Maximize Your Options – Express Entry for International Graduates

The landscape for international students seeking to transition to permanent residence after graduation has changed considerably in the last 12 months. Gone are the days when an international graduate of a Canadian post-secondary institution could be assured of being able to apply for permanent residence on the strength of obtaining a post-graduate Work Permit, working in Canada for a year in a skilled position and passing a language test.

Now, under Express Entry, obtaining that year of post-graduation work experience and demonstrating your language ability only gets you into a pool with other applicants who are similarly qualified. Once in that pool, you are ranked and only the top scorers are invited to apply for permanent residence approximately twice a month.

Launched in January 2015, Express Entry is the new system used by Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) to manage applications under the three Federal Economic Immigration programs:
Canadian Experience Class (CEC)
Federal Skilled Worker Class (FSWC)
Federal Skilled Trades Class (FSTC)

Applying for permanent residence under Express Entry is a two-step process, with the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) at the core. Applicants who meet the eligibility criteria under CEC, FSWC or FSTC must first create and submit an online profile to CIC, which details their language scores, education background, and work experience. They will obtain CRS points based on their qualifications in each category and, as noted, are then entered into a pool of candidates. Applicants with permanent offers of employment (supported by a Labour Market Impact Assessment) can add an additional 600 points to their profile. Only applicants who have managed to score above the minimum ranking at each round of invitations are invited to apply for permanent residence. CIC routinely conducts rounds of invitations, each time adjusting the minimum score to reflect the numbers of candidates in the pool and their current application intake. Profiles are deleted from the pool after 12 months if applicants do not receive an Invitation to Apply within that time.

Under Express Entry, program eligibility criteria have been modified so that all applicants who meet minimum requirements may submit their profiles for consideration (including those who are working in previously barred occupations). Many provinces have also introduced new Express Entry-based nomination streams that allow nominated applicants to gain a whopping 600 points in their Express Entry profile.

These are all efforts by CIC and the provincial governments to ensure that only candidates who are “most likely to succeed” are invited. Unfortunately, this means that applicants are discovering that it is no longer possible to obtain permanent residency simply by meeting eligibility criteria in one category or another. In particular, international graduates from Canada’s post-secondary institutions are finding themselves at the bottom of the pool.

While international graduates may have the advantage of earning top CRS scores in some categories, including age, education, and language proficiency, they often lack points in categories such as Canadian and foreign work experience and permanent offers of employment backed by LMIAs.

Previously, international graduates in B.C. who completed one year of full-time, skilled work experience in Canada were able to submit an application under the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program’s Express Entry stream. However, with the temporary closure of many provinces’ nominee programs including the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program, international graduates are again struggling to scrape together enough points to receive an Invitation to Apply.

In order to maximize points under the CRS, international graduates should focus on the following areas:

Improving English and French Proficiency: Graduates should ensure that they obtain the highest possible mark in each of the four language testing categories, not just enough to make them eligible under CEC. The difference between getting a CLB 10 and a CLB 7 in each category can mean a total of 68 additional points.

Accumulate Skilled Canadian Experience: International graduates should endeavour to obtain a skilled, full-time position (NOC 0, A, or B) or seek career advancement as soon as possible. Given that most international graduates hold 3-year open work permits, they have the ability to obtain a total of 64 points at the end of that period.

Accumulate Foreign Work Experience: If three years have gone by without obtaining an Invitation to Apply, international graduates should consider returning to their home countries and accumulate skilled work experience there. This is perhaps not the most desirable of options. However, CRS points are awarded for each year of skilled foreign experience, as well as a combination with previous Canadian experience, education, and language test scores. A total of 100 points may be obtained this way.

Obtain a Canadian Post-Graduate Credential: For international graduates whose future goals include obtaining a post-graduate degree in Canada, it may be to their benefit if they were to directly apply for their master’s or doctorate programs after completing their current studies. A Canadian Master’s degree is worth 135 CRS points, and a doctorate degree is worth 150 (compared to 120 for a Bachelor’s Degree and 98 for a two-year diploma). Students could choose to defer applying for a Post-Graduate Work Permit until they complete their post-graduate studies, which would allow them to begin accumulating Canadian experience after they’ve already obtained those additional CRS points.

A multitude of options remain open for international graduates, and it is entirely possible to obtain an Invitation to Apply even without a LMIA or a provincial nomination. However, it is crucial that students begin to organize their post-graduate plans before they graduate so that they do not waste precious time. Begin the job search early or attend job fairs and networking events; whichever option students choose, planning is, and will always be, the key to successfully obtaining permanent residence.

Immigration Options for International Students Outside of BC

As I discussed in a previous article, the federal government and many of the provinces have, over the last several years, come to recognize that international students make great potential immigrants. As a result, various avenues have opened up to allow international students to work in Canada and convert their status to that of a permanent resident.
In this article we will look at some of the options outside of British Columbia for international students seeking to immigrate after graduation.
Each of the other Western provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, has Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) categories targeting international students. In the case of Alberta, they have an International Graduate category very similar to that of BC’s. A graduate must have completed at least a 2-year program at a public university or college in Canada (not necessarily in Alberta) or at a private university authorized to issue degrees in Alberta. After obtaining a post-graduate Work Permit, the applicant must have a permanent, full-time job offer in a skilled position (NOC level 0, A or B) related to their field of study from an Alberta employer. Unlike the BC program, the applicant must work in the position for at least 6 months before applying to the Alberta PNP.
Saskatchewan’s international graduate category is known as the “Post-Graduation Work Permit Stream”. To qualify, an applicant must have completed a full-time program of study in Canada of at least one academic year (8 months) in duration and worked for at least 6 months in Saskatchewan. This work experience can be obtained while studying in the province through an off-campus or co-op Work Permit. The applicant must also have obtained a permanent, full-time job offer from a Saskatchewan employer, but the offer does not have to be related to the applicant’s studies.
In addition, Saskatchewan also has a Master’s and PhD Stream for those who have obtained post-graduate degrees from the University of Saskatchewan or the University of Regina. Under this stream, applicants can qualify after having worked in Saskatchewan for 6 months, obtaining a job offer in the province in their field of training for a term of at least 6 months, having a spouse employed in a permanent position in the province, or having enough savings to sustain themselves without work for a short period of time.
Manitoba, which was the first province in Canada to establish a PNP, requires that international graduate applicants study in their province or elsewhere in Canada for at least 8 months (one academic year) and obtain a certificate, diploma or degree. An international student applicant can apply under the Manitoba PNP after obtaining a full-time, long-term offer of employment from a Manitoba employer and working in that position for at least 6 months while on a Post-graduate Work Permit. One of the most appealing aspects of this program is that, after you complete your studies in Canada and begin working in Manitoba, you are eligible for a 60% income tax rebate on tuition fees up to a maximum of $25,000. So, for example, if you paid a total $40,000 in tuition while studying, you can claim a rebate of $24,000 over the course of the several years after you begin working Manitoba.
Manitoba also has an “International Students Strategic Initiative” category designed for students who have lived and studied in Manitoba for at least two years. It allows such individuals to apply to the Manitoba PNP upon completing an employment readiness program, even before they have a job offer in the province.
It is clear that, in Western Canada at least, the provinces are competing to attract international students as immigrants. There has never been a better time to be an international student in Canada interested in becoming a permanent resident. The options for transitioning from study to employment to immigration are numerous and attractive.
For more information, visit for links to all the PNP websites or call J. Kenney Consulting at +1-604-649-2627 to schedule a free consultation.

Immigration Options for International Students

The federal government and many of the provinces have, over the last several years, come to recognize that international students make great potential immigrants.  As a result, various avenues have opened up to allow international students to work in Canada and convert their status to that of a permanent resident.

International students, especially those that complete university and college programs in Canada, make ideal skilled immigrants.  They have already spent years here adapting to the Canadian culture and refining their language skills.  They have also often built up local networks of contacts that can allow them to enter the labour market fairly smoothly.  And, most importantly, they have gained valuable, marketable skills at some of our finest schools of higher learning that they are often eager to utilize in our labour market if given the opportunity.

It is generally well know that international students who have graduated from a public university, a public college, or a private university that is authorized by the province it is located in to confer degrees have the ability to obtain an open Work Permit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) valid for anywhere from eight months to three years, depending on the length of their program (an applicant completing a program of two years or longer can receive a three year Work Permit).  

The fastest route to obtaining immigration status for international students after they obtain their Post-grad Work Permit is through the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).  Since 2002, British Columbia has had a dedicated category of its PNP for international students who have graduated from a post-secondary institution and obtained a permanent job offer in the province related to their field of study.

Currently, the BC PNP International Graduates category encompasses students who have studied in anywhere in Canada and graduated from a public university, a public college, or a private university that is authorized to issue degrees by the province in which it is located.   Upon graduation, the student must obtain a permanent, full-time job offer in B.C.  The application to the BC PNP must be submitted within 2 years of the student’s graduation.

The position the applicant has been offered by a B.C. employer must be classified as a “skilled” position (skill levels 0, A or B) as per the National Occupational Classification system (NOC).

The most appealing part of the International Graduates category of the BC PNP from the perspective of the student is the fact hat no previous work experience is required to qualify.  As soon as the applicant has a full-time, permanent job offer from a B.C. employer that is for a “skilled” position, an application can be submitted.  In this sense, the BC PNP International Graduates category is “forward-looking” in terms of the employment potential of the applicant.

The BC PNP has also recently added a new category called the International Post-Graduates Pilot that allows graduates of certain Master’s and Doctorate programs in BC to apply for nomination even before they have obtained job offers.  Applicants are assessed based on their post-grad education as well as their intention to reside in B.C. and their ability to become economically established in the province.

The other main option that allows international students to obtain immigration to Canada is the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).  Unlike the BC PNP, this option is entirely “backward-looking” in the sense that it focuses entirely on the applicant’s previous education and work experience and does not concern itself with whether the applicant continues working in Canada or has a permanent job offer.

The CEC is open to international students in all parts of Canada except Quebec.  To apply under its Graduates stream, an applicant must complete a full-time Canadian post-secondary credential of at least two years.  As with the International Graduates category of the BC PNP, applicants must graduate from a public university, a public college, or a private university that is authorized by the province it is located in to confer degrees.

After graduation, an applicant to the CEC must complete at least one year or full-time work experience in Canada in a “skilled” position, before submitting an application.  But unlike with the BC PNP, the applicant’s position need not be permanent.   In fact, the applicant doesn’t even need to be employed at the time of the application as long as their one year of employment occurred within two years of submitting the application.

Additionally, and again unlike the BC PNP, applicants are required to submit proof of their English or French language ability in the form of IELTS or TEF test results.  The scores required vary according to the skill level of the position in which the applicant has worked.

Overall, things are looking very good for the approximately 150,000 foreign students in Canada, some of whom may want to do more here than just study.

Vancouver’s Diversity Advantage

Last month, the widely read British magazine The Economist named Vancouver the best city in the world to live based on its “livability index” survey. It was the fifth year in a row Vancouver finished in first place. The survey, conducted by the “Economist Intelligence Unit”, ranks cities around the world based on 40 individual factors in categories such as stability, health care, environment, education and infrastructure.

Those of us who have lived in Vancouver can certainly attest to its incredible natural beauty, the high quality of its education and health care systems and its stable political and social environment. Right now, the city is in the midst of undergoing some major upgrades to its transportation system and I’m sure we will all be happier about the city’s infrastructure once the construction is completed!

One thing that I doubt is fully captured by The Economist report (I haven’t read the whole report; I’ve only seen the press reports) is the extent to which Vancouver benefits from its incredibly cultural and racial diversity. This is something that would be difficult to measure in a survey of the kind conducted by The Economist, but I believe it is perhaps Vancouver’s single greatest advantage compared to other major cities around the world.

According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), “38 per cent of the [Vancouver] metropolitan region’s total population is foreign born, and two-thirds of the adult population is directly connected to immigration, being immigrants themselves or children of foreign-born parents…. Vancouver is home to 14 per cent of the population of British Columbia but 24.5 per cent of its total immigrants.”

As UN-HABITAT also points out, “[w]hile many point to Vancouver for its environmental consciousness and physical beauty, it is, in effect, the city’s cultural diversity and resources that work most effectively toward strengthening its environmental sustainability and livability.”

Of the cities that finished in the top ten in this year’s Economist survey, only Toronto (#5) and perhaps Sydney (#7) have comparable levels of diversity among their populations. Obviously, such diversity is a consequence of a well-functioning and relatively open immigration policy at the national level as well as the ability of these cities to attract and retain immigrants from a variety of countries.

Vancouver’s history as a city of immigrants is well known. The city has been home to significant numbers of people of Chinese, Indian and Japanese origin for the better part of a century. In recent years, those populations have increased considerably. From an economic perspective, the advantages Vancouver enjoys based on its large Asian communities are hard to quantify but certainly substantial.

It could be argued that the two leading economies in the next century will be those of China and India. Certainly, their huge populations make them likely to be formidable economic powers as they develop large, prosperous middle classes. Vancouver, as well as Toronto, will undoubtedly benefit from the fact they have very large and visible Chinese and Indian populations, which can facilitate trade and other economic cooperation between Canada and these countries.

In the case of Vancouver, we also boast significant Korean, Filipino, Iranian and Japanese communities as well as smaller communities of immigrants from countless other countries around the world.

As well as economic advantages, I believe this level of diversity enriches the social and cultural lives of all of us in any number of ways. From the number of languages we hear spoken on our streets, to the various backgrounds of our friends, neighbours and co-workers, to the variety of foreign foods we have access to in Vancouver, our city’s diversity makes all of our lives richer and more rewarding.

What I find most exciting about this diversity is the level of acceptance and tolerance it has and will encourage among the young people now growing up in Vancouver. When you have had an opportunity to study in a classroom full of students whose collective family origins spread across the globe, you come to understand difference and diversity at a deeper and more fundamental level. Being able to interact with people from a variety of cultural and racial backgrounds from an earlier age can only encourage young people to get to know and relate to individuals as individuals and not as part of a larger, somehow foreign, group. This is will allow the generations of Vancouverites growing up now to take even greater advantage of the incredible diversity that surrounds them.

So, as this is my last column for Ming Pao, I am happy to end on a positive note: it is my belief that Vancouver is exceedingly well-placed to take a position as one of the leading cities of the twenty-first century -- not only for the reasons citied by The Economist but because, thanks in part to a relatively open and well-functioning immigration system, it has become a truly global and international city.

The Advantages of Canadian Citizenship

Approximately 250,000 immigrants land in Canada each year. Most, although not all, of these new permanent residents come here intending to make Canada their new home. And in the years after landing, many immigrants apply to become Canadian citizens.

Last year, the issue of dual citizenship became somewhat controversial in light of the Canadian government’s evacuation of some 15,000 Lebanese-Canadians from Lebanon during the Israeli bombing campaign. Although at the time the Conservative government promised to study the issue, it has not been widely debated since then.

According to one recent study by Jack Jedwab of the Association for Canadian Studies, dual citizens do not display any less attachment to Canada than non-dual Canadian citizens. Mr. Jedwab’s study found that about 80% of dual citizens said they feel a “strong” or “very strong sense” of belonging to Canada, while about 84% of those with only Canadian citizenship professed similar levels of attachment.

Applying for citizenship is entirely optional for a permanent resident. It is a personal decision that each immigrant to Canada has the ability to make after having resided in Canada for the necessary period of time to qualify for citizenship (at least 3 out of the 4 years prior to submitting a citizenship application).

So it is worth asking the question of what is to be gained by becoming a Canadian citizen. Certainly, in some cases, an immigrant has to first consider what he or she might be giving up by obtaining Canadian citizenship, especially if they are coming from a country that doesn’t recognize dual citizenship like China or Japan. And it is also important to make the decision to apply for citizenship based on the right motivations. It is not something that should be done lightly or solely as a matter of convenience.

But assuming one is committed to applying for Canadian citizenship because of a genuine desire to obtain full legal and political membership in one’s new country of residence and a true sense of belonging to Canada, what are the practical advantages of that new legal status?

Well, for starters, it is truly permanent. Unlike permanent resident status -- which is contingent on continued residence in Canada (at least 2 years out of every 5 year period) and can be taken away if an immigrant is convicted of serious crimes -- citizenship, once granted, is permanent and cannot be taken away except in the most extraordinary legal circumstances (usually involving fraud or misrepresentation in the process of obtaining citizenship). Therefore, like the Lebanese-Canadians who called on Canada’s protection last year, Canadian citizens can reside abroad for as many years as they like and still return to Canada as a matter of right at any time.

As well, a citizen is able to exercise their full range of political and civil rights in Canada including voting in elections, running for public office and applying for certain (mostly government) jobs that are restricted to citizens.

Given that Canada is a developed country with a fairly good reputation around the world, Canadian citizens also enjoy exemptions from the need to obtain visas to visit many countries around the world. As well, Canadian citizens enjoy preferred access to the labour markets of the United States and Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It is easier for a Canadian citizen to obtain employment authorization in the U.S. or Mexico than it is for a permanent resident.

Canadian citizens also benefit from not having to re-establish their legal status in Canada every 5 years if they want to travel abroad as permanent residents must now do with the advent of the Permanent Resident (PR) Card. It is true that a Canadian passport requires renewal every 5 years like a PR Card. However, the difference is you don’t need to demonstrate continued residence in Canada to renew your passport like you do your PR Card.

So there are plenty of practical advantages to Canadian citizenship as long as one is seeking it for the right reasons. What must be kept it mind when making a decision to apply for citizenship is whether there exists a sufficient sense of belonging to Canada that ultimately justifies the application (and given the fact that Canada recognizes dual citizenship, that sense of belonging need not exclude similar sentiments toward another country). Because, in the final analysis, if someone is motivated only by the practical advantages I have outlined and feels no greater attachment to the country, the concept of citizenship becomes devalued for all of us.

Microsoft Announcement Highlights Benefits of Smart Immigration Policy

I must be getting pretty good at this column-writing stuff. Last month, I looked at the proposed U.S. immigration bill and compared some of its provisions to Canada’s existing immigration selection system. I closed the column by predicting that the U.S. bill would not likely become law any time soon – despite President Bush’s assertions to the contrary -- and by pointing out that this is actually good news for Canada because “[t]he longer the U.S. maintains its antiquated system for selecting immigrants, the longer we will remain the undisputed destination of choice for many of the world’s best and brightest.”

Well, I had no idea I would be proven correct on both counts so quickly. The proposed U.S. bill died in Congress two weeks ago and with it died any chance of comprehensive immigration reform becoming a reality before the next U.S. presidential election in 2008.

And last week Microsoft, one of the leading advocates of immigration reform in the U.S., announced they would be expanding their presence in Canada by opening a new software development centre in the Greater Vancouver area later this year. In its media release for the announcement, Microsoft left no doubt that this decision was directly related to the failure of Congress and the White House to implement the changes to American immigration policy that Microsoft has advocated. The software giant noted that the Vancouver-based software development centre “will … allow the company to continue to recruit and retain highly-skilled people affected by the immigration issues in the U.S.”

So what are the impediments to bringing skilled workers in to the U.S. that made Microsoft decide to locate a centre that will create 800 jobs in Vancouver instead of its home state of Washington? And what makes B.C. a more desirable jurisdiction for Bill Gates & Co.? In other words, what are we doing right that the Americans aren’t?

First of all, what Microsoft had requested of Congress was an elimination of the limit, or cap, on the number of high-tech workers that can be imported to the U.S. annually. Currently, U.S. immigration law allows for the issuance of only 85,000 employer-sponsored “H-1B” work visas per year despite the fact that companies like Microsoft are requesting some 150,000 such workers. Gates appeared before Congress to request that the cap be eliminated entirely and that there be no limit on the number of temporary workers that can come in through this route. This request was not granted; nor was a more simplified route to permanent “green card” status created for such workers.

By contrast, in Canada, and specifically in B.C., high-tech employers have ready access to foreign workers through a number of different programs. Firstly, there is a national confirmation letter in place for software professionals that fall into seven specific job categories. Employers seeking to bring in workers with experience in one of these occupations are exempt from the need to obtain a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). As a result, these foreign workers can apply overseas for a Work Permit with little more than a letter from their Canadian employer offering them a position along with proof of their experience. Processing times in such circumstances can be as short as several days. And if the foreign worker is coming from a visa-exempt country such as U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia or any Western European country, they can apply right at the border for a Work Permit which can be issued the same day.

There are other provisions of our Temporary Foreign Worker program that allow employers to avoid the need to obtain an LMO from HRSDC including parts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a special exemption for foreign students who have graduated from a Canadian university or college that allows them to obtain a “post-graduation Work Permit” valid for one or, in some cases, two years.

Moreover, recently, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) opened offices in Vancouver and Calgary specifically to vet applications from employers who are seeking to utilize such exemption categories. As a result, employers now have the ability to get their foreign workers “pre-approved”, which streamlines the process of obtaining the Work Permit at the border.

In cases where there is no exemption category available for a position an employer is seeking to fill with a foreign worker, there remains the option of convincing HRSDC to issue an LMO, which then facilitates the issuance of the Work Permit. While this can be a somewhat lengthy process because of the number of employers seeking LMOs to fill labour shortages in our hot economy, there is no limit on the number of foreign workers that can be admitted in a year. The Canadian government processes these applications based to the needs of employers and does not impose arbitrary limits.

And once such foreign workers are here on Work Permits, they and their employers also have an appealing option through which to convert them to permanent status -- the BC Provincial Nominee Program. This can be done in less than a year while the foreign worker continues to work in B.C. on a Work Permit.

All in all, Microsoft appears to have made a smart move in deciding to locate a software development centre in B.C. Clearly, they have done their homework and determined that here they will have much easier access to the world’s “best and brightest” software professionals. Hopefully, their next version of Windows will benefit from the input of a worldwide cross section of brainpower.

Americans Move Toward Points-based Selection System for Skilled Immigrants

In Canada we have been using a “points system” to select skilled immigrants for approximately four decades now. It has become the cornerstone of our immigration selection system and the basis for selecting almost half of all immigrants each year. Although it has been revised and amended from time to time, the principle remains the same: select immigrants based on their skills, work experience, education, language ability, age and other factors that are indicative of their ability to succeed in the Canadian labour market.

It is no longer a controversial notion in Canada that immigrants should be screened through a selection grid that takes into account the factors I just mentioned. In its current incarnation, it is known as the Skilled Worker Class. There are 6 factors (age, education, language ability, work experience, arranged employment and adaptability) used to assess skilled workers who must reach a pass mark of 67 in order to qualify for an immigrant visa.

Interestingly, in the United States, a recent proposal to adopt a similar type of immigrant selection grid has led to a heated political debate about the nature of their immigration system. What makes the process so intriguing from a policy and political perspective is that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world where legislation is actually written by the legislature (in most democratic countries, especially parliamentary ones like Canada, legislation is written by the executive branch or Cabinet). So in the last several weeks, the U.S. Congress has proposed and debated a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which also happens to have the support of President Bush.

One of the main provisions of the bill is the implementation of a point system modeled very closely on our Skilled Worker Class. The proposed system includes a selection grid with a total of 100 points available (the same number available under our Skilled Worker Class). The factors under which an applicant can receive points include employment (including points for a job offer in the U.S. or experience in a high demand occupation), education, English ability, and extended family in the U.S.

The immigration bill also contains provisions to create a guest worker program and increase security measures at border points. But it is the proposed point system for skilled immigrants that has created the most debate. Many members of Congress, especially Democrats, are objecting to the point system because they feel it would close the door on the kind of low- or medium- skilled workers who have come to the U.S. in the past using their current system of family sponsorship and quotas for particular countries.

It is very interesting to see the degree to which Americans appear wedded to the notion that immigration should be an option available to anyone, regardless of their skill level or education. But in reality, their current system is heavily weighted in favour of those with family members in the country already. So the idea that an unskilled labourer anywhere in the world can obtain a Green Card (U.S. permanent residence) is largely mythology anyway.

If those American politicians eager to retain a relatively open immigration selection system took a close look at how their current legislation operates and compared it to ours, they would soon realize that the adoption of a point system would actually do much to open up immigration to people who currently have no chance of obtaining a Green Card. Indeed, the problem with a points system is not how many people it will exclude, but how many it will include in the potential pool of qualified applicants. In Canada, the current debate centers on how to fine-tune our system to ensure that we can process the tens of thousands of skilled workers who apply each year in a timely fashion.

A merit-based point system is the inevitable tradeoff that a country must make with itself if it wants to maintain a universal immigration selection system open to all equally while at the same time maintaining the ability to limit the number of applicants accessing the system. In our increasingly high-tech economy, it makes perfect sense to select those that are most skilled and suited to our labour markets rather than selecting immigrants almost solely based on the fact they have relatives already in the country.

But, for the time being at least, Congress and the American people are not buying this. The immigration bill was pulled from the Senate floor last week for lack of support and does not appear destined to become law anytime soon. President Bush has indicated he still wants to see an immigration bill passed and expects to sign one before he leaves office. But, as the world has seen in recent years, President Bush’s pronouncements often do not correspond with reality.

All of this is actually good news for Canada. The longer the U.S. maintains its antiquated system for selecting immigrants, the longer we will remain the undisputed destination of choice for many of the world’s best and brightest.

Foreign Credential Recognition Issue Proves Vexing for Federal Conservatives

One of the few immigration-related issues that the Conservatives focused on in their campaign platform in the last election was the issue of how to facilitate the process of recognizing the skills and credentials of skilled immigrants. During the election campaign of 2005/06, the Conservatives chided the Liberals for not doing enough on this issue and pledged to create an agency that would assess and recognize immigrants’ credentials at the federal level.

As I noted in this column at the time, given that the regulation of professions is a provincial responsibility it would be challenging at best to create and implement a “made in Ottawa” solution. Well it took a little over a year, but with last month’s federal budget, the Conservatives seem finally to have acknowledged that a federal agency is not the answer to this vexing problem. The Conservatives’ federal budget instead provides funding for a “Foreign Credentials Referral Office” that will essentially act as a referral service pointing immigrants in the right direction and advising them of what barriers they need to overcome in order to have their credentials recognized in Canada.

While this definitely constitutes backtracking from their original campaign promise, it was inevitable due to the realities of Canadian federalism. In a country where lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers and virtually all other regulated professions (Immigration Consultants are a rare exception, receiving their certification from a national body, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants) receive their licensing or certification at the provincial level, there was little possibility of a federal agency creating a process to allow skilled immigrants to somehow bypass the provincial regulatory bodies.

The issue of foreign credential recognition is a widely misunderstood and incredibly complicated problem. It involves much more than formal regulatory processes.

We have all heard a million times over the stories of immigrant engineers and doctors driving taxis. This is certainly a good illustration of the consequences of not creating an effective process whereby skilled immigrants can get their foreign training and experience recognized. But the answers to this problem do not lie entirely with formal recognition of foreign credentials. A skilled immigrant who obtains certification to work in his/her profession in Canada still requires an employer willing to give them a chance.

The willingness of Canadian employers to hire skilled workers with little or no Canadian work experience is as much a part of the problem as regulatory bodies that create unreasonable barriers to the recognition of professionals trained and educated outside of Canada. Therefore, a successful approach to this issue requires efforts to change the attitudes of employers toward recent immigrants as well as creating opportunities for skilled immigrants to gain much needed Canadian work experience.

The Ontario government has recently started an effective TV advertising campaign meant to do encourage employers to capitalize on the potential benefits of tapping into the skills and experience of foreign trained individuals. And in cooperation with the federal government they have also established an online source of information for employers at

In BC, the International Qualifications Unit of the provincial government has also taken some very innovative and proactive steps to address this problem. A program called “Skills Connect for Immigrants” has been in operation since last year. As noted on the program’s website, “the primary goal of the ... Program is to see new immigrants secure jobs that fully use their skills and talents. The program will respond to current and long-term skill shortages by assessing and bridging skilled immigrants into the workplace in areas that complement BC’s growing economy.”

Skills Connect seeks to do this by providing funding to third party organizations such as immigrant services agency and education institutions so that they may assess the skills, qualifications and experience of skilled immigrants; provide education and training to allow these immigrants to bridge any gaps in their skills that may prevent them from reaching their career goals in Canada, including occupational specific language training; and then offer workplace practice opportunities such as mentorships and internships that may lead to long-term employment.

It is noteworthy that this program is not meant to be an all-purpose employment program for immigrants of any kind; it is only open to immigrants who have come to Canada under the “skilled worker” or “independent” category. Also, the program, at least in this first stage, is focused on employment sectors where formal recognition of credentials is often not an issue such as hospitality, transportation, tourism, construction and energy. (In its next phase the program will address the health care sector where licensing of credentials is very much a barrier to entry into the Canadian labour market for foreign trained individuals.)

The realities of Canadian federalism have certainly not made the solutions to this problem any easier. An immigrant to Canada may with good reason question why one level of government – the federal level – is responsible for granting him/her permanent residence based on his/her education, skills and experience whereas another level – the provincial level – is the one who regulates how he/she may use those skills and experience in the labour market. However, these realities are not likely to change any time soon. Our present federal government has finally figured that out. Let’s hope our federal and provincial governments can now work in concert to promote practical solutions to a problem that until recently has been talked about more than acted upon.


For more information on BC’s Skills Connect for Immigrants Program go to:

First Batch of Permanent Resident Cards Soon to Expire

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) recently posted a notice on its website ( reminding permanent residents who landed in July 2002 or shortly thereafter to begin the process of renewing their Permanent Resident (PR) cards. The PR card was introduced with the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which came into effect in late June 2002. Because PR cards are valid for 5 years, the first group of permanent residents that landed immediately after the implementation of IRPA now have to start renewing their cards if they plan to be traveling internationally in the near future.

The PR card was made valid for 5 years by CIC to encourage permanent residents to become Canadian citizens if they qualify rather than remaining permanent residents indefinitely. At the beginning of the legislative process that lead up to IRPA in the late-90s, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration at the time, Madame Lucienne Robillard, was surprised to learn that so many permanent residents never bothered to apply for citizenship. She encouraged her ministry to create incentives for permanent residents to take out citizenship. The PR card functions in this way because it requires a permanent resident to essentially re-establish their status every 5 years and prove they have met the residency requirements of IRPA.

It is important to keep in mind that permanent residents require PR cards only if they will be traveling internationally. A permanent resident with no plans to leave Canada does not require a valid PR card in the same way a Canadian citizen is not required to keep a valid passport unless they will be traveling. However, many permanent residents use the card as a form of ID and it is probably safe to say that most permanent residents want to have the option of traveling outside of Canada even if they don’t do it all that often.

So for permanent residents who are coming up to their 5-year anniversary of landing, it is an important time. They need to begin the process of applying for a new PR card as well as ensure that they have complied with the residency requirements that exist under IRPA.

The second of these requirements is not an easy thing for many permanent residents who spend a lot of time out of the country. The basic requirement is fairly simple: IRPA requires that permanent residents be in Canada for 2 years (or 730 days) out of any 5-year period.

IRPA does provide for important exceptions to the residency requirement for permanent residents. For example, you can count days you are outside of Canada accompanying your Canadian citizen spouse (or parent if you are a minor) as days in Canada. And if you are employed by a legitimate Canadian business or Canadian or provincial government and required to be outside of Canada as part of your job, these days can also be counted as days in Canada. Spouses of permanent resident employees of Canadian businesses or governments enjoy this exception as well.

But each exception is carefully defined. Anyone planning on being out of Canada for more than 3 years in any 5-year period and relying on one of these exceptions is well advised to fully document their absences from Canada and the reasons for them.

The next year or two will define more precisely the limits of the exceptions to being physically present in Canada for permanent residents. Not only is July 2007 going to bring a lot of applications for extensions of PR cards for the first time, it is also going to see a number of refusals of these applications as individuals are found by CIC to have not met the residency obligations of permanent residence in the 5 years prior to their application. These refusals will then result in appeals to the Immigration Appeal Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. Only after a number of these appeals have been adjudicated, will the limits of the exceptions to the residency requirements of IRPA be fully defined by the courts.

Declining Income of Skilled Immigrants: A Problem That Might Already Be Fixed

A recent study released by Statistics Canada, entitled “Chronic Low Income and Low-income Dynamics Among Recent Immigrants”, was well reported by the Canadian media and got the attention of several political commentators. What it found was that even though Canada adjusted its immigration selection system in 1993 to give greater emphasis to the educational attainment of skilled immigrants and altered the mix of family class versus skilled immigrants to give priority to the latter, since then the proportion of immigrants experiencing periods of low income and chronic low income has increased.

Somewhat shockingly, what the Stats Canada study found is that “by the early 2000s, skilled class entering immigrants were actually more likely to [earn] low income[s] and be in chronic low income [i.e., earn low incomes in at least 4 of their first five years in Canada] than their family class counterparts.”

As well, the study found that the increased emphasis on education that was put in place in 1993 did virtually nothing to improve the economic performance of immigrants entering in the years since. The changes in selection have been quite dramatic: Only 17% of immigrants entering in 1992 had a university degree compared to 45% in 2004. This increase in the educational achievement of immigrants was a consequence of the fact that the skilled immigrant or “economic class” portion of all immigrants rose from 29% in 1992 to 56% in 2003.

But despite these changes, the study found that immigrants entering after 2000 had higher low-income rates during their early years in Canada than those who entered around or before 2000.

Some commentators have interpreted these results – which have come on the heels of similar studies pointing to the same problem – as reason to scale back our immigration policy and reduce the number of immigrants we admit each year. However, as someone who observed the system up close in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I am not so sure such dramatic action is required.

One of the things that has gone largely un-observed in this debate thus far is the fact that the skilled worker (or “independent category” as it was known until 2002) selection grid operated with reference to an “Occupations List” in those years. The list was last revised in the early 1990s and remained in place without amendment until 2002. As a result, virtually all of the immigrants whose income data have been studied until now entered by virtue of this archaic measurement of occupational demand.

The Occupations List worked by assigning points to all the occupations that appeared on it in relation to two factors: occupational demand and something called the “education and training factor (ETF)”. The first factor was supposed to measure the current demand in the Canadian labour market for each occupation on the list by assigning a score of 1 to 10. The second factor measured the level of education and training required to do the job in Canada.

As noted, one problem with this list is that it was used for about a decade without once being updated. So it continued to send the message to skilled immigrants in fields such as engineering and IT that their skills and experience were in high demand for years after this was no longer the reality in Canada. Another problem with it is that it led to the exclusion from the skilled immigrant class of whole groups of professionals and skilled workers who simply didn’t appear on the list at all. For example, physicians, nurses, teachers and lawyers, to name only a few, were no where to be seen on this list and therefore had almost no chance of qualifying under the economic class in these years.

Yet another problem with this list was the fact that it stressed education and training to such an extent that it made it very difficult for workers with a low “ETF” to qualify at all. Therefore, a civil engineer who had never been to Canada, had minimal English ability and had few if any immediate employment prospects upon arrival in Canada found it easier to qualify for immigration pre-2002 than a skilled tradesperson who was actually in much greater demand in the labour market and had worked in Canada already or had a job waiting for him once he arrived.

Essentially, the Occupations List acted to wave through the doors tens of thousands of engineers, technicians and IT professionals in the years between 1993 and 2002 and beyond. The granting of permanent residence to these immigrants was done with little or no examination of what existing connections they had to Canada or their realistic prospects for employment in their field. The system was dramatically revised with the passage of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) in 2002. The Occupations List was abolished after being recognized as a futile effort to micromanage the labour market. A more balanced “human capital” approach to selecting skilled immigrants was adopted that placed much greater emphasis on attachments to Canada like offers of employment and previous work or study in Canada.

As a consultant working through the years when the Occupations List was in place, I could see this approach made little sense at the time. It was too heavily weighed in favour of high tech professionals, technicians and engineers and it did little to measure their true economic prospects once in Canada. I would submit that the latest Stats Canada study and those that have come before it showing similar findings are simply reflecting the poor job we did of selecting skilled immigrants based on an Occupations List in the 1990s and early years of this century. In direct opposition to family class immigrants, who are selected solely based on their attachments to Canada, we selected skilled immigrants in this period without a full and proper accounting of how their education, skills and experience would be utilized in Canada.

Before we decide we need to limit the numbers of immigrants entering Canada based on the findings of these studies we should first measure the performance of those that have come here since the system was “fixed” in 2002. Under the new selection system for economic class immigrants, which because of the backlog in processing has only in the last few years begun to admit large numbers of immigrants (and which, importantly, incorporates a greater role for the provinces through Provincial Nominee Programs) my guess is that we will begin to see an improved economic performance by skilled immigrants as compared both to family class immigrants and the skilled immigrants that were admitted in the decade before 2002.