Almost all of Manal’s family members (a pseudonym has been used to protect her privacy) have the qualifications that can make them successful immigrants in Canada: Manal is an entrepreneur, her husband is a physician, and perhaps most importantly, the Egyptian couple owns a fair amount of money made from 14 years of working in the Gulf.
However, Express Entry — the new immigration system Canada launched in January — has made the family’s migration endeavour a tough job and, perhaps, a mission impossible. Had they applied years back, they would now be paying federal and provincial taxes as full-fledged permanent residents while enjoying free health care services as well as free world-class education for their children.
As of July 6, more than 112,700 people had applied for permanent residency in Canada under the highly touted new system, but only 12,000 people were invited to apply, only 844 visas were issued, and only 411 people had arrived, according to the program’s mid-year review.
“Canada is now looking to pick the best of the best, or the crème de la crème,” says Amal Ismail, a Toronto-based immigration consultant. “Before the new system, doctors, engineers, and bankers would come and look for jobs. And if they were unsuccessful, they would resort to the welfare program, placing a heavy burden on the Canadian economy.”
Express Entry has become a nightmare for immigration hopefuls and their legal representatives alike. The system has limited immigration seekers’ opportunities to get easy and expeditious access to the world’s eleventh-largest country.
“It is very, very frustrating,” says Muazaz Aziz, an immigration consultant, based in Etobicoke, Ontario. “We don’t like it, nor do our clients; they feel it is not fair at all.”
In the past, immigration hopefuls only needed to pass the “67 pass mark” in order to be qualified to apply for permanent residency. Today, they are required to enter a pool of like-minded people and be ranked against each other on an additional 1,200-point scale in order to be invited to apply.
Out of these 1,200 points, human factors such as education level, age, language proficiency and Canadian work experience are valued at a maximum of 500 points. Transferable skills value an additional 100 points, while having a job offer secures 600 points. Only the top applicants are invited to apply and have to complete their applications in six months or less.
Manal and her husband have 300 points, hence, their application is below 453 points — the score of the lowest-ranked candidates invited to apply for permanent residency in the past 11 rounds of invitations.
Among the 41,218 active candidates remaining in the pool, more than half (27,000 people) have a score between 300 and 399. Only 355 scored over 600, and a meager 51 scored above 1,000. Manal’s chances, then, are very low at this moment.
“The application process has become extremely competitive,” says Aziz. “If two applicants have almost the same qualifications, but one of them has higher English language scores, Canada will prefer that person. This wasn’t the case in the past. Canada no longer accepts immigrants who come here to start their lives from scratch,” adds Aziz, who has been a consultant for 15 years.
“You have to be young, educated and a perfect English speaker. And if you have a job offer, you are in!” says Aziz.
And that’s exactly what Manal needs to acquire in order to qualify: a job offer, which is worth 600 points. The 300 points she has scored at this point are not enough, and she is unable to improve that score, which might even tumble to 295 points next year when her spouse turns 45. If he were in his 20s, the score would be 400 points. And even if Manal’s spouse invested time and money to obtain a PhD, he would add just 20 more points to his score.
“This is an employer-driven mechanism,” says Lilyan Shaba, an immigration consultant based in Mississauga, Ontario. “Very few applicants are able to secure a job offer.” Shaba, who has been in this field for over 12 years, cites a client of hers, a university lecturer, who discarded his application after failing to secure a job offer. He is now trying his luck with Australian immigration, she says. Out of the 112,700 who created profiles on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website, some 48,723 were deemed ineligible, and 6,441 were withdrawn.
‘Treated as a citizen’
Manal has never visited Canada, yet she has heard a lot of “poetry,” as she puts it, about the world’s second-largest nation from her friends who are living in the Ontario suburbs of Oakville and Mississauga. “I want to retire in a country where I can be treated as a citizen, not as a person whose residency is connected with her job,” says Manal, hinting at the GCC residency requirements, which are linked with an expatriate’s job and employer: You’ve got a job, you can stay – but in many cases, if you lose your employment, you’re out of the country.
Manal’s conviction that Canada should be her future home was further cemented when her uncle, a senior professor at a Canadian university visited her in Dubai and spoke much about the exquisite days he had spent over the past 35 years in Canada. He encouraged all members of her family to make the bold move.
Manal decided to apply in September 2014 when her oldest daughter started grade 10 and expressed intent to join a university in Canada. In October, Manal contracted an accredited immigration office in Dubai to take care of her family’s immigration bid, and by December she had submitted her application, right ahead of the launch of Express Entry.
In April, Manal’s immigration bid, using the old system, had a setback. Canada did not process her application as the country exceeded the quota of immigration applications for that year. That’s what Manal was told by the Dubai-based immigration office, which had charged her approximately AED 20,000 ($5,445), of which AED 6,000 ($1,634) was refunded.
Manal decided not to quit and rehired the office to reapply within the new Express Entry system. She paid an additional AED 3,000 ($817) for the new application and AED 2,000 ($545) for looking for a provincial nomination (a number of Canadian provinces run programs through which they nominate individuals and their families for permanent resident status based on a pre-approved job offer in the province). The Dubai office created an online profile for her where she expressed her interest in coming to Canada permanently.
In May, Manal was advised by her immigration representative to focus on grabbing the 600 points in order to get the long-sought invitation. She was prompted by her immigration representative to look for a provincial nomination from less attractive provinces.
“I don’t remember their names; one province is Winni... something, the other something Island.” She meant Manitoba and Prince Edward Island, the smallest of Canada’s ten provinces. (Manal will need to remember all ten provinces when attending the Canadian citizenship test in the future.) She was asked to provide relatives or friends to be used as references and to mention the reasons why she wants to reside in Manitoba or PEI. In reality, she does not want to travel there—she wants to join her relatives and friends in Ontario, the nation’s largest province.
In June, Manal hired a Toronto-based immigration consultant to perform a crystal-clear task: securing the 600-point job contract for her spouse. “I think Express Entry applicants, as opposed to immigrants in the old system, have to put in a lot of effort [to be invited to apply],” she says.
In August, Manal and her family are ready to take a short trip to Canada, their first ever, while visiting the United States. She intends to meet her uncle and her immigration representative to further her endeavor to snatch the 600-point job offer for her husband. “I’m a tireless person and won’t give up,” says Manal.