IRCC Backlog – Several highly skilled immigrants who would have qualified for Canada permanent residency in the previous years are now being forced to leave the country as their work permits expire.
The federal policy decisions intended to increase immigration during the pandemic resulted in a massive backlog. Another impact was on those who would have qualified for permanent residency but are now out of options.
Many impacted were former international students who found employment in Canada in the middle of the pandemic and a major labour shortage. Now, they are uncertain while waiting for opportunities to seek status as permanent residents that might never come.
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Gaurav Purohit, a Toronto-based finance professional who has spent the last 15 months working at a renowned international financial services company, says he spent weeks trying to figure out what to do. Still, he has no option but to leave Canada and find employment elsewhere.
Mr. Purohit entered Canada from India in 2017 and finished a master’s degree in Indigenous Studies at Trent University the following year. However, his work permit will expire this month.
Several are facing similar immigration issues as Mr. Puohit. These issues date back to the early stages of the pandemic when COVID-19 caused a sharp decline in the number of immigrants who were given permanent residency in Canada. Then, noticing the nationwide labour shortage, the federal government announced measures to reverse this trend.
Although those policies were successful in drawing a large number of applications for permanent residence, there was an unintended consequence: Canada’s immigration bureaucracy rapidly crumbled under the weight of having to handle the flood of paperwork.
The federal immigration ministry, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), responded to the backlog by placing a moratorium on new applications from those who had already resided and worked in Canada. Unfortunately, the pause prevailed for at least a year.
Meika Lalonde, a partner at McCrea Immigration Law in Vancouver, stated that although our immigration system is already extremely complicated, the pandemic and the federal government’s actions during the pandemic created an even bigger mess.
As a result, tens of thousands of people who have been integrated into the labour market and would be ideal candidates to remain here indefinitely must suddenly depart.
Immigrants are a significant part of Canada’s economy. Accordingly, the government sets a goal for how many of them it expects to become lawful permanent residents each year, entitling them to citizenship and the ability to permanently live and work in the country.
The intended number of new permanent resident visas for 2020 was 341,000. However, because of the pandemic, only 185,000 were issued.
The government was aiming to accomplish the exact opposite with this. To admit nearly 1.2 million new permanent residents by the end of 2023, it stated in late 2020 that it was raising its targets for the following three years.
However, the government then decided to take action to increase the volume of applications for permanent residency that it was receiving. Making a significant adjustment to Express Entry was one of the first things it did to achieve this.
Express Entry is a federal program that places all applicants in a pool of candidates competing against one another for permanent residence. Skilled immigrants who wish to live permanently in Canada typically begin by submitting their personal information to it.
Then, the government’s Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) assigns a score to each applicant in the Express Entry pool. It gives them points for factors such as Canadian work experience, advanced degrees, or language proficiency in either English or French.
After that, everybody in the pool awaits an invitation from the government to apply for permanent residency. Usually, invitations are only extended to individuals with the highest CRS ratings.
The Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream of the Express Entry program has a smaller pool of applicants and is primarily used by immigrants like Mr. Purohit. It is for applicants who have been employed in Canada for at least a year to apply for permanent residence.
The government typically sends out 3,500 to 4,000 CEC application invitations every two weeks, giving the pool time to restore qualified applicants. However, in February 2021, IRCC sent invitations to all 27,332 individuals in the CEC pool. As a result, it decreased the minimum CRS score from its average of 450 to 75.
By establishing a new program called the “temporary resident to permanent residence pathway,” or TR to PR, the government increased immigration levels in 2021 in yet another manner. Foreign nationals already in Canada and employed in important sectors like healthcare quickly become permanent residents through the unique program.
Due to an increase in permanent residency application volume, IRCC began to experience significant delays in processing applications.
Mikal Skuterud, a professor of labour economics at the University of Waterloo, has spent decades studying Canada’s immigration system. She says announcing increasing immigration levels is simple, but it caused a significant issue for the department’s staff, who now had to handle tens of thousands more applications.
To manage the growing backlog, IRCC abruptly paused permanent residence invitations for CEC candidates on work permits in September 2021. Until July 2022, the invitations did not resume.
Further, Ms. Lalonde explained that candidates in the CEC pool, when CRS scores were reduced to 75, plainly got lucky. However, if someone was stuck in the CEC pool during the pause, even if their CRS score was above average, it did not matter. They had to sit and wait, even if their permit was about to expire.
In a March 2022 internal communication, IRCC acknowledged these backlogs and stated that “current federal high skilled inventory will have to be reduced by more than half” before issuing new invitations. Mr. Purohit and other immigrants were affected by this delay.
The country did reach its immigration goal for 2021. The government reported in December that it had received more than 401,000 new permanent residents, the largest annual total ever.
Attaining those immigration targets for 2021 came with a price. So many smart, highly competent people who would have previously readily qualified are now waiting in this pool, according to Prof. Skuterud.
In a statement to The Globe, IRCC said it paused invitations to “manage growing inventories.” It added that Express Entry is an application management system, meaning reducing or pausing invitations is “precisely part of what the system was designed to do.”
IRCC says in a statement to The Globle that they paused invitations to “manage growing inventories.” However, they explained that Express Entry is a management system, which means it can reduce or pause
invitations and is “precisely part of what the system was designed to do.”
Further, IRCC says new applications will now process within the usual six-months time frame.
When asked why the CRS score had dropped to 75, IRCC stated that the average score of applicants accepted in that round was 415. The ministry said that all applicants in the Express Entry pool, even those with the lowest CRS scores, were eligible for at least one economic immigration program. Thus they possessed the qualifications needed to be successful and contribute to the economy.
The government has provided some assistance to work permit holders whose permits are about to expire and have no pathway to permanent residency.
The IRCC launched a special temporary program in January 2021 that granted holders of postgraduate work permit 18-month extensions on the expiration dates of their permits. These permits were for those who had studied in Canada and generally received a permit for eight months and three years.
The justification for the extensions was pandemic-related: many former international students found it difficult to find employment in Canada because the country was under lockdown. In addition, gaining permanent residency is substantially more difficult for someone with no work experience in Canada.
According to government estimates, the permit extensions would benefit about 52,000 former international students. One of them was Mr. Purohit. In April 2021, he received an 18-month extension, which made him quite happy.
Before accepting his present position in July 2021, Mr. Purohit was a part-time instructor at Trent University. However, since October 2021, he has worked full-time in Canada for a year. Gaining Canadian experience with a high CRS score, he was optimistic that he would receive an invitation to apply for permanent residency before the extension on his work permit ended.
Nevertheless, several candidates were in the pool when the government resumed draws for CEC in July 2022. It resulted in the CRS score increasing beyond 500
Graphic designer Ramkumar Narayanaraja, who came to Canada from India, is in a similar situation. In September, his 18-month extension came to an end.
Mr. Narayanaraja is now waiting for his employer to agree to request a labour market impact assessment. It requires the government to approve hiring a specific number of temporary foreign workers. Moreover, Mr. Narayanaraja’s wife is about to give birth, leading to increased hospital bills as they cannot receive public health benefits.
If he can remain in Canada as a temporary worker, the CRS score may eventually decrease. However, it’s more likely that he will have to depart the country with his wife.
The government announced another 18-month extension for post-graduation work permit holders in August. However, it was only for those whose permits had expired between September 2021, and December 2022. However, Mr. Purohit and Mr. Narayanaraja did not fall into this category.
When asked if they and other people would receive additional extensions, the IRCC responded that it “cannot predict future policy or program decisions.” The ministry did, however, point out that some individuals may potentially be qualified for the extension announced this year if they were given extensions under the 2021 policy.
Prof. Skuterud and Ms. Lalonde believe that tens of thousands of skilled immigrants are currently living in limbo, unsure of when or if they will gain permanent residence. Since early 2021, the number of applicants in the Express Entry pool awaiting invitations to apply for permanent residence has increased to around 240,000.
During the pandemic, according to Prof. Skuterud, the government lost sight of the true purpose of economic immigration. For example, he says the Express Entry program was created in 2015 to bring the best-skilled immigrants. Although the program worked for a few years, there has been a significant increase in low-skill immigrants.
Further, he explained that the government became so focused on making up for the 2020 shortfall they lowered the CRS score for the CEC pool and instituted the TR to PR pathway. But unfortunately, it resulted in more low-skilled immigrants and losing high-skilled immigrants due to backlog.
Ms. Lalonde says that the obvious approach is to grant targeted work visa extensions to individuals with high CRS scores who would have easily been eligible for permanent residence had the pandemic not occurred. For example, individuals such as Mr. Purohit and Mr. Narayanaraja.
However, she also stated that the government should be more open about its plans to deal with the current backlog.
In September, the government announced plans to speed up application processing. These included hiring 1,250 more workers and exempting Canada temporary and permanent residence applicants from medical exams.
However, that won’t aid those whose work permits are about to expire.
Ms. Lalonde says there is a great deal of uncertainty. It’s regrettable because these people worked so hard to get where they are, and we should not lose them.
Source: The Globe and Mail
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