How some Express Entry candidates may benefit from category-based selection draws

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: June 11, 2024

Recent patterns suggest that Express Entry candidates who are eligible for category-based selection draws are likely to receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) even if they have a Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score below 500.

CRS scores are the numeric values based on a candidate’s human capital factors that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) assigns to every eligible Express Entry candidate when they enter the candidate pool.

In addition, CRS scores are used to determine the cut-off score for each Express Entry draw. Cut-off scores represent the lowest Express Entry profile score of all candidates who received an ITA during a given Express Entry draw.

These scores are important because no candidate with a CRS score below the determined cut-off will be considered for an ITA for Canadian permanent residence in that specific draw.

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In recent weeks, several outlets have indicated that many immigration candidates are expressing concern over high CRS cut-off scores. Thus far in 2024, there has not been a general Express Entry draw with a minimum/cut-off CRS score below 524.

Note: In 2023, 17 of IRCC’s 25 non-category-based Express Entry draws (general and program-specific combined) had CRS cut-off scores below 518. Of these, six draws had cut-offs between 500 and 517, while 11 draws had cut-offs under 496.

CRS scores for category-based selection draws in 2024

IRCC has conducted eight category-based Express Entry draws to date this year.

Compared to IRCC’s nine general and program-specific draws this year, the department’s CRS cut-off for category-based draws has been at least 33 points lower in every 2024 draw.

Specifically, IRCC’s eight category-based draws so far this year breakdown as follows:

February 1: French language proficiency draw: minimum CRS: 365

February 14: Healthcare draw: minimum CRS: 422

February 16: Agriculture and Agri-Food draw: minimum CRS: 437

February 29: French language proficiency draw: minimum CRS: 336

March 13: Transport draw: minimum CRS: 430

March 26: French language proficiency draw: minimum CRS: 338

April 11: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) draw: minimum CRS: 491

April 24: French-language proficiency draw: minimum CRS: 410

Accordingly, Express Entry candidates who are concerned about obtaining a CRS score that is high enough for IRCC’s general draws may find value in pursuing an ITA through IRCC's category-based Express Entry draws, as this allows eligible candidates to benefit from a generally lower CRS cut-off requirement.

Am I eligible for category-based selection?

To be eligible for an ITA through a category-based Express Entry draw, candidates must meet a unique set of criteria depending on the category they fall under.

More: Visit this dedicated webpage for more details on all six categories, and to see if you may be eligible for IRCC’s category-based draws, depending on your NOC code and other criteria.

Specifically, in addition to meeting all the requirements included in the instructions for a specific round of invitations, applicants must meet additional criteria depending on the applicable category.

French language proficiency category

  • Have a minimum score of 7 in all four language abilities (speaking, reading, writing and listening) on the Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadiens (NCLC)

More: In April, IRCC announced that French language proficiency will account for the majority (30%) of ITAs issued through category-based draws this year.

Occupational categories

In 2024, IRCC has chosen to focus on immigration candidates with eligible work experience in the following five industries:

  • Healthcare
  • STEM
  • Trades
  • Transport
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food

All occupational categories eligible for category-based selection require candidates to have at least six months of eligible full-time, continuous (or equivalent part-time) work experience in the last three years. This work experience may have been obtained in Canada or abroad.

Note: Although the list of eligible National Occupation Classification (NOC) codes varies based on the occupational category, qualifying work experience must have been obtained in a single occupation under one of the qualifying NOCs in a given category.

Who is most likely to benefit from category-based selection draws?

Presuming a candidate is eligible*, the foreign nationals who would likely need a category-based draw are those with a CRS score below 500.

Note: The CRS score indicated above is based on the lowest CRS cut-off score of any general draw in 2024, which was 524 on March 25.

Immigration candidates with CRS scores hovering around 500 and eligible candidates who do not meet this standard will likely need a category-based selection draw to obtain an ITA for Canadian permanent residence if they are unable to increase their CRS score in other ways.

What if I’m not eligible?

For candidates looking to improve their CRS score for general draws, there are some strategies to get a higher score without changing occupations.

Language

Language is a factor that, if maximized, can be worth up to 310 CRS points (when combined with other factors, such as post-secondary education).

In other words, having language abilities (speaking, reading, writing and/or listening) above the minimum requirements for any of the three Express Entry-managed programs can help a candidate gain more CRS points.

For instance, although the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) only requires a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) 7, it is possible to achieve up to a CLB 10. In this case, every level obtained above CLB 7 would give the candidate more CRS points.

In addition, proficiency in a second official Canadian language can allow Express Entry candidates to gain further CRS points. In other words, on top of the CRS points that candidates can earn for first language proficiency, candidates can also obtain up to 6 additional CRS points (per language ability) for proficiency in Canada’s other official language.

Beyond increasing a candidate’s CRS score, learning a second official language is also beneficial for newcomers to Canada in several other ways. For instance, it can make working-age newcomers more employable in the eyes of companies hiring for open positions. The ability to communicate in a second official language often also makes it easier to socialize and become more comfortable in a new environment.

Education

Depending on where the candidate obtained their educational credentials (inside or outside of Canada), education is a factor that can count for up to 250 CRS points.

Therefore, either by obtaining further education or by having Educational Credential Assessments (ECAs) completed for existing credentials, a candidate can improve their CRS score.

Note: IRCC requires economic immigration candidates who were educated outside of Canada to obtain an ECA for their highest completed educational credential outside of Canada.

Work experience 

CRS scores can be increased depending on an applicant’s NOC level.

Therefore, assessing your current work experience to see if your duties align with an NOC deemed “skilled” by IRCC may enable you to obtain more points. In the same way, assessing the amount of time you spent at a given job could help you obtain more points, since IRCC awards points for full-time or equivalent part-time work experience based on duration.

Additionally, obtaining more work experience may be another way to increase your CRS score.

Changing the principal applicant on your Express Entry profile

In certain instances where an Express Entry applicant has an accompanying spouse or common-law partner, it would be advisable to see who has the higher CRS score.

If this review shows that the initially selected principal applicant on the Express Entry profile has a lower CRS than their spouse/partner, it may be advisable for a spouse or common-law partner to be the principal applicant.

This will improve the profile’s CRS score and increase the chances that the candidate receives an ITA, presuming that the candidate(s) still meet all other eligibility criteria.

Note: Optionally, a couple may also choose to submit separate Express Entry profiles for each spouse/partner.

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