Recently at an online event organized by First Policy Response, Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Marco Mendicino and other panelists discussed potential changes that might be implemented to the Canadian immigration system. Mendicino has highlighted the need to modernize the Canadian immigration system to save the economy from future public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe that we are an open country, an inclusive country, but our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it,” he said at the event.
Mentioning the $1 billion 2021 budget, Mendicino said that modernization and transformation in the Canadian immigration system will lead “not only to better service…but also to faster outcomes” for foreign nationals trying to immigrate into Canada. Minister clarified that the changes will be a “shift in the paradigm in the way we talk about immigration,” and help the Government to get rid of discriminatory practices like “ranking immigrants one against the other” – namely applicants with low-skilled qualifications versus applicants with higher skills and qualifications.
“I think the pandemic has allowed us to really understand that each and every newcomer has something to contribute to our economy, to our communities, and to our country,” the Minister added.
During the pandemic, the government of Canada has taken some steps to meet “the needs of the economy” by implementing new laws and policies. In addition, the Government digitalized permanent residence and citizenship application processes, extended residency of immigrants that were already working in the country but lacking status through programs such as the Essential Workers Pathway and the Guardian Angel programs, which later allowed “asylum seekers to stay in Canada thanks to their contributions in hospitals and long-term care homes.”
Panelists’ disagreement with the Minister
After Minister Mendicino’s presentation, immigration experts from various fields continued the discussion. One of the four panelists, Raju Mohandoss, the director of newcomer programs and services at Wood Green Community Services, a settlement organization in Toronto, expressed his stress about the resettlement and employment problems of newcomers. According to him, rather than “investing in hiring additional people, introducing new technologies and putting in place policy flexibility,” the Government should ensure immigrants not to fall into precarious employment such as “survival jobs.”
Survival jobs are the first jobs that many newcomers apply for in their first years in Canada. “When newcomers come – even qualified ones – they get into survival jobs that sustain them during a period when they are putting other things together and trying to access other services to integrate,” Mohandoss said.
He also stressed that “no new dollars” have been provided for settlement agencies, which help newcomers find, understand, and access available resources.
“We have these targets – that’s great – but what happens to (newcomers) when they’re here? Unless we’re improving settlement services, these people are going to continue to struggle being here… So, dollar investments in digitizing and innovating stop short of investing in settlement services,” he added.
Rupa Banerjee, the Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson, agreed with Mendicino that “a lot of news early in the pandemic really (was) quicker” than what is expected from governments, however she was not pleased with the work that has been done to help newcomers integrate into Canadian society.
Minister “talked about selection and modernization,” Banerjee said, “but, at the end of the day, those do not exist in a vacuum… newcomers face challenges once they arrive in Canada, and those challenges need to be integrated into the selection system as well.”
In the rest of the conversation, experts introduced their opinions about Canada’s “two-tier immigration system,” referring to the preference that the Canadian Government puts on the Canadian Experience Class against “low-skill” immigrants.
The managing director of the World Education Services, Shamira Madhany said that Canada ends up “with a lot of people who come to Canada through the two-tiered system but don’t grow our economy” as these applicants’ foreign experience is not counted and make them apply for so-called survival jobs.
“Even with pathways to permanent residence, people still struggle greatly after transition,” stated Banerjee.
Instead of a two-tier immigration system, she suggested a three-pronged approach to help develop the economy by properly utilizing newcomers’ experiences and skills: first, a national strategy to improve immigration and labour market integration; second, policies specifically for those who are “impacted greatly” such as racialized women and people relegated to low-wage labour; and third, developing innovative tools and approaches to recognize and assess skills and experiences that applicants have gained abroad.
“We need to think about being intentional about leveraging the skills people bring, this isn’t just about bringing people in and taking any job…but using people’s deep experience,” Banerjee added.
Before leaving the event, Mendicino highlighting the contributions of newcomers had mentioned how critical immigrants are for the Canadian economy as well as the importance of protection of migrant workers’ rights. But he did not clarify how specifically this would be done.
What is Express Entry and how the current ranking immigration points system works?
Canada is one of the first countries that introduced a points-based immigration system in 1967. The fastest way to get a permanent residency (PR) in Canada is to apply the federal government’s Express Entry (EE) system which was firstly introduced in 2015 to regulate the country’s economic gaps. This is the most popular immigration pathway that lets skilled immigrants immigrate and settle in Canada permanently.
EE is a point-based system that manages the profile of the candidates who have applied under Canada’s three leading federal economic immigration programs – Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and Canadian Experience Class (CEC).
If an applicant is eligible for one of the immigration programs in Express Entry, his or her profile enters the pool where the application will compete with other applicants’ profiles. In order to be eligible for PR in Canada, the applicant must possess one of the highest-ranking scores based on the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The Express Entry points are used to assess and score a profile and rank it within the EE pool considering the applicant’s age, educational qualifications, work experience, language proficiency, and other factors. Candidates with the highest CRS scores are issued the Invitation to Apply (ITA) through the regular EE draws.
CRS makes the EE system quite competitive, where only the highest-ranking applicants are invited for Canada’s PR. It is a merit-based points system used by IRCC to access, score, and rank profiles in the Express Entry pool and evaluate candidates on various factors, which demonstrate a candidate’s ability to succeed in Canada. Mainly these points are awarded to applicants based on the following factors: a) language proficiency factor; b) level of education to get maximum points for educational qualification; c) a job offer from an eligible Canadian employer; d) provincial nomination; e) spouse or common-law partner factors.
The last factor is quite interesting. When an applicant applies for PR with a spouse or a partner, his or her scores are counted differently from single applicants since the way applicants are scored changes depending on their marital status. Depending on the situation, a coupled person can obtain fewer points than a single one, but also, can gain points from the partner. In every application in the Express Entry system, there has to be a Principal Applicant (PA) which is the basis for the immigration as well as the application. When applying as a couple or as a family, only one partner can be a PA. The couple should consider all their qualifications and experiences and decide which partner is the PA. The partner who has more CRS score would be better suited as the PA.
As we mentioned before, the scoring system for single and partnered PAs is different. Considering the partner, the CRS can reduce points the PA can gain by 40 points. However, PAs can earn up to 40 points through their partner’s profile too. The total sum of Core factors and Additional factors comes to a maximum of 1200 points that one candidate either single or coupled can have.
What changes to be made with the current ranking system?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada acknowledged how important is the role of some low-skilled immigrants in the Canadian economy and society. One of the six pathways launched in May, allows unskilled candidates working in essential sectors to apply for PR. Considering the Minister’s thoughts about “ranking immigrants one against the other,” one can predict that the Government is going to ease requirements for low-skilled immigrants. However, Mendicino gave no details about how the Federal Government will achieve it or what will happen to the applicants whose PR applications are stuck in limbo or a backlog.
Kay Kim ICCRC
Director of UVANU International Consulting & Webelieve Canadian Immigration Services