Is the Canadian Experience Class now a “lottery”?

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On February 13, 2021 Immigration Refugees Citizenship Canada (IRCC) issued invitations to 27,332 applicants in the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) stream of the Express Entry system. The minimum score was 75. Yes, 75, for a program where previous selection scores have hovered at 454 (January 21, 2021) and 454 (August 20, 2020).

What are the implications of this selection decision?

1.0 Encourage false promises – an immediate impact of this very low selection point score is that it will encourage unscrupulous immigration practitioners (read: many unlicensed consultants, agents, “visa factories”, and others) to encourage applicants who have very low scores (by traditional draw target numbers) to create an online profile in the Express Entry pool, just in case there is another low number draw (enter the pool, take your chances – in other words a lottery). The odds of another record low number draw occurring are hard to predict as we are in the middle of very uncertain Covid-19 pandemic, but it seems unlikely.

2.0 Create a further backlog in processing – In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is almost certain that the addition of over 27,000 to the processing stream, all at once, will cause further processing delays. The Minister of Immigration’s calculus appears to be that Canada should meet as much of its 2020-2021 targets as possible (with mere weeks left in the government fiscal year). How are processing resources going to be divided between the different immigration streams like the Family Classes (Spouses, Common Law and Conjugal partners) and other Economic immigration streams? No clear answer has emerged from the Minister’s office.

3.0 Create ethical dilemmas – For licensed and experienced Canadian Immigration lawyers, this low number draw has raised a number of ethical issues. As a member of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) National Immigration Law section I am a part of a national group of lawyers who share information and views. In the last few days the list has had immigration lawyers worry about if they provided the wrong advice to potential Canadian Experience Class applicants who, before this low draw, had “no chance” of being selected based on historical data. Does a once in a lifetime low draw number (at least the lifetime of the CEC stream) mean that immigration lawyers should now counsel applicants to join the Express Entry pool even if they have very low scores? Different lawyers have different approaches. My view is that people can apply as long as they are fully informed about how much of a fluke this low draw number represents – a “perfect storm” of a once in a lifetime pandemic, a government possibly heading into an election soon, and the need to try to meet immigration intake targets which have been a part of the “core brand” of the Liberal Party of Canada.

4.0 Masking problems with Canada’s reliance on foreign students – Canada’s economy has become very reliant on foreign students. Foreign students represent more than 15 billion dollars for the Canadian economy. However, the Canadian Experience Class category masks problems between the large number of students who enter Canada with a desire to become permanent residents and many, many students who will not qualify for the CEC stream (either due to a lack of experience, having a low skilled occupational experience after graduation, low language test scores, etc.). The low number draw of 75 points for the CEC stream, lets the government of the day avoid these problems for the short term.

This program needs further examination as a part of a review of Canada’s foreign student strategy and how it connects to permanent immigration.