On 22nd April 2022, thousands of temporary foreign nationals heaved a slight sigh of relief when IRCC announced some of its plans for the near future and offered some solace to foreign workers who were closing in on the expiry of their work status in Canada
Honourable Sean Fraser, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, came out with a long due, announcement that The Express Entry invitations will resume to Federal Skilled Workers (FSW) and Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates by “early July.” What is noteworthy here is that a similar announcement was also made earlier in the year when it was announced that these Express Entry draws would start sometime in the spring of 2022. This fresh announcement now pushes back the restart of these draws to summertime.
Minister Fraser also announced that Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) holders would be eligible for an open work permit extension of 18 months from Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
An overview of today’s major announcements
- In early July, FSWP, CEC, and FSTP candidates will be able to participate in the Express Entry program once again.
- It’s been suggested that a majority of the new Express Entry applications will be completed within six months of submission which is more in sync with the service standards promised for The Express Entry program. Various obstructions caused in the past 2 years to different immigration functions had taken the processing times much higher than normal and was ranging between seven to twenty months.
- Beginning this summer, those possessing a PGWP that expires between January and December 2022 will be eligible for an additional open work permit of 18 months. IRCC is working on a more straightforward procedure. The information for the same will be shared “in the coming weeks.” The IRCC estimates that around 95,000 PGWPs will expire in 2022, with up to 50,000 PGWP holders able to apply for the new open work permit.
- Applicants will no longer be needed to stay in Canada for the whole processing of their Permanent Residence application.
- Applicants who submit an open work permit while waiting for their permanent residency application to be approved will receive work permits until the end of 2024. They will ensure that all applications for permanent residency are completed before applicants need to apply to extend their temporary status again.
- Immediate family members listed in a principal applicant’s permanent residence application outside Canada will be qualified for their open work visa to support family reunification.
Impact of COVID on The Express Entry program:
Until recently, Express Entry was the primary means that Canada used to fuel Economic immigration in Canada.
Express Entry serves as the Key Federal Immigration program that comprises the Sub-Programs of Canadian Experience Class (CEC), Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), and Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP). Some Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP) also form a part of Express Entry. This point-based system assigns a CRS score to qualified individuals based on age, education, linguistic abilities, work experience, etc.
In Pre-Covid times, IRCC would invite the highest-scoring applicants to apply for immigration. Barring a handful of anomalies, almost all CRS draws did not specify any program under The Express Entry system. But this trend quickly changed when IRCC had to adapt to the increasing travel restrictions and border closures at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
IRCC targeted CEC candidates early in the pandemic to meet its goal of admitting record numbers of immigrants within a single year. Because CEC candidates are frequently already in Canada, they were not subject to the travel limitations imposed by Canada between 2020 and 2021. This effort enabled Canada to accept almost 405,000 permanent residents last year, the most significant number of newcomers in the country’s past.
IRCC has also focused on engaging PNP candidates to assist provincial immigration targets throughout the pandemic.
Backlogs in the immigration system, including Express Entry, have come from this shift in Express Entry policy and pandemic-related issues. As a result, an FSWP draw has not happened since December 2020 and the last CEC draw happened in September 2021.
The lack of invites to the FSWP and CEC comes when Canada faces unprecedented labor shortages. Unemployment is at an all-time low, while job openings are at an all-time high.
CEC candidates are often those international students who receive a Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP) after graduating from a Canadian-(DLI) Designated learning institution. The duration of the PGWP generally varies from 12 to 36 months depending on the length of their studies in Canada. This PGWP is then used by the applicants to gain valuable work experience in Canada (at least 1 full year) to gain eligibility for Express Entry under The Canadian Experience Class. A PGWP can only be obtained once, which means that if you cannot file a permanent residence application while holding a PGWP, you will lose your work permit status until you can obtain another work permit that fits your requirements.
CEC applicants have been losing their work permit status because of the absence of Express Entry Invitations to Apply (ITAs), which means they cannot file for a Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP)while waiting for IRCC to process their permanent residence applications. The BOWP, as the name implies, “bridges” the gap between the expiration of a work permit, such as the PGWP, and the candidate gaining permanent residence. The BOWP allows some permanent residents to continue working in Canada for any employer of their choosing.
IRCC established an exception to its PGWP policy between January and July of 2021, giving a one-time open work permit for 18 months. The goal was to offer PGWP holders more time to gain the necessary work experience to qualify for permanent residency if the pandemic harmed their Canadian career prospects (e.g., Businesses laying off employees during the pandemic).
Meanwhile, from its establishment in 1967 till recently, when IRCC decided to focus on inviting and processing CEC candidates, the FSWP was the primary source of skilled foreign immigrants to Canada. This temporary pandemic-induced policy move has decreased the flow of skilled international immigrants into the Canadian workforce when Canada’s labour market is historically tight due to population aging and the pandemic, which have resulted in considerable changes to the labour market.
Meanwhile, IRCC aims for 55,000 Express Entry permanent residents in 2022, roughly half of its target for 2021. The temporary decrease in Express Entry targets allows it to wind down its Temporary to Permanent Residence (TR2PR) program and meet other priorities. IRCC welcomed up to 90,000 overseas graduates and key employees to apply for permanent residency through the TR2PR program between May and November 2021.
Express Entry landings are expected to increase over the next two years, according to the Canada Immigration Plan 2022, with IRCC aiming to welcome more than 110,000 newcomers through Express Entry by 2024.
IRCC: Improved Performance Levels
According to IRCC, the Express Entry backlog has been reduced by more than half, from almost 112,000 applicants in September 2021 to 48,000 in March 2022. In addition, it has more than doubled the number of permanent resident choices made in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the corresponding time in 2021. Furthermore, in the first quarter of 2022, IRCC handled over 100,000 work visa applications, up from 58,000 in the same period the previous year.
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