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Game Changer: Category-based draws coming soon to Express Entry

by Ronalee Carey Law

June 2023

After much anticipation, IRCC has announced a category-based selection for Express Entry.

Rather than only being selected based on program and comprehensive ranking system points, in the future, applicants can be selected based on French or English language ability, work experience in a specific occupation, or education. In 2023, the following categories will be used:

  • French-language proficiency
  • Healthcare occupations
  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) occupations
  • Trade occupations
  • Transport occupations
  • Agriculture and agri-food occupations

Category-based rounds will be held in addition to general rounds (for all three programs managed through Express Entry) and program-specific rounds (for one of the three programs.) Though IRCC has announced the categories to be used in 2023, the type of invitations will not be published until the time of the round. This is not surprising; draws have always been veiled in secrecy.

Category-based draws completely change the game. In the past, I could estimate a client’s CRS points and give them a realistic opinion as to whether they should set up a profile. Now, for individuals who do not fit into any of the categories, it will be almost impossible to predict whether they will receive an invitation to apply for permanent residence. Currently, the information published by IRCC about the number of individuals in the pool and their scores does not include any information about their occupation or language abilities; there is no way of knowing how many applicants in the pool will be eligible for a category-based draw. In addition, we do not know what types of rounds IRCC will hold for the rest of 2023 and what the numerical allotment will be between types of rounds and the different categories. 

Further, are Express Entry occupation-specific draws good for Canada in the long run? Canada has built a diverse and skilled workforce by attracting smart people who raise smart kids. Some have argued that long-term immigration goals can’t be met by targeting primarily occupation-specific talent. The temporary foreign worker and provincial nomination programs already exist to fill these needs. If PNP quotas were higher, the provinces could more easily meet their labour market needs, leaving Express Entry for long-term human capital attraction.

New Policy Will Allow Family Class Applicants (Spouses and Common-Law Partners) and Dependent Children to Apply for Open Work Permits

by Ronalee Carey Law

June 2023

As I blogged about in September 2017, in the past, it has been challenging for romantic partners of Canadians to get approved for a visitor visa. Many couples remained separated, sometimes for years, while waiting for the sponsorship applications to be processed. Though adjustments to the ‘dual intent’ policy last fall provided additional guidance to immigration officers, the policy change did not have a measurable impact on the acceptance rates of these applications; over half of the applicants were being denied.

Finally, after years of criticism, the Canadian government is making it easier for the spouses and common-law partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to work in Canada during the processing of their applications for permanent residence. On May 26, 2023, IRCC announced a new open work permit program. The program will apply to all those living in Canada with their spouses/partners who have applied for permanent residency through any of the family sponsorship programs. Previously, Family Class applicants were excluded. Further, dependent children can also now apply, whereas no specific work permit programs were previously available.

There are several conditions to be eligible for the program. First, the applicant must have valid status in Canada or be eligible to restore their status; applicants without status in Canada cannot apply. Secondly, the sponsorship application must be ‘complete’; a letter acknowledging receipt of the application must have been received. Finally, the Dependent children must be an ‘accompanying’ family member; they cannot obtain a work permit if they are sponsored independently.

Work permits are unavailable at the port of entry; applications must be made online after the applicant is in Canada. 

The May 26th announcement also brought other welcome news:

  • Most visitor visa applications for the spouses and partners of Canadians will be processed within 30 days. New processing tools are already in place, with acceptance rates of 93%. (98% was quoted in the news conference, but IRCC’s official announcement differs.)
  • New processing tools will be used to process sponsorship applications, which should speed processing. During the media announcement, IRCC Minister Sean Fraser referred to new artificial technology but insisted that humans are still making the final decision. He pointed to improved acceptance rates as showing that there are no longer discriminatory results in processing applications.
  • Many open work permit holders whose work permits expire between August 1 and December 31, 2023, will be granted 18-month extensions without needing to submit an application or pay processing fees. This program will mirror a similar program available to post-graduate work permit holders. We don’t have full details on who will be eligible yet, but the spouses/partners of work and study permit holders may be included in addition to sponsorship applicants.

Operational instructions have been updated to reflect the new policy. Documentary evidence supporting the application must include proof of relationship, such as a marriage certificate. Though the policy does not list that documents supporting a ‘genuine relationship’ must be included upfront, officers may request it later. To ensure quick processing, applicants may want to include some or all of the documents submitted with the sponsorship application related to cohabitation and genuine relationship.

It’s Not a Good Time to be a Refugee Expansion of the Safe Third Country Agreement and Changes at the Mexico-USA Border

by Ronalee Carey Law

May 2023

Most Canadians will never have to worry about having to flee their home. Though the number of us displaced because of natural disasters such as floods and recent evacuations due to wildfires in Alberta is increasing due to climate change, we are a population safe from civil unrest and war.

From our privileged position, Canada has been a world leader in the private sponsorship of refugees. Recently, Canada welcomed thousands of Ukrainians through the CUAET program. Canada. In response to current situations in Iran and Sudan, exemptions have been made to usual strict policies regarding the issuance of visas and work permits to allow individuals in Canada to remain and (in the case of Sudanese) to join family members in Canada.

However, Canada’s generosity towards those who have fled their homes is not without limit.

On March 24, 2023, Canada and the United States announced the expansion of the Safe Third Country Agreement across the entire land border. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States is part of the U.S.–Canada Smart Border Action Plan. The agreement was first signed in 2004, and since coming into effect in 2002, the agreement did not apply to those who crossed between official points of entry. With the political situation in the USA becoming increasingly inhospitable to refugees, the number of migrants coming to Canada through locations such as Roxham Road was increasing. Despite the strict legal test applied and the difficulties in obtaining sufficient documentary evidence, 52% of these individuals were accepted as refugees. Others would have been accepted under humanitarian and compassionate programs. Having represented many refugee claimants who made their way to Canada from the USA, I am well familiar with the horror stories they bring. Though not the beneficiaries of positive media coverage like Syrians, Afghans or Ukrainians, individuals from countries where women, political dissidents and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are routinely persecuted are no less deserving of protection.

Many of the refugees coming to Canada from the USA had entered with valid visitor visas. Others entered the USA through irregular means and made their way north. However, recently, the USA began barring refugee claims for most who entered the country without valid authorization and beefed up border security as an accompaniment to the new rules.

Without legal means to enter either Canada or the USA, refugees will have no choice but to use increasingly risky methods to find a place of safety.

At least for now.

On October 6, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada heard oral arguments in a case spearheaded by the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, The Canadian Council of Churches, and several individual litigants whose interests were affected by the agreement. The application is an appeal of a Federal Court of Appeal decision that overturned a Federal Court decision that found the agreement violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms due to the risk of refoulment from the USA and because of the US’s immigration detention practices.  If the agreement is found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, refugee claimants would potentially be permitted to make a refugee claim at any of the 119 border crossings.

Nexus Cards Worth the Wait

by Ronalee Carey Law

April 2023

On March 16, 2020, I was in the Calgary airport, waiting for a flight to Ottawa after spending the weekend with a childhood friend. That same day, international flights were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Calgary airport was a zoo

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