International graduates from Canadian universities and colleges say Ottawa’s new skilled immigration system actually hinders their access to permanent residency instead of promoting it. The scholars say their once-prized assets — Canadian education credentials and post-graduate work experience — have little to no value under the new Express Entry program, which came into effect Jan. 1. The problem, which the federal government denies, lies in the significance given to a certificate called the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). It is issued by Ottawa to ensure a candidate’s skills are sufficiently in demand to warrant hiring an immigrant.
Ottawa says applicants for Express Entry, such as international graduates, do not need an LMIA to qualify. But Express Entry acceptance is based on a point system and it’s not possible to earn enough points without an LMIA, immigration experts say. “The new system is flawed,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Shoshana Green. “We want people who went to school and have work experience in Canada. These people are already fully integrated. And now we are ignoring them. It is just bizarre.”
Under the Express Entry system, an applicant may earn a maximum of 1,200 points. An LMIA automatically earns applicants 600 points. The other 600 possible points are awarded for personal attributes such as education, language skills and work experience. How many points does it take to qualify for Express Entry? It changes. So far it has been as high as 886, and has dropped to 735 points. Regardless, the qualifying level is more than 600, so an LMIA is necessary.
Currently, international graduates of Canadian schools who are already here don’t need an LMIA to get a work permit up to three years long, under Canada’s Post-Graduation Work Permit Program. Some foreign workers also don’t need LMIAs to get work permits, including workers covered under international agreements, employees transferred internally within their company, academics and religious workers. Martyna Krezel got her post-grad work permit in 2012 after she finished an undergraduate degree in psychology and environmental science from the University of Toronto. The 26-year-old, now a hospital research assistant in brain injury and prevention, created a profile on the Express Entry system but only got 444 points. She’d considered asking her employer to apply for an LMIA, but as a contract staff person, she’s afraid it could hurt her position.
“It’s just so disappointing because I worked so hard to do everything right. I got all my ducks in a row and now it feels like the rug’s been pulled out from under us, all of us international students,” said Krezel, who came from Poland. Sami Singh came here from India in 2011 and enrolled in the engineering program at Sheridan College. Upon his graduation and $28,000 in tuition later, he received a three-year work permit in 2013 to work at a design company in Toronto. Singh, 22, said he can apply for the Express Entry program but he won’t make the passing mark because no employer, including his current boss, would bother to advertise a position and spend $1,000 to apply for an LMIA for international graduates who don’t need it to legally work for them.
“All our education and work experience are not going to help us. The maximum score I can earn is 600 points for my personal attributes, which is far below the passing score,” said Singh, whose work permit expires in 2016. “A lot of my friends are in the same situation. We just feel so helpless.” Like other international graduates, Singh and Krezel said their only hope now is that the passing score for Express Entry will continue to drop to a level low enough that those without LMIAs can qualify. Immigration officials insist an LMIA is not necessary for Express Entry applicants, but fail to acknowledge that the points earned by having the certificate are needed to actually qualify.
“The LMIA requirement is designed to ensure that Canadians and permanent residents have a first opportunity at jobs before an employer can make a job offer to a foreign national in the Express Entry pool,” said department spokesperson Nancy Caron. “While a valid job offer (or LMIA) is an advantage, it is not a mandatory requirement of the Express Entry application system,” she said.
An online petition urging the government to eliminate the LMIA requirement for these two groups has collected 5,500 signatures since February. The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which represents 280,000 post-secondary students across Canada, is also critical of the new system.
“International students pay up to three times (as much as Canadians) in tuition. One of the selling features for Canada’s international education is the opportunity for foreign students to immigrate and stay in Canada after earning their Canadian experience,” said the alliance’s executive director, Jonathan Champagne.
“The perception is Canada is making it more difficult for them. There’s no more real advantage with their Canadian education. Canada could be losing out to other countries in attracting international students.”
There are more than 290,000 foreign students enrolled in Canada, accounting for 8 per cent of the post-secondary student population and ringing in $8 billion to the Canadian economy, said the Canadian Bureau for International Education.
By Nicholas Keung Immigration reporter