The Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) welcomes today’s Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025 announcement. Immigration is key to Canada’s prosperity and will continue to help strengthen our country’s economic and fiscal standing.
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CILA notes there remain ongoing challenges with the immigration system that are slowing down Canada’s efforts of growing the economy, reuniting families, and providing humanitarian assistance. As such, CILA offers the following recommendations to support an even stronger Canadian immigration system.
Express Entry: Upon its launch in January 2015, Express Entry was designed to end federal high-skilled application backlogs, and select the highest-scoring candidates in an evidence-based and transparent manner. While CILA is pleased with the recent return of all-program draws and six-month processing standards, it is concerned with the expected introduction of targeted draws in early 2023.
One of the advantages Canada offers prospective immigrants is certainty they will be assessed objectively. Express Entry candidates have a strong sense of what Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score they need to compete for a permanent residence invitation.
The looming introduction of targeted draws, however, erases this certainty, thereby potentially eroding the competitive standing of Canada’s immigration system. Moreover, it begs the question as to what criteria and processes Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will employ to implement targeted draws.
CILA regrets to note the Government of Canada did not adequately consult with stakeholders leading up to the introduction of Bill C-19, and provided negligible opportunity for public input when the contents of the Bill became public knowledge. Given this, CILA is concerned there will be minimal opportunity for public consultation when IRCC begins to hold targeted draws.
Hence, CILA calls on IRCC to consult widely and transparently prior to the introduction of these draws to ensure this new policy continues to invite Express Entry candidates objectively.
TR to PR Pathways: Similarly, international students and foreign workers in Canada lack certainty on whether they will be able to gain permanent residence. This is becoming a greater challenge as Canada’s temporary resident (TR) population continues to grow rapidly. Canada simply does not have enough economic class principal applicant spots available under its immigration levels plan to meet the demands of the hundreds of thousands of international students already in the country seeking permanent residence.
Although Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s mandate letter calls on him to offer more TR to PR pathways via Express Entry, the federal government remains mum on how it will achieve this objective. Recent attempts to introduce new pathways caused havoc on the existing Express Entry program. CILA would encourage the Minister to utilize the Express Entry platform for future TR to PR pathways, instead of introducing a new program to the detriment of another. Multiple programs and criteria has made the immigration landscape confusing and difficult for the average person to navigate. Objective criteria and transparency would be welcomed.
At a time of historic labour shortages, CILA believes the Canadian government has both an economic as well as moral obligation to identify how it can balance accommodating more TR to PR transitions while continuing to keep Canada’s doors open to global talent living abroad.
Business Streams: CILA laments the limited number of federal options available to business immigrants even as Canada looks to welcome record levels of new immigrants. The federal government is not putting Canada in position to maximize the economic benefits of immigration when it significantly limits entrepreneurs, investors, and self-employed persons from being able to permanently settle in our country.
CILA has noted ongoing challenges with the Start-up Visa Program (SUVP) such as slow processing times. IRCC’s website currently reports the average length of time to process SUVP applications is 32 months, which is far too slow for the program to be globally competitive and frustrates the program’s very purpose.
Canada possesses enough experience and expertise to re-think its business streams and come up with innovative ways to welcome more entrepreneurs, investors, and self-employed persons in support of its economic development.
Caregiver Streams: Demand for foreign caregivers is growing. Caregivers for children are desperately needed and as Canada’s population ages, more caregivers are required for seniors who wish to remain in their homes. Yet IRCC is now only processing up to 5,500 caregiver permanent residence applications per year, half of what Canada processed a decade ago. IRCC needs to offer more immigration spots to caregivers and process their applications more quickly to better assist Canadian families.
Work Permits for Spouses: CILA continues to call on IRCC to offer open work permits to the foreign spouses awaiting sponsorship by their loved ones in Canada. As CILA has previously pointed out, Canada’s immigration policy continues to be applied inconsistently to foreign spouses. While Canada allows the foreign spouses of work and study permit holders to obtain open work permits, it does not extend this same policy to foreign spouses awaiting outland sponsorship. This inconsistency undermines Canada’s family reunification objectives as well as the economy. Offering open work permits to foreign spouses once a sponsorship application has been submitted to IRCC will not only bring families together more quickly, but also allow them to supplement their household income which would be a plus for the economy.
Parents and Grandparents Program (PGP): IRCC needs to consult widely to identify better ways of managing the PGP. While CILA understands demand to sponsor parents and grandparents far exceeds the number of immigration spots available under the PGP, it believes there are better and fairer ways for IRCC to manage intake. IRCC’s decision to draw from the 2020 intake pool in three successive windows has benefited those who submitted interest to sponsor forms in 2020 on the one hand, but has denied new prospective sponsors the ability to enter the pool on the other hand. One potential solution IRCC could employ is a weighted lottery whereby prospective sponsors would see their odds of being drawn from the pool increase the longer they remain in the pool. Another benefit of this approach is it would allow new prospective sponsors to also enter the pool. CILA also calls for the draw to take place at the beginning of the year (as was the practice pre-pandemic), beginning with 2023. This will add more certainty to the PGP and not require applicants to finalize their applications during the busy holiday season.
Section 25 is an important section of the Immigration Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and provides an opportunity for an applicant to apply for permanent residence where they would experience unusual and undeserved or disproportionate hardship if they were required to leave Canada. There may be other circumstances where there are compelling humanitarian and compassionate circumstances that warrant granting permanent residence to individuals that have been in Canada for a number of years and are contributing economically and have the support of a Canadian employer. Any program to grant “amnesty” to individuals living without status in Canada, should be developed with extensive consultation from stakeholders, to ensure the integrity of Canada’s immigration laws are not eroded.
Modernizing the Definition of Remote Work
IRCC policies regarding remote work should be modernized and a policy document developed and publicized so that the remote work model is recognized as genuine and preferred modes of employment for many industry sectors and highly skilled professionals. Since before the onset of the pandemic, many Canadian employers have adopted a remote first or partially remote work from home policy. This can also result in interprovincial work activity. For example, an employer may have their headquarters in Ottawa or Saskatoon, and allow their foreign and domestic employees to work from anywhere in Canada. A change in federal policy can serve to move the dial vis-a-vis the assessment of remote work at the provincial nomination program level, where remote work is either not viewed as genuine employment in the province or excluded because the employer’s office premises are not located in the province.
As work permit issuance and Canadian work experience issues are central to eligibility for the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), the rules around how work is performed in Canada must be modernized to allow work permit holders in Canada to seamlessly transfer their Canadian remote work experience to qualifying work experience under Express Entry and Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) streams that require work experience within the given province. For example, under the Ontario PNP, an employer only qualifies to support their employee in Ontario if they “have business premises in Ontario” where the employee will work. In Saskatchewan, to hire foreign workers in the province, employers must first secure registration as an employer in the province and an employer must demonstrate business premises and business activity in the province. In Alberta, the PNP requires there to be an employer in Alberta. As many provincial programs are modeled on the federal programs and definitions, it is imperative that IRCC take the lead in amending what constitutes verifiable work experience given the ever growing adoption of remote work across the Canadian labour market.
Improving Client Experience on IRCC’s Application Portals
IRCC must quickly address IT challenges with its online application portals. The portals remain riddled with glitches which makes it difficult for newcomers and their representatives to submit their applications to IRCC. This in turn results in increased work for IRCC due to administrative challenges. For instance, lack of clear instructions on what constitutes a digitally signed application results in extra work and lost time for applicants and IRCC processing staff alike.