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British lawyer Anique Dublin is employed in Canada on a work permit and hopes to gain permanent residency soon. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
British lawyer Anique Dublin is employed in Canada on a work permit and hopes to gain permanent residency soon. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Ottawa's new Express Entry immigration system slow off the mark Add to ...

Less than half of immigrants to Canada this year will be selected through the much-vaunted new Express Entry system introduced by the Conservative government, which promised to match skilled, economic migrants with employers’ needs.

So far, slightly more than 6,850 prospective immigrants have been invited to apply for permanent residency under Express Entry. It will not be until 2017, two years after its launch, that a majority of immigrants are processed through the new system, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said. The shift to the new economic immigration system was announced in 2012 and has been in place since Jan. 1.

In its 2015 immigration levels plan, the Citizenship and Immigration ministry pledged to accept 260,000 to 285,000 new permanent residents, about two-thirds of them economic migrants. To meet that target, the government needs to admit about 22,500 immigrants a month, about 10 times the number that are admitted through Express Entry at present. Most new immigrants this year will have to be selected through the old system, which was criticized because it was slow and operated on first-come, first-served basis.

“CIC is in a period of transition with recent implementation of Express Entry that will span approximately two years,” said Johanne Nadeau, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokeswoman.

A majority of economic immigrants arriving in 2015 will be drawn from the pool of people who applied to enter Canada in the years before Express Entry was introduced, Ms. Nadeau said. It is not clear exactly how large a portion of overall immigration will come from Express Entry candidates, or whether the pace at which invitations are issued will increase.

CIC would not say whether it has annual targets or expectations for Express Entry admissions at this point. The number of new permanent residents coming through the program is expected to grow in 2016 to about half of all admissions. By 2017, most, if not all economic admissions should be through Express Entry, Ms. Nadeau said.

The government introduced Express Entry with much fanfare as a selection mechanism that would make economic immigration more responsive to the needs of employers and the labour market. It was heralded as a revolution, compared to a dating site and described as a way for employers to find the skills they needed, and for prospective immigrants to test the waters in Canada before committing to a move.

Under the new system, applicants in the economic streams enter a pool of candidates for initial assessment. They are graded on factors such as age, education and work skills and given a score on a 1,200-point scale. Every few weeks, a cut-off score is selected by the ministry and all those above that score are invited to become permanent residents. CIC expects to have 15 to 25 such rounds this year. Applicants with a Canadian job offer or those nominated by a provincial government have a significant advantage because of the way the criteria are weighted.

The number of points required for admission has dropped from nearly 900 in early January to 453 in late March. As the points requirement has slid, the number of invitations has climbed.

Initially, all of the applicants selected under Express Entry had job offers or were nominated by a provincial government. The two most recent rounds selected applicants with neither, a shift that has alleviated some anxiety among applicants. Anique Dublin, a 31-year-old British lawyer, was worried that it would be impossible to qualify for entry without a job offer and a positive labour market impact assessment, or LMIA, a document that states no Canadian applicant is available for the job the immigrant will take.

But now that fewer points are required, she feels she has a very good chance. That’s a relief, Ms. Dublin said, because she chose Canada as a destination over the U.S. because the immigration system seemed more favourable. The first few months of Express Entry had her questioning that decision.

“It’s the immigration system that’s slowed me down,” Ms. Dublin said. “To get people to do an LMIA is very difficult.”

The strength of the new system was purported to be that it would be fast, flexible and responsive to a changing labour market. It also aimed to cut processing times. Under the old system, every application had to be assessed in the order it was received, even as backlogs grew. Under Express Entry, only those with a strong chance of qualifying for permanent residency need further assessment.

“They’re going to meet their overall annual target, even if the majority are from the inventory,” said Naomi Alboim, an immigration expert who teaches public policy at Queen’s University.

“They have a big inventory of applications that were in place before Jan. 1 and they’re processing two parallel systems.”

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