Express Entry and International Students Is there a Disadvantage?

May 2015

Last month I sent a young woman back to Japan.  She’d come to Canada as an international student first to finish high school, then to attend Sheridan College in their Animation Program.  Her employer consulted me after their Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), because her position was denied.  They had been paying her the median wage for Ontario, as opposed to Ottawa, which was slightly higher.  Meanwhile, they had no idea there were median wages specific to Ottawa.  They offered her a raise and resubmitted the LMIA application.

But it was too late.  

The young woman had been working on post-graduate work permit.  It had expired, and she’d applied for an extension.  However, a positive LMIA was required for the extension.  Ultimately, her work permit application was denied, because the new LMIA application had not yet been processed. 

And so on the plane she went.

This young woman is in the Express Entry pool.  Her score is 380.  Without the 600 additional points for the LMIA, it is unlikely that her application will be drawn from the pool anytime soon.

Her employer tells me that there’s a world-wide demand for skilled animators.  So much in demand that companies are always trying to poach each other’s employees.  If that LMIA application isn’t positive, she could choose to work anywhere in the world.  What a loss of valuable talent this would be. 

Her story is not unique.  This past weekend I attended the Canadian Bar Association’s National Immigration Law Conference, held here in Ottawa.  At our luncheon on Friday, our Minster of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander gave us an uplifting speech.  In addition, I listened to presenters from Citizenship and Immigration Canada who assured us that Express Entry was going well, despite a few technical issues with the new online application system. In fact, he pointed out that international students could “soon” expect to be chosen in droves for an Invitation to Apply to Canada.

They admitted that “soon” won’t be soon enough for many international students whose work permits will expire before the elusive Invitation to Apply hits their mailbox.  More specifically, that there will be people caught between an old and new system and that this simply “always happens when there is a change.”

As if these aren’t real people, whose parents have given their life savings to send them to Canada, who have paid triple what a Canadian citizen or permanent resident would pay in tuition, and who now have no assurance that they will be able to become a permanent resident.

Under the old system, as long as you got your application in before the quota was reached, you got permanent residency.  That was it.  And so it should have been.  If you had graduated from a Canadian educational institution, managed to find a skilled job with a Canadian employer, held that job for 1 year, and met the language requirements, you were exactly the kind of immigrant we needed in Canada.

Now, under Express Entry, international graduates must compete against other applicants in the pool, including those who qualify for the Federal Skilled Worker class.  Consider these facts presented at the conference:

  • There are currently 28,000 qualified applicants in the Express Entry pool. "Qualified" means they have met the criteria for the Canadian Experience Class, Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program or they have a provincial nomination.

  • There have been 8491 Invitations to Apply issued so far under Express Entry.
  • The lowest score drawn has been 453.

  • The average score in the pool is 370.

  • 350-450 is the largest band of points in the pool. For international students, 360 is a common score.

  • Express Entry is expected to produce over 100,000 ITAs per year once fully engaged. However, for most of 2015 and for part of 2016, the majority of new permanent residents will come from pre-Express Entry applications.

As the government accepts more Express Entry applicants, the lowest score drawn will decrease. 

As this happens and word gets out, more foreign nationals will apply for Express Entry.  This means more competition for the international graduate.  The international students will get additional points for having Canadian work experience, but so will those who came here on temporary work permits and who did not study in Canada.  International graduates will compete against those with advanced degrees, who have spouses with good language skills and education, and most importantly, who are able to get a government approved job offer through a Labour Market Impact Assessment or a provincial nomination.

Express Entry targets those who "do best" in Canada. What does this really mean?  Is economic success the only factor that matters?  What about the fact that we lured these students here on what may have been false promises?  Is this fair?  And where is the fairness to their Canadian employers, who hired them and trained them in good faith, assuming they were investing in a permanent employee?

Canadian universities and colleges have become dependent on international student tuition fees.  Without them, they would not be able to operate their programs at the rates they do for Canadian students.  Unless the government wants to provide more transfer payments to these academic institutions, this reliance on foreign student tuition fees will continue. 

Canada needs immigrants.  Canadian schools need foreign students.  Potential foreign students need assurances that they are going to be allowed to stay in Canada if they meet the requirements of the Canadian Experience Class program.  There is any easy fix to this.  Draw Canadian Experience Class applicants out of the pool first to ensure they are given priority in the annual immigration plan.