Posted on - Jul 23, 2018

By Catherine Sas Q.C.

Catherine Sas Q.C.

Once upon a time, prospective Canadian immigrants were masters of their own destiny. They could make an application for permanent residence as a skilled worker and so long as they paid the application fee, it would be processed – eventually. And so long as they met the selection criteria, they would become immigrants. But over many years, there developed a huge backlog of applicants. This led to the introduction of the Express Entry selection system where applicants are no longer in charge of their immigration destinies. The government ranks applicants based upon such factors as education, age, work experience and language proficiency in English and French and those with the highest scores are given an Invitation to Apply (ITA). Without an ITA, a person cannot apply for permanent residence to Canada. What alternatives are there for prospective applicants?

One of the most significantly weighted factors in the Express Entry program is language proficiency. To confirm proficiency in English and French, applicants must provide the results of an approved third-party test – IELTS, CELPIP or TEF. Many language schools, both in Canada and abroad, have courses to assist you with writing the test. Immersing yourself in an English or French environment will also improve your language proficiency. Language proficiency can improve over time and can have a dramatic impact on your overall eligibility in the Express Entry pool.

Another significant factor is Canadian work experience. It is often daunting to try and find work in Canada from outside of Canada. However, there are several programs where applicants can apply directly on their own for a work permit. The International Experience Canada (IEC) program applies to 34 countries where Canada has bilateral agreements for the exchange of young people generally between the ages of 18 to 35 depending upon the country’s agreement. There are also Recognized Organizations which may also provide an opportunity for obtaining a work permit. This allows an applicant to obtain an open work permit usually for a one-year duration and to obtain valuable Canadian work experience for the Express Entry scoring system. Canada also has bilateral trade agreements with the US, Mexico, Chile, Columbia, Peru, Korea and most recently with the EU which allows for the exchange of workers between member nations. It is necessary to first have an offer of employment from a Canadian employer but it is a more streamlined process to obtain a work permit pursuant to these agreements. Finally, it is possible to register with Canada’s Job Bank to be matched with a Canadian employer from overseas. Canadian employers who are facing labour shortages, must register with the Job Bank to offer their positions to Canadian citizens or permanent residents. However, where skills are in high demand, they may offer positions to foreign workers.

From our perspective as Vancouver immigration lawyers, coming to Canada as an international student also provides opportunities to work both while attending school and following graduation so long as you are attending a school that qualifies for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). If you complete a program of study of two years or more, you are eligible for a three-year work permit. This provides an international student with an excellent opportunity to gain valuable Canadian work experience to improve your chances in the Express Entry program or, in many cases, with a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) in a province or territory. Studying in Canada is also an excellent way to improve your language proficiency garnering an even higher score for Express Entry!

The only immigration category remaining where applicants are the masters of their own destiny is the Self Employed (SE) category. The SE category is one of the last remaining in Canada’s business immigration stream. It is not open to everyone – only to those engaged in self-employed activities in culture or athletics. Previously it was also open to farmers but this aspect of the program was suspended in March of this year. An applicant must demonstrate that they have been able to support themselves and their families for two out of the preceding five years as a result of their self-employment in culture, the arts, entertainment and athletics AND that they have the intention and ability to become self-employed in those activities in Canada. There is no set level of investment, but past performance is the best indicator of an applicant’s ability to be self-employed in Canada. Recently there has been an increase of SE applicants, something noted by our Canadian immigration lawyer colleagues. It is difficult to correlate whether this is because of the Express Entry selection system or because of political forces in the US where the majority of SE applicants hail from.

Since the introduction of Canada’s Express Entry program, individual applicants no longer experience the freedom of choice that they could in the past. For most applicants, it will be necessary to develop an immigration strategy if Canadian permanent residence is your goal.


Catherine Sas, Q.C. is a Vancouver immigration lawyer at Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre in Vancouver, BC Canada. Catherine has been practicing law for over 25 years, and has been voted Vancouver’s Best Immigration Lawyer by the Georgia Straight newspaper for 6 consecutive years.

To learn more about immigrating to Canada, becoming a permanent Canadian resident or bringing your family to Canada, email Catherine Sas or call her at 1-604-689-5444.

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