Special Review-Canada Day: Express Entry

Special Review On Canada Day: Express Entry

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Special Review On Canada Day: Express Entry

Canada Day, held every July 1, marks the half-way point of the year. It is a time to reflect on the first six months of the year and look forward to what the second half may bring. In the context of Canadian immigration, 2017 has so far been a standout year, particularly with respect to the Express Entry selection system.

This Canada Day special report on Express Entry delves into the detail, answering some common — but often complex — questions, such as:

  • Why did the number of Invitations to Apply (ITAs) increase?
  • Will more ITAs be issued over the next six months?
  • What effect may this have on the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) cut-off threshold?
  • How has the CRS changed over recent months, and might it change again in the future?
  • How are provinces engaging with the system?

All of these questions, and more, are considered in this exclusive report.

More ITAs issued

As of April, the first quarter of 2017 saw a far higher number of ITAs (24,632) issued to candidates in the Express Entry pool than in any previous quarter. Following this, the second quarter of the year — encompassing the months of April, May, and June — saw an even higher number of ITAs (26,653) issued than over the first three months of the year.

Together, this meant that 51,285 ITAs were issued over the first half of the year. This number more than triples the 15,286 ITAs issued over the first half of 2016, and also surpasses the total number of candidates invited in any other half year since Express Entry was introduced in 2015.

Special Review-Canada Day: Express Entry


The increase in ITAs issued stems from two clear factors, as noted by senior staff at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). First, the government set a higher annual target intake for the federal economic programs managed under Express Entry for 2017 than it did last year.

Further, in May a Senior IRCC Policy Analyst stated that only a few cases remained in the backlog of files submitted before Express Entry was introduced in January, 2015. Consequently, IRCC has been able to increase draw sizes in order to meet the annual target intake level, as Express Entry becomes the main driver of economic immigration to Canada.

It is worth noting that the target allocation for the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) for 2017 has also risen, which may also be playing a role in larger draw sizes.

The effect on CRS cut-off thresholds

This increase in ITAs was a major factor in the decrease in the CRS cut-off thresholds over the last six months. Seven of the 16 Express Entry draws conducted during the first half of this year have seen the minimum CRS score required to obtain an ITA decrease to a record low.

In the first draw of the year, this threshold stood at 468; indeed, as recently as December, 2016 it was at 497. However, by May 31 the threshold had gone down to 413, allowing a far more diverse range of candidates to obtain that all-important ITA.

More recently, the latest draw (at the time of writing) saw a CRS cut-off score of 449. However, it should be noted that this increase was expected in the short term, following recent changes to the CRS that brought in additional points factors for candidates with a sibling in Canada and for candidates with French ability. In addition, a four-week gap between the two most recent draws allowed more candidates to enter the pool, thereby increasing the cut-off threshold on that occasion. Typically, there is a gap of around two weeks between draws.

What about candidates with lower scores?

Having a core CRS score below the lowest score drawn has so far been a common feature among many successful Express Entry candidates.

According to a year-end report by IRCC, 55 percent of candidates who received an ITA in 2016 had core CRS scores of less than 450 (the lowest score drawn in 2016). Core CRS indicates a candidate’s score without the additional points for a provincial nomination, a job offer, or post-secondary education obtained in Canada.

In 2016, approximately 26 percent of the 33,872 candidates who received ITAs had a provincial nomination. Provinces continue to be active in 2017. A snapshot of the nine days leading up to May 26, 2017, shows that 143 candidates received points for a provincial nomination in that period. A provincial nomination is worth 600 CRS points — a core CRS score of 200 would become 800 with a provincial nomination.

The recent changes introduced by the government on June 6, 2017, also added further factors that candidates can use to improve their CRS score.

Will more ITAs be issued over the next six months?

Candidates who receive an ITA in mid-to-late 2017 will likely land in Canada as new permanent residents some time in 2018. Effectively, this means that IRCC is already inviting candidates who will be counted in next year’s annual target intake numbers.

While the exact target intake numbers for 2018 are not yet known, Canada’s Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen recently disclosed that the overall figure will be at least 300,000, the ‘new baseline’ for Canada’s immigration programs. Consequently, 2018’s target will likely be greater than or equal to this year’s target. Moreover, the Minister recently stated that “immigration continues to be a key ingredient to our economic future as a country,” hinting that economic immigration will continue to make up the majority of the overall target number.

This, taken with the fact that the backlog of pre-Express Entry applications is now all-but cleared, gives candidates and other stakeholders reason to believe that many ITAs may be issued over the next six months and beyond.

How might this effect CRS cut-off thresholds?

As discussed above, larger rounds of invitation draws, higher target intakes, and a cleared backlog has led to lower CRS cut-off thresholds. The new baseline of 300,000 new permanent residents per year bodes well for the future with respect to the CRS threshold.

However, we have also seen what effect a delay between draws can have on the threshold. There was only one draw in June, and this came after a four-week wait since the previous draw, contributing towards an increase in the CRS threshold. The previous time there was a significant gap between draws was in March, and the threshold went up on that occasion too.

Special Review-Canada Day: Express Entry

*Note: Draw of November 30 invited only provincial nominees with a minimum CRS score of 786; draws of May 26 invited only provincial nominees with a minimum CRS score of 775, and candidates in the Federal Skilled Trades Class with a minimum score of 199.

A more dynamic approach from IRCC

Over recent months, IRCC has approached Express Entry in a more hands-on manner, with features such as program-specific draws and improvements to the CRS.

The latest improvements followed earlier changes introduced last November, when a new cohort of foreign workers (including NAFTA work permit holders and Intra-Company transferees) became eligible to receive additional points for a qualifying job offer, even if they didn’t have a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). At the same time, the number of CRS points awarded for a job offer changed from 600 to either 50 or 200 points, depending on the position offered, and, for the first time, candidates with a Canadian education received additional points.

These changes were part of IRCC’s objective to place greater emphasis on human capital, skills and experience. The tables below provide an overview of all changes made to Express Entry since November, 2016.


Table 1: Changes implemented as of Nov 19, 2016

Points awarded for a job offer within NOC major group 00 200 CRS points 600 CRS points
Points awarded for any other skilled job offer 50 CRS points 600 CRS points
Candidates eligible for points for a job offer LMIA not required for certain workers in Canada LMIA was required for points to be awarded
Job offer duration requirement At least one year Indeterminate
1- or 2-year post-secondary education credential in Canada 15 CRS points No additional points awarded
3-year credential/Master’s/Entry-to-practice professional degree/PhD in Canada 30 CRS points No additional points awarded
Validity period of Invitation to Apply 90 days 60 days


Table 2: Changes implemented as of June 6, 2017

Points awarded for principal applicant or spouse/common-law partner having a sibling in Canada 15 CRS points No additional points awarded
French CLB 7 or better + English CLB 4 or below (or no proven English ability) 15 CRS points No additional points awarded
French CLB 7 or better + English CLB 5 or better 30 CRS points No additional points awarded
Job Bank registration Voluntary Mandatory for candidates without a job offer

IRCC’s approach is open to future changes, and program-specific draws, while not the norm, may be seen again. Indeed, IRCC staff have not discounted the possibility of a draw occurring for Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) candidates only. At this time, this is the only program for which there has not yet been a program-specific draw.

How are provinces engaging with Express Entry?

To provide a full recent history of how provinces are using their Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs) with Express Entry would require a report all of its own. However, some brief notes highlight how certain provinces have tweaked their PNP streams over the first half of 2017 for the benefit of many Express Entry candidates.

Ontario, for example, has updated its Human Capital Priorities stream to target certain workers, most recently workers in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. These candidates may receive a Notification of Interest (NOI) even if they don’t have 400 CRS points; previously, Ontario only issued NOIs under the HCP stream to candidates with at least 400 points.

Moreover, Ontario also introduced a new Express Entry-aligned PNP stream for tradespersons, and the province continues to issue NOIs through its French-Speaking Skilled Worker stream.

Other provinces have also been active. Saskatchewan has opened its International Skilled Worker – Express Entry sub-category on a number of occasions this year, allowing candidates with work experience in certain occupations to submit an application without a job offer on a first-come, first-served basis.

In addition, British Columbia has continued to invite workers and graduates in the Express Entry pool to apply to its PNP. On the other side of the country, the Atlantic provinces — including Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland — have also been engaged with Express Entry so far this year.

Into the future

“The first half of 2017 has been a breakout period in the two-and-a-half year history of Express Entry. November’s improvements were followed by a transitional period during which the number of ITAs increased significantly, and this allowed many candidates in the pool to benefit. The latest improvements also show that IRCC wants a diverse range of candidates to be invited to apply,” says Attorney David Cohen.

“IRCC’s prediction that the CRS cut-off threshold may decrease as a result of the first batch of changes has come to fruition, but it remains unclear exactly how low this threshold may go. If draw sizes remain relatively large, we may see lower CRS thresholds deeper into 2017.

“The government is not the only stakeholder setting immigration targets. All around the world, individuals and families are setting targets of their own, but many don’t quite know exactly how to go about achieving these goals. Getting into the Express Entry pool with an accurate, up-to-date profile is the first step, and after this point it’s about being proactive, keeping track of PNP developments, and finding other potential ways to improve your chances of obtaining an Invitation to Apply for permanent residence. With an ITA in hand, applicants-to-be should ensure that their documents and forms are prepared and reviewed thoroughly.”