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Historic Express Entry draw: Ottawa’s plans to meet 2021 immigration levels | Colin Singer

Monday, March 15, 2021 @ 2:41 PM | By Colin Singer

Colin Singer %>
Colin Singer
Canada’s immigration authorities have shown their hand on exactly how they intend to meet ambitious newcomer targets in 2021 — by slashing required scores and smashing the record for the number of candidates invited in the most recent Express Entry draw.

The jaw-dropping draw, delivered on Feb. 13, 2021, featured 27,332 invitations and a minimum Comprehensive Ranking System score of 75 — both numbers never seen before in the history of the candidate selection system. It came as a number of critics were pouring scorn on Ottawa’s chances of getting anywhere near the target of 401,000 new permanent residents it set itself for this year, during a global pandemic that has forced international travel and border restrictions. A Royal Bank of Canada report released the week before the draw said Canada was more likely to see around 275,000 newcomers.

“In the long run, Canada does have the capacity to hit the ambitious targets set out last fall and population growth from new immigration will again return as the main driver,” wrote Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist at RBC.

In the short term, though, the economist said border restrictions, processing delays and a downturn in applications for permanent residency would keep immigration to Canada far below Ottawa’s target for this year, particularly during the first six months.

But then came the historic draw, and permanent resident numbers for January of 26,600, revealed by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in a Bloomberg interview, and suddenly Canada is on track for a year like none seen before.

The crucial strategy shift behind the change is a focus on reaching the target with candidates already in Canada with temporary status. The record-breaking draw focused on Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates, an estimated 90 per cent of whom are already here.

The change was first implemented in the immediate aftermath of the first COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) immediately switched to CEC and Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) draws to circumnavigate travel restrictions. It was most likely these candidates — invited in draws between March and August — who made up the healthy newcomer figure for January.

But the numbers in the March to August period were nowhere near the more than 27,000 invited last month. This was a clear statement of intent from Ottawa: that 401,000 new immigrants is attainable in 2021.

Successful CEC candidates have at least one year of Canadian work experience, have proven that they can contribute to the economy and have paid taxes, IRCC said.

Before Feb. 13, candidates who sat in the Express Entry pool with 450 points were wondering if they would ever receive a coveted Invitation to Apply (ITA). In one swoop, IRCC changed the lives of thousands of candidates.

“This means they’re unaffected by current travel restrictions and won’t face the same barriers as overseas applicants when gathering the required documentation and undergoing criminality and medical screening,” IRCC said.

Without immigration, Canada’s economic recovery from COVID-19 will be much slower and more arduous than with the help of newcomers. But with international travel restrictions set to remain for the foreseeable future, Canada has moved to tap the only reliable source of newcomers it has — those already here.

Two thumbs up

Canada’s move to slash scores received two thumbs up from the Conference Board of Canada’s associate director of immigration research.

“The long- and short-term benefits of maintaining high immigration levels are clear. In the long term, immigration fuels economic growth, improves our ratio of working-age Canadians to retirees, creates more tax revenue, and supplies skilled labour to key sectors,” wrote the Conference Board’s Iain Reeve in an op-ed on iPolitics.

“Economic and population modelling by the Conference Board of Canada demonstrates that more immigration benefits the economy.”

According to Reeve, spending by immigrants can help fuel economic recovery and the availability of immigrant labour will likely be essential in restoring several sectors, including the hospitality sector.

“The government has good reasons to want to get as close to its immigration targets as possible, despite the challenges of COVID,” wrote Reeve.

High numbers of TFW work permits issued despite Canada’s closed borders

Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs remain front and centre for government immigration policy as more than 322,000 temporary foreign workers were granted temporary admission to Canada in 2020, down only 10 per cent from the previous year. This “in Canada” pool was the fuel behind the historic Feb. 13, 2021 draw, as permanent residence admissions were down nearly 46 per cent in 2020.

Canada confirmed that January 2021 was a record month for immigration since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, with 24,665 new permanent resident admissions. The January figure is more than double the 10,795 newcomers welcomed in December 2020, and effectively equal to the 24,695 new permanent residents recorded in January 2020, before travel restrictions had been put in place.

Expect lower CRS scores for duration of pandemic

The important question now is how Ottawa will follow up on the historic February draw, which essentially invited every CEC-qualified candidate.

IRCC is now in a period of waiting for the pool to replenish, with candidates spurred into action by the sight of such a low minimum CRS score. Intending qualified applicants are encouraged to submit their applications without delay, in order to take advantage of a window of opportunity of low CRS scores that will likely rise once pandemic restrictions are loosened.

Ottawa has shown it is prepared to go all-in to achieve its ambitious immigration target. The likelihood is that while international travel and U.S. border restrictions remain in place, similar draws with low CRS scores and high invitation numbers are likely to be required.

“Our economic modelling indicates that even immigrants with comparatively lower social-capital attributes — for instance, refugee and family-class immigrants — still make significant contributions to the economy, especially over time,” Reeve wrote.

“Also, most newcomers with experience living in Canada will already have Canadian work experience. This helps with future job searches, as employers tend to assess Canadian experience more favourably than foreign work experience. They will also arrive at jobs with a better understanding of Canadian culture and workplace norms, and greater facility with our official languages, neither of which may be their first.”

Colin R. Singer is immigration counsel for He can be reached via Twitter: @immigrationca.

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