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Civil engineer Brendan Madden, who is from Ireland, is worried his work permit will run out before his permanent residency application is approved.

Long delays to immigration processing times for some of the most highly skilled and educated applicants seeking permanent residence in Canada are leading many of them to question the fairness of the country's immigration system.

The delays are affecting those who applied to the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) last year. When it began in 2008, the government presented the CEC stream as a way to compete for the world's "best and brightest" by providing a smooth and fast immigration pathway to those with Canadian work experience and postsecondary education. Former international students make up about 40 per cent of those who have applied to stay in Canada through CEC.

Recently, however, frustration has been growing, with some applicants saying they have been waiting longer than they ever expected for their application to move forward.

"We want to have kids soon, we really want to buy a house here. But you go to the bank and they say we don't have status in Canada – so everything's just been on hold for the last two years," said Karen Johnson, a 29-year-old from Ireland who works in marketing. "We have a wedding at Christmas in Adare. We can't leave, or we lose our work permits."

Ms. Johnson and her partner came to Canada five years ago on a working holiday visa and applied for permanent residency in the summer of 2014. They have yet to receive a decision.

On its website, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) states that CEC applications are being processed in 14 months.

That's longer than in almost any other year, according to numbers provided by CIC to The Globe and Mail. And many of those who are waiting – including tens of international students who contacted The Globe in response to a request on social media – say they have been waiting for more than a year and a half.

For young Irish people here, the delays feel like a particularly sharp reversal from the way Canada was courting them only a few years ago. Indeed, in the fall of 2012, Jason Kenney, who was citizenship and immigration minister at the time, appeared on a popular television show in Ireland. Canadian employers felt Irish workers were "culturally compatible," he said, and the government was making it easier for Irish immigrants to make Canada their permanent home.

"Just like the people who made a commitment to Canada, Canada made a commitment to these people," said Cathy Murphy, executive director of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre.

Ms. Murphy said she is receiving many calls from anxious young workers and families whose CEC applications are taking a long time.

What is particularly unfair, she said, is that people who submitted an application through Express Entry, the new immigration system that began in January, 2015, are receiving decisions in six months or less.

"It seems to me that it's obvious they are prioritizing Express Entry. It's a two-tiered system created by Citizenship and Immigration."

Express Entry, touted as a way to respond quickly to labour-market needs, awards applicants points based on their demographic and professional qualities. But it is operating alongside the processing of applications submitted before it was introduced.

"The new system is operating very well," said Brendan Madden, a 29-year-old from Ireland who works in civil engineering in Toronto. "But they didn't incorporate a transition at all between the new and old system."

Mr. Madden decided to come to Canada after he attended a recruitment fair put on by Canadian employers in Dublin a few years ago. Even though most companies there were looking for skilled tradesmen, he wanted to have a Canadian adventure and applied for a working holiday visa.

"When I left Ireland, I said if I come back after a year, that's great. But halfway through, I knew I wanted to stay. You start to settle into a country and get used to its ways. There was no delay in my application for permanent residence, I applied as soon as I could," he said.

Fourteen months after sending in his paperwork, he's received no updates.

Ms. Murphy, of the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre, plans to lobby the incoming Liberal MPs and is advising those who call the centre to do the same.

"We tell people to hold their government to their promises," she said. "Dealing with processing times was one of those promises."