Immigration Minister Alexander Should Fix Problems With The Express Entry System

By Andy Semotiuk | July 21, 2015

Immigration Minister Should Fix Problems

US and Canadian Immigration Lawyer Andy SemotiukEarlier this month, I attended an event where Immigration Minister Chris Alexander urged employers to get on board with Canada’s Express Entry system. This article provides some background on the event:

Canadian employers who’ve been unable to fill certain jobs should turn to Express Entry, the new federal immigration program that gives highly skilled immigrants an accelerated path to permanent residence in the country.

Chris Alexander, federal minister of citizenship and immigration, delivered this message on Friday afternoon in Toronto at an event hosted by the Economic Club of Canada.

“If you can’t find a Canadian to do the job, you can come to us and apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment and recruit someone through Express Entry to come as an immigrant,” Alexander said, adding that employers need to include Express Entry in their HR strategies.

While it can be tedious to go through the process of obtaining a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) to prove no Canadian citizen or permanent resident was available for the position, employers will get access to a “higher caliber of immigrant,” he said.

While at the event, I posed a question to Mr. Alexander. I first stated that not one month ago, I attended an immigration conference in Toronto where Express Entry was discussed and the general feeling was that so far it was not working very well.

Problems With The Express Entry Program

The complaints I heard from others in the immigration sphere were that to be invited to apply for permanent residence in Canada under Express Entry, a person pretty much needed either a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) or a Provincial Nominee Certificate under Canada’s provincial nominee programs (PNP). But these can be very difficult to get and I indicated this to Minister Alexander. I therefore asked him how he could square his view of the success of the Express Entry program with the experiences of those at the conference.

Before I get to the Minister’s response, let me provide some real world context for those not familiar with how Express Entry and LMIAs work. You can also watch my video for a brief explanation of the system.

I can cite a few cases where the system is not functioning well. In one of my current cases, I have been applying for an LMIA for a metal fabricating plant in the Toronto area that seeks to bring in a supervisor for sheet metal machine operators. Basically, someone who can help operate highly specialized sheet metal machinery and teach Canadian workers how to use it.

This application has been denied twice, after a year-long effort of recruitment and several submissions to Service Canada. After the first denial of the application, we were not entirely convinced that it had been adjudicated properly. We wrote to Service Canada about that, then to the department head and then to the Minister himself.

Red Tape

It turned out that the application was rejected on technicalities in the application process, not on the qualifications of the applicant. Since we received no response to our requests for reconsideration of these technical objections, we decided to resubmit the application. We updated the forms that the department changed to ensure they were up to date and made sure the T’s were crossed. The sheet metal employer also included a note that the foreign worker would not wait indefinitely and could very well be recruited to another country competing for skilled laborers. She needed this employee right away.

Denied again.

The reasons for the denial this time were different than the last. In my view, this is a case of moving the goal posts in the middle of the game. While I won’t go into specific details because of confidentiality, let me just say that no mention of the new objections had been made in the first denial. Essentially, we were left to guess if another application, and another after that, might be denied for reasons we could never see coming.

This is not a game. In order to satisfy the government that an LMIA has been properly pursued, a lot of real life considerations come into play. A taste:

  • you must invest serious money in national advertising for a position to show that you looked for a Canadian worker who was ready and willing to take the job, and couldn’t fine one. (I often hear responses that there must be one Canadian somewhere who can do the job. Yes, a man in Saskatoon might be able to fill a position. But what if he doesn’t feel like moving to Halifax?)
  • the livelihoods of Canadian workers are on the line. If your business suffers because you could not bring in the talent you wanted, you may end up with unemployed Canadian workers as a result
  • a foreign worker’s future is at stake
  • significant legal costs to the employer
  • the desire of foreign entitities to deal with Canadian businesses will suffer from a reputation of death by red tape

And the red tape can really strangle you. I once had a highly successful client from the IT sector who was denied his application because he could not get an FBI police clearance within the 60 days allotted to applicants who are invited to apply. The man was invited to apply as a desired employee, but his future hinged on the turnaround time of a police force. Just how much can we expect such highly trained foreign workers to tolerate to obtain permission to live in Canada?

Canada Closed To Business People?

Other immigration professionals at the luncheon cited other examples. According to one attendee, high level foreign executives of large business organizations do not wish to post their salaries and details in the Express Entry program. Instead, they would rather not come to Canada. Another person commented that the Express Entry program is causing havoc among foreign students at Canadian colleges and universities. Many students were recruited to study on the representation that at the conclusion of their courses they would be eligible to obtain post graduate work experience. In turn, that would make them eligible to apply under the Canadian Experience Class for permanent residence. Express Entry has introduced serious uncertainty into this process.

The Minister answered my question by first commenting that there will always be those doubters who will never believe that the Express Entry system will work. He pointed to concrete examples of some individuals who were chosen (few, but at least some) that have been landed under Express Entry. Apart from that, the Minister talked about the history of the program and to my mind failed to express any interest in remedies that could help make the program better. He then left the meeting immediately after his remarks without making himself available to others for further discussion. This did not leave the best impression.

There is no doubt the Minister has a difficult job to do. A cursory internet search shows that there’s always something making headlines in Canadian immigration policy. This Minister is young, energetic and is doing well in certain areas of his work. I think he’s got a bright future, but it could be brighter if he were more open to changes and suggestions on how to improve some matters in his department.

Minister Alexander should open a broader dialogue about Canadian business immigration and he should consider the voices of those who are disappointed with how it functions.