Most countries had a rough start to 2020 and Canada was no exception. As early as March, the Government issued special orders under the Quarantine Act which greatly restricted travel to and from Canada, allowing only Canadian citizens and permanent residents, their immediate family members, and a very restricted group of essential workers to enter the country. This development had an immediate negative effect both on the individuals who were hoping to immigrate to Canada via Express Entry streams, and on the Canadian economy which is largely dependent on a steady influx of skilled foreign labour.

For most of 2020, COVID-19 travel restrictions forced Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to limit the pool of eligible Express Entry candidates to only those who were already present in Canada. This precluded many highly qualified individuals who would have, under normal circumstances, been invited to apply for permanent residence. For several months, only candidates in the Canadian Experience Class or those with Provincial Nominations were eligible for the periodic draw during which invitations to apply for permanent residence are issued. The consequences of these unprecedented actions were far reaching, creating a ripple effect in the Canadian economy which consequently struggled with shortages of qualified labour.

As restrictions began to relax toward the latter part of the year, however, the outlook changed drastically. In the final two months of 2020, IRCC reopened the pool to individuals qualifying through Foreign Skilled Worker and Foreign Skilled Trades categories. Additionally, in an effort to compensate for the labour shortages these restrictions had created, a significant number of invitations were issued (5,000 individuals were issued Invitations to Apply for Permanent Residence in November). In the latest draw that took place on December 9, the minimum eligibility score was lowered to 469 points, which significantly increased the number of immigrants able to qualify.

Additionally, during the last quarter of 2020, the Canadian Minister of Immigration announced plans to significantly increase immigration levels in 2021-2023 to help the Canadian economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, drive future growth, and create jobs for middle class Canadians. In actual numbers, these plans aim to increase immigration to about 1% of the country's population, which amounts to 400,000 new permanent residents in 2021. It is expected that 60% of all new permanent residents will come through economic streams.

Though we are presently witnessing an upsurge in COVID-19 cases, and a consequent tightening of travel restrictions, with new measures such as the requirement to provide a negative COVID-19 test result as well as a comprehensive quarantine plan prior to travelling to Canada, there are good reasons to remain optimistic. Indeed, in addition to the commitment to increase the numbers of new immigrants, IRCC is currently undergoing a large automation process. Already candidates are able to submit most applications online, and there are plans to further invest into capacity building, development and digital transformation of Canada's immigration system. One such example is the recently-built online portal, which enables new permanent residents to complete their landing process much faster and without an in-person interview.  As Canada continues to position itself as a top destination for global talent, automation is expected to reduce waiting times and enable a smooth immigration process for qualified individuals. In conclusion, notwithstanding temporary setbacks created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the future for permanent residence hopefuls remains bright.

Originally Published by Fakhoury Global Immigration, January 2021

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