The Minister of Immigration has proposed major changes to the Express Entry system. These changes are currently before the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship, which is a group of elected officials who are responsible to study and evaluate regulatory proposals for Canada’s immigration regime.

The new changes would allow IRCC to issue Invitations to Apply based on specific criteria that are only indirectly taken into consideration in the current Express Entry system. For example, if the proposed changes become law then the Minister would be able to issue invitations based on work experience in a particular industry, such as butchers, construction, or tech workers. (Presently applicants obtain points for years of skilled labour and academic achievements but there is no weighting between skilled professions, so a software engineer with a Master’s degree obtains the same points as an architect with a Master’s degree). The Minister could also zero in on other factors such as educational background and invite only holders of a particular degree for any given invitation round.

The logic behind the proposals is to allow the Minister almost real-time flexibility to invite new immigrants to Canada based primarily on labour market considerations. So do the proposed changes make for good policy?

Like in any policy response, there are trade-offs. Giving the Minister immediate flexibility to tailor invitations to apply to very specific criteria can make our immigration system highly agile, but it comes with serious risks. First, it’s unclear whether the Government of Canada is capable of figuring out what sectors or professions are in dire need of new immigrants. Second, even if it were able to, the new system would only work if processing timeframes are fast enough to keep pace with the country’s ever-changing labour market needs. Also, labour shortages are not the same across all the provinces, so what is needed in Manitoba might not be needed in Ontario, and the Express Entry system is a Federal program that cannot be regionally targeted. Third, and perhaps of greatest importance, is the fact that giving the Minister power to determine who immigrates on an almost ad-hoc basis removes the transparency and certainty that is required of a Western immigration regime.

If the changes become law, stakeholders would be unable to effectively advise potential immigrants and applicants would be unable to know with any certainty if their Express Entry Profile will be selected. These are just a few of the reasons why the proposals before the Standing Committee need to be heavily scrutinized by experts. Our view is that an immigration system that selects candidates based on short-term labour market needs ultimately doesn’t work and will result in greater losses to Canada than any gains.

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