Express Entry: No news from IRCC on when it will invite FSWP candidates

Kareem El-Assal, Gabriel Dumitrascu
Published: November 4, 2021

With just two months remaining in the year, it remains uncertain if IRCC will resume invitations to FSWP candidates in 2021.

In an October 21st meeting between Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and associations representing Canadian immigration lawyers and consultants, IRCC revealed it is yet to make a decision on when it will resume issuing Express Entry invitations to all candidates.

The department noted that part of the decision-making process entails waiting for the new federal cabinet to settle in. Canada held a federal election on September 20 and the winning Liberal Party of Canada unveiled its cabinet on October 26.

With cabinet now in place, IRCC will be able to present major proposals to the new immigration minister, Sean Fraser, for approval. For instance, the decision to only invite Canadian Experience Class and Provincial Nominee Program candidates throughout 2021's Express Entry draws was proposed to the former immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, in the first half of this year, and ultimately approved by him.

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Express Entry is the main way Canada welcomes economic class immigrants. Those that wish to immigrate through Express Entry must be eligible for at least one of three programs:

A portion of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is also managed by Express Entry, so long as a candidate meets the criteria of one of the above.

Eligible candidates then upload their profiles onto IRCC's website. They receive a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score based on their human capital characteristics such as their age, education, English and/or French skills, work experience, among other criteria. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, IRCC held bi-weekly draws to invite the highest scoring candidates to apply for permanent residence.

Before COVID, FSWP candidates were the main recipients of Invitations to Apply (ITA) for permanent residence. They tend to have higher CRS scores than CEC and FSTP candidates since the FSWP has the highest language proficiency requirement of the three programs.

Two other significant reasons they often get higher CRS scores is that FSWP candidates need to get their foreign education assessed, and they often have more work experience than CEC candidates.

The CEC and FSTP do not have formal education requirements, and given most of its candidates are former international students, who tend to be younger in age, CEC candidates usually have less work experience, and hence get fewer CRS points for work, than FSWP candidates.

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Up until the onset of the pandemic in Canada, IRCC usually considered candidates from all three programs in each Express Entry draw. However, once Canada imposed pandemic-related travel restrictions in March 2020, IRCC shifted to program-specific draws in which it only considered PNP and CEC candidates. The rationale behind continuing to invite PNP candidates was that IRCC had a duty to help provinces and territories address their labour market needs. The rationale behind CEC draws was that these individuals were mostly in Canada and hence are less likely to be affected by COVID challenges including travel restrictions.

IRCC held its first all-program draw of the pandemic on July 8, 2020 (an all-program draw is one that considers all Express Entry candidates). It briefly returned to program-specific draws, including one for FSTP candidates only, before holding all-program draws between September and December of last year.

But since the start of this year, IRCC has only invited PNP and CEC candidates. Internal IRCC briefing notes obtained by CIC News through access to information requests outline why IRCC is going with this approach. One of IRCC's top priorities this year is to achieve its target of landing 401,000 new permanent residents. At the start of 2021, IRCC took stock of the pandemic situation at home and abroad: the pandemic was still raging, vaccines were slow to rollout, and many travel restrictions remained in place. IRCC figured the best way to achieve its 401,000 newcomer target was by keeping Express Entry invitations in the first half of the year confined to PNP and CEC candidates. This would complement other initiatives they since pursued such as offering up to 90,000 additional permanent residence spots to temporary residents living in Canada during the pandemic. IRCC proposed this plan to Mendicino and received approval.

According to data provided to CIC News by IRCC, there were about 145,000 FSWP candidates in the Express Entry pool on April 7, 2021. This grew to 153,000 as of June 29. The size of the pool does not necessarily grow over time since candidate profiles expire after one year and language test and educational competency assessments have expiration periods. However generally speaking, the pool size does grow over time since previous and new candidates upload their profiles to get a chance of receiving a permanent residence invitation.

Pros and cons of IRCC's current approach

The main benefit of IRCC's ongoing focus on CEC and PNP invitations is it gives the Canadian government certainty of achieving its immigration levels targets during what has been an uncertain period of history amid the pandemic. At the time of its Express Entry decision earlier this year, it made sense for IRCC to focus on inviting candidates living in Canada. Even though Canada has lifted most of its travel restrictions, IRCC is likely continuing to hold off on FSWP invitations so it can focus on processing the applications of those most likely to complete their permanent residence landings in the near term. IRCC has landed about 267,000 new permanent residents this year and is on pace to achieve the 401,000 newcomer target.

On the other hand, it appears IRCC's policy is less justifiable now that travel restrictions are largely out of the way. In theory, there is little preventing IRCC from inviting FSWP candidates now and then processing their applications beyond 2021. Moreover, IRCC risks alienating FSWP candidates, who may feel they are being treated unfairly through no fault of their own. Some of these candidates now need to incur additional costs such as retaking their language test due to the ongoing delays to FSWP invitations.

I am an FSWP candidate. Does it make sense to enter the Express Entry pool now?

The main downside to entering the Express Entry pool now as an FSWP candidate is the possibility your language test will expire if you do not receive an ITA within the two year language test validity period. If this happens, you will need to spend additional time and money to retake a language test.

On the other hand, there are advantages to entering the pool now. They include that candidates give themselves a chance to receive an ITA, whereas their chance to get an ITA is zero if they are outside the pool.

Being in the pool also gives candidates a chance to receive a provincial nomination invitation, which if they accept, will result in 600 additional CRS points and a virtual guarantee of receiving an ITA.

Entering the pool also gives candidates a shot to receive a job offer, which is worth up to 200 additional CRS points.

Finally, it is important to stress that while we do not know when IRCC will resume inviting FSWP candidates, we must remember it has said it looks forward to resuming invitations to FSWP candidates as soon as it is in a position to do so.

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