The first half of 2019 was among the most active six-month stretches in the history of Canada’s Express Entry system, with a total of 41,800 invitations to apply for Canadian permanent residence issued.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) held 13 draws over the first six months of 2019, issuing a total of 41,800 invitations to apply (ITAs). Only 2017 had a busier start to the year and just two other six-month periods have seen more ITAs issued since Express Entry’s introduction in January 2015.
The Express Entry system is Canada’s primary source of skilled foreign workers. It manages the pool of candidates for Canada’s three Federal High Skilled immigration programs — the Federal Skilled Worker Class, Federal Skilled Trades Class and Canadian Experience Class.
Eligible candidates for each program are entered into the Express Entry pool where they are ranked based on a score awarded under what is known as the Comprehensive Ranking System, or CRS.
The CRS awards points for factors that include age, education, skilled work experience and proficiency in English or French.
Additional points may also be awarded to candidates with a provincial nomination, arranged employment in Canada or education in Canada, among other additional point factors and the highest-ranked candidates are invited to apply for Canadian permanent residence through regular draws from the pool, which generally take place every two weeks.
A job offer is not required in order to enter or be selected from the Express Entry pool.
A total of 92,000 Express Entry candidates and their families were admitted to Canada as new permanent residents in 2018. This was an increase of 41 per cent over 2017 and reflects Canada’s rising admissions targets for the three Express Entry-managed programs and Canada’s Provincial Nominee Program, which includes numerous pathways to permanent residence for Express Entry candidates.
The combined admissions targets for these popular immigration programs are slated to reach 160,100 new permanent residents in 2021 under Canada’s multi-year immigration levels plan.
The first half of 2019 saw IRCC adopt a new approach to draw sizes that have remained unchanged at 3,350 since the end of January.
This differs from past years that saw draw sizes either fluctuate from draw to draw or increased incrementally every few weeks, as was the case in 2018.
While lacking the volatility of past years, IRCC still managed to issue more ITAs in the first half of 2019 than it did in the first half of 2018 — a year that finished with the current ITA record of 89,800.
This achievement last year came on the strength of a second half that produced 50,100 ITAs and saw draw sizes grow to 3,900.
As it stands, the 41,800 ITAs issued so far this year leave IRCC less than halfway to tying 2018’s ITA total of 89,800.
Given its higher admissions targets for 2019 and 2020 through the three Express Entry-managed programs and the PNP, this could result in the busiest second half of a year yet for the Express Entry system.
Each Express Entry draw has what is known as the cut-off score, which is the lowest CRS score among the candidates invited to apply. All candidates with scores above the cut-off are invited to apply for Canadian permanent residence.
Factors that can affect the cut-off score include the draw size, the time between draws and the number of candidates in the Express Entry pool at the time of a given draw.
The first half of 2019 saw the cut-off score range from a low of 438 to a high of 470 for draws involving all three of the Federal High Skilled categories. There was also one draw limited to Federal Skilled Trades Class candidates that had a minimum score of 332.
One reason the first half of 2019 did not produce lower cut-off scores is the fact IRCC let more than two weeks elapse between all-program draws on two occasions.
The first time this occurred was after the January 30 draw that resulted in the CRS cut-off score of 438. IRCC allowed three weeks to pass and the next draw on February 20 produced a cut-off score of 457.
IRCC followed this by conducting draws every two weeks that gradually brought the cut-off score down to 450 on May 1.
Nearly a month then elapsed between the May 1 draw and the next all-program invitation round on May 29, resulting in a CRS cut-off of 470 — the highest minimum score since December 2016.
IRCC followed the May 29 draw with two invitation rounds in June (one every two weeks) that dropped the cut-off scores of 465 and 462, respectively.
The time between draws is an important determinant of the CRS cut-off score. When more time is allowed to elapse between draws, additional candidates with higher scores can enter the Express Entry pool, leading to a higher cut-off score.
Less time between draws means the Express Entry pool has less time to replenish with higher scoring candidates and generally helps to reduce the cut-off score.
This was the case in late January, when fewer than two weeks elapsed between draws and resulted in a score of 438.
Express Entry-linked PNP streams in provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia have provided eligible, lower-scoring Express Entry candidates with pathways to permanent residence over the past six months.
Express Entry candidates with a provincial nomination receive an additional 600 points toward their CRS score, effectively guaranteeing an ITA from the Government of Canada regardless of their original CRS score.
Canada’s Provincial Nominee Program has a higher admissions target for 2019 than it did last year and it is slated to rise again in 2020 and 2021.
Certain PNP streams, such as Saskatchewan’s International Skilled Worker Express Entry sub-category and Ontario’s French-Speaking Skilled Worker and Skilled Trades streams, do not require a minimum CRS score of Express Entry candidates in order to be eligible.
Saskatchewan’s Express Entry sub-category held eight draws during the first six months of 2019 and issued 1,166 invitations to apply for a provincial nomination during that time.
In order to be considered for a provincial nomination from Saskatchewan, eligible Express Entry candidates must register a separate Expression of Interest profile with the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program.
Ontario’s French-Speaking Skilled Worker Stream invited 549 candidates over the first six months of 2019 and other 732 were invited through the Skilled Trades Stream.
Nova Scotia’s Labour Market Priorities Stream has also invited Express Entry candidates without requiring a CRS minimum. This was the case with the stream’s last opening on June 3, when 312 Express Entry candidates with eligible work experience in early childhood education were invited to apply for a provincial nomination.
Other Express Entry-linked PNP streams have minimum CRS score requirements that are well below the cut-off scores seen in federal draws over the first six months of this year.
The Alberta Express Entry Stream has been used on 16 occasions this year to search the Express Entry pool for candidates who match its eligibility requirements. Eight of these searches had minimum scores between 300 and 302.
The first step toward pursuing these Express Entry-aligned provincial nominee streams is submitting an Express Entry profile.
“The first half of 2019 was certainly impressive in terms of the sheer amount of ITAs issued, and we could very well see it eclipsed by the second half of the year,” said David Cohen, senior partner with the Campbell, Cohen Canadian immigration law firm in Montreal.
“We are also seeing growing PNP targets and evolving labour market needs and labour market streams at the provincial level result in more and different Express Entry candidates being able to pursue Canadian permanent residence.”