How does IRCC decide when to hold Express Entry draws?

Edana Robitaille, Kareem El-Assal
Published: November 30, 2023

There are many possible reasons IRCC has not been holding Express Entry draws.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Express Entry draws were fairly predictable.

Although it was not an official policy, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) would usually hold draws every two weeks, on Wednesday. Each draw would typically feature over 3,000 Invitations to Apply (ITAs) for permanent residence, and Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) cut-offs around 470 points.

Things were more stable back then, as Express Entry's policy objectives had remained largely in tact since the system was introduced in January 2015. In addition, IRCC was relatively close to achieving its goal of processing 80% of Express Entry permanent residence applications within six months or less, and hence, could continue issuing new ITAs in regular intervals, which gave more certainty to Express Entry candidates.

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Since the onset of the pandemic, however, Express Entry draws have occurred with a far lesser degree of predictability. There is no longer a reoccurring pattern of when a draw will take place, the draw type, number of ITAs, or CRS cut-offs.

This year, for example, saw Express Entry draws occur regularly, about every two weeks, leading up to June. Once IRCC introduced category-based selection, draws began occurring more frequently, as IRCC sought to achieve a broader array of policy goals, including addressing labour shortages and welcoming more Francophone immigrants.

Between June 27 until August 15, a period in which category-based selection was introduced, IRCC held a total of 12 Express Entry draws. This was unprecedented, as based on previous trends, IRCC would typically hold between 4-8 draws over a comparable period of time. IRCC then held off on issuing Express Entry invitations for just over one month, before holding 9 more draws between September 19 and October 26.

There has not been a draw since October 26, nor has IRCC explained potential reasons for the pause. However, there are several key factors which might have an influence on when IRCC holds Express Entry draws.

Immigration Levels Plan

Each year IRCC releases an Immigration Levels Plan to set the targets for the number of permanent resident admissions that will arrive in Canada annually for the upcoming three years.

These targets are further broken down by category, including Express Entry candidates.

For example, IRCC plans to land 110,770 immigrants via Express Entry in 2024 and 117,550 in both 2025 and 2026. These figures include the principal applicants who receive Express Entry ITAs, as well as their eligible partners and dependents who they can add to their permanent residence applications.

To ensure that IRCC meets these targets, it needs to constantly evaluate the number of permanent residence applications in the processing queue. If there are enough applications for IRCC to meet its targets for the current and upcoming year it may not be necessary for the department to issue any further ITAs. If there are not enough applications in the processing queue, IRCC will likely hold more draws or issue a higher number of ITAs.

When deciding on the number of ITAs to issue in terms of targets, IRCC considers both the current year and the upcoming year because it takes six months to process an Express Entry candidate’s final application. This means, for example, that ITAs issued in the latter half of 2023 will likely result in a permanent resident completing their landing in 2024.

IRCC policy objectives

The department must also consider the types of draws it should hold to fulfill its policy objectives.

Canada’s immigration minister has a mandate to strengthen the national economy. The minister does this by issuing instructions to invite newcomers who have the skills to close gaps in the labour force and contribute to the economy as quickly as possible after landing in Canada.

Another key way this is done is by issuing Express Entry invitations to Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) candidates.

Deciding which candidates to invite takes time and consideration and can result in occasional pauses to Express Entry draws as IRCC evaluates its options. For example, the minister must decide if candidates should receive invitations in an all-program draw, which considers candidates from all three Express Entry managed programs, or if it makes more sense to hold program-specific draws or invite candidates in category-based round of invitations.

Back in 2021, IRCC was looking to achieve its goal of landing over 400,000 new permanent residents despite ongoing challenges with the pandemic, including processing delays and travel restrictions. One major way it looked to achieve this goal is by holding large Express Entry draws for Canadian Experience Class (CEC) candidates, since most of them were already in Canada, and it would be quicker for IRCC to land them as permanent residents. More recently, following its introduction of category-based selection, IRCC has held more draws to cater to broader policy objectives, which include:

  • Promote economic development in regions across the country
  • Invite candidates with high human capital who are well-placed to integrate into the Canadian labour market
  • Facilitate temporary to permanent residence transitions
  • Strengthen Francophone communities outside of Quebec
  • Inviting candidates with work experience in STEM, healthcare, transportation, agriculture, and skilled trades

Changes to the Comprehensive Ranking System and Express Entry profiles

Occasional changes to the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) and other Express Entry profile changes may also impact Express Entry draws.

While it doesn’t happen often, a change to how IRCC allocates CRS points to a specific attribute can also influence the frequency of Express Entry draws.

For example, in 2020 IRCC increased the number of CRS points a candidate could receive for French proficiency. When that happens, IRCC needs to complete several technical updates to ensure that all existing profiles are up to date with accurate CRS scores.

In addition, as another example, last year IRCC needed to phase out NOC Skill Types in favour of the new TEER system.

IT issues

IT issues, including glitches, are another factor which can influence Express Entry.

Most recently, IRCC reported that there is an issue with the Express Entry profile builder. Because of the glitch, candidates who have already received an ITA may not be able to upload their final application for permanent residency within the requisite 60 days.

On November 29, IRCC tweeted that applicants who are unable to upload their profiles due to the glitch will have an additional 60 days to submit their application.

Rollouts of new systems may result in IRCC glitches. For example, at a recent meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, IRCC Deputy Minister Christiane Fox pointed out that there were some IT problems following the introduction of category-based selection rounds of invitations.

When such glitches occur, IRCC may decide to hold off on draws until it resolves the problem.

Further, there were no Express Entry draws between November 23, 2022, and January 11, 2023, due to an IT problem related to updates to the National Occupation Classification (NOC) system. The glitch resulted in some ineligible candidates being issued ITAs.

Staffing changes at IRCC

A change in staff can also influence Express Entry draws. This could be anything from a new Immigration Minister, Deputy Minister, or other officials responsible for Express Entry. It takes time for staff to get up to speed in their new position.

IRCC is undergoing a reorganization after former Deputy Minister Neil Yeates released a report highlighting departmental inefficiencies. In the report, he recommended restructuring the organization of IRCC based on lines of business. In an interview with Paul Wells, Deputy Minister Fox said that the department has already been making changes to reflect some of the recommendations. This would inevitably impact staffing within the department.

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