Express Entry: Couples and the Comprehensive Ranking System

Michael Schwartz
Published: May 14, 2021

If you are applying for immigration through the Express Entry system with your spouse, you are going to be scored differently from single applicants.

Canada’s three leading federal economic immigration programs are the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and Canadian Experience Class (CEC). Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses a tool called Express Entry to manage applications for these programs.

Express Entry uses a points-based ranking tool called the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). The CRS evaluates candidates on various factors, which IRCC views as demonstrating a candidate’s ability to succeed in Canada. These elements include factors such as education, language ability, and Canadian work experience, among others.

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A candidate is subject to the CRS whether or not they are single or coupled. However, the way they are scored changes somewhat depending on their status. A coupled person can receive less base points than a single person, but can also gain points from their partner.

For the purposes of CRS, an individual is coupled if they are either formally married to someone else, or in a common-law union with someone else, meaning they have lived in a relationship with the same person for at least a year

Every application through Express Entry involves a Principal Applicant (PA). The PA is the basis for the immigration and application. It is the PA whom the CRS evaluates and assigns a score. However, the PA can include a spouse and dependent children with the application.

When applying as a couple, only one partner can be the PA. The couple can choose which partner is the PA as long as both partners qualify for at least one Express Entry program. This rule is important because it is extremely unlikely that both partners will have the same exact CRS score. One partner will almost certainly have a CRS score higher than the other, and that person would be better suited as the PA.

Another important thing to understand is that the scoring system for single PAs and partnered PAs is somewhat different. To account for the partner, the CRS reduces the number of points the PA can get for various factors by a total of 40 points. To make up for that, the CRS also allows the PA to earn up to 40 points through their partner’s profile.

A hypothetical example

These concepts can be quite confusing in the abstract. Here is a hypothetical scenario that shows how these principles would apply to prospective applicants:

Rajiv and Sonya are married. Rajiv is 29, has a master’s degree from abroad, Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 8 across all four categories, and five years of cumulative work experience— one year abroad and four in Canada. Sonya is 30, has a bachelor’s degree from abroad, and a CLB 7 across all four language proficiencies. She has eight years of work experience, six of which were done in Canada.

While both Rajiv and Sonya have impressive profiles, Rajiv’s will be stronger than Sonya’s overall due to Rajiv’s superior English language skills and education, as well as Rajiv’s slightly younger age. This conclusion applies both whether Rajiv or Sonya is applying as a single person, or if Rajiv and Sonya applied as a couple with either of them as the principal applicant.

Rajiv would obtain 494 with him as the PA of the couple. Sonya's strong language skills, good education, and Canadian work experience contribute 29 points to this score.

In theory, Rajiv could have applied as a single person and scored 497, just three more points. However, if he did the immigration officer may question why his spouse is not accompanying. If the reason is to gain access to more CRS points, it may not necessarily be acceptable. If the application does go through, Rajiv would have to reside in Canada throughout the entire spousal sponsorship process, since permanent residents cannot sponsor from abroad.

Calculate Your Express Entry Score

The nitty gritty of the CRS

There are four components to a CRS score. Only the first two vary based on whether one is coupled or not. If a person is coupled, they can claim less points than a single person. However, they are eligible to gain points through their partner.  A single person by definition cannot claim points through spousal/partner factors.

1) Core/Human Capital Factors: Things like age, language, and education. The maximum score for category A is 460 points for someone in a couple, but 500 points for a single person.

2) Spouse/Partner Factors: Assesses the spouse or partner’s language, educational, and work experience points. It is only applicable to a person who has a spouse. The maximum score for this category is 40 points.

3) Skill Transferability: Factor combinations that are highly valued. For example, having both Canadian work experience and a post-secondary credential. The maximum score for this category is 100 points.

4) Additional Points: Other things that gain a candidate points, such as having a provincial nomination from an enhanced Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) or having received post-secondary education in Canada. The maximum score for this category is 600 points.

The total maximum CRS score a person, either single or coupled, can obtain is 1200 points. As long as each member of the couple meets eligibility requirements for a given program, the couple can decide who will be the principal applicant to maximize the potential score.

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