The adoption of an EOI system in Canada and other destinations is the latest development in these countries’ continuous process of review—and reform—of skilled labour immigration systems. The goal is to improve how these systems respond to local demand and contribute to the successful socioeconomic integration of new residents. Progress is measured by monitoring the labour market outcomes of selected immigrants and the discernible impact of relevant policies.
Reforms over the past 15 years have taken two main directions: (1) prioritising those human-capital selection criteria that facilitate adaptability to the domestic labour market such as local language proficiency and qualications by requiring premigration assessments; and (2) increasing the importance of demand-driven criteria by prioritizing candidates with a job offer, expanding territorial sponsorship schemes, and temporary immigration schemes for employer-sponsored migrants.
The reforms have gradually transformed what was originally a supply-driven model for selecting skilled immigrants into a hybrid model, best suited to addressing both short- and longer-term socioeconomic needs. The introduction of the EOI system fully realises the potential of this transformation while at the same time ensuring that the permanent immigration model is preserved.
Active candidates in the pool are ranked according to a points system, the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS), which applies to all permanent economic immigration programmes. The CRS strongly favours candidates who have arranged employment in Canada, backed by an LMIA or a provincial/territorial nomination. Out of 1,200 points available under the CRS, 600 points can be gained through sponsorship of this type. This makes sponsorship the most significant of all points-tested criteria. Candidates can earn a maximum of 500 points for a range of human-capital attributes such as proficiency in an official language, level of education, age (those ages 18 to 31 get higher scores), and Canadian work experience; and an additional 100 points can be earned for evidence of skills transferability to local labour markets. While in the pool, candidates lacking sponsorship can market themselves to Canadian employers and provinces via the job bank in an attempt to gain sponsorship and thus obtain additional points.
Unlike earlier points-based systems, CRS does not automatically designate all those who have reached a certain threshold score as eligible for admission. Instead, Express Entry applies a dynamic ranking and management system: only a small group of top-ranking individuals in the pool at a time are issued an invitation to apply (ITA) by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Every two to three weeks, a draw from the pool is made; IRCC determines the number of candidates to invite based on processing capacity and annual immigration levels. The threshold for each round is a function of this number. Candidates are invited from the top level down until the last candidate, whose score determines the low cut-off score for that round. Express Entry candidates can only apply to one of the federal permanent economic immigration streams, or the PNP, after they receive an ITA. The high premium placed on sponsorship is meant to ensure that candidates with a qualifying job offer or provincial nomination are ranked the highest, and hence are invited to apply for immigration soon after they have entered the pool, thus ensuring that the employers or provinces/ territories that have sponsored them will swiftly get the foreign workers they need on the job.
This two-step ‘by-invitation’ selection model and dynamic ranking system makes it possible for Canadian immigration authorities to consider only those candidates deemed most likely to achieve economic success in Canada at a given time. The ranking of candidates is continuously updated as others enter and exit the pool. This system avoids application backlogs and responds to actual demand in a much more exible way than setting up annual caps and quotas, since the government can establish the number of ITAs issued at each round. It also has the crucial advantage of allowing faster processing times for the very highly skilled and in-demand candidates placed at the top of the CRS score list. Indeed, one year into implementation, the government has met its commitment to processing 80 per cent of Express Entry applications within six months.
Interviews with employers and provincial authorities who have already made use of Express Entry indicate that the new system is working well with respect to speeding up the permanent immigration process for skilled foreign workers in high demand. Express Entry has strengthened the role of employers and provinces/territories in immigrant selection. In fact, policymakers solicited the involvement of these key stakeholders when designing the system. The 600-point CRS premium for a qualifying sponsorship was clearly meant to obtain their buy-in. Employers were also pleased with the abolition of caps and shortage lists for FSWP. In addition, the government has sought to facilitate private-sector engagement by deploying Express Entry Employer Liaison Network (ELN) officers throughout Canada (including in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Halifax) to provide information on the Express Entry system, collect feedback on its implementation, and provide Canadian employers experiencing labour shortages with a link to overseas visa offices that have identified available pools of interested workers.
Nonetheless, employers have expressed concerns that the stringent and complex labour market test—the LMIA—required for a qualifying job offer is too demanding, particularly for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Migration candidates with job offers that are not backed by an LMIA can still be admitted to the Express Entry pool provided they meet other eligibility conditions, but they do not get the 600-point premium. Hence, employers have no assurance that these candidates will be issued an ITA shortly after being admitted to the pool. Employers might prefer to make a qualifying job offer conditional on an Arranged Employment Opinion (AEO), a milder labour market test, which applied to FSWP before 2010. The government is considering how to make the labour market test less administratively onerous, notably for those permanent migration candidates who are already in Canada on temporary work visas exempted from the LMIA.
While it is certainly too early to identify trends of skilled immigration under Express Entry just one year into implementation, an analysis of the available data provides some preliminary insights.
As intended, the Express Entry selection system favours candidates with a qualifying job offer or provincial sponsorship. Thus, candidates with a CRS score of more than 600 points represented 70 per cent of total ITAs issued in the first six months of implementation—and 65 per cent of them had a qualifying job offer. In particular, in the first five draws from the pool (until 20 March), only candidates with a minimum 734 CRS score were invited to apply for permanent immigration. This means that candidates without arranged employment backed by an LMIA did not make the cut, since there were enough candidates with a job offer.
However, as illustrated in Figure 1, subsequent draws reveal that this initial tendency was transitory, and largely linked to the fact that in the first six months of implementation a significant share of the Express Entry pool was already residing in Canada on temporary visas at the moment of filing an expression of interest. Notably, more than 85 per cent of the almost 13,000 pool members who were invited to apply for permanent residence over that period had led an expression of interest from Canada. In fact, a majority of the candidates who were issued an ITA were invited to apply for CEC—which requires at least 12 months of full-time (or equivalent part-time) skilled work experience in Canada in the three years preceding application.
From the sixth draw onwards, and with the exception of the tenth draw, all subsequent rounds of ITAs allowed active Express Entry candidates lacking a qualifying job offer or a provincial sponsorship to apply for permanent residence on the basis of their human capital alone. The CRS pass mark oscillated between 450 and 489 points. According to IRCC, by the end of 2015 about 40 per cent of those issued an ITA were Express Entry candidates without an LMIA-backed job offer or provincial nomination. Clearly, sponsorship is a critical asset but not an absolute precondition to getting through the Express Entry doorway.
By 20 December 2015, more than 28,000 Express Entry candidates had received invitations to apply: most through FSWP (42 per cent) or CEC (36 per cent), and fewer via PNP (14 per cent) and FSTP (8 per cent).
Of those who were issued an ITA, slightly fewer than 17,000 had actually led a complete application for the designated immigration programme by the end of the year. Even taking into account the obvious limits of accessing and analysing data that are extremely recent, the significant difference between the ITAs issued and actual applications would seem to point to some unanticipated glitch in the application phase. One possible explanation is that the 60-day time limit for applying for permanent residence after an ITA is issued is perhaps too short for candidates to le all the supporting documentation required.
In light of the small number of actual applications received from Express Entry candidates, the swift processing times might need to be carefully reviewed. Only once the number of ITAs per draw increases will it be possible to evaluate the new system’s capacity to speed processing times. Indeed, IRCC has stated that Express Entry will become the main source of applications to meet annual immigration level targets as soon as the prior inventory has been cleared.
Clearly, the Express Entry system and the related job bank bring qualified prescreened migration candidates to the attention of employers and provinces/territories, and thus make it more likely for candidates to obtain sponsorship (and an appropriate job if admitted). While these preliminary findings are encouraging, it will take time to evaluate the effectiveness of Express Entry in meeting its overarching goal of furthering the economic success of skilled immigrants.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The Canadian Expression of Interest System: A Model to Manage Skilled Migration to the European Union? | migrationpolicy.org