This guest article was authored by Peter Rekai, Senior Partner, Rekai LLP.
Ottawa’s immigration policy makers have never acknowledged the simple truth that the reallocation of finite human resources is a zero-sum game. Solving one processing problem creates another.
Delays in IRCC’s inland status processing result in more flagpoling work for Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Triaging staff to reduce family class backlogs removes resources from other selection programs, creating other backlogs. Designating a visa office to handle a new refugee program means redistributing its regular caseload to other overworked offices.
The 2021 redeployment of staff to the Afghan program, the sudden intake under the “Temporary to Permanent Residence Pathway”, and pandemic-related Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada short-staffing have combined to create a perfect processing storm for 2022. The result, already apparent, will be lengthy delays in issuance of Temporary Residence Visas (TRV)s, study permits, Permanent Residence (PR) Cards, inland status applications, and in particular, delays in processing new applications for permanent residence under Express Entry. The delays are posing a unique problem for Post-Graduation Work Permit (“PGWP”) holders, whose bridge to permanent residence has been removed.
Express Entry’s Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) was an early casualty with processing halted over a year ago to accommodate border closures – which no longer exist. The next casualty was the Canada Experience Class (CEC) which has not issued Invitations to Apply (ITAs) for permanent residence since mid-September 2021. This was to allow IRCC to redeploy processing staff to complete existing files and pump out Confirmations of Permanent Residence (COPRs) to meet the 2021 landing target of 401,000 new immigrants. The consequences include a burgeoning backlog of Express Entry-eligible profile holders, awaiting the resumption of draws for ITAs.
PGWP holders count on being “landed” under CEC, or at least eligible for a Bridging Open Work Permit (“BOWP”) prior to the expiry of their non-extendable PGWP. The current ITA freeze threatens to derail the progress to permanent residence of these young, Canadian credentialed, skilled workers. It also harms their Canadian employers who want to keep them.
A possible solution would see IRCC temporarily allow a 6 months extension of the hitherto non-extendable PGWP upon providing evidence of filing an on-line Express Entry profile. This will allow IRCC to resume Express Entry draws and give them some time to catch up with their new backlog.
It is acknowledged that such temporarily authorized PGWP extensions will add to the inland processing workload. The alternative is a likely deluge of “creative” inland applications by desperate PGWP holders seeking extension or restoration of status.
Another potential solution, is to reactivate a decades old policy that permitted employers of PGWP holders to apply for advertising-exempt Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs), allowing wages to be offered at the low end of the listed prevailing wage. This would address the continuity of employment status, while awarding the 50 Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points for “Arranged Employment” that is unavailable to holders of PGWPs and other open work permits.
The availability for this advertising-exempt LMIA would add applications to the current Service Canada Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) workload, but may be preferable to explaining to frustrated employers of PGWP holders why the standard LMIA criteria does not accommodate newly-minted skilled workers.
It is an open question as to how IRCC intends to meet its 2022 and 2023 processing challenges when it resumes Express Entry draws with likely over 25,000 CEC-eligible profiles (not to mention thousands of FSWP profiles) that have accumulated. No doubt, down the road, Ottawa will choose to redeploy staff from other immigration programs to address this backlog.