Express Entry: Reviewing the first half of 2023 and a preview of the next six months

Edana Robitaille
Published: June 29, 2023

The first half of 2023 has been an interesting chapter in Express Entry history.

In some ways, Express Entry has been unpredictable, as it has worked to re-establish itself after a months-long pause throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the resumption of all-program draws in July last year, Express Entry draws occurred every two weeks on Wednesdays and resumed the pre-pandemic established patterns. Draw sizes increased by predictable increments while the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score decreased slightly with each draw.

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However, 2023 started less predictably following an unexpected six-week pause. The first draw of the year on January 11 invited 5,500 candidates, which was a higher number of candidates than any single draw in 2022.

Since then, draw sizes have fluctuated, going as low as 589 ITAs on May 10 and as high as 7,000 ITAs in three consecutive draws in March.

Number of ITAs

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has issued 58,849 ITAs so far in 2023. This is already significantly higher than the 35,750 ITAs issued between July 6 and November 23, 2022.

January 2023 started with 11,000 ITAs issued over two draws while February was slower with 4,892 ITAs issued over three draws.

March saw the second-highest number of candidates invited in a single month in Express Entry history. Over four draws, 21,667 candidates received ITAs. The only time this total has ever been exceeded was in a single draw in February 2021 in which over 27,000 candidates were invited to apply for permanent residence.

April and May were more in line with pre-pandemic draws. There were 7,000 total candidates invited in two draws in April and 5,389 invited over two draws in May.

CRS scores

The minimum CRS scores for the year have also varied widely. For example, the highest CRS score so far in 2023 was 791 for a PNP-only draw on February 15 and the lowest was 476 for the first-ever category-based draw on June 28. Most other draws over the past six months have had a minimum CRS cut-off score between 485 and 490.

The wide variation in CRS scores is likely due to different draw types. For example, a draw that is exclusively for Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates will typically have a higher cut-off score because getting nominated by a province automatically adds 600 points to a CRS score.

Frequency of draws

IRCC is not required to adhere to a set schedule for Express Entry draws. The draws occur at the discretion of the immigration minister who can hold draws whenever they see fit and invite as many candidates as deemed necessary.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, IRCC established an unofficial pattern of holding Express Entry draws every two weeks on Wednesdays. This has not always been the case in 2023.

For example, there were three draws in February, with the first two occurring back-to-back on February 1 and February 2.

There were four draws in March, taking place on the 1st, 15th,22nd, and 29th. After that, IRCC resumed the pattern of every two weeks except for the draw on June 8, which was widely expected to occur on June 7. IRCC did not hold its expected draw on June 21, but compensated for it by holding an all-program draw on June 27, and then a draw for healthcare workers on June 28, issuing a total of 4,800 ITAs in these two draws combined.

Types of draws in 2023

In an all-program Express Entry draw, candidates are considered from three economic immigration programs: the Federal Skilled Worker Program, the Canadian Experience Class and the Federal Skilled Trades Program.

While most draws have considered candidates from all Express Entry managed programs, there have also been four draws for Provincial Nominee Program candidates only, the first-ever Federal Skilled Worker Program-only draw occurred on February 2, and the first-ever category based draw on June 28.

Looking ahead: Category-based selection and other notable Express Entry developments

On May 31, IRCC announced that it would begin holding category-based selection draws later this summer. The new draw categories were established following discussions with provincial governments and other stakeholders who were able to provide insight as to which categories would best benefit Canada’s economy.

The discussions resulted in six new categories:

  • healthcare
  • science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professions
  • trades, such as carpenters, plumbers and contractors
  • transport
  • agriculture and agri-food, or
  • strong French language proficiency (at least NCLC 7 in reading, writing, listening, and speaking)

On June 28, Sean Fraser, Canada's Immigration Minister, announced 500 healthcare professionals would be issued ITAs in the very-first round of Express Entry invitations under the new category-based selection. He said up to another 1,500 would be invited in the next week.

On the same day, IRCC announced that it would hold Express Entry draws for eligible candidates under the STEM category during the week of July 5.

Under the new categories, IRCC will work toward meeting the permanent resident admissions targets outlined in the immigration levels plan 2023-2025. The categories align with the immigration minister's mandate to use immigration to bolster Canada’s workforce while also promoting francophone immigration in French-speaking minority communities outside of Quebec.

Particularly, the second half of 2023 will need to work toward achieving the 2024 target of 109,020 new permanent resident admissions through Express Entry. Invitations issued later this year may not count as admissions until 2024 because IRCC has a service standard of six months to process permanent resident applications under Express Entry programs.

Other major Canadian immigration policy developments are set to impact Express Entry's future. For instance, IRCC is introducing a new open work permit for H-1B visa holders in the U.S. on July 16. These individuals, who already have an advantage toward getting permanent residence through Express Entry, will be given an opportunity to earn even more CRS points if they gain Canadian work experience.

The strategy to attract more H-1B visa holders is part of the new Tech Talent Strategy introduced by Canada earlier this week. This strategy will also give tech workers an edge under Express Entry if they choose to come to Canada and work on a temporary basis before entering the Express Entry pool.

On June 27, IRCC said it would provide work permit holders with more flexibility to study in Canada. This will afford them the ability to earn additional CRS points for studying in Canada as long as they pursue an eligible program.

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