Changes Ahead for Canada’s Express Entry Immigration Program

There are changes coming to Canada’s Express Entry program.

Express Entry has been a mainstay of Canada’s economic immigration system since its introduction in 2015, governing the intake of permanent residence applications under several of our economic immigration programs. Under the Express Entry system, individuals interested in applying for permanent residence under the Canadian Experience Class, or the Federal Skilled Worker and Federal Skilled Trades programs must first create an online profile that is automatically assessed a certain number of points according to the Comprehensive Ranking System – taking into account characteristics such as age, language ability, work experience, and education.  Rounds of invitation are held where the top ranked profiles receive invitations to apply for permanent residence. 

From its launch and until the beginning of the pandemic, the Express Entry systems was a remarkably steady process. Rounds of invitation usually occurred every two weeks and were typically “all-program” rounds of invitation – rounds of invitation that invited applications under all of the underlying economic streams.

Express Entry pivoted in response to the border closures and broader public health imperatives that accompanied the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, most travel into Canada was prohibited; as a result, rather than processing permanent residence applications for people who would have to travel into Canada from other countries, the government turned its attention within Canada as it looked to meet its annual levels plan for new permanent residents.

In March 2020, the government’s strategy for its Express Entry rounds of invitation shifted to respond to the pandemic and rounds of invitation targeted only those individuals who were eligible under the Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Programs as they were more likely to already be inside Canada. Individuals eligible under only the Federal Skilled Trades or Federal Skilled Worker Program (individuals who would more typically be outside of Canada) have not been included in any round of invitation since March 4, 2020.

Invitations to apply under the Canadian Experience Class have also been paused since September 2021, as the government reduced intake to ensure that their inventory of applications remained manageable.

Now that borders have reopened, and individuals are able to travel into Canada more freely, the government is looking to bring the Express Entry system back to the way that it functioned prior to the pandemic. The government has announced that starting in July 2022, they will resume conducting regular “all-program” rounds of invitation. This is good news for Canadian Experience Class Applicants who have been waiting since September 2021, and other applicants who have been waiting for more than two years to be able apply for permanent residence. Given the number and quality of profiles that have built up in the Express Entry pool, we believe that when the “all-program” rounds of invitation resume they will be extremely competitive for quite some time.

In addition to Express Entry’s imminent return to pre-pandemic functioning, two other significant changes are forthcoming. 

Firstly, Express Entry will be affected by the immigration department’s implementation of Canada’s new National Occupational Classification system.  The NOC system currently used by IRCC (NOC 2016) divides all occupations among five “skill levels”. For immigration purposes, occupations with skill levels “0”, “A” and “B” are currently considered “high-skilled jobs” while occupations with skill levels “C” and “D” are considered “low-skilled jobs”.

The new NOC system (NOC 2021) replaces the existing five skill level groupings with six TEER groupings (Training, Education, Experience and Responsibility).  With the immigration department’s transition to the new NOC system TEER 0 will be treated how Skill Type 0 is currently treated under our current immigration programs; similarly, TEER 1 will correspond with current Skill Level A, TEERs 2 and 3 will correspond with current Skill Level B, TEER 4 will correspond with current Skill Level C, and TEER 5 will correspond with current Skill Level D.

Currently, eligibility for Express Entry requires a certain amount of work experience that is categorized as Skill Level B or above. With the transition to NOC 2021, Express Entry will require work experience that is at or above TEER 3.

With the change to NOC 2021, it is expected that there will be sixteen occupations that will become eligible under Express Entry. For example, payroll administrators, dental assistants, nurse aides, pharmacy assistants, elementary/secondary school teacher assistants, transport truck drivers, and heavy equipment operators are on the list of occupations that could now meet the requirements to apply for permanent residence under Express Entry.

Three occupations that are currently eligible are expected to become ineligible for Express Entry under NOC 2021, these are: instructors in recreation, sport and fitness; other performers (e.g. models, influencers, DJs etc); and tailors, dressmakers, furriers and milliners.

Secondly, Express Entry is expected to be affected by legal amendments that have been introduced by the government in its omnibus Budget Implementation Act.  The legislative amendments will give the Minister of Immigration greater powers to issue more targeted Express Entry rounds of invitation. Currently, the Minister is only able to specify a specific program that the round of invitation will apply to (e.g. Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program, Canadian Experience Class, or the Provincial Nominee Class). If passed, the currently proposed legislated amendments will allow the Minister to specify criteria that an individual must possess to receive an invitation to apply, such as requiring a certain educational credential or a certain type of work experience. These new changes would allow the immigration department to more effectively target certain groups present in the Express Entry pool.

While these proposed legislative changes are meant to increase the department’s ability to be flexible and target new immigrants that can help meet certain economic goals, this increased flexibility comes at a cost to the predictability and fairness of the Express Entry system. Currently, the Express Entry system is quite objective; if an individual has enough points under the Comprehensive Ranking System and meets the minimum eligibility requirements of one of the underlying permanent residence streams, that individual can expect to receive an invitation to apply for permanent residence. By giving the Minister an increased discretion to pick and choose profiles out of the Express Entry pool, the certainty and objectivity of the program will be reduced and potentially subject to the whims of the immigration department. There is also a concern that the selection of targeted criteria will not be sufficiently transparent or be based upon sufficient consultation. It remains to be seen how often the targeted criteria will be used, and which stakeholders will be involved in their selection.

This article first appeared in the June 2022 edition of the Millwoods Mosaic – the Multicultural Voice of Southeast Edmonton (www.mwmosaic.ca) and is intended to provide general information only and should not to be relied on as legal advice or opinion.  We invite you to contact one of the members of our experienced immigration group for assistance.

Immigration & Citizenship Lawyers

Breanna L. Case
Student-At-Law

Megan L. Dawson
Partner

Eric J. Mahood
Associate

Nathan A. Po
Partner

Olivia Wang
Associate

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