Canada plans to expand Express Entry for int’l students amid immigration backlog

Canada is set to expand its Express Entry pathway for international students to acquire permanent residency
Since September 2021, Invitations to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence in Canada has been paused in several economic classes under the Express Entry pathway. Source: Geoff Robins/AFP

If your status as a post-graduation permit work permit (PGWP) holder in Canada is expiring soon, there might be a ray of hope on the horizon. Amid a massive backlog of nearly two million immigration applications in the system, the Canadian government has plans to expand the Express Entry system, opening up pathways for international students and temporary foreign workers to obtain permanent residency in the country.

Express Entry is an online system that Canada uses to manage immigration applications from skilled workers. Three immigration programmes managed through Express Entry include the Canadian Experience Class (CEC), the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), and the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP).

Since September 2021, the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has paused the issuance of CEC invitations — the most common route taken for PGWP holders towards obtaining a PR — under the Express Entry pathway due to a growing backlog of applications.

In a televised discussion about the state of Canadian immigration, which took place on Feb. 16, 2022, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser remarked that CEC draws would resume “in the near term”, and is looking into making the Express Entry system more flexible.

“If you actually look at the immigration levels plan over the next couple of years the balance is shifting back and by year three… a record number of federal skilled workers, including through the Canadian Experience Class, will be welcomed to Canada,” the minister was quoted saying.

In December 2022, Fraser said in his minister’s mandate letter that he would prioritise broadening the options to achieve PR status for international students and temporary workers, whose right to remain in Canada have been affected by IRCC processing delays despite having contributed significantly to the Canadian economy.

Express Entry expansion: Canada to give full attention to tackling backlogs

Fraser’s reassurance in tackling the bottleneck processing of immigration applications also rose out of concern that Canada could lose skilled immigrants to other countries that are reforming their immigration system to accommodate more newcomers. “We are in a race for global talent. But there’s also no question in my mind that we are winning the race for global talent,” he was quoted saying by the Toronto Star.

On Feb. 14, 2022, Canada unveiled its new strategy to draw in more immigrants in the next coming years under the Immigration Levels Plan 2022-24, which seeks to admit 431,645 newcomers this year alone. The plan aims at attracting skilled workers to fill labour shortages brought upon by the pandemic, and includes refugee resettlement for those seeking asylum in Canada.

Under the new plan, most immigrants will be admitted through the economic class admissions. However, Canada has only been inviting Provincial Nominee Programme candidates to apply through the Express Entry system since September last year, while halting admissions from other skilled categories such as the CEC, the FSWP, and the FSTP.

According to CIC News, there are about 64,890 CEC and FSWP candidates who are still awaiting decisions on their immigration applications as of Feb. 1, 2022. The new Immigration Levels Plan has already called for fewer Express Entry immigrants this year than there are in the system backlog.

“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 [Invitations to Apply] 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,” the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association (CILA) expressed regarding the current status of the Express Entry pathway.

Until a concrete and systematic solution are tabled to tackle short staffing in IRCC’s application processing, international graduates in Canada who are PGWP holders could be a casualty of resource mismanagement, dimming their long-term prospects in the country.

“The pause in [the] Canadian Experience Class invitations since September 2021 is creating significant hardship for thousands of international students and temporary foreign workers who have spent years contributing to Canada’s economy and society, and who now have fewer permanent residence spots available to them,” CILA warns in an updated statement.