting skilled employees.[2] This trend is expected to endure in the coming years.

Although labour shortages seem to exist across the board, certain industries have felt the strain more than others. Over the past 20 years, immigrant worker engagement has grown fastest in transportation and warehousing, professional services, and accommodation and food services.[3] Industry reliance on international talent is also particularly high in construction and agriculture, and temporary foreign workers remain overrepresented in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector and in the information and cultural industries.[4]

Similarly, high labour demand in the health care and social assistance sectors has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, further pushing the number of job vacancies, especially among nurse aides, orderlies, and patient service associates, registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, and licensed practical nurses.[5]

Temporary Foreign Workers and international students, many of whom aspire to transition to permanent residence, have therefore become increasingly important sources of labour supply. However, ongoing delays in the processing of permanent residence applications and the lack of in-demand, occupation-specific permanent residence pathways, particularly at the federal level, remain barriers to both applicants and the Canadian employers who seek to retain them in the long term. The introduction of Bill C-19 and the powers it confers may be a welcome addition to the Express Entry system and a promising attempt at better responding to Canada’s labour challenges.

Of course, targeted Express Entry draws will only be effective if the candidates selected do actually align with Canada’s labour market needs. Helpfully, the Bill C-19 IRPA amendments outline the Minister’s obligation to engage in proper consultation with provinces, industry, unions, employers, and other relevant stakeholders to better understand the information necessary to strategically and successfully set categories that will rank and prioritize Express Entry candidates.

This update is intended for general information only. If you have further questions about these programs or are an employer seeking to support your workers, please contact a member of our Immigration Group.

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