With each new year comes the implementation of a flurry of new legislation in several key public policy areas. In 2015, one of the latest – and most noteworthy – pieces of legislation to come into effect has been the Express Entry immigration system. Launched by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) on January 1, this new electronic immigration system manages permanent residency applications for immigrants applying to one of Canada’s three federal immigration programs: the Federal Skilled Worker program, the Federal Skilled Trades program, or the Canadian Experience Class.
Under the Express Entry system, candidates for immigration complete an online profile detailing their work experience and education, along with other personal information, and are then placed into an applicant pool by means of a points system. Employers are given access to this pool and can make job offers, which constitute additional points. The highest ranked candidates in the pool are considered by the federal government for an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for permanent residency. The general idea is that, through this pool and a recently modernized job bank, Canadian businesses will be able to recruit qualified workers more efficiently. In a sense, Express Entry fosters an environment in which the federal government plays the role of “matchmaker” between local employers and foreign skilled workers.
The primary motivation for this new system, according to the federal government, is to make the immigration system faster and more flexible. Immigration to Canada has long been viewed as an inefficient and lengthy process, and Express Entry aims to speed up the application process. Foreigners attempting to start a new life in Canada have often complained that their files have stood in limbo for years; and employers have contended that they cannot fill vacant positions because it takes too long to bring in workers. Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Chris Alexander recently stated that:
“Express entry promises to be a game-changer for Canadian immigration and Canada’s economy.”
This is not the first time that the federal government has sought to restructure Canada’s immigration system in recent years, with aim to address labour deficiencies in various industries. Express Entry joins a long list of programs including the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program (NIEAP), the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the now infamous Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which were each created to rehabilitate the Canadian economy and what has been a persistent labour supply shortage.
This new legislative venture of Express Entry arose out of the shortcomings of the arguably failed Temporary Foreign Worker Program. In 2006, the federal government expanded the list of occupations for foreign workers under the program. Originally conceptualized with the same goal as Express Entry – to bring in highly specialized foreign workers to address labour shortages in Canada – the TFWP was dramatically expanded through a series of reforms to include occupations categorized as “low-skilled”. The number of temporary foreign workers more than tripled over the course of a decade, growing from 109,668 in 2003 to 338,221 in 2012.
In 2013, news broke that the Royal Bank of Canada was replacing dozens of its employees in Toronto with temporary foreign workers, and that current employees were required to train their replacements. The move was heavily criticized in the media and sparked significant public backlash toward the TFWP. With Canada’s unemployment rate then at 7.1 per cent, a strong critique of the program questioned why — despite domestic workers struggling with unemployment — it was expanding.
In many ways, the failure of the TFWP paved the way for the Express Entry system that has just recently come into effect. This new system reflects some improvements from its predecessor – for instance, in its sole focus on bringing in highly-skilled workers and with more emphasis placed on employers to seek out Canadians or permanent residents first to fill vacant positions. However, the reality is that most vacancies today are found in entry-level positions, jobs targeted towards those with limited skill sets. They are not, for the most part, senior level positions where higher education and experience would be requirements. The industries in which temporary workers to Canada tend to find work include: agricultural; manufacturing and construction; oil and gas; hospitality; and health care.
Even if the reverse were true, another potential problem of the Express Entry system is that for many applicants, despite their high-skilled status, their education or credentials may not be recognized in Canada. Critics of the system have also argued that there is lack of transparency and predictability in the process, as there is little oversight. Since the previous rule of first-come, first-serve is no longer applicable to candidates because of the pooling system, the reasons for why one candidate may be picked over another is obscure and could be considered “cherry-picking.” Likewise, the online process may also result in problems for individuals who create a profile without a full understanding of the application itself, as any misrepresentation is subject to a five-year ban.
With a growing number of studies and statistics highlighting the importance of immigration for sustaining the Canadian economy, it is understandable why there has been a continued push for foreign workers (whether temporary or permanent). However, both the Express Entry system and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program have raised a number of important questions, most notable concerning the economic value of outsourcing labour and the obligations of Canadian businesses to Canadians. It will be interesting to see whether the next federal election and a possible new government in the coming year will change the direction of immigration policy, and if further reforms to the immigration process will follow.
Kristen John is a 2016 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the School of Public Policy and Governance. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Queen’s University, where she completed a major in political studies. Kristen’s main areas of policy interest include immigration, health, and social justice policy.