Canada introduces new process for international students hoping to immigrate

At the beginning of January, the Canadian government introduced a new application process for international graduates of Canadian universities and colleges wishing to immigrate to Canada: the Express Entry programme.

Under the new programme, international students who have graduated from a Canadian institution are placed in a “pool” with other groups of skilled workers and prospective immigrants. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) then uses a standardised scoring scheme (the “Comprehensive Ranking System”) to determine which applicants to the pool will receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residency. Those who receive an ITA may then go on to complete the application process via one of several previously established immigration programmes.

There are two significant aspects of this new system for international students intending to apply to remain in Canada after graduation:

  • Under the new rules, they must compete with a larger pool of skilled workers for a chance to apply for permanent residency. “Before [Express Entry],” writes The Globe and Mail, “international students did not have to compete with other skilled workers.”
  • The Express Entry system effectively establishes an additional step or set of requirements for students who wish to apply for permanent residency. The Canadian Bar Association has said of the new rules, “The Express Entry programme … imposes a new layer of requirements before prospective applicants are ‘invited’ to make an economic class application for Permanent Resident (PR) status. These requirements apply to all applicants in the Federal Skill Worker (FSW), Canadian Experience Class (CEC) and Federal Skilled Trade (FST) Worker classes.”

Today’s post takes a closer look at the new Express Entry programme, including perspectives from legal experts, students, other stakeholders and also from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Canada’s attractiveness to international students

The Canadian government, from around 2005 to 2013, created and implemented immigration policies designed expressly to help talented international students to become permanent residents of Canada, perhaps the most notable being the Canadian Experience Class, which was launched in 2008. These policies were very influential in helping Canada to develop a more prominent profile across the world as an attractive study destination.

It is perhaps not coincidental that, after the Canadian Experience Class came into being, Canada began to compete more seriously with the US, the UK, and Australia for international students – nor that Canada’s international student enrolments began to jump dramatically after its implementation. The number of international students in Canada grew 22.8% from 2011 to 2013 and 11% from 2012 to 2013, and there are now close to 300,000 international students in the country.

international-students-in-canada-by-year
International students in Canada by year, 2003 to 2013, all levels of study. Source: CBIE

Instrumental to a good part of this growth are the international students who came to Canada to study – and hopefully stay. A 2014 CBIE report, A World of Learning: Canada’s Performance and Potential in International Education, found that half of its international student respondents said they would apply for permanent resident status in Canada at some point in the future.

The increasing numbers of international students that have been coming to Canada with hopes of staying coincide with a growing sentiment that such students are integral to Canada’s knowledge economy. Harald Bauder, academic director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement, told University Affairs in 2013:

“In a way [foreign students] are the ideal immigrants if you assume the perspective that you want immigrants who produce economic benefits for Canada. They are ready to enter the labour market and start paying taxes.”

What changes with Express Entry?

Overall, the Express Entry programme is meant to prioritise Canadian immigration candidates with the highest likelihood of contributing to the Canadian economy and its labour force skills shortages. Citizenship and Immigration Canada says of the programme:

“The Express Entry system was implemented to ensure that Canada’s economic and labour market needs are met.”

The Globe and Mail adds that CIC has also indicated the Express Entry programme will lead to “shorter application times [for applicants] and better connections between employers and potential immigrant employees.”

Express Entry requires students to submit an online profile detailing their basic information as well as their education and employment experience. All profiles are then ranked according to a scoring system that allocates points for each type of qualification or requirement.

The Express Entry scoring system has drawn particular scrutiny from immigration experts and students alike. It looks at English or French proficiency, education, Canadian work experience, and “other factors leading to success in Canada.” Candidates can earn up to 1200 points, with points broken down per section of the online application. Express Entry profiles earn a big boost in scoring if they have either:

Either of these would get them 600 points – halfway to the perfect score of 1200.

The Canadian Bar Association comments further on the question of the requirements for arranging employment or a job offer as part of the selection process:

“CIC language leads one to believe that prospective immigrants simply need a job offer to rank highly under the Express Entry programme. This means not just any job offer. To rank highest in the pool of potential immigrants and compete for an Invitation to Apply (ITA), an applicant will need a job offer that has been approved by a federal Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) or supported by provincial government nomination.”

In simple terms, the need for an LMIA represents a more stringent requirement for international graduates who wish to immigrate to Canada, and it places additional burdens on potential employers. The Canadian Bar Association explains further:

“International students… will now have to obtain LMIAs or provincial nomination to compete for an ITA. This means that international graduates who are not provincially nominated will need to have their entry-level job offers vetted … to assess whether they are displacing Canadians. Employers of new graduates will have to demonstrate that they are prepared to pay international graduates above entry-level wages for the occupation and that their newly acquired skills are in demand in the Canadian labour market.”

Different interpretations

Canadian immigration lawyer Ronalee Carey provides an anecdote to illustrate how the Express Entry programme introduction is affecting international students. In May 2014, she wrote:

“I have a new client, a dashing young gentleman who studied at Algonquin College here in Ottawa. Last December, he obtained a professional job that will allow him to qualify for the Canadian Experience Class.

However, the Canadian Experience Class quota may have already been met by the time he has [completed] his one-year [work] experience this December. In addition, as of 1 January 2015, anyone applying for permanent residency in Canada through an economic immigration programme will apply under the new ‘Express Entry’ programme.

He and thousands of current and former international students are in difficult positions. They have contributed to the Canadian economy by paying high fees to attend Canadian educational institutions, as well as purchasing both goods and services during their studies. Most came to Canada hoping to stay – but staying might not be an option.”

The Globe and Mail offered a blunt assessment in an article published earlier this month on the new programme:

“Changes to immigration regulations have made it more difficult for international students who have recently graduated from Canadian universities to qualify for permanent residence.”

ICEF Monitor asked for Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s response to the assertion that international students now have more limited opportunities to immigrate to Canada after graduation, and a CIC spokesperson provided this statement:

“We strongly disagree. We are welcoming increasing numbers of immigrants who studied in Canada and processing their applications faster than ever before.”

“The Canadian Experience Class (CEC) programme explicitly attracts foreign nationals, including students, and remains our fastest-growing immigration programme. CIC admitted more than 20,000 immigrants to Canada under the CEC programme in 2014, and our 2015 immigration plan calls for up to 23,000 talented newcomers to be welcomed under CEC.

Most full-time international students who graduate from their programme in Canada are eligible for open work permits through the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP). This allows them to gain experience in the Canadian labour market, experience that many use to transition to permanent residency.

This means they are more likely than ever to have the skills Canadian employers need. It also means they are more likely to have credentials recognised in Canada and Canadian work experience than ever before, which translates into better results both for newcomers, for employers and for the Canadian economy as a whole.

The [scoring system] used in Express Entry awards points to candidates in the pool based on objective criteria that are known to contribute to a newcomer’s economic success once in Canada.

This is favourable to those in Canada on a postgraduate work permit as they are already awarded significant benefit by the ranking system for their high education, Canadian work experience, strong official language skills, and, more often than not, youth.

It is also worth noting that while a valid job offer is an advantage, it is not a mandatory requirement of the Express Entry application system.”

Who has it right?

The mechanics of the new Express Entry programme are clear: submit a profile, have it scored, receive an Invitation to Apply if you score high enough, and then progress to the Canadian Experience Class process (or to another applicable programme under the Express Entry umbrella).

It also seems clear that, in terms of the real impact on the immigration prospects of international graduates of Canadian institutions, much depends on two underlying factors:

  • The annual quotas assigned to the Canadian Experience Class, provincial nominee programmes, and other relevant immigration programmes associated with the Express Entry mechanism.
  • The scoring thresholds used to establish the cut-off for Invitations to Apply from the Express Entry pool. The Globe and Mail has reported that applicants in the initial Express Entry cohorts this year required a minimum score of 800 points in order to receive an ITA. According to CIC’s scoring system, this is a level that could not be reached by applicants without either a LMIA-supported job offer or a provincial nomination in hand. However, it necessarily follows that this same minimum-score threshold will apply for any or all Express Entry cohorts going forward.

In fact, a follow-up comment on this point from CIC explains, “The [Comprehensive Ranking System] points score could change significantly from one ITA round to the next because it reflects the score of the lowest ranked candidate in each round. It is not essential to have a declared a valid job offer or provincial nomination on their Express Entry profile to receive an ITA… As each round is based on the composition of the pool at a particular time, the score of the lowest ranked candidate will change in each round of invitations.”

As with all such key immigration developments in major destination countries around the world, we will continue to follow the impact of this new programme in Canada and will provide further updates as events, quotas, and scoring results unfold.



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