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With a PhD and two Master’s, Mohammad Islam has been waiting four years to enter the job market.
The new Express Entry system is hoping to reduce wait times for future immigrants. / Photo by MICHELLE BOTH

By Anabelle Ragsag and Radenka Lescesen

In 2007, Mohammad Islam applied for permanent residency to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker Program.

Islam was in his third year as a PhD engineering student in a US university. One a half years later and having spent $16,000 – he and his wife, a trained medical doctor back in their home country, were permitted into Canada.

Four years later with a second Master’s degree and several certificate courses in between – the couple have yet to fully enter the Canadian labour market.

A new program, called Express Entry, coming to effect in January 2015 is expected to mediate this for future applicants.

With Express Entry, a job offer is a prerequisite before one can take up a permanent residency application. This means that with a job offer or a nomination from a province, the process will become faster from two to five year wait, now a process that should be completed within six months or less.

At present, it is not uncommon to see newcomer medical doctors working as personal support workers, university professors driving cabs, and engineers working in call centres.

“Immigrants go where there are opportunities. The advantage of Express Entry is that it does not elevate people’s expectations.”

In a 2012 study by Li Xu, Who Drives a Taxi in Canada?, the findings show that an overwhelming majority of doctorate or medicine related degree holders, which were immigrant, were working as taxi drivers in Canada. Further, majority of 6,040 taxi drivers, at 80.7 precent held bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

“Immigrants go where there are opportunities. The advantage of Express Entry is that it does not elevate people’s expectations. [Under the present system,] we are doing a disservice when you have immigrants who come to Canada, the best and the brightest in their countries but they can’t find work here,” says Sarah Wayland, Project lead of Global Hamilton, an initiative aimed at immigrant attraction and retention in Hamilton.

Where is the blindspot?
However, there are still some unanswered questions about how the program will work. For example, what will this mean for licensed professions such as doctors? They may have a job pending, and while there is enough demand, their qualifications and credentials will still need to be acknowledged within the current licensing system.

Canada’s Express Entry is patterned after similar systems in New Zealand and Australia. However, those systems target applicants already within the country. In Canada, the express system is only meant to target those outside – so what will happen to the current number of temporary foreign workers who are filling a demand but still have precarious immigration status.

Furthermore, it is not clear what this will mean for employers who may have to wait up to six months to fill a position or hire someone but once they have arrived may find are not the right fit for the position.

Critics are also questioning if this new immigration scheme will reinforce a selection bias within the system. Further, some analysts highlight that this echoes similar restrictive and narrowing changes in Canada’s policies concerning immigration and naturalization since 2008.

Where do we go from here?
It remains to be seen how Express Entry will play-out. This is expected to be a game-changer for how the immigrant-serving organizations will operate.

“As the Express Entry will be targeting highly-ranked candidates from the applicant pool, on the basis of their education and attractiveness to employers, a reinvention of present immigrant services might be called for,” says Ines Rios, Executive Director of the Immigrant Women’s Centre. “This may be in the form of pre-arrival services to newcomers; settlement services content targeting both newcomers and employers; information outreach to employers; and a greater collaboration with the business and employer community are among these. We stand ready for that.”


Anabelle Ragsag is Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator at the Immigrant Women’s Centre, where Radenka Lescesen is Settlement Manager.

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